“And if he insists on being killed … then at the end, by the authority of the ruling body, it’s done.”
Sheikh Kamal El Mekki, who expounds with apparent approval the law on beheading ex-Muslims, spoke this February at Trinity College Dublin. Maryam Namazie, equal law campaigner, ex-Muslim and prominent critic of political Islam, was, after agreeing to speak in March, presented with conditions impossible to accept. We know from Trinity News, the excellent student newspaper, that El Mekki’s talk went ahead without restrictions despite concerns expressed by the President of the Students Union. We know from Maryam’s blog that her talk was cancelled, by the College, not her, and that she remains eager to speak there.
An earlier version of this post appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, and was sent on Monday March 30 to the three TDC staff named here, with invitation to comment. None has chosen to do so. So today, April 6, I am sending them this version.
El Mekki is on video (embedded in the Trinity newspaper report; also circulating under the curious title “The apostate – funny”), at an event organised by the AlMaghrib Institute (of which more below) in July 2011, describing how he explained to a Christian missionary the law about apostasy. The missionary was complaining because of his lack of success in Morocco, which he attributed to the law  against apostasy. In reply, El Mekki, visibly amused at the missionary’s predicament, draws an analogy between apostasy and treason (a justification that when examined makes matters worse), and goes on to explain
It’s not like somewhere you heard someone leaves Islam and you just go get him and stuff like that. First of all it’s done by the authorities, there are procedures and steps involved. First of all they talk to him, yeah, about, yanni, the scholars refute any doubt that he has on the issue, they spend days with him refuting and arguing with him, trying to convince him. Then they might even, yanni, threaten him with the sword and tell him ‘You need to repent from this because if you don’t you repent you will be killed.’ And if he insists on being killed that means really, really believing in that. And then, after the procedures take their toll, and then at the end, by the authority of the ruling body, it’s done.
“Yanni,” a common interection in Arabic, means “kind of.” I wonder how one “kind of” threatens someone with the sword. However, we are left with the impression that El Mekki would be opposed to recent well-publicised Jihadist beheadings, not out of any objection to beheading as such, but because of failure to conform to the proper procedures.
An on-line search also led me to here, where you can see El Mekki explaining why amputation is a more humane form of punishment than imprisonment.
Sheikh El Mekki’s response to criticism was reported by the student newspaper. He said that the clip had been taken out of context and was an excerpt from a 39-hour course in which apostasy is dealt with twice, and wrote in response to questioning
[In the clip,] I first deal with the issue from the historical standpoint as you have seen, and then I revisit the issue for the sole purpose of explaining to students that apostasy law is not something that we advocate, nor is it something that we are trying to revive or practice. You will be surprised how many people I’ve met while I was the chaplain at George Mason University, who thought they had the right to carry out that law in America…. I believe the best way to stop extremism is through moderate Muslims and Imams speaking against it.
I leave it to readers to evaluate this claim to be a moderate in the light of his views on amputation and beheading. For the full text of El Mekki’s statement, see Footnote .
El Mekki spoke at Trinity on February 25 at an event, open to all, jointly organised by the Muslim Students Association and a body called the alMaghrib Institute; for one of many critiques from within Islam of this Insititute’s strict Salafism, see this, from the al Sunna Forum. (Salafism is a rigid, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual form of Islam, closely related to the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia.) It was the alMaghrib Institute that had earlier hosted his remarks on beheading and amputation. It has branches in 12 countries, including the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. and offers its own degree and diplomas, the curriculum for which includes a module on “Signs of the last day”, which are “All Around Us”.
Trinity News reported that eight students had expressed concerns over El Mekki’s visit, among them the President of the Student Union, and an ex-Muslim student who is not willing to be named because of the implications for his own safety. However, Joseph O’Gorman, strategic development officer for the Central Societies Committee (CSC), told McGlacken-Byrne that he “cannot see why there can even be a discussion about cancelling the event or not”. According to the CSC web page , Mr O’Gorman
is responsible for the development of the CSC’s long term strategy. The SDO [Strategic Development officer, i.e., currently, O’Gorman] ensures that the support that the CSC gives societies matches their needs as much as possible. The SDO works with the College Civic Development Officer and the Dean of Students to ensure that College neither forgets the importance of societies to the well-being of students and of the College nor that societies exist for students not for College’s own strategic aims. The SDO is responsible for the training and mentoring of the CSC Executive and Officers.
Maryam Namazie (shown R at the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain’s 5th anniversary meeting) is an outspoken ex-Muslim, vocal opponent of the creeping institutionalisation of Sharia law in British society, and well-known activist on behalf of freedom of thought, women’s rights, and human rights in general. (I have written here before about her role in the successful campaign to persuade London’s Law Society to withdraw its ill-judged guidance on the drafting of Sharia-based wills.) She was invited to speak at Trinity College Dublin on March 23rd, and the event was openly advertised by Maryam and on the inviting society’s Facebook page.
