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Pastor's possible execution reveals nuances of Islamic law
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani preaches in a file photo.
October 7th, 2011
06:55 PM ET

Pastor's possible execution reveals nuances of Islamic law

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) - The possible hanging of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for converting from Islam to Christianity has exposed a division among Islamic jurists on whether Iran would be violating Islamic law by carrying out the execution.

According to some of these scholars, the Quran not only outlaws the death penalty for the charge of apostasy, but under Sharia law, conversion from Islam is not a punishable offense at all.

"Instead, it says on a number of occasions that God prefers and even demands that people believe in Him, but that He will handle rejection of such belief by punishing them in the afterworld," wrote Intisar Rabb, an assistant professor of law at Boston College and a faculty affiliate in research at Harvard Law School, in an e-mail to CNN.

But Rabb also acknowledges that there is a more nuanced view to Islamic law, too.

Clark Lombardi, an associate professor of law at the University of Washington, said there is more room for interpretation because the Quran is not the only source of Islamic law.

"Most Muslims look past the Quran and say the Quran needs to be looked at in the practice of the Prophet. So they look to see what rules the prophet laid down," Lombardi said.

And, according to Lombardi, if you look at literature about the life of Mohammed, "then apostasy is clearly something very bad. And there are examples of apostates being punished."

What emerges from this is a complicated division between whether apostasy is punishable in the first place and, if it is punishable, for what reason.

"Most Muslims, most but not all, believe that apostasy is a deep and terrible sin," Lombardi said. "The question of whether the state should punish deep and terrible sins is in fact something that Muslims do disagree about."

Nadarkhani, the leader of a network of Christian house churches in Iran, was first convicted of apostasy in November 2010, a charge he subsequently appealed. Though news reports from Iran have indicated the pastor is now charged with "security related crimes" and is no longer charged with apostasy, briefs obtained by CNN from the 2010 Supreme Court case show the pastor's original charge was solely apostasy.

"He (Nadarkhani) has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim," states the Supreme Court brief. "During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir - olvasileh."

Harris Zafar, national spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, does not mince words on the subject, stating in a Huffington Post opinion piece that "Islam prescribes absolutely no punishment for apostasy."

"Chapter two of the Holy Quran emphatically denies this possibility, stating 'there shall be no compulsion in religion," writes Zafar. "This is an unambiguous declaration protecting freedom of conscience and choice."

Mohammad Fadel, associate professor of law at University of Toronto, said that there is a difference, though, between just being a nonbeliever and being someone who is actively preaching a religion other than Islam. Fadel said Nadarkhani's preaching "may be viewed as a kind of treasonous comment."

"Even for people who reject Islam religiously, many still identify them with the religion culturally, even if they aren't religious," Fadel said.

According to Rabb, the idea for punishing apostasy stems from medieval times, when your religious affiliation was the basis for your citizenship. Renouncing your faith was also announcing your intent to no longer regard yourself a citizen of that community - in effect, treason.

But as time went on, your religious affiliation is no longer closely tied to your citizenship. "Now, we have an era of territory-based citizenship," Rabb wrote.

"The problem in the modern period is that contemporary states apply medieval rules in unreflective ways that do not often match the classical Islamic legal tradition to which they are trying to adhere," wrote Rabb.

But Lombardi points out that Iran is formally known as the Islamic Republic of Iran and "being Muslim is part of full citizenship in Iran." Though he couldn't speak for the Iranian justice system, he said there are two grounds for which Iran could give to put Nadarkhani to death for apostasy.

"One of them would be to say traditionally in Shiite Islam, people have interpreted the scripture for apostates to be put to death," Lombardi said. "The other one is that people who apostatize have committed a sin and they are real threat to the Muslim community and as a threat, they are punishable as someone who is a traitor to the country."

The website islawmix, a project through the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, was created to be an authoritarian voice on the nuances in Islamic law.
Made up of 13 scholars and founded by Rabb, along with Umbreen Bhatti and Kaizar Campwala, the website looks to connect "news readers, media producers, and legal scholars with credible, authoritative information about trends in Islamic law."

