Soul Cafe: Is there really Freedom of Religion in Islam?

Based on ‘Islam, Peace, and Tolerance’ by Dr. Zahid Aziz

Lighthouse Magazine, April to May 2022 Issue (pp. 12–14)

The Soul Cafe is a tea shop where spiritual conversations happen.

Myra (putting hands on counter, looking at baked goods): Oooh, what should I choose? They all look so good. I wish I could taste them all!

Sabeen (waving her hand in a flourish): You can try the sampler.

Myra (raising her eyebrows): What’s that?

Sabeen (smiling): You get to taste bite sized pieces of four pastries.

Myra (rubbing her hands together): I can’t wait!

Sabeen (sighing): If only people got so excited about learning about different religions.

Myra (shrugging): Well, religion is different… you’re kind of stuck with what you’re born into. It’s too hard to change, and who has the time and energy…

Sabeen (shaking her head): Well, we surely seem to have a lot of time and energy to spend on everything else, so why not on seeking the best nourishment for our souls?

Myra (looking up): Souls are so… invisible. Plus, I don’t think you can change religions that easily. I thought you got killed if you left Islam. I did some reading since we last talked.

Sabeen: Good for you. I’m curious to know what you found out.

Myra (grimacing): Basically, that apostasy is punishable by death! After reading it online, I even checked with a friend and she said the same thing. She said people aren’t always following up on it, but that is what Islam says.

Sabeen (sighing): I wish your friend had quoted the Quran which clearly says that there is no compulsion in religion! There are so many verses about this freedom to decide. The logical arguments are given clearly by Allah and then it is left up to the individual. Even the blessed Prophet was told that he was not responsible for people’s faith. He was just an inviter to the truth.

Myra (looking puzzled): But if the Quran is so clear on this topic, why do people tell others the wrong things? It hardly helps the image of Islam to be told horrible things about it!

Sabeen (bringing out a tray of tea and pastries): Your order is ready. Would you like me to join you so we can continue our conversation?

Myra (walking to a table): Sure. I am really confused…

Sabeen (setting the tray down and sitting opposite Myra): So, you may have heard about Hadith, or the recorded words and actions of the blessed Prophet. People use them to derive laws. In that time, the Muslims had to fight a lot of defensive wars, and so some people who joined Islam only to harm the Muslims would then leave and harm the Muslims, so they could be killed as a combatant. So leaving Islam was okay, but of course becoming an enemy and committing crimes against the Muslim community was not.

Myra (nibbling on a pastry): Okay, that kind of makes sense. It just seems weird that people don’t believe what the Quran says, and instead they believe other sources. These pastries are divine, by the way!

Sabeen (smiling): Thank you. Divine pastries in the Soul Cafe! You make a good point. Sadly, most Muslims don’t study the Quran by themselves, and just believe what others tell them. Let me share my favourite verse on this topic: Allah says:

“Keep inviting to the truth of Islam and be steadfast as you are commanded and do not follow their desires and say: I believe in what Allah has revealed of the Book, and I am commanded to do justice between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. For us are our deeds and for you your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will gather us together and to Him is the eventual coming.” [The Holy Quran, 42:15]

Myra (looking surprised): Wow!! You memorized that? Cool. It does seem pretty clear on how people can decide for themselves and it seems as if God is put forward as the judge, if I am understanding correctly. So, Muslims don’t really preach… they just give people the Quran?

Sabeen (nodding): Muslims should invite others to Islam, but not by using any force, and by respecting all other faiths. The blessed Prophet allowed visiting Christians to pray in his mosque and the Quran clearly instructs to preach with gentle words, setting a good example, responding to evil with good, and being really patient.

Myra (taking a large sip of tea): I am impressed at how well you explain things, Sabeen. I wouldn’t mind learning about different religions if I had your gentle words and pastries to keep me company!

Sabeen (laughing): My pleasure, Myra. I love your open-mindedness and honest questioning. I look forward to our next conversation in the Soul Cafe!

Based on: Islam, Peace, and Tolerance by Dr. Zahid Aziz