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Book on apostasy in Islam earns writer the moniker ‘Somalia’s Salman Rushdie’

(RNS) Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail has been threatened with death and labeled an infidel for his book, "The Rule of Apostasy in Islam: Is it True?" Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili
(RNS) Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail has been threatened with death and labeled an infidel for his book, "The Rule of Apostasy in Islam, Is it True?" RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili.

(RNS) Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail has been threatened with death and labeled an infidel for his book, “The Rule of Apostasy in Islam: Is it True?” Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) A Somali scholar is stoking Muslim anger after he published a book questioning the concept of the death penalty for apostasy in Islam.

Now, he is being branded as “Somalia’s Salman Rushdie” a reference to the British–Indian novelist whose book, “The Satanic Verses,” provoked worldwide Muslims protests and a fatwa from Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

Abdisaid Abdi Ismail’s book, “The Rule of Apostasy In Islam: Is it True?” was published in Kenya in September.

Ismail was following the Meriam Yahya Ibrahim case before starting work on the book. She is the Sudanese woman sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, but later freed. Her case outraged the world and drew attention to the growing abuse of apostasy in Islam. (Ibrahim said she has always been a Christian.)

The book, written in the Somali language, is being read in Western cities such as London, Toronto and Minneapolis, where there are large populations of ethnic Somalis.

Ismail said the book furthers the growing voice of Muslim scholars, intellectuals and prominent clerics worldwide who are increasingly rejecting the abuse of Islam by extremist groups such as the Islamic State, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s Al-Shabab.

“What we need are secular states where there is democracy, justice and equality for all,” he said. “Not theocratic ones where leaders rule by the name of God.”

Ismail’s concern is that Somali Islamic militants, clerics and other extremist groups in Muslim-majority countries are applying apostasy as a political tool, branding those with contrary opinions as apostates who need to be killed. He has watched Al-Shabab justify the deaths of those who oppose their hard-line interpretation of the Quran by branding them apostates. Somali civil servants, national army officers, local or international nongovernmental organization officials, are considered devil’s spies who deserve death, he added.

“I wanted to explain to my people the true meaning of apostasy in Islam,” he said.

A graduate of the Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, Ismail, 50,  has written four other books on globalization and economics.

But he appears to have struck a raw nerve with the latest book, which he had hoped would stimulate a debate on religious freedom in Islam. The book also touches on other issues, such as gender equality and stoning adulterers to death in Islam.

“Apostasy is crime in Islam,” said Sheikh Abdallar Kheir, a religious scholar at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. “It is mentioned in the Quran and the traditions of the prophet. It is like treason.

“But there conditions and situations in which the rule is applied,” Kheir added. “It must be in an Islamic state, there must be dialogue and reasoning before it is applied, and it is applied if the person in the new faith causes disturbance to Muslims or the Islamic faith.”

Since the book’s launch, Ismail says he has received death threats, and warnings not to return to Somalia where his wife and three children still live. He has also been branded a devil and infidel on social media, with radical clerics calling for the banning and burning of his book.

He had traveled to Kenya to publish the book, since he could not find a willing publisher in Somalia. He was kicked out of hotels in Nairobi and Kampala, Uganda.

“Every day, I fear fanatical supporters of Somali extremists here in Kenya and Somalia may harm me,” he said. “I have been warned they may even try to kill me.”

But Ismail is defiant, saying the threats will not stop him from expressing his opinion on crucial religious debates. He views this as a way of reforming Islamic thought in Somalia, and rehabilitating and reconstructing his war-torn country.

But Ismail admits the subject is controversial and he only began researching and writing about it after it became clear that there was nobody brave enough to confront it.

Ismail’s book is selling secretly in Kenya and Somalia, after booksellers removed it from their shelves in the wake of Muslim clergy protests. It is available in the Somali language on Amazon.

YS/AMB END NZWILI

About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife. His articles have appeared in international media organizations among others; The Tablet, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Geographic and Kenyan local newspapers; The Standard and the People Daily.

