July 14, 2010

Apostasy in Iran

The question about apostasy situation in Iran has been asked from me through times, so I am going to discuss it in the following.

First let's see who is apostate in Islamic republic of Iran? An apostate is the former follower of Islam (or known to be a Muslim) that now rejects Islam. Conversion from Islam to another religion or belief makes you an apostate because that means you basically "abandoning Islam" which called apostasy in Islamic law. There is a detail definition of apostates in Shiite school perspective at end of this article.

What is the punishment of apostasy in Islamic republic of Iran? Death penalty but there is not a crime specified about apostasy in Penal Code. Faraj Sarkouhi, an Iranian journalist explained the situation:

"Tens of people have convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in Iranian courts during past 3 decades but there are not crimes specified about apostasy in Penal Code, judges are required to use their knowledge of Islamic law and Islamic Jurisprudence in cases where no codified law exists." 1
Amil Imani, an Iranian columnist shed lights on how Iranian judges manage to legitimize execution of apostates:
At present, apostasy is illegal in most Islamic countries. Although execution of the apostate is not common, it does take place from time-to-time by frequently buttressing the “crime” with additional charges. The Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, often adds the charge of mohareb (one who wars with God) to further legitimize its execution of apostates. A case in point pertains to the treatment of the religious minority Baha’is by the Islamic Republic. A number of Baha’is have been charged as apostates and mohareb, executed and some secretly buried in unmarked graves. 2
But, authorities in Islamic republic of Iran have tried to avoid media frenzy about this sensitive Islamic punishment so they take this stuff to their own militia. This militia has acted like judge, jury and executioner, most of the time only executioner. Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom makes crystal clear that situation has been worsening:
In the 1990s, the Islamic Republic of Iran used death squads against converts, including major Protestant leaders, and the situation is worsening under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The regime is currently engaged in a systematic campaign to track down and reconvert or kill those who have changed their religion from Islam. 3
If we go back and study history of Islamic republic and development of Islamic militia with it, we can come to conclusion that the death squads started since the early revolution. First, they have been used to terror political opponents and purging dissidents and then enemies of Islam that Khomeini, himself was very sensitive to apostates. In fact, Islamic establishment have grown out of these death squads and terrorists.

Although between 1980 until 1989, during Khomeini era, Islamic establishment had openly punished apostates to death but still there were cases and people that they couldn't afford the public embarrassment to take them to court so Khomeini's clan used death squads to get rid of them. Victims of this kind of terror campaign usually found stabbed to death with multiple stab wounds in their body.

But execution of apostates is not new in Islamic history, in fact it was born with Islam itself. Islam means surrender and when someone chooses or forced to surrender to Islam then he/she loses everything and there is no way back out. Amil Imani put together a great collection of verses from Quran and Hadithes about punishment for apostates:
Apostasy is defined both in the Quran as well as the Sharia and its punishment is clearly stipulated:

“Those who blasphemed and back away from the ways of Allah and die as blasphemers, Allah shall not forgive them.” [Qur'an 4:48]

Islamic law does not allow the freedom to choose one's religion:

“Let there be no compulsion in the religion: Clearly the Right Path (i.e. Islam) is distinct from the crooked path.” [Qur'an 2:256]

The Quran also specifically addresses the issue of murtad milli:

“But those who reject faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of faith, never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.” [Qur'an 3:90]

The Hadith further restates the provision of the Quran regarding punishment of the apostate:

