Somalian academic gets death threats
In a recently published book about apostasy, Abdisaid Abdi Ismail set out to show that ‘Islam is the religion of humanity and mercy, and it values above all the life of human beings’. Hardliners now want him dead for … apostasy.
In an October interview with the Somalian website Sabahi, Adbi argued that “there is no religious justification for killing people for apostasy”, and this was the basis for his book The Rule of Apostasy in Islam: Is it True?
My view regarding apostasy is that there is no punishment for apostasy in this world. The punishment is in the hereafter and it is between the individual and God.
Religion News now reports that 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.
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 claims 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. 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 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. 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 fanatical groups such as Al-Shabab justifying the deaths of those who oppose their hard-line interpretation of the Koran by branding them apostates. Somali civil servants, national army officers, local or international non-governmental organisation 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.
Ismail said in the Sabahi interview:
What my findings led me to conclude is that the death penalty for apostasy does not have any valid argument in Islam even though it has been used for centuries for political purposes by ruling elites in successive historical Muslim regimes as a form of treason for Muslims who left the religion, because religion was an all-encompassing identity for people at the time.
Ismail, 50, a graduate of the Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, somewhat ly added:
Frankly, I was expecting the book to create academic debate among scholars, but I never expected that someone would call for the burning of the book and declare the author an apostate.