38 Comments

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  • Long have I argued this very point …. It is meant to be treated as treason… i.e. those who assist the enemies of the state, not meant to stifle independent personal freedoms guaranteed in the Quran. Apostasy like many other laws are now being used as political weaponry to subdue the will of the people and ensure the reign of tyrants.

    “If it had been your Lord’s will, all of the people on Earth would have believed. Would you then compel the people so to have them believe?” Sûrah Yûnus: 99

    “But if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message. And in Allah’s sight are all of His servants.” Sûrah Âl `Imrân: 20

    “The Messenger’s duty is but to proclaim the Message.” Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 99

  • Eh. Mostly good article, but it would be interesting to see what some of his arguments are in the book, rather then just reporting on the effects of the book’s release.

  • “Apostasy” does not exist, because God does not exist. It should not be treated as anything other than a personal choice.

  • The punishment of death for apostasy is the underpinning of Islam’s totalitarian objective. Without the death penalty for apostasy, islam ceases to exist.

  • You know I believe this man he is brave enough to speak out, and let the peole known the truth, i admired him and I wish I was brave enough to write book, well done mate

  • I suspect that one of his arguments is that (1) the Qur’an values religious pluralism (e.g., Surah 10:99); and (2) the Qur’an does not prescribe earthly punishment for abandoning a particular religion.

  • WHO told you God does not exist, Captain Jack? Where is your proof? Or is that just your opinion?

  • Captain Jack-Read Romans 1:18-25. How did we all get here? God is real!
    If the sun was any closer we would all burn/any further we would all freeze.
    You say that is all just by chance? Look at the design of the universe and
    the wonder of it all. Read the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Many people
    don’t want God to be real because they don’t want to be told how to live.
    Bible can be trusted because of prophecy accuracy. Psalm 22:16-18 is
    very specific. Isaiah 53:3-5 as well. God is very real/Jesus is the Messiah
    and the only way to heaven! No true prophet can be revered if they are
    a liar so if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God then He was a liar and can’t be
    revered/a true prophet so either Jesus was a liar or Messiah. God bless.

  • You can’t use the bible to prove the bible, that’s a circular logical fallacy. Also, if there was a loving creator, then why isn’t he doing anything about all the prayers to fix the problems in the world?

  • Mr. Aegis-Prophecy is why we can trust the Bible. Bible predicted
    future events that came true with 100% accuracy to prove Jesus
    is the Messiah.Read the Case for Christ/Bible prophecy. He’s going
    to come back to set it right on His timing but He gives us free will on
    earth to choose to follow Him or not. There is a place called hell so
    people who think that they can just say and do whatever without any
    consequence are wrong. Jesus will do something but when the time
    comes. He is a loving God and that’s why He died on the Cross and
    why He gives us time to Repent. He wants us to choose Him not the
    forcing method that many of these false religions use. God bless.

  • Well stated, Sir. People are wasting valuable time on this Earth to debate nonsense from thousands of years ago while in the present, people are dying not just of curable diseases but also dying by the blade and gun of religious nuts. Put down your holy books, pull your heads out of the sand, and look around at a most beautiful world that thrives on the diversity of life. Instead, the religionists would have us placed in ancient mindsets where you’re murdered if you don’t comply. This evil will not last. The free peoples of the world will not allow it.

  • So true. A cult developed long ago. May its followers come to see the lies they have been taught.

  • who says we cant use the bible to prove the bible . would you not use the circular argument you your self,, to prove you exist ? of course you would,,. you could even use a book you authored to prove you exist..

  • I guess even though Islam is not Christian every one wants them to act like they are any way .. but lets at least try to keep our heads about this shall we .. And understand in order for one to be Christian,
    They have to have Jesus as there Lord and savior.
    ..
    pun intended…

  • the worst ignorance lies with one who tries to explain a subject he knows nothing or little about. what about trying writing about a religion? a subject so wide and so complex. a scholar! can you fix some metals together and fly into the sky to escape threats. If not, How dare you try to correct the word and the Holy book of the creator. Never abuse a religion just to earn cash from its opponents.