“Kill whoever changes his religion.” __Sahih al-Bukhari 9:84:57

“The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”__ Sahih al-Bukhari 9:83:17
This public condemnation of apostates and inciting hate towards them doesn't stop here. Islamic clerics have frequently mentioned "apostates don't deserve to live the life and they should be killed". During Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, Judges had order to punish apostates, non-believers, blasphemous people to death penalty without any discretion. Ayatollah Khomeini to guide Muslims wrote in his book:
"If an innate apostate repents, his repentance is not acceptable and his punishment is still intact and has no effect in regaining his property and his wife. His possessions that divided between the heirs, he won't get them back either, even though if he claims he is a Muslim at heart. And punishment for the [innate] apostasy is that if the apostate is a man, he should be killed, and if the apostate is a woman, she will get life imprisonment and during five daily prayers, she should be lashed. They have to give her hard time on her life, water and food to push her to repent, and because her repentance is acceptable. Then if she repents, she will be free. But a milli apostate should be given chance to repent, if he refuses to repent, he should be killed. A word of caution, it is better to ask the apostate to repent and should be killed on the fourth day."  4
Ayatollah Khomeini in his speeches frequently used to threat apostates or people who ridicule mullahs with death penalty. He talked about apostates quite often. i. e.
"Whoever insults Prophet, whoever insults sacred Imams, there is an obligation for Muslims to kill him" 5

"If anyone ridicules a mullah, he ridicules Islam. If he does it intentionally (he is sane, not crazy) then he is an innate apostate. His wife is forbidden to him. His possessions must also be given to heirs. He should be killed."  6
Ayatollah Khazali said:
"Jihad means slaying enemies' blood when he weakens people's belief. Commanding the just means, lady cover your face. Why some would say let people decide on their own? Who the hell are people? People fulfill god's wishes. People are respected and precious only to carry out god's wishes, not to disturb it." 7
Mullah Hasani, Supreme Leader's representative in West Azerbaijan and leader of Friday Prayer in Urmia city said:
"According to Islamic tradition, anyone who heard of apostasy, it is an obligation to kill him [the apostate]. During recent five-six years, how much chain newspaper committed apostasy."  8
Now that we established that apostasy is already punishable by death in Iran, the question is why did Islamic Iran propose to make the death penalty for apostasy part of the penal code? Amil Imani answers that:
"Apostasy -- or the formal renunciation of religion -- is already punishable in Iran with death. But now, Iran wants to make the death penalty for apostasy part of the penal code. The European Union is concerned and has asked Iran to reconsider.” Who is an apostate according to the legislation? Anyone in the world, not just Iranians, born to a Muslim parent; also, any convert to Islam who leaves it. Only one parent needs to be a Muslim at the time of conception for Islam to own that child for life. Islam is Ummahist. Islam doesn’t recognize nationalities and national boundaries. And these Islamist zealots are very serious and have no sense of humor. Some say they have no sense at all, and they may be right. What they certainly have is a thirst for blood, particularly for the blood of infidels and apostates."
How about two reformists that charged with apostasy?

This is the question that many have asked me because it publicized in Wikipedia too and unfortunately it is not well updated. In recent years, there have been only two apostasy cases that have become public in Iran. Hashem Aghajari and Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari - both reformists - have been arrested and charged with apostasy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The only motive behind their apostasy charges were solely political, not for self-professed conversion to another faith or abandoning Islam. Both of them have been committed Muslim and they have never claimed otherwise. Later their charges were overturned and they convicted on minor offences.9 None of these two high-profile reformists were executed.

On the case of Hashem Aghajari, specifically Ayatollah Khamenei, Islamic Iran's Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi who was then head of the judiciary intervened and rejected the apostasy allegation:
"According to Islamic jurisprudence, Hashem Aghajari's case is not apostasy." 10

Martin Luther said "Reason is the enemy of faith" and apostasy law is the medieval law, there, only to limit mankind by slaving his mind and so his life. Apostasy laws are there to advance idiotic religious authority over masses and sadly, to kill them when people reject the religious idea. Apostasy law is a gross violation of human rights. For now, I am hoping less people would be sacrificed with these barbaric doctrine in Islamic Iran.

