Should Muslim apostates or adulterists be killed?

Somali woman 'rightfully' stoned to death for out-of-marriage sex under Sharia Law.  Pew survey shows

Somali woman legally stoned to death for out-of-marriage sex under Sharia Law.

I am a proud, though somewhat embarrassed, Christian apostate.  I once enthusiastically embraced Christianity but then ‘deconverted’.  My apostasy cost me my friends and some family, but it did not cost me my life.  Though Christians use to kill apostates, they no longer do.  But in many Islamic traditions, the penalty for deconverting (riddah) from Islam is death.  This recent Pew poll shows the horrible prevalence of this evil way in present-day Islam with percentages  of Muslims who agree with killing apostates.

  • 86% in Egypt
  • 82% in Palestinian territories
  • 46% in Lebanon

The same survey shows Muslim approval for stoning (execution) as punishment for adultery:

  • 89% in Pakistan
  • 85% in Afghanistan
  • 84% in Palestinian territory

At the hospitals where I work, after the Boston marathon bombing,  I have heard Muslim doctors arguing with colleagues that militant Islam is an exception — that Islam is actually a religion of peace.  And, indeed in my very limited experience, for Muslims I know here in my town, that is the case.  But for many Muslim’s I met in when I lived in Pakistan, that was not the case.  Look at the Pew data to see a very dangerous story for much of Islam.

After watching Massimo Pigliucci recent talk on morality, I wondered about the “apostate” meme and the classic “trolly” dilemma  I wonder if people who say they think apostates should be killed, would actually throw the stones needed to kill an apostate in front of them or if they are only comfortable with others killing apostates for them. That is why governments and religions are dangerous — we can make very different decision when we are removed from a situation then when we give over responsibility to a larger group which has been sanctified.  The kill-apostate meme is deadly and evil but the “apostate meme” itself is horrible and feeds this mentality.  The meme still exists in many forms of Christianity.  This meme must be combatted.  So take a stance — stand out — if possible, proudly declare your religion-free life so as to perhaps make apostasy safer for others.


Now for a final linguistic treat:

Apostate” is from the Greek: “defection, desertion” – to stand away from

    • apo: away from, off
    • stenai: to stand

Other examples of “apo” words:

    • apology: apo + logos: speech. To speak in one’s defense
    • apocalypse: apo + calypso: hidden. to uncover, disclose
    • apogee: apo + gaia: earth. furthest from earth

Other examples of “stenai” words — from PIE: “sta”

    • station: a place to stand
    • statue: made to stand


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “Should Muslim apostates or adulterists be killed?

  1. The stats and anecdotal evidence you present seem to support the idea that interacting with the ‘other’ is correlated with less extreme thought about apostasy. It’s far from a perfect correlation and probably not close to causation.

  2. rautakyy

    @ Sabio Lanz, I agree with you totally. The killing of an apostate “meme” is only surpressed by a secular society, where no singular religious leadership holds all the political power. Political power is often based on values and religions are keen to offer us values. It is interresting how those values supposedly given by a god seem to change as the culture changes. For example the Mormons stopped having multiple wives as the US law forbade that. And the Christians stopped killing apostates only after the madnes of exhausting wars of religion had caused modern humanism, secularism and enlightenment to appear as a voice of reason.

    However, the capital punishment “meme” also still lives strongly in the undercurrent of Christian culture. Most secular nations have stopped using the capital punishment, but I still run into intelligent and liberal Christians who say that such things like stoning and slavery in the Bible were OK, then because of the different culture, but that slavery would be wrong today and especially, that the stoning today in Muslim countries is wrong. It frightens me, how easily a well meaning modern person, slips into cultural relativism, in wich what is right, or wrong is not determined by ethics of what harm our actions cause, but by arbitrary commands in a book.

    I have even been told (by a liberal Chirstian), that the stoning was a good cultural solution for punishment in the Biblical times and in social and cultural situation of the nomadic tribes, because they had no facilities for incarceration and the collective participation caused the people to share the guilt of the action. I do not see how, that differs in any way from the situation of this Somali woman in your picture.

  3. Even people who support the death penalty in some situations, such as for serial killers, should recognize the abhorrence of stoning people to death for apostasy and adultery. Yet there are many Christians who say the Bible is the Word of God and the best guide for morals and law. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB) has a special page collecting Bible verses promoting stoning:

    Once more, both Christians and Muslims who want to portray their faiths as peaceful, loving, and sensible have to cherry pick their way around history and reality. The SAB author points out that the New Testament story about Jesus saying “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” appears to be a later addition to the Bible.

