Ernest Dempsey — Banned from entering the west as well as internally from addressing in some states in India on account of advocating fundamentalist, oppressive version of Islam, well-known Muslim orator Dr. Zakir Naik has changed his position on the punishment for apostasy in Islam. In his recent Q and A with Oxford students, conducted via satellite transmission, he claimed that Islam does not suggest death for a Muslim who leaves his faith and adopts another, unless for some other unforgivable wrong committed after conversion.
In a YouTube video of the question-answer session, an American doctoral student is shown posing before Naik the question (starting at 8:50 in the video) why a Muslim who leaves his/her faith and starts following a different faith is liable to be killed as dictated in Islamic law. The student mentions that he has a Muslim girlfriend in Turkey who has left Islam and accepted Christianity as the true faith, but is now worried for her safety, even life, due to her decision to say goodbye to Islam. Answering the student, Naik says he has been misrepresented with regard to his position on the matter and video clips shown of him on YouTube have been posted “out of context”.
Naik then says that earlier he had said that many Islamic scholars are of the opinion that former Muslims are punishable by death, but he did not approve it and instead has taught that death is not the “standard punishment” in Islam for ex-Muslims. He then gives the example of a person who was given death punishment by the prophet but upon the recommendation of his close associate Usman, the prophet forgave that man. Naik goes on to say that according to Islam and according to him (Naik), people leaving Islam are not punishable by death only for walking out of Islam.
This new position of Naik is radically different from his earlier video in which he was interviewed by Pakistani anchor Shahid Masood for a TV channel and was presented with the question why Islam punishes with death penalty those who quit it and adopt another faith. Answering the question, Naik at once claims that if a former Muslim starts propagating his new religion, then this act of his is “as good as treason” and is punishable by death just as treason is punishable by death in military in many countries. Naik never mentions any other scholars here nor does he quote any sources, speaking instead completely on his own and justifying death by trying to rationalize.
Most Muslim scholars do think and preach what Naik used to before the mind-shaking ban last year by UK—that Muslims rejecting Islam and adopting another religion are punishable by death. In a video of a debate between people of various faiths, including the world-famous scientist and atheist author Richard Dawkins kept asking a Muslim scholar about the punishment of an apostate in Islam. After trying to change topics, the hesitant scholar eventually gave his answer, i.e. death for the apostate in Islam.
Islam’s position on apostasy continues to face staunch criticism and usually the Muslim apologists try to avoid the question, though even the layman in Muslim countries is aware that Islam orders you to kill the one who leaves Islam and accepts another faith. Naik’s change of mind (or change of tongue and tone, to be more precise) is to be welcomed, and thanks are due to Britain, Canada, India, and all others whose ban has finally taught the orator to speak some sense. Whether other Muslim scholars agree with Naik or not is to be seen yet. For now, the big question is how to explain the clear Islamic orders in Hadith books encouraging killing of apostates.