Bhatti, a practicing civil rights lawyer, said the nuances of Islamic law are not unique; the same sort of nuanced opinions are regularly found in American law.

"The reality is the 13 scholars on our sites could give you a variety of different responses," Bhatti said. Islamic law has a "rich legal tradition and it is important for us to not convey something definitive or to suggest there is one answer."

The overriding opinion of each scholar was simple - the complication of Islamic law makes it somewhat difficult to predict what Iran will do.

Lombardi recalled a story in Afghanistan, where a man's neighbors hauled him to court for leaving Islam.

"The judge takes a look and says this person is an apostate and therefore the crime should be putting them to death," Lombardi said. "But then the judge said, Islam is such great religion, you could have to be crazy to have to convert from Islam. And therefore, I think this person should get off on ground of insanity."

Moral of the story, according to Lombardi: "There are all sorts of grounds for pardoning someone."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Iran • Islam • Islamic law

soundoff (638 Responses)
  1. Anon

    Sadly he's toast. Islam is law in that part of the world.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Wilson

      They should be treated the same way they do there!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Anon

      All three abrahamic desert religions should be rejected.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Donald

      RIGHT YOU GUYS ARE!!! All religions are the same! Jesus was always marching into nations and converting by the sword. And U.S. Christians like Washington, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, MLK, Carter, Billy Graham, Reagan and countless others have been doing all they can to overthrow governments and round up all the infidels and behead them. Just yesterday I saw Sarah Palin beheading a poor MUslim man with a tea party mob because he wouldn't say the pledge of allegiance. WHat will our country do with the murderous barbaric Christians??? They are always killing, bombing, raping, assassinating leaders, bombing newspapers and flying planes into buildings. Christianity is just like Islam.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  2. Coug9

    Why is it that people FREAK OUT when Christians put a cross up on a hill, yet its called a "NUANCE" when a religion executes someone for not agreeing with them????
    Food for thought for all of you Muslims out there..............if you wish to convert someone to your religion, KILLING THEM is seems to be the fastest way to fail at that goal. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep them alive and use that time to convert them? Since this is NOT how Islam works, we can only conclude that your religion is EVIL and VIOLENT. You may be able to fool lots of ignorant people out there, but dont kid yourself! There are millions of us who know how you REALLY are......

    October 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Moe

      Christians kill more than Muslims kill.

      October 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  3. JLS639

    Religious law is whatever its espousers want it to be. Joan of Arc committed no crime punishable by death. She was executed for heresy. How? Disingenuous religious prattle. It is no different than Iran today or how religious law has always been.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Donald

      You're wrong. You can not use the words of Christ or His followers in Scripture to justify any murder for one's belief. Christ taught his followers to love their enemies, not "kill the infidels wherever you find them". The difference in Islam is that the Koran gives credence to this where Christ forbade it. Lump all religions together, but you're wrong. In fact the greatest murders in history were all atheists. Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Islam is murderous for what it teaches, not because it is a religion.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Anon

      Screw Jesus, even a clown can offer better advice.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Wilson

      That's why was needed the Reform (mostly by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and today the Fundamentalists, Pentecostals and Charismatics Christians!!!!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Moe

      George Bush started the war in Iraq because God told him to. Don't pretend like Christianity has no part in the violence. There are more people killed by Christians in today's world than there are people killed by Muslims.

      October 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  4. Donald

    WOW CNN. Nice. Could you imagine if Christian scholars were "debating" wether to kill someone for becoming Muslim that CNN wold be giving airspace to the so called "debate"?? What a joke.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Dan Sichel

    You have to "nuance" Islamic law to find an excuse NOT to execute a man for converting to Christianity? ARE YOU NUTS? WHY WOULD ANYONE TOLERATE THIS RELIGION??????

    It is WRONG TO KILL ANYONE for their choice of faith. Any religion that says you should is EVIL!! THis is NOT difficult.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Donald

      Right on! This story is subtle defense of a murderous policy. CNN should be ashamed for calling this "news". In my view it is appeasement motivated Islamic Fascist propaganda by default. Could you imagine if Christian scholars were "debating" wether to kill someone for becoming Muslim that CNN wold be giving airspace to the so called "debate"??