  4. It’s just a matter of history. The Christian world has been enjoying science and technology longer than the nations you referenced. In many of those countries, people are still living in extremely primitive conditions. Get some Starbucks, Nike, and WalMart in there, and they will turn around in a generation or two.

    Then the problem will be trying to get them out of Starbucks, Nikes and WalMarts, but that’s someone else’s trouble.

  5. I wonder why peeps don’t get that each tribe needs their own apostates for any meaningful conversation or progress to happen.

    This also reminds me of one of my favorite Banksy quotes:
    “People who should be shot: Fascist thugs, religious fundamentalists, people who write lists about who should be shot.”

  6. @ Orange :
    I am not sure I agree that the stats I presented point that way. Muslims in Pakistan have had centuries of exposures to Hindus and Sikhs and yet huge percentages nurture murderous ideas about their neighbors. Heck, even Muslims kill muslims, because joining another sect can amount to apostasy also.

    @ rautakyy :
    Yes, it is amazing how many Christians will rationalize the horrible parts of their scriptures.

    @ Abel :
    Thanx for the link — excellent examples.

    @ revyloution :
    I also think, as you allude, prosperity can erase many dangerous ideas and tendencies — well, until the prosperity evaporates.

    @ Luke :
    Yes, variety in a population can cause it to survive better — an evolutionary insight.

  7. Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Whether practiced that way today or not, all of the religions based on the Bible have their foundations in a fear based system. What better way to keep people in the flock than to threaten death if they leave? Even better, get them to believe that’s the way things should be.

  8. jennifer barras.

    Christianity is about accepting the teachings of Christ and living life as advocated by Him. His teachings were about how to attain peace on earth. What men of arms did in history is irrelevant to the teachings of Christ. The teachings of Christ and how to attain peace on earth can be read in the New Testament of the bible. The old Testament of the Bible is history and not the word of Christ. The Jews rejected the teachings of Christ which was to treat others with kindness at all times. The Jews still hold on to the old testament idea that an eye for an eye is justified. The Muslims still hang onto revenge being justified. Jesus of Nazareth was no pussy cat. He died without protest and forbade his followers to take up arms to defend him in his belief that peace on earth could not be found through violence. Peace and happiness is found through living life in the way that Jesus taught.

  9. Peter

    This stoning incident (presumably just one of many such incidents) is so shocking and horrifying. I had no idea such things happened in today’s world. My job is teaching English to refugees, mostly Somali women. Upon reflection I have to say that it is not just the gross injustice but more particularly the methodology, the means of death that is the most dreadful.

    No wonder 2 million Somalis live in poverty in foreign refugee camps hoping for asylum. Anything is still better than living in a country where this can happen.This is too depressing for words.

  10. Peter

    I feel so disturbed by this story I feel I must try to resolve my distress:

    In Somalia a married woman commits adultery and is half buried in a pit and stoned to death. This law is so very wrong.

    In the civilised west a disloyal woman receives hundreds of thousands of dollars compensation from her husband, (the sole income provider for the family for 15 years). She receives sole custody of their children, and buys a new house with a beautiful swimming pool.

    Meanwhile her husband moves into a rented room nearby with a shared kitchen. He might get to see his children for two hours a week in the presence of his wife who supervises his visits. The man thinks about ending it all because of the injustice of the legal system. (BTW I know this particular man VERY personally!)

    I teach English to Somali ladies and am learning a few of their words. One of the first phrases I was taught was “go away!” delivered with a wave of a hand. My ladies explained to me that in Australia this is what a Somali woman tells her husband when she has had enough of him for whatever reason.

    She just says “bax!” (go away) and he has to sleep in the car, (or worse). He cannot even sleep in the garage. They say, “In Somalia, man #1. In Australia, man #5” (or #6, #7, depending on how many kids they have, regardless he always comes last).

    This is an issue of power imbalance between men and women leading to victimisation of both men and women. Both laws are wrong.

  11. @ Peter:
    Proportionately, women get the huge brunt of violence (psychological and physical) around the world. But there is no denying injustices to men too (codified in laws or everyday) that occur. But when those laws, norms or standards are considered part of immutable sacred law (read: unquestionable), then you have horror. Yes, violent behavior is violent, but when you make it unchallengeable, it becomes a horror. Religions can do that easily — and have over the millennium.

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