Detail definition:

There are two types of apostates according to Shitte Islamic school: 11
  1. Innate apostate (Murtad Fitri) means a person who is born of a Muslim parent and then he rejects Islam. "Fitrah" means creation. The term Innate apostate implies that the person has apostated from the faith in which he was born (In Islamic belief, "created" is the right word).
  2. Milli apostate (Murtad Milli, translated as voluntary apostate) means a person who converted to Islam and then later on he rejects Islam. Milli is from millat which means religion. The term Milli apostate implies that the person has apostated from his religion and the Muslim community.
Sunni Islamic school does not differentiate apostates in this regard.


1. Faraj Sarkoohi, Passing the execution of apostates' bill; Fear of non-Islamic tendencies? (Persian), RadioFarda, 26 February 2008

2. Amil Imani, The Anachronism of Apostasy, 12 February 2010

3. Paul Marshall, Apostates from Islam, The Weekly Standard, April 10, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 28

4. Ayatollah Khomeini, Tahrir al-Wassilah. Tahrir al-Wassilah is a book (in two volumes and four editions) written in Arabic language to guide Muslims.

5. Sahifeh-e Nour (Sahifeh Noor or Sahifeye Noor) on Vol. 7, P. 182. it is a book collection of Ayatollah Khomeini's speeches, orders and recommendations.

6. Sahifeh-e Nour (Sahifeh Noor or Sahifeye Noor) on Vol. 14, P. 376

7. يالثارات الحسين journal, Vol. 80, P. 4

8. Hamshahri newspaper (Persian), Dec. 17, 2002

9. Iranian university professor Hashem Aghajari who was sentenced to death, instead, was sentenced to five years in prison (Persian), VOA, July 20, 2004

10. Hashem Aghajari death sentence have been revoked, BBC Persian, June 01, 2004

11. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Irtidad (Apostasy) in Islam

July 7, 2010

A price too high

Three years ago, I was thinking with myself why shouldn’t Iranian atheists have a platform? Granted, Iranian atheists can not come out of closet as long as there is Islamic Sharia law in our laws that considers apostasy and atheism a crime punishable by death penalty. So of course we do not want any harm to anyone but there might be some way that we could communicate, build a virtual community and present our ideas.

First I started PersianAtheist.com to write in Persian language and using reason and science to tackle issues and Islamic ideology that is the root cause of our problems in Iran. I noticed that there are many Iranian atheists out there in cyberspace, hidden behind pseudonyms and all of them acknowledging this is the way to go. But the problem is that rarely anyone offered to take part in development of such a community.

it is not that they are lazy or something, It is a tough call, it is choosing between life and death. You can not publicly run around in Iran and speak out in favour of Atheism. Probably you wouldn’t understand what I am saying, okay, let me draw you a picture here. Let’s say you are insane enough to publicly announce that you are an atheist or an agnostic, here, this is going to happen. Authorities will arrest you, put you in prison and beat the hell out of you until you say you made a mistake and you believe allah is there and you are a believer of some sort. Still they punish you for your first point of view because you might have been corrupted some young Muslims.

Let’s say they beat the hell out of you but you are so determined that authorities can not make you to change your mind and they can not coerce you to false confession. Let’s say you are that firm person that you thought that you will go through this all the way and at all costs. Authorities will take you to an Islamic court and after you insist on being an atheists or infidel or non-believer, judge will punish you to death penalty.

In a nutshell, in Islamic society that rules by Sharia law, an atheist is considered a corrupted part of society and to preserve the Islamic society from corruption, Islamic rulers have to get rid of corrupted elements and of course set an example out of them in a barbaric way. So when you question why there are not much Iranian atheists out there? because the price an Iranian atheist pays is way too high. They pay the price with their life, that’s the everything one have and one will have. But this is not going to stop us, for the time being maybe we crawl but we are still on the move and that counts something.

Now, what you can do to help? Simply lodge a petition with UN and ask Iranian authorities to recognize atheists and respect their rights. That might be a good start.

May 27, 2008

Hello there

Stay tune, we are coming soon.