      October 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Coug9

      Agree completely. Why is it that people FREAK OUT when Christians put a cross up on a hill, yet its called a "NUANCE" when a religion executes someone for not agreeing with them????
      Food for thought for all of you Muslims out there..............if you wish to convert someone to your religion, KILLING THEM is seems to be the fastest way to fail at that goal. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep them alive and use that time to convert them? Since this is NOT how Islam works, we can only conclude that your religion is EVIL and VIOLENT. You may be able to fool lots of ignorant people out there, but dont kid yourself! There are millions of us who know how you REALLY are......

      October 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Musloidhater

      Because these are retarded defected animals called musloids that follow some idiotic "false profit muhammad" (may pig excriment be upon him!!) . Remember these are people that while their ass with their left hand and are perfectly content with that. Even early humans used leafs and other vegetation, even dogs know how to scoot on grass! But not the musloids! They are a plague! A sickness! Their false profit conned the musloids to fight ia holy war while he hides in the back of the pack and fornicates with the dead musloids wife's and children. It's not a religion! It's a sickness called musloiditis.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  6. Wilson

    It's sad to see CNN in the make of an apology of Islam! Those so called experts in Qumran says this and that, but the reality on all Countries where Islam is the majorities is that there is no tolerance, no justice and no truth! Just see how the dirty ayatollahs has changed the charge on this poor Pastor's case: It's a shame, and it's also a shame CNN does not speaks soon and loud against it!

    October 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Donald

      Absolutely!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  7. Muneef

    During the establishment of Islam which started as civil religion but with the attacks that were launched on the Prophet Muhammed s.a.w and his followers...Islam had to take turn and become a military like to defend it's being... During that time apostasy was looked up as an act of Treason just as any military would have done to protect it's plans and intentions...
    So such thing is explainable and understandable but now that Islam is no longer a military movement but rather a civilian belief  it would not be understandable why one has to die if decided to take his GOD granted choice of belief to follow...??! 

    Any way as you can see from above that it is not the Quran that has to be blamed but rather those who made books on the bases of their understanding from the Quran & Hadiths...

    October 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Wilson

      Awake man! The worst blind is those that don't want to see!!!!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Muneef

      See, see what?

      http://www.islamproject.org/muhammad/muhammad_11_ConceptofTreason.htm

      October 7, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  8. Donald

    Amazing how CNN seems to almost civilize and trivialize the move to kill this man by writing about the "nuances" in this sophisticated intellectual debate among Islamic clerics. How interesting, some people think this man should be killed FOR BECOMING A CHRISTIAN – like the Iranian, Pakistani, Afghan governments and countless adherents to Islam. Other Muslims think maybe not. How interesting. Hey CNN, Why don't you just stick with the freaking truth: IT IS HORRIBLE TO MURDER A PERSON BECAUSE OF HIS RELIGION OR LACK OF RELIGION.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  9. Bill Rogers

    Anyone want to talk about the 900 jews whom Mohamad ordered beheaded because they refused to convert to Muslim faith 1600 years ago?

    October 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Muneef

      Hmm.

      I thought they said Islam is 1400 years old so how did it execute 900 Jews 1600 years ago....??

      But during prophet Muhammed s.a.w there were Jew tribes executed but not all tribes,but rather only the tribes which had broken the treaty with Muslims by joining the Pagans of Mecca against Muslims in their wars...and that took place after a battled that was named as the Trench Battle....but how many were they I wouldn't know...!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • JLS639

      Your description makes it sound like they were executed for being Jewish. They were executed for rebellion. The incident in question is the execution of all men in a tribe that had rebelled and then been abandoned by their rebel allies. Oral traditions among Arabian Jews said he had all men executed, but a few who had either previously converted or converted on the spot were spared.

      Would mass conversion have saved them? Maybe, maybe not. If they converted en mass, they would still be a military threat. Many soldiers being executed would eliminate the threat and sparing a handful would not change that.

      Make no mistake, though: the execution was a military decision, not a religious one.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • blue

      Umm, its nice that you pull out figures yet dont bother to know what the story was behind that. The punishement for treason or desertion has always been death and was death at that time as well and Muhammad even asked their leader to tell him what he would do in this situation b'c it was clear as day treason as they broke the treaty and attacked the Muslims. Their leader said he would kill them too, it was fair, thats war for you.

