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    The need to rethink apostasy laws
    SAEED, ABDULLAH ; Saeed, Hassan (Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004)
    Recent high-profile cases and a number of Muslim scholars affirming the death penalty for apostasy have brought the issue of the pre-modern Islamic law of apostasy (riddah) back to the fore. Once largely ignored, apostasy is today vigorously debated among Muslims. The Qur’anic concept of non-coercion in religion was interpreted narrowly by pre-modern Islamic scholars, and excluded the right to convert away from Islam. In this chapter from the book Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam, Saeed observes that this was a reasonable conclusion in the pre-modern context, when religious identity was enmeshed with political affiliation, and a person’s rights flowed from their membership of the religio-political entity. In the modern world, however, the author argues that there is ample reason to re-think these conclusions. Today, most Muslim nation-states recognize equal citizenship regardless of religion and are highly diverse. Large numbers of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries. Further, the death penalty for apostasy has weak textual support in the classical sources. The reaffirmation of pre-modern laws developed for different circumstances is unhelpful in the modern period. Pre-modern formulations of apostasy are particularly open to abuse in states which are authoritarian in nature, a feature of many Muslim states today. Moreover, the phenomenon of globalisation will mean more intensive linkages and mixes of people from different backgrounds. There is a need for an idea of religious freedom in Islam that accords with modern realities. Saeed argues that the weak textual basis of the law of apostasy and the greatly differing religio-political context of modern period are strong justifications for embarking on the task of reforming this law.