Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

True Freedom of Religion Is a Two-Way Traffic

Jacob Thomas

In Islam freedom of religion implies that members of other faiths are encouraged to Islamize; on the other hand, a Muslim may not convert to another religion. Early in the history of Islam, this radical position became solidified against anyone who dared to go back on his or her Muslim faith. It had its origin in the defection of several Arab tribes from the Islamic Umma, soon after news about the death of Muhammad had reached them. In the summer of 632 A.D., Abu Bakr, the first caliph, and father of the Prophet’s favorite wife, Aisha, mounted military campaigns against the rebels and forced them back into the fold of Islam. Abu Bakr’s campaigns are known in Arabic as Huroob al-Radda, i.e. the wars against apostasy.

Eventually, the Four Sunni Schools for the interpretation of the Shari’ah codified the rules regarding the sin of apostasy (radda) and declared that, unless an apostate repents, he or she is to be punished with death. This harsh attitude towards Muslims who convert to other religions is based on the belief that Muhammad was Allah’s final messenger to mankind. To go back on Islam and renounce the Shahadah (Islamic confession of the radical unity of Allah, and the Prophethood of Muhammad) is tantamount to committing the unpardonable sin. Several Qur’anic verses may be adduced as a basis for this harsh treatment of the apostates; sufficient here is the following ayah (text) from Surah (chapter) Aal ‘Imran, a Medinan Chapter 3:85

وَمَنْ يَّبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْاِسْلَامِ دِيْنًا فَلَنْ يُّقْبَلَ مِنْهُ‌ۚ وَهُوَ فِىْ الْاٰخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخٰسِرِيْنَ

“Waman yabtaghi ghair’l Islami deenan, flan yuqbala minhu, wa Huwa fi’l akhirati mina’l khasireen.”

“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the losers.” (Translation mine)

From Sahih International

“And whoever desires other than Islam as religion - never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.”

Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a Standard Tafsir (Commentary) on the Qur’an

“The following was revealed regarding those who apostatized and became disbelievers: ‘Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers, because he will end up in the Fire, made everlasting for him.’” (Source)

Considering the draconian rules pertaining to the conversion of Muslims to other faiths, I was very impressed by an article that was posted by an Arab intellectual on 30 May, 2010, on the reformist Kuwaiti website Tanweer.  It had this title:

A Freedom We Don’t Understand:
The Call to Embrace a Religion or to Leave it

الدعوة الى الدين او تركه.. حرية لا نفهمها

The article was occasioned by an advertisement in the United States that appeared on buses, calling on Muslims to apostatize. Here are excerpts from the article, followed by my analysis and comments.

When I read the news about certain advertisements that appeared in America on buses calling on Muslims to forsake Islam, I was very disturbed. I couldn’t understand why Americans would manifest such a hostile attitude toward Islam by calling on Muslims to leave their faith! When my emotions subsided, I reflected on the subject and concluded that it was a reaction to the acts of violence that Muslims had perpetrated lately within “Christian” lands. Who can forget the events of 11 September, 2001? 

Ever since that day, the West has been asking: ‘Why do Muslims want to attack innocent people? And why Muslims forbid Christians to engage in mission work in their homeland, when Muslims living in Western countries freely call on people to Islamize? And, why do Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in the West, while adamantly opposing some of their own people the use that freedom and embrace another faith?’

The fact remains that we, Muslims have always been in conflict with other religions, and have initiated unjustified wars especially against the West. Muslims are obsessed by this antagonism, and are unable to understand the true meaning of the word “hurriyya” (freedom), since it is absent from our dictionaries. So how can we appreciate its value in Western societies? Historically, we have been antagonistic to the concept of liberty; our faith has an ambiguous attitude toward it. The West believes in your freedom to spread your religion in their lands; shouldn’t this imply that you allow them the same freedom? And why be angry when they place ads on buses that call on Muslims to forsake their faith, while you possess complete freedom to call Westerners to convert to Islam?

Actually, we get quickly upset by any criticism of Islam. This reveals that Islam is weak, and unable to withstand criticism. Whether those ads on American buses succeeded or failed to accomplish their goal, at least those who sponsored them were exercising their freedom of expression. In the final analysis, let’s admit that Islam has always been the beneficiary of Western tolerance; while Christianity has not received any reciprocal treatment from Islam. This is the verdict of history. (Arabic Source)


The author of the article deplored the total absence of a quid pro quo in the West’s relation with Islam. While Muslims in the West enjoy complete freedom of religion, including the right to propagate their faith, Christians in Daru’l Islam are forbidden to call on Muslims to convert to Christianity.


It is seldom that an Arab intellectual would go public and point to this anomaly within Muslim lands. I applaud his courage and integrity, and thank the Kuwaiti website for posting it.

Around two months after that article appeared on Tanweer, and after news regarding the harsh treatment received lately by Christian workers in Morocco had become widely known, this editorial was published in the Wall Street Journal on July 6: “Expelled in Morocco: A U.S. ally mistreats American Christians.”

Here are excerpts:  

Morocco has long been considered a bastion of relative religious tolerance in the Muslim world, but since March the government has summarily expelled dozens of Americans for Christian proselytizing. Most were denied any semblance of due process, and some were given only a few hours to pack their bags. The government has provided little or no evidence of proselytizing, which is illegal in Morocco.

Eddie and Lynn Padilla had been foster parents in the Village of Hope, an orphanage located in the Atlas Mountains east of the capital of Rabat, where they were raising two Moroccan orphan boys under the age of two. The government has long known they are Christians and had granted them a 10-year visa.

That changed on March 9. After three days of police inspection and interrogation, the Padillas were given a few hours to gather their belongings. ‘It happened so fast that you didn't even really have time to feel the shock of it until later,’ Mrs. Padilla told us in an interview. ‘The worst moment of it all was handing over the boys. ... These children were abandoned by their birth mothers. We were their parents.’

On 9 July, 2010, the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded:

Your editorial "Expelled in Morocco" (July 6) is wrong about Morocco's recent actions to enforce its laws against religious proselytism. Morocco guarantees its tradition of freedom of worship in its constitution and it applies equally to Muslims, Jews and Christians, people of faith who have lived and worked together for generations. To maintain the balance in its society and protect the public order. Moroccan law also prohibits proselytizing.

After a thorough investigation, Moroccan authorities were obligated to enforce these laws. Those who want to challenge their repatriations are free to use the legal means at their disposal, including the right to appeal.

Morocco remains committed to interfaith dialogue, tolerance, freedom of expression, worship and openness. (Source)

Actually, the Moroccan ambassador’s response evaded the issue of freedom of religion, by claiming that those strong measures against some American Christians had to be taken in order  “To maintain the balance in its society and protect the public order. Moroccan law also prohibits proselytizing.”  In fact, no concrete proof was advanced to demonstrate that those Christians, who were looking after Moroccan orphans, had engaged in an illicit activity! Morocco’s action directed against Eddie and Lynn Padilla, belie the claim that “Morocco remains committed to interfaith dialogue, tolerance, freedom of expression, worship and openness.” The facts prove the very opposite. Islam remains unwilling to acknowledge that true freedom is a two-way traffic; and not only the freedom of non-Muslims to Islamize, but equally, the freedom of Muslims to convert to other faiths.