  • Ringo must be new to the debate.
    Those who make the claims of a god as a truth must therefore provide the proof for those who see no reason to believe.
    The onus is upon the claimant.
    The responsibility is yours Ringo. Now try!
    But we all know that the religionists must try to deflect the responsibility as there is no proof.
    Remember that you cannot use hearsay and spurious evidence, ie your holy books!

  • Brien-Read Romans 1:18-25. Creation is proof of God. For you to
    look at creation and the design of it all then say that this is all just
    by chance it takes more faith to believe that than to believe in God.
    A former atheist Lee Strobel has a book called the Case for Christ
    you should check out/read. God is very,very real! God bless.

  • So if creation were proof of god.. where is the proof that your god created it? I’m assuming you’re a christian (i.e. quoting from ‘Romans’ which is an argument copied from an OT apocryphal book btw). At best creation (if it were true) would tell us nothing about the nature of god (whether ‘it’ was a cruel and evil tyrrant or a benevolent source of love, peace and harmony). The I.D. argument or the god of gaps argument is flawed because it assumes a lack of absolute certain knowledge implies an intelligent being is required to supply a fudge factor or magic to fill the gaps in our knowledge rather than just revealing our ignorance. The genesis myth.. along with all other creation myths.. are conjectures of faith based on existential feelings or dreams.. they merely claim god as a first assumption even though there is no evidence for that assumption. All creation myths then describe what the alledged god did (one assumes from dream/revelation) and yet not one of these dreams match the research of science into the origin of the universe because they are based on primitive guesswork before anything was known. In many respects the speculation of the myths are the same as speculation from philosophers which contain good guesses and rubbish guesses. One can argue that the central premise of the myth were a faith claim that god exists but that is all. If one assumes that a creator god exists then creation is evidence for god. If on the other hand the universe exists as it does.. this tells us nothing about what exists outside or before the known universe only what exists. Secondly prophecy fullfilment was used as an argument when the new testament was written after the prophesies were written often inaccurately mistranslating and interpreting old testament passages to make up stories about Jesus in order to ‘prove’ he was the messiah. People do the same rubbish with Nostradamus to falsely use vague passages to be predictions of modern events after the fact. The anonymous ‘gospels’ (falsely called matthew, mark, luke and john) were all redacted after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans in 70AD and so predictions and events were written to explain events in relation to a particular claim about Jesus. The nothing about birth of Jesus is known either ~4BC (matthew) or ~6AD (luke) and the two accounts we have are so different and contradictory one is unable to claim any part is true. but it gets worse parables become actual events and even the day and time of the crucifixion is different between different accounts and afterwards it gets no better. reading the four so called accounts alongside each other reveals contradiction and inaccuracys which lead one to dismiss them as mythological at best and hopelessly false at worse. The best you can say is this is what I believe to be true because you could not be sure that a single word that Jesus (or Mohammad for that matter) is alledged to have said was what he actually taught. but thanks for sharing what you believe to be true.. but that’s not proof of truth it’s just what you believe to be true. Read Bart Ehrman, the Quran and Ibn Warraq. I no longer believe god ever communicated to anyone ever.. because he never existed outside the imagination of humans, looking for meaning and purpose.

  • Clive-Thank you for your feedback. We have creation/the Bible
    prophecy that came true and if Jesus was still in the grave why
    would people that didn’t believe in Him lie/say the body was stolen?
    Conscience means with knowledge so it’s written on/in your heart
    and conscience to know between right and wrong. God is real.

  • Replying for Karla’s comment (she is the only one you cannot reply to, no wonder). The bible is not a proof, the bible is a claim. And it’s waiting to be prooved to be true for more than 2000 years…

  • g.a.-Read Romans 1:18-32. Creation is proof of God and Bible
    prophecy accuracy is why we can trust the Bible. If the prophecy
    didn’t come true than the Bible wouldn’t be revered/trusted but
    all prophecy came true. How did the world get here? Evolutuion
    is impossible. Read the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel who is a
    former atheist. Psalm 22:16-18 and Isaiah 53:3-5 are both specific.
    Thank you for all orf the input/feedback, God bless.

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