Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members, 11 out of 57, still uphold the death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy, which silences their citizens and encourages violence by non-state actors.
During our recent visit to the UN headquarters in New York, we learned that Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights had prohibited the death penalty for religious offences for the previous 70 years.
However, 11 States still impose the death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy today.
The OIC majority has recognised the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the holy book defends that right as the moral standard for the laws in OIC member countries.
With the resounding backing of the 46 OIC states and other human rights defender nations in the coming days, the inclusion of language promoting international religious freedom in both resolutions calling for the abolition of the death penalty will be enhanced.
11 out of the 57 members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) still have the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy. This keeps people from speaking out and encourages violence by non-state actors.
During our recent trip to the UN headquarters in New York, we learned that Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has banned the death penalty for religious crimes for the past 70 years.
We led the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Campaign to Get Rid of Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws before the high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in the middle of September. We asked UN members to back two important resolutions that called for the end of the death penalty and executions that didn’t follow the law.
We want to see language that makes it clear that nonviolent crimes like blasphemy and apostasy will never lead to the death penalty. Nigerian third committee members responded well to the campaign. They reaffirmed their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by supporting language in a resolution to end the death penalty for murderers that don’t follow the law and put a halt to the death penalty.
In the days since our visit, the case of Masha Amini, an Iranian Muslim woman who broke the Islamic Republic of Iran’s mandatory hijab law and was jailed and later died while in the custody of Iranian morality police, has outraged human rights activists and worried people around the world.
These horrible things won’t stop until the Iranian government and other flagrant human rights violators listen to the screams of their own people and follow human rights statements that are widely accepted. Blasphemy and apostasy laws have been taken away, as have laws that supported religious freedom or belief around the world.
Some countries won’t change their laws because they know they’re the worst at breaking internationally recognized human rights. In the meantime, most Muslim countries are working hard to get rid of the death penalty for things like blasphemy and leaving the religion.
This constant focus on upholding restrictive laws and giving the harshest punishments goes against the right to life and the freedom to believe what you want. This wrong interpretation of the Bible is a misuse of Islam that hurts the reputation of Muslims all over the world and shows disrespect for God’s mercy, which is not based on religion.
The multidisciplinary and multireligious delegation from the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Campaign asked the UN members, like Luxembourg, Canada, and Sri Lanka, to speak out strongly in favor of including language supporting international religious freedom in two resolutions that will be voted on at the UNGA in November.
The IRF Campaign only supports Penholders Australia and Costa Rica’s calls for a moratorium on the death penalty with the addition of explicit language assuring the death penalty will never be applied for non-violent behavior such as apostasy or blasphemy.
International advocates are also urging Finland to include language about freedom of religion or belief in the UNGA resolution on extrajudicial executions. They are emphasizing the need for states to take practical steps to repeal laws that currently allow the death penalty for religious offenses, such as making conversion and expressing religion or belief illegal.
According to Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief. However, 11 states still impose the death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy today. We speak up for people who can’t speak for themselves, like Aneeqa Ateeq, a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 2022 after being pressured online by a man she turned down romantically.
Also, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, an Islamic gospel singer from Nigeria who is 22 years old, was given the death penalty for blasphemy because one of his songs was said to praise an Imam more than the Prophet. Hassan Tohow Fidow, an 83-year-old Somali man, was also executed by firing squad after being given a death sentence for blasphemy by an al-Shabaab militant court.
As a result of our lobbying at the UN, we hope that the 11 Muslim member states of Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen will support the reasonable repeal of the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a major step toward becoming civilized countries.
It is important to follow the ways that most OIC member countries restore and protect basic human rights because they show how to be modern and kind. These countries do not impose a death sentence for crimes against religion.
“There should be no coercion in religion; the good way has become distinct from the wrong way,” the Qur’an states. (Qur’an 2:256). The same is true of verses like 18:26, which states, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Anyone who wishes to believe is free to do so. Whoever among you gives up their religion and dies as a non-believer, their actions will have no meaning in this life or the next. And if he wants to, he can disbelieve.
Most OIC members have recognized the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the holy book defends that right as the moral standard for the laws in OIC member countries.
When civil society takes action in support of universally acknowledged human rights, as has recently happened in Iran, the world pays attention. In its mission statement, the OIC says that it exists “to preserve and promote the fundamental Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice, and human dignity,” as well as “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, democracy, and accountability.”
Now that these two important UN resolutions have been passed, OIC members will have to take on the difficult political task of calling out their fellow OIC members. People are still put to death in the latter because they use their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
We think it’s a problem with society and shows a lack of democratic values and principles.
With the strong support of the 46 OIC states and other human rights-protecting countries in the next few days, both resolutions calling for the end of the death penalty will be more likely to include language promoting religious freedom around the world.
We are happy with the work of Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa of the Muslim World Alliance. He is a Saudi Arabian scholar who travels the world spreading the Charter of Makkah, which is supported by everyone and says that religious and racial diversity is a sign of God’s wisdom and will.
Abolishing the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy must be the first step in upholding the theologies of love and compassion and promoting human flourishing. This is what we must demand and commit to with one voice.
Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv, is co-chair of the IRF Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws. Soraya M. Deen, Esq. is a lawyer, a community organizer, and the founder of Muslim Women Speakers. She is also co-chair of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Women’s Working Group.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network