CTV News in Edmonton recently highlighted the case of John Calvin (not his real name), a gay Palestinian who converted from Islam to Christianity and was recently denied refugee asylum in Edmonton by the Canadian government.
Escaping attempts on his life, he studied on a scholarship in a Bible College in Toronto. However, on New Year's Eve, he received a letter of deportation because of his family ties with Hamas. If deported, he could be executed on both counts of apostasy and homosexuality.
His friends have initiated an urgent fundraising campaign to help pay legal fees pertaining to his case. They have also asked that people contact their MLA, the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister's office.
As Universalist Muslims and on behalf our allies in the network of progressive Muslim groups, we express our unstinted support for John Calvin. We fully support his right to live his life based on freedom of conscience and religion.
We urge our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to take action immediately to withdraw the deportation order and allow Calvin asylum in Canada. His life, and Canada's reputation as a world leader in human rights depend on it.
We strongly reject the archaic opinions of those who wish to impose draconian punishments of eras long gone by. Since this issue involves the traditional beliefs of Muslims and the political dynamics in Palestine, we call upon Arab and Muslim communities to stand by Calvin through financial, legal and material support.
Islam, like any other faith, can be interpreted to oppress others or alternatively to liberate them from oppression. In contrast to clerics who seek to oppress their fellow human beings, many contemporary and past Muslim scholars reject any punishment for apostasy or homosexuality, claiming that they have no basis in the Qur'an.
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq compiled a list of more than a hundred notable Islamic voices from various centuries to affirm the message of the Qur'an, 'There is no compulsion in faith'. He has strongly criticized those "scholars," who have been unable to differentiate between apostasy and treason.
Likewise, a whole school of Islamic jurisprudence rejects the traditional punishment for homosexuality. The Hanafi School finds the textual evidence for punishment quite weak and rejects punishment based on qiyas (analogy). Various scholars have asserted that clerical authorities have failed to distinguish between sin and crime.
While some conservative Muslim groups reject draconian punishments, inclusive Muslims fully embrace religious diversity and pluralism as well as the full human rights of sexual minorities.
The silence of communities yields space to rigid elements that usurp space to project their intolerant viewpoints. This in turn fuels Islamophobic incidents that include the recent anti-Muslim march in Germany and the mosque attacks in Sweden.
However, just as Cold Lake residents expressed solidarity with their Muslim neighbours after the mosque was vandalized, so did Swedish residents. The famous Cologne Cathedral in Germany turned off its lights in protest against the anti-Muslim march.
Many Muslim groups have consistently condemned the actions of rogue Muslim groups that seek to spread fisadh fil ardh (anarchy on Earth). However, questions on the draconian punishment for apostasy and homosexuality continue to be asked.
In standing by John Calvin openly and by unreservedly condemning the fanaticism of groups like Hamas, Muslim communities will be able to send out a strong and clear message that ghuluw (extremism) and draconian punishments have no place in Islam.
Like their counterparts in Cold Lake, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere, who have reached out to them in their hour of need, they will be able to reciprocate with the same compassion and love.
In doing so, they will not be doing a favour to Calvin, but simply salvaging Islamic values covered by heaps of dusty tradition -- freedom of religion and of conscience.
Likewise, Prime Minister Harper, who has the jurisdiction to stop this zulm (oppression), can judiciously act to save Calvin's life. For Prime Minister Harper, it would be a few minutes of exercising his authority, but for Calvin it would make a difference of a lifetime.
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