Raif Badawi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes. If the charge of apostasy had not been dropped he might now be facing the death penalty. His ‘crime’ was to insult Islam (allegedly), and set up the Saudi Liberal Network.
The network that he co-founded with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari, had announced May 7, 2012 a “day of liberalism” in the Muslim kingdom, calling for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia.
Currently, one way in which religion is influencing public life in some Muslim countries is through punishments relating to the observance of Ramadan. In Morocco two cases have been reported of Muslims being sentenced to three months in prison for smoking, and thus breaking their fast.
In UAE no one is allowed to drink, eat, or smoke in public – and the penalty for breaking the law is a month in prison. In Malaysia two bloggers were arrested for posting videos of themselves eating pork in front of observers of Ramadan.
The couple was charged at a Kuala Lumpur court under the Film Censorship Act of 2002 for publishing indecent photographs, the Sedition act of 1948 for posting seditious material through the offensive greeting, and Penal Code 298A for promoting enmity between different groups of religion or race for posting a photo to their Facebook page which was found to be extremely offensive to the Muslim community.
Criminalising this kind of incident hardly seems a move calculated to promote friendship between communities. Happily these bloggers have now been released.
I have no problem with Ramadan being marked in some way – for example in Channel 4’s schedule – but here al-Razi asks that the experiences of ex-Muslims and dissenters should also be respected and publicly acknowledged.
In some ways the liberal idealisation of Ramadan is an understandable response to overly reductive notions of Islam that are peddled by extreme right-wingers who have an agenda of fomenting anti-Muslim bigotry. But in countering that with an image of religious practise that is itself simplified, that ignores the complexities of reality for Muslim non-conformists and apostates, there is a risk that religious dissent and the oppression caused by certain aspects of religiosity are denied. And to deny that is to deny the complexity and right to dissent that mainstream liberal society takes for granted for itself.
Atheocracy has its problems too of course. China is using surveillance tactics to inhibit the observance of Ramadan amongst the Uighurs.
“They have also made groups of 10 households responsible for spying on each other, so that if a single child [under 18] from one family fasts for Ramadan, or takes part in religious activities, then all 10 families will be fined,” Raxit said, ”It’s called a 10-household guarantee system.”
And here it is reported that Uighur families are even banned from teaching religion at home, and claimed that boys studying the Qur’an after school have been imprisoned.
From a secularist perspective, all these restrictions are chilling.