Last Saturday, I attended the 12th annual Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) convention, which was held at All Saints Episcopalian Church in Pasadena. This church is an activist church under the leadership of Pastor Ed Bacon, who made a couple of curious comments about Christians as hateful people.
As also reported in the above link, I took advantage of the occasion to speak with MPAC leaders Salam Al Marayati and Maher Hathout about the question of apostasy within Islam. Both of these gentlemen are recipients of the Freedom Pledge Letter, sent out to approximately 200 of the top Muslim leaders in America in 2009 and again this year asking them to sign a statement that Americans who had left Islam should not be harmed. The video of myself with Hathout is on the above link and the one with Marayati is pending. In essence, both told me that they would not sign the letter and that they did not subscribe to the idea of death for those who leave Islam. If you go to the below link, you can see the video of Hathout receiving the letter from me back in June and his statement about it.
So if you compare Hathout's two statements, first, he said he never received the letter, but he would read it, and if it was serious and didn't insult Islam, he would sign it; then last week, he said he didn't sign it because nobody is going to tell him what to sign.
In addition, I have spoken twice about the letter to another recipient, Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Center of Orange County, who is arguably the most influential Muslim leader in America. The first link is from last April, when I met Siddiqi at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and asked him if he had received the letter (which he denied).
The below link is from November at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California when I reminded him of the letter and gave him his copy.
Clearly, there is a disconnect here. Of all the Muslim leaders in America, people who go around proclaiming that they are bridge builders and men of peace, only two have signed the letter, Zuhdi Jasser and Ali Ayami. Why is it that so many others cannot bring themselves to sign a simple statement that Americans who have left the Islamic faith should not be harmed (since they are indeed living under the threat of death)?
In trying to sort out the answers, at least the ones I have received from the men I have spoken to in the above reports, it seems that there may be a distinction in the minds of some of them between private apostates (those who quietly leave the religion and say nothing) and public apostates (those who proclaim their apostasy and publicly criticize Islam). There may or may not be disagreement among Islamic jurists as to the former, but as to the latter, there is really none. The latter is considered treason. (I even managed to get that much out of Siddiqi though he did not explicitly say that the latter should be put to death.)
One of the scheduled speakers at the Pasadena event (who did not show) was a young man named Shaykh Abdullah Adhami. Prior to the convention, I had posted a video of Adhami trying to answer a question about apostates during a previous speaking appearance. He spoke of private apostates and public apostates, but never really answered the crucial question as to what should be done with them (if anything).
So the issue of death for apostates is clearly a ticklish one for those who profess that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance especially given all the intolerance, hate and mayhem being conducted around the world in the name of Islam. It is indisputable that in many Muslim-majority countries, apostates are being murdered.
That brings us to the issue of people like Pastor Ed Bacon, who made such a big issue of the people who expressed disapproval of his invitation to MPAC to hold their annual convention at his church. There are many like him, Christians and Jews who don't want to hear any bad news about Islam. It is laudable that they may want to find moderate, peaceful Muslims with whom to hold inter-faith events. But at what point do they recognize that they are being used by the wrong people? In the days leading up to the convention many tried to educate Bacon and the church as to what MPAC was really all about. Bacon reacted indignantly, calling them bigots and Islamophobes and talking about the "vile hate mail" he had received. Whether some messages may have used inappropriate language, I don't know; I have not seen them. I have already said that the three guys who showed up to protest the event acted like idiots, but that was it.
The fact is that if Bacon believes so strongly in MPAC, maybe he should ask Marayati and Hathout why they could not bring themselves to sign a simple letter that says that people who leave Islam should not be harmed. Maybe Bacon should ask himself why out of some 200 American Islamic leaders, only two men could bring themselves to sign such a letter. Here is the reason why: