Freedom of Expression in Islam

The book ‘Freedom of Expression in Islam: Challenging Apostacy and Blasphemy Laws’ critically and constructively engages with the theological, historical and legal reasoning behind the most restrictive state laws around the world to open up new ways of thinking. The book was officially launched in a digital event with distinguished experts today.

Front cover of the book. Title in white on dark background.

Image credit: UiO

Open up new ways of thinking

In Muslim countries, apostasy and blasphemy laws are defended on the grounds that they are based on Islamic Shari'a and intended to protect religion. But blasphemy and apostasy laws can be used both to suppress thought and debate and to harass religious minorities, both inside and outside Islam. This book – comprising contributions from Muslim scholars, experts and activists - critically and constructively engages with the theological, historical and legal reasoning behind the most restrictive state laws around the world to open up new ways of thinking.

The book presents grounds within Muslim tradition for rejecting the claim that laws on blasphemy and apostasy are divine and unchangeable. Contributor to the book Mohsen Kadivar points to that the Qur’an is very clear in its negation of force and coercion in the matter of religion and belief. The Qur’an neither mentions nor prescribes any temporal punishment for apostasy. No one during the time of the Prophet was killed solely for apostasy. Moreover, it turns out that the punishment of apostasy and blasphemy is not as well supported either by the sacred texts or by the consensus of the jurists as is often assumed.

Report: Religion without compulsion

In addition to the book, the report “Religion without compulsion” was presented. This report is intended for policy-makers, stakeholders and advocates as a resource for developing knowledge-based arguments for legal reform. It serves as a companion guide to the book, summing up lessons and key arguments we have learned from expert discussions and written contributions. Please access the report here.

Behind the book

The Oslo Coalition is an international network of experts and representatives from religious and other life-stance communities, academia, NGOs, international organisations and civil society, based at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), University of Oslo. The mission of the Oslo Coalition is to promote the freedom of religion or belief (FORB) as a common good for the benefit of everyone in every society. It does so by creating spaces for scholars, experts and activists to explore relevant issues; publishing research and resources; and working with partners to teach and build competence about FORB. Since 2004, the Oslo Coalition project “New Directions in Islamic Thought” has organised nine international workshops and produced three books on burning issues of reform from within the Islamic tradition. This book is the latest addition to the collection and it is edited by Muhammad Khalid Masud, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen (NCHR) & Christian Moe.

Contributors to the book and the panel that launched it

A distinguished panel of scholars and experts, among them some of the contributors and co-authors of the book participated in the digital event that launched the book.

Omaima Abou-Bakr (contributor to the book) is a Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Cairo University. Her scholarly interests also include women’s mysticism and female spirituality in Christianity and Islam, feminist theology, Muslim women’s history, and gender issues in Islamic discourses.

Mohsen Kadivar (contributor to the book) is a theologian and a research professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University (Durham, NC, US). His interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought with a special focus on Islamic philosophy and ethics, Shiʿi theology and jurisprudence, Qurʾanic studies, Shiʿi political thought, and Islam and human rights.

Lena Larsen (Co-editor) is an historian of religion and she is the director of the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo (since 1999). She obtained her PhD in 2011 with a thesis published as How Muftis Think. Islamic Legal Thought and Muslim Women in Western Europe (Brill, 2018).

The last three panelist commented the book based on their background as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief (Ahmed Shaheed), Special Envoy on FORB in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Tone Tinnes) and previous UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech (David Kaye). 

Tags: Human Rights, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression By Kathrine Raadim
Published Mar. 24, 2021 7:54 PM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2022 3:08 PM