In a TV interview, Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail said that "you cannot overcome terrorism without abolishing the notion of apostasy." Although there are "dozens, if not hundreds," of Quranic verses about freedom of belief, "not a single verse says that the punishment for apostasy is killing," said Abdi Ismail, who was a professor of economics in East Africa University until he left after receiving death threats when he published a book on apostasy in 2014. In the interview, which aired on Sky News Arabia on March 31, Abdi Ismail further said that "Islam is a religion and not a state" and that "secularism is the solution, whether we like it or not."
Abdi Said: "All the Islam of violence and terror uses the punishment for apostasy. I say that you cannot overcome terrorism without abolishing the notion of apostasy.
"The notion of takfir [accusation of heresy] existed in the past, but it occurred only rarely, from time to time, and on an individual level. Since 2006, more or less, after the rise and fall of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, takfir has become a widespread phenomenon. The Islamic movements, especially the Shabab movement, oppose the government and call it an apostate government. They consider anyone working for the government – whether a high-ranking official or a regular employee – to be an apostate."
Interviewer: "And thus, they authorize or justify his killing."
Abdi Said: "Exactly. Any regular employee, such as a street cleaner working for the government – they can implement against him the punishment for apostasy. They can tell him that he is an apostate, because this is an apostate government and he should have pronounced it infidel. If you don’t call an infidel an infidel, you are an infidel yourself, and they sentence you to…"
Interviewer: "This is the ideology of ISIS…"
Abdi Said: "Of course. The Shabab movement is the same."
Interviewer: "They belong to the same school."
Abdi Said: "Yes, the same school.
"Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that a person has renounced Islam. Is he supposed to be killed? Is there any evidence of this? The killing of a human being is the greatest crime. When you sentence a person to death, you need to have evidence…"
Interviewer: "So you have not found any decisive evidence that justifies or authorizes the killing of someone who has left his religion, an apostate…"
Abdi Said: "There is no such evidence. When you read the Islamic sources – and the Quran is the original source… When we read the Quran, we find dozens, if not hundreds, of verses about freedom of belief, freedom of conscience.
"You cannot find a single verse permitting the killing of an apostate. Even though the issue of apostasy appears in ten verses or more, not a single verse says that the punishment for apostasy is killing. Apostasy appears in the Quran, but its punishment is not in this world. It is in the world to come.
"The Islamic movements and the Islamist ideology prevalent today are fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state, and even more than that, for the return of the Islamic Caliphate. This is an idea that has been around for over 100 years. Since the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate until this day, it has been the goal into which Muslims have placed the most effort and have given…"
Interviewer: "Don’t you think that this is the result of a misconception of the Caliphate, or a misconception that stems from a misreading of the history of the Islamic world? After all the concept of the Caliphate was part of a political game."
Abdi Said: "That's right."
Interviewer: "The Ottomans played their game in order to justify a political rule in the name of the 'Caliphate.' Enough. They have killed us with this meaningless dream."
Abdi Said: "It is indeed meaningless. That’s the truth, but who understands it? We have a Somali saying: 'The lie is faster than the truth.' This issue appeared in the 1920s. But until this day it is the greatest issue for the Muslims, wherever they are. So, as I said, in Islam there isn't… Islam is a religion and not a state. Whoever says that Islam is a state…"
Interviewer: "They say Islam is a religion and state."
Abdi Said: "No, Islam is just a religion, like all the others."
Interviewer: "As for the state, it is a man-made matter."
Abdi Said: "That’s right. Does Islam specify a certain form of political regime? No."
Interviewer: "You say that secularism is supposed to be the solution."
Abdi Said: "Secularism is the solution, whether we like it or not.
"Many people think that secularism is harmful to religion and that it is against…"
Interviewer: "The Islamists have distorted the image of secularism."
Abdi Said: "That’s right. They have presented it as being against religion, and so on and so forth. But the truth of the matter is that secularism is useful to religion."
Interviewer: "In what way?"
Abdi Said: "Belief is a personal thing. But if there is a religious government that forces you to do this and not do that…"
Interviewer: "The secular state will grant you the right to practice your religion."
Abdi Said: "Yes, so that you can worship your god as you please, pray as you please, and practice your rituals according to your personal belief. This beauty of belief stems from this."