      October 8, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Muneef

      Battle of the Trench
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Trench

      October 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Muneef

      blue.

      You are right and maybe the Pastor above is being looked upon as that since there is war and he might be connected to some western church or politics for which that might be translated as an act of treason?!! That what is happening is a normal practice not even as a convert from Islam... Rather they will bring up all the legitimate excuses they have against him only if doubting his intentions... Since lately there are moves to christianize people in the middle and far east to make use of them driving rebel and be as martyrs for the sake of bringing up Christianity or have their countries divided on those bases as religions...! Think there were past blog articles that spoke of that taking place by the Roman Church and some other American Church...!

      October 8, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  10. CloudCityChaos

    So they can't charge him under islamic law so they make up some BS charge. ANIMALS, the whole lot of em'. Democracy to these fools is chopped off heads in the desert. When is enough enough. I hope Ahmadingdong gets his hands on a Nuke. Iran would make a great parking lot.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  11. James

    Look at your future America. Christians are fighting tooth and nail to curb your freedom and rights based on their religion.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Donald

      Right you are James. Christians like Washington, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, MLK, Carter, Billy Graham, Reagan and countless others have been doing all they can to overthrow governments and round up all the infidels and behead them. Just yesterday I saw Sarah Palin beheading a poor MUslim man with a tea party mob because he wouldn't say the pledge of allegiance. WHat will our country do with the murderous barbaric Christians??? They are always killing, raping, assassinating leaders, bombing newspapers and flying planes into buildngs.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Donald

    The greatest murderers in the history of the world were all atheists: Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. Its not religion – religion is just another form of belief system and everyone has a belief system.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • SteveB

      Donald,
      I think you need to take another course in history. Though all the figures you mentioned were indeed mass murders more people have died because of religion in western society than any other reason for the past 2,000 years.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Anon

      Donald = Christard

      October 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  13. mike

    Intisar Rabb and Harris Zafar are liers, they are using the protection strategy that Quraan taught, "No compulsion in religion" is an abrogated verse. The abrogating verse is Surat Altawbah verse 29 which is kow as "ayato alsaif" or the verse of the sowrd.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  14. PAPARAZZINC.com

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/07/pastor-to-gop-dont-vote-for-romney-because-hes-mormon/

    paparazzinc.com

    Read about it here. Then renounce religion. Do what is right.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  15. baba NE'GAH

    To those of you, who have converted to christianity, it's all the same, but there's a man in afghanistan, and they say he's insane,
    cause, here you can worship no God, or change God's at anytime, so in Afghanistan, they think this man, is out of his freakin' mind. Because, Islam is a religion that accepts Christianity, it just so happens, they see it as a mild form of insanity, cause, how can a grown man, believe in a virgin having a baby, cause, if you came to me, with a story like that, i'd think that you were crazy.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  16. PAPARAZZINC.com

    One American pastor to his flock/sheep, 'Dont vote for Romney because he is Mormon"...

    Religion is pure evil. Those who practice any and all religion follow in the steps of evil. Nobody can say this is incorrect.

    –paparazzinc.com

    October 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • up1652

      Sure we can.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Wilson

      Yap! Was this religion that you scorn that made this Country so great that you can enjoy it! You even has the right to speak insanity! What a great Country!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  17. Trent

    All hail the religion of peace and acceptance....

    October 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  18. PAPARAZZINC.com

    Once again, religion is the basis of all that is evil. Peroid.

    You can read about it on paparazzinc.com

    I've said it here and i'll say it again. Religion is pure evil. Nobody can say i'm wrong. Nobody.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • CloudCityChaos

      STFU Stop plugging your wack ass website over here you moron.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  19. Mr Chihuahua

    The Bible is way too long! holy moly...eyelids getting heavy...cant...cant stay awake! hello people have you heard of an editor!?!

    October 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  20. Richard

    He's a reject either way. First a Muslim, then a Christian? Let's see how many other fairy tales he can believe in.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.