After she had already bought her ticket, she was contacted by that society, to tell her that Trinity was imposing conditions on her talk. In Maryam’s words on her own blog and also on the One Law for All website,
I’ve just been informed, however, that college security (why security?) has claimed that the event would show the college is “one-sided” and would be “antagonising” to “Muslim students”; they threatened to cancel my talk. After further consultation with college management, they have decided to “allow” the event to go ahead with the following conditions:
* All attendants of the event must be 1) Trinity students and 2) members of the society hosting the talk.
* For “balance”, they require that a moderator host the event; Prof. Andrew Pierce of the Irish School of Ecumenics has kindly agreed to do so.
I, however, will not be submitting to any conditions, particularly since such conditions are not usually placed on other speakers.
I intend to speak on Monday as initially planned without any restrictions and conditions and ask that TCD give me immediate assurances that I will be able to do so.
Dr Andrew Pierce is an Assistant Professor in Ecumenics, and Course Co-Ordinator of the M.Phil. in Intercultural Theology & Interreligious Studies. It is not clear whether he was aware that he had been invited to moderate behind Maryam’s back. If he was not aware, he should say so. If he was aware, he has betrayed his academic calling by colluding in this disgraceful episode.
It is worth reiterating that, although the ostensive issue was security, Noel McCann, the TCD Facilities Officer, told one of the students involved in organising the event that Maryam’s talk would (unlike El Mekki’s?) show the college as “one-sided” and would be “antagonising” to “Muslim students”. He also asked how “could she come and say whatever she wants without a moderator” and “with half the world knowing about it”. He also threatened to cancel the talk and said that he was meeting with “highest management of Trinity” to discuss whether the event would be “allowed” to go ahead.
On learning that Maryam refused to accept these conditions, Trinity revoked the invitation, while leaving the student society involved and Trinity News under the impression that it was Maryam who had withdrawn.
In truth, Maryam remains eager to speak at TCD, as initially arranged and without imposed conditions, and has said so repeatedly.
So there we have it. According to TCD’s criteria, it is legitimate for a college society to host, at an open meeting, someone who gives every impression of approving the idea of cutting Maryam’s head off, provided due procedures are followed. However, Maryam herself is such a dangerous character that her presence requires a moderator, and the well-being of students demands that only members of the society that had invited her be exposed to her opinions.
I am sending Prof Pierce, Joseph O’Gorman, and Noel McCann copies of this piece, and invite their comments.
Disclosure: I have met Maryam and we have corresponded several times. I have not met or corresponded with any of the other individuals named here.
1] Laws Criminalizing Apostasy in Selected Jurisdictions (Law Library of Congress, May 2014) reports that
Morocco does not impose the death penalty against apostates under the provisions of its Penal Code. However, in April 2013, the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars issued a religious decree (fatwa) that Moroccan Muslims who leave Islam must be sentenced to death. Religious decrees are significant because Islam is the official state religion under article 3 of the Moroccan Constitution of 2011.54 Additionally, under article 41 of the Constitution, the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars “is the sole instance enabled [habilitée] to comment [prononcer] on religious consultations (Fatwas).”
Apostasy is explicitly punishable by death according to the legal codes of Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In Maryam’s native Iran,
While Iranian law does not provide for the death penalty for apostasy, the courts can hand down that punishment, and have done so in previous years, based on their interpretation of Sharia’a law and fatwas (legal opinions or decrees issued by Islamic religious leaders).
2] This, posted by a student on Facebook, is the fullest version I could find of El Mekki’s explanation:
That clip you watched was a five-minute excerpt from a 39 hour course in which apostasy is dealt with twice. I first deal with the issue from a historical standpoint as you have seen, and then I revisit the issue for the sole purpose of explaining to students that apostasy law is not something that we advocate, nor is it something that we are trying to revive or practise. You will be surprised how many people I’ve met while I was the chaplain at George Mason University, who felt they had the right to carry out that law! I believe that part of my responsibility as an educator is to work against any aspect that may lead to the radicalisation of Muslims. I have an entire course where one of the main themes is that bringing Sharia Law to the west has never been one of the objectives of Islam. At the end of the day, you find yourself attacked by Jihadi’s [sic] and extremists on the one end, and misquoted by those who have other agendas on the other. I make the above points crystal clear to students, but I have no control over which clips people isolate and pulled on the internet; and definitely no control over those who purposely take them out of context! Extremism is something that needs to be dealt with, yet those who deal with it in the Muslim communities are misquoted and made to appear as the ones that should be stopped from speaking. Doesn’t seem conducive to ending the problems that plague us! I will continue to be vocal and speak and critique what is wrong. I have not spared any one or group that advocates violence and that is what all our [the al-Maghribi Institute’s] instructors continue to do.
