Unlike Leah Sharibu who reportedly refused to embrace Islam in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents, Muslim prisoners who are under severe pressures similar to the Dapchi school girls’ are allowed to verbally renounce their religion for the fear of being killed or harmed, because such renouncements would have been done under duress, not from their hearts.
This confirms the flexibility of Islam, the religion of peace that guarantees the right to freedom of belief and worship.
Allah (SWT) says: “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief – except one who was forced while his heart is at peace with the faith – but whoever opens their breasts to disbelief, on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a terrible torment”. Qur’an 16:106
In his exegesis of the verse “… except one who was forced while his heart is at peace with the faith”, Ibn Katheer explained:
“This is an exception in the case of one who utters statements of disbelief and verbally agrees with the Mushrikin (polytheist) because he is forced to do so by the beatings and abuse to which he is subjected, but his heart refuses to accept what he is saying, and he is, in reality, at peace with his faith in Allah and His Messenger.”
This verse (Qur’an 16:106) was revealed because of Ammaar Ibn Yaasir, whose parents, Sumayyah bint Khayyat and Yaasir Ibn Amr (may Allah have mercy on them) were brutally killed by the tyrant idolaters in Makkah because they refused to renounce Islam.
Sumayyah, the first female martyr in Islam was tied between two camels and stabbed with a spear in her female organ, after which Yaasir Bn Amr was equally killed in a gruesome manner. When it was the turn of Ammaar, their son, he was forced to tell them what they wanted to hear, and he was freed as a result.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was told that Ammar has renounced his faith, but he (SAW) said:
“Never! Ammaar is filled with faith from his head to his toes; faith is mixed with his flesh and blood!”
Later, Ammaar went to see the Prophet, peace be upon him, crying. He (SAW) wiped his tears with his own hands and said:
“If they (idolaters) return to you, let them hear again what you told them”.
The Prophet (SAW) loved Ammaar greatly and used to boast among his Companions about Ammaar’s faith and guidance.
The story of Ammaar was one of the reasons many scholars agreed that if a person is forced into disbelief, like the case of Leah Sharibu, even though forceful conversion attributed to the Boko Haram insurgents is irreconcilable with the practice and principles of Islam, it is permissible for a Muslim (prisoner) held in captivity to go along with his abductors in the interest of self-preservation.
In Islam, life is sacred and every soul must be protected from being spilled for whatever unjust reasons. The Noble Qur’an 5:32 and 6:151 emphasize the right to security of life and prohibit wanton killings of innocent civilians and destruction of property under whatever guise.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said in his last address delivered on the occasion of his farewell pilgrimage that:
“Your lives and properties are forbidden to one another till you meet your Lord on the Day of Judgment.”
Leah Sharibu could have been harmed by the extremist group which abducted her because of her alleged refusal to embrace Islam. Yet, she would have been freed if she had denied Jesus Christ verbally, and still gone back home to continue practising her faith (Christianity), similar to the case of Ammaar Ibn Yaasir, who later spent an additional 40 years plus after the sad incident, propagating the universality of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) message.
Interestingly, Ammaar participated in all the battles (Badr, Uhud, Al-Khandaq, Tabuuk and others) with the Messenger of Allah. As an outstanding Companion, he participated in the series of meetings of Muslims with the Persians and the Romans, and before that, at their meetings with the army of apostates. He was later appointed the Governor of Kufa (in present day Iraq) during the reign of Umar Bn Al-Khattab, the Commander of the Faithful and the second Caliph of Islam.
The man Ammaar, who was forced to utter the word of disbelief by the polytheists, was protected by Allah and reserved for the propagation of Islam until he was martyred at 93 at the Battle of Siffin.
Other scholars agreed based on the aforementioned narrations that though it is best to speak words of disbelief in order to protect oneself from harm or persecution, there is nothing wrong if one dies as a martyr. They cited the case of Ammaar’s parents (Sumayyah and her husband, Yaasir) and Abdullah bin Hudhafah Al-Sahmi, who was crucified by the Roman King for his refusal to embrace Christianity during the reign of Umar Bn Al-Khattab.
Bilal Bn Rabaah (may Allah be pleased with him) also went through the same cruel punishment but he did not renounce his religion when he was inflicted with all sorts of torture. The idolaters placed a huge rock on his chest under intense heat and told him to say Allah has deity-partners.
He refused, saying, “Alone, Alone.” And he said, “By Allah, if I knew any word more annoying to you than this, I would say it.” He didn’t die. He was fortunate to have been saved by Allah and rose to become the first Muazzin (caller to the Muslim Salat/prayer).
As such, it is crystal clear that incontrovertible evidences abound in Islam, in speech and practice, for choosing either path in response to situations of pressure towards conversion. However, the path of choice in each peculiar situation would be decided by the depth of faith of the individual involved, the imminent risk to life and limb, and the likely response of such abductors/forceful converters.
May our faith never be tested with such situations (Amin).
By Rasheed Abubakar
Publisher, Muslim News Nigeria