05/22/2014 05:57 EDT | Updated 07/22/2014 05:59 EDT

If Muhammad Was Alive Today They Would Arrest Him Too

It may be a crime under shariah but it is the legend of Muhammad who befriended Christians, Jews and Pagans, gave women rights, never persecuted gays and lesbians and spoke out against the rich, established tribes of Mecca. Where would he be if he was alive today? According to shariah law, Muhammad would be in jail, labeled an infidel.

Ani Zonneveld

The world was rocked this month by more atrocities, committed under the guise of "Islam."

The first was the kidnapping of more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. As despondent parents pleaded with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for help, pundits, including comedian Bill Maher, said: "Islam is the problem."

Then, in Sudan, 27-year-old Mariam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, was sentenced to death, under that country's apostasy laws.

Contradicting Quranic injunctions against coercion of religion, Sudanese shariah law is being upheld against an eight month pregnant Ishag, also mother to a toddler. While human rights groups, including Amnesty International, plead with the Sudanese government for Ishag's release, Sudan defended the law, stating: "It's not only Sudan. In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion."

Could it get worse? Yes. It did, when in the West, the U.S. government's decision to intervene and provide assistance to Nigeria to help locate the schoolgirls, was met with harsh criticism.

Change must come from within, some said, and not from nations who drop drones.

It should, whenever possible, and the killing of innocent civilians should never take place.

But is change from within always possible?

It is here in the West and occasionally in pockets of the Muslim world.

Here we Muslims -- citizens of secular governments -- still have freedom of conscience and expression, fundamental to both progress and dignity. This allows us to create change from an independent analysis of our scriptures, from nurturing inclusive Muslim communities and from teaching Islam to our children based on our own values.

Though a long road remains ahead, analysis and debate -- ijtihad and ikhtilaf -- formerly allowed in Islam for centuries and subsequently halted in much of the Muslim world, has finally been able to resume again, here in the West.

While sound bites issued by late night talk show hosts monopolize the airwaves, few notice the advances being made.

After all, how many have seen this photo of the American President of the organization, Muslims for Progressive Values, Ani Zonneveld, as Imam, performing a same sex nikkah (Muslim marriage ceremony).

Or heard of those commemorating IDAHOT, International Day Against Homphobia and Transphobia, in places like Cairo, Dubai, Azerbaijan, Albania, Tehran and Mogadishu? Or seen this photo from Karachi?

But is change from within possible, on a wider scale in the Muslim world?

Hopefully -- for the sake of 30,000 to 40,000 prisoners of conscience in the Gulf States, 68 lawyers in Pakistan recently arrested for blasphemy, following the murder of lawyer, Rashid Rehman and for lawyer and leader of the Saudi Monitor for Human Rights, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, arrested and detained in solitary confinement in Saudi Arabia, since last month.

Abu Al-Khair was already well known in the Gulf, in part for his defense of Saudi prisoner of conscience, Raif Badawi, leader of The Saudi Liberal Network.

And Badawi's sentence also made headlines earlier this month, when it was extended from 600 to 1,000 lashes, seven to 10 years in jail, and an additional fine was imposed of about $290,000.

Leader of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muhammad Badahdah, stated the increased penalty was merited due to Badawi's "abuse of Islam."

(Fellow Muslims take note: this means Raif Badawi's demands -- churches for Christians, an end to the male guardianship system and an abolition of apostasy laws, is regarded by Saudi clerics as "an abuse of Islam." Blasphemy anyone?)

Earlier this month, protests to free Badawi were held outside Saudi embassies in Washington, Madrid, Auckland, Bern, Tunis and Ottawa, subsequently, in Paris and Berlin, and earlier this year, in Norway and Rome. In Canada we asked our government to demand Saudi authorities release Raif Badawi and bring him to Canada to reunite with his wife and children, in Quebec.

Change from within is difficult when oppressive regimes imprison those brave enough to manifest it and then promote their government agenda with fake religion.

Like Abu Al-Khair's charges which arise from voicing opposition to the Kingdom. It may be a crime under shariah but it is the legend of Muhammad who befriended Christians, Jews and Pagans, gave women rights, never persecuted gays and lesbians and spoke out against the rich, established tribes of Mecca.

Where would he be if he was alive today?

According to shariah law, Muhammad would be in jail, labeled an infidel.

Innocent people should not be endangered by Western intervention. But should western leaders do business with ruthless dictators and avoid talk of human rights?

It is an important consideration when few laws prevent petrodollar profits from funding the promotion of, not a progressive, secular Islam but the dangerous ideology of Wahabism.

Following the money trail is easy. As explained by U.K. commentator, Patrick Cockburn, recently:

"A crucial feature in the rise of Wahhabism is the financial and political might of Saudi Arabia. Dr Allawi says that if, for example, a pious Muslim wants to found a seminary in Bangladesh, there are not many places he can obtain £20,000 other than from Saudi Arabia. But if the same person wants to oppose Wahhabism, then he will have "to fight with limited resources"."

Donations to us Muslims espousing universal human rights are minimal.

Groups like the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), invite pledges every year for its annual conference. Yet, before the conference they rush to meet their goals (donate here).

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia gives Pakistan billions and few details are released as to the reason. Are we surprised that the government of Pakistan now sounds even more like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Folks like Bill Maher are quick to blame Islam for the existence of terrorists.

But the fact is that advocates of change in the Muslim world are in prison or in danger because petrodollars have built an empire with armies and police to guard and intimidate them, and an ideology that promotes repressive rule, silencing towns and cities.

Yet, there is hope.

Waleed Abu Al-Khair, recently blogged from his prison cell:

"There will always be free souls who will not be silenced by oil."

When will the world notice?