(I would invite readers to watch the clips in question, if they wish to evaluate this explanation.)
Update: in November 2014, under pressure of public opinion, the Law Society withdrew the offending advice note.
That’s my friend Ramin Forghani from Iran, standing next to Maryam Namazie, carrying a placard outside the Law Society offices in London. He knows that what he is doing, and what he is about to say, could get him killed.
Imagine that you want to write your will according to sharia law, which in England you are perfectly entitled to do. You can go to your friendly neighbourhood Imam to discuss the matter, ask him to explain what is actual law, and what mere custom, talk about the various different interpretations available), and consider how best to apply them to your own family circumstances. This could be quite a long conversation; there are at least six main traditional schools of sharia jurisprudence, to say nothing of modernisers like Musawah who seek to accommodate Islamic practice to present-day principles of equality.
Or you can go to your solicitor, who handles all your ordinary legal business. And if that solicitor follows the guidance issued by the Law Society, he will simply tell you that sons inherit twice as much as daughters, adopted and illegitimate children do not inherit at all, neither do divorced spouses, and marital status is defined according to religious marriage and not according to the law of the land. Tough, by the way, on your orphaned grandkids; in the Law Society’s version of sharia law “it is not possible to inherit under Sharia rules by a deceased relative.”
The Law Society has no more authority to issue guidance on sharia law than your dentist has to issue guidance on backache. In doing so, it has committed the typical outsider’s error of regarding the most uncompromising form of a religion as the most authentic. It has taken sides in a fierce internal debate within Islam, where it has neither competence nor standing nor expertise. It cites as an authority the Islam Channel, which has allowed presenters to say that rape is legitimate within marriage and that a husband can beat his wife, although knocking a tooth out is going too far. It also cites the Salafist Dr. Muhammad al-Jibaly, whose web page on inheritance incidentally advocates lashing for fornicators and stoning for adulterers. Its specific guidance reflects Dr. al-Jibaly’s views, despite the fact that these are far from universally accepted within the UK Islamic community and indeed, by Muslim lawyers practising within the UK. On the same web page Dr. al-Jibaly also forbids, except within marriage, “anything leading to zina [fornication], such as looking, touching, flirting, kissing, and so on.”
Even if it were the case (as it is not) that al-Jibaly’s views on sharia were beyond dispute, it is not the job of the Law Society to give out guidance in how to apply his pernicious principles. And even if the guidance were thoroughly praiseworthy, which it clearly is not, it is wrong in principle and dangerous in practice to graft any kind of religious law onto the practice of general law, which is the only role of solicitors in a secular and plural society such as ours.
There is worse to come. The Law Society has an event scheduled in June, and already sold out, as a forerunner to future seminar series on Islamic law. This event will count towards solicitors’ mandatory hours of Continuous Professional Development, and will offer sharia training on family and children, among other topics.
No wonder, then, that on Monday 28 April One Law for All and other organizations protested outside the Law Society’s offices in London. And that Change.org is carrying a formal petition to the Society, which you can sign here. But what has this got to do with Ramin? Let him speak for himself:
I’m here on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society. I know that the legal system in Scotland is separate from England and Wales. But I’m Iranian and I well know that what happens when the barrier between Religion and legal system gets destroyed. Iran sharia law sentences apostates like me to death and now the Law Society has written guidance for it. Secularism acknowledges religious freedom and that means keeping a distinct barrier between it and the legal system. That’s a shame that in this country which is famous for secularism, the Law Society has done guidance on sharia law, a religious system. The Law Society is not in a position to write guidance for sharia as a religious legal system. Even if it was, there is a huge debate on sharia law in Muslim countries at the moment and the Law Society has chosen the most outdated, the most reactionary version of it. Shame on them.
Comment is superfluous.
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For more background, and to join the petition to the Law Society to stop promoting discrimination, see here. The One Law for All letter to the Law Society, with list of signatories, is here. For more on the Law Society’s future plans in this area, see here. For the extremely revealing correspondence between the Law Society and Lawyers’ Secular Society, and further background, see here and links therein. Disclosure: Ramin and I are both on the board of Scottish Secular Society. An earlier version of this posting appeared on 3 Quarks Daily.
 Salafis are an extreme literalist sect, often identified with the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, who do not acknowledge or follow any of the four schools of thought to which other Sunni Muslims adhere.