The freedom to change faith and therefore reject Islam was recognised this week in a UK interfaith event – a rare acknowledgement on the contested question of ‘apostasy’ which in some Islamic traditions carries an automatic death penalty.
In a highlight event during Inter-Faith Week, the London Central Mosque hosted a seminar with religious leaders as part of the “Prevent Strategy” group at the Home Office which counters radicalisation and jihadism.
Following the seminar, a “Not in our Faith” charter was presented to a gathering addressed by representatives of Islam, the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Quakers, Unitarians, Hindus and Zoroastians. The charter makes the following commitments:
- The right to freely practice faith
- To emphasise that the practice of faith is based on prophetic teachings / scriptures of peace, righteousness, moral and ethic codes, forgiveness, humility, kindness and compassion.
- To “Build a Stronger Britain’ and strengthen communities through faith
- To denounce all forms of terrorism/extremism and hate in the name of faith.
Peter Bennetts, the chairman of Interfaith and visitor at the Islamic Cultural Centre at the mosque clarified that the first commitment to the right to freely practice faith included the right to change faith. He explained that the origin of the death penalty lay in wars when Islamic soldiers who changed sides were sentenced to death for treasonably switching sides rather than changing faith. “There is no compulsion in religion”, he said.
Responding to an enquiry about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comments that his commitment to Christ was more important than commitment to anything else, including the rule of law, a source close to the Home Office said that while it would be incorrect to equate religious conservatism with extremism, the acceptance of the rule of one law for all was foundational.
The source did not accept that faith might be more important and cited as example the overriding of equality law in some religious arbitration courts which gave more favourable settlements to women than to men.