(RNS) Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.

Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.

They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.

The famous Indian poet Sarojini Naidu once wrote, “(Islam) was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy ….” A glance at the aforementioned atrocities and one wonders how Naidu arrived at her conclusion.

Naidu and countless scholars throughout history including George Bernard Shaw, Alphonse de Lamartine, Mahatma Gandhi, and Annie Besant arrived at similar conclusions by studying Islam’s authentic sources — the Quran and Prophet Muhammad. Both champion universal freedom of conscience and free speech. Nothing in Islam endorses, much less commands, death for apostasy or blasphemy, or vigilante justice for childish cartoons.

Regarding blasphemy, the Quran implores Muslims at least seven times that if offended — ignore and move on: “And when thou seest those who engage in vain discourse concerning Our Signs, then turn thou away from them until they engage in a discourse other than that.”

Regarding free speech, the Quran recognizes and protects free speech and expression in more than 40 instances.

Muhammad’s example as Medina’s ruler echoes this teaching. Muhammad forgave and led the funeral prayer for Abdullah bin Ubay bin Salul, who was guilty of sedition and also advanced the slanderous claim that Muhammad’s wife Aisha was not chaste. Let alone capital punishment, Muhammad did not order any punishment and permitted free speech.

Muhammad established the Charter of Medina, a secular constitution between Muslims and Jews. The charter ensured equality, universal religious freedom, and free speech for all Medina’s residents.

Islam limits free speech on the same premise that the U.S. Supreme Court has also banned the utterance of inflammatory speech. Punishment is warranted if an individual threatens the state due his advocacy of terrorism or incitement to pre-emptive war. It is upon this premise that citizens were punished in Muhammad’s time — be they Muslim or Jewish. At least 15 European nations have laws punishing certain types of blasphemy — something Islam’s original sources do not have.

But what of those allegedly violent Quranic verses that declare “kill them where ye find them?” Yes, any six-word excerpt can seem violent when the reader is not aware of the context.

In Chapter 22:41 the Quran explains, “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged ….”

The Quran then specifically obliges Muslims to protect, “churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques” from destruction.

Thus, Islam permits defensive battles to ensure universal freedom of conscience. The proper context of “kill them where ye find them,” therefore, is in self-defense to kill those who persecute and kill others for their faith. Moreover, the Quran further commands Muslims “but if they desist fighting, then you too desist,” demonstrating that Islam actively requires reconciliation.

Furthermore, Islam’s rules of war are more advanced, compassionate, and humanitarian than anything any nation on Earth today employs. Even in self-defense, Muslims may only engage those actively engaging them first. Islam categorically forbids treachery; mutilation; killing women, children, or the aged; burning trees; slaying livestock; or harming monks and ministers. Thus, concepts such as drone strikes, nuclear attack, or collateral damage all violate Islam’s rules of war.

Far from the barbarism of Taliban and some Muslim-majority regimes, Muhammad’s example of compassion is unmatched. He peacefully endured persecution for a dozen years in Mecca, then fled to Medina to escape an assassination attempt, and finally fought defensive battles on the outskirts of Medina. After the Meccans broke yet another peace treaty, Muhammad marched back to retake Mecca.

Mecca surrendered immediately, leaving Muhammad as the de facto ruler. With the city in hand and the opportunity to exact retribution on all those who murdered his family and companions — Muhammad did something incredible. He declared to the Meccans, “I speak to you as Joseph spoke to his brothers. This day there is no reproof against you. You are free.”

This was Muhammad’s unbreakable allegiance to justice and universal freedom of conscience.

This Islamic spirit of justice still exists today. In 1900 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community wrote, “If (religion) has to make up for its weakness in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.”

Likewise His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad recently declared, “Khilafat has no relation to government or politics. We believe entirely in a separation of religion and matters of state.”

The Quran is clear: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” Thus, in stripping Alexander Aan, Masood Ahmad, and Saeed Abedini of their freedom of conscience, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Iran have only succeeded in stripping Islam of its most noble quality.

Qasim Rashid is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. He is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him @MuslimIQ. Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid

Qasim Rashid is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. He is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him @MuslimIQ. Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Universal freedom of conscience is the very root of Islam — for all people of all faiths, and for all people of no faith.

(Qasim Rashid is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. He is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ.)



  1. An excellent piece demonstrating the true teachings of Islam in a beautiful way. For me it gave a entirely new perspective to drone strikes. The most beautiful part was its universal message for all humanity. Thanks again for putting such an enlightening piece.

  2. Muslims all over the world must implore deeply into their hearts and the very depths of their conscience and realize if they are defending or hurting the legacy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).

  3. Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; …

    ……may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”

    What a beautiful thing religion is. With so many religious people in the world you have to wonder why it isn’t more peaceful, eh?

    • People hold as many views about religion as they do about anything else…it’s human nature. Islam purports, as was specifically explained by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (a.s.), head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, that all established religions are from God, since ‘there have not been a single people to whom a warner was not been sent.” (35:24/25)

      There is no question God will punish those who change His message after receiving it and not mend their ways, but only He has the authority to punish for that, not man. Moreover, as the article mentions, God encourages that people of all faiths live in peace employing all that is common between them (3:64/65). Not just that…it allows social ties even with those who “mock the signs of God” when they are engaged talk other than that.

  4. I commend the writer for bringing the true Islamic teachings of freedom of conscious, compassion and tolerance to light.
    Unfortunately, in today’s Islamic world, there are many who are abusing minorities in the name upholding honor of the Prophet of Islam and the Quran and giving Islam a bad reputation.

  5. A well written article that provides a window into the true teachings of Islam in a nutshell. Thank you for writing some true facts about
    islam. I hope and pray that the oppressors realize the true teachings of their professed faith and stop the atrocities.

  6. Thanks for presenting true peaceful teachings of Islam. I wish Muslims who misinterpret Qur’an get this too “If (religion) has to make up for its weakness in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.”


  7. Ahmadis may speak for fellow Ahmadis, but it is quite a serious DISTORTION of FACTS to claim to speak for ‘Islam’. Shame on you for thinking it. Ahmaddiya is actually a new, different religion from Islam, just as Mormonism is not Christianity.

    Please stop confusing people by intentionally concealing your identity. Most Western people (and probably most Ahmadis) don’t know the doctrine of abrogation upon which half of Islam is based.

    • Ironic that someone posting as ‘palfor’ (?) complains that the author (who can easily be googled) is concealing their identity. Any person is justified in speaking a truth about anything if what they say is true, regardless of their affiliations. That the author should speak up for true Islam and then be dismissed by you, not because their facts are incorrect, but because they identify with an organisation you disagree with is not just petty but an insight into the sort of mindset which leads to the discrimination and suppression of religious freedom touched upon by the author.

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