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Recently I had a conversation on a train that raised an issue about the leftist media’s darling of the moment, Reza Aslan, along with larger questions about Islam and Christianity. Oddly enough, for all of the Left’s continuing outrage over Fox News’s “Islamophobic” interview of Aslan regarding his new book Zealot, the anointed pundits have never touched on this question: why aren’t Reza Aslan’s Christian relatives and friends trying to kill him?
It might seem to be a bizarre question, but it isn’t. It is a staple of mainstream media discourse that Islam and Christianity (and all other religions, for that matter) are essentially equal in their capacity to inspire both benevolence and violence. If Muslims commit jihad terror attacks today, well, remember the Crusades. If Muslims commit 91% of honor killings worldwide and several Muslim countries have relaxed penalties for such murders at the insistence of Islamic clerics, well, the Republican Party is just like the Taliban, anyway. And if Islam has a death penalty for apostasy, Christians must abuse those who leave Christianity as well.
I encountered this line of thought yet again on the train. Seated next to me was not (luckily) Reza Aslan himself, but a jovial and somewhat inebriated gentleman who told me in the course of our conversation that he was an Iraq war veteran. Then he told me about how once he was on patrol in Baghdad with an Iraqi soldier who asked him his religion. By this time the man had been in Iraq long enough to know what the Iraqis hated the most, and so he responded mischievously to the question: although he was a Catholic, he told the Iraqi he was Jewish, and when the Iraqi didn’t understand the English word, he drew a Star of David in the sand — whereupon the Iraqi drew his rifle on him.
I then explained that Islamic anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the Qur’an, which calls the Jews the worst enemies of the Muslims (cf. 5:82). I told him about the genocidal hadith, in which Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is depicted as saying that,
the last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him (Sahih Muslim 6985).
To all that, however, he responded that, well, the Bible had plenty of bad stuff in it, too. That put me in mind of Aslan’s notorious Fox interview, in which he avowed that “my mother is a Christian, my wife is a Christian, my brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor.” Aslan recounts that he himself was an enthusiastic evangelical Christian until his studies gave him the impression that the New Testament was not historically reliable, whereupon, he says: “I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying.”
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When an Islamic scholar, Suliman Bashear, taught his students at An-Najah National University in Nablus that the Qur’an and Islam were the products of historical development rather than being delivered in perfect form to Muhammad, his students threw him out of the window of his classroom. So why aren’t any Christians trying to kill Aslan, or at least throw him out of a window? If he had been a Muslim who had left Islam, believers in such statements as this one attributed to Muhammad could have confronted him: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57). Because the Qur’an stipulates that Muhammad is the “excellent example” of conduct for Muslims (33:21), in all things to be imitated, this command became normative in Islamic law. The death penalty for apostasy is part of Islamic law according to all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
All the schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach that a sane adult male who leaves Islam must be killed. They have some disagreements about what must he done with other types of people who leave Islam, but they have no disagreement on that. The Tafsir al-Qurtubi, a classic and thoroughly mainstream exegesis of the Qur’an, says this about Qur’an 2:217: “Scholars disagree about whether or not apostates are asked to repent. One group say that they are asked to repent and, if they do not, they are killed. Some say they are given an hour and others a month. Others say that they are asked to repent three times, and that is the view of Malik. Al-Hasan said they are asked a hundred times. It is also said that they are killed without being asked to repent.”
These are not outdated laws in old books no one reads. The Islamic death penalty for apostasy is very much alive. On June 13 on Al Arabiya TV there appeared Abu Al-‘Ela Abd Rabbo, who was one of the killers of the Egyptian secularist Farag Foda in 1992. When asked, “What was the religious justification for the assassination of Farag Foda?” Rabbo answered simply: “If someone curses Allah or the Prophet in public, he should be punished by death. The punishment for apostasy is death.” Early in June in Somalia, members of the jihad group Al-Shabaab murdered Hassan Hurshe, 28, for the crime of leaving Islam for Christianity. On May 25 in Pakistan, members of the Taliban kidnapped a sixteen-year-old boy who had converted from Islam to Christianity; he is presumed dead.
And on and on: such cases are numbingly common in all too many Muslim countries. So if Islam and Christianity are equally capable of inspiring violence, why isn’t Reza Aslan going around with an armed guard, and avoiding his Christian friends and family members?
The obvious and simple answer is that Christianity doesn’t have anything like Islam’s death penalty for apostasy, and the mainstream media’s fashionable equivalence between the two religions is as intellectually bankrupt as their fawning over the immature Aslan’s inaccurate book. But he repeats all the fashionable opinions, and that’s good enough to earn media adulation nowadays.