Life or Faith: Protest in Berlin for Raif Badawi

Every Thursday there is a demonstration organized by Amnesty International outside of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Berlin calling for the release of Raif Badawi. Mr. Badawi is a Saudi Arabian writer who has been sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes, as well as ten years of imprisonment and a fine for criticizing some aspects of the political state of affairs in Saudi Arabia. His main crime according to the Saudi Arabian government: apostasy.

Apostasy for dummies

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Apostasy is the renunciation of a religious faith or defection from a loyalty. Apostasy can also be interpreted as the abandonment of truth.
In conservative Protestant Christian sects this rejection of the faith is seen as a dangerous act because it brings the appearance of an anti-Christ even closer. It is an invitation to begin a complete perversion of the world. The Church of Latter Day Saints, Mormons, believe that a great apostasy already occurred and that the appearance of Joseph Smith was when the truth of the Christian gospel was restored to humanity. Mormons believe that another world-wide apostasy will not happen because they are there to safeguard the truth. Conversely, other conservative Protestant sects believe that there is still a great danger of an apostasy occurring, and that they must maintain untiring vigilance for the appearance of an anti-Christ in order to detect its appearance. Unflagging devotion and study of the Book of Mormon and the bible, or simply the bible, in the case of non-Mormons, is the safest way to prevent the spreading of apostasy.

In Catholicism there are many different forms of apostasy ranging from a Christian leaving the faith, a cleric who leaves their clerical post and therefore losing the accompanying privileges and finally to a monk or a nun who leaves the religious order. Catholicism teaches that apostasy is real and inevitable, but that the Catholic Church is everlasting and will prevail and there are numerous miracles that support this belief. An example of one miracle was the appearance of Mary to the children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. Among other things, Mary declared to the children that the Catholic faith would always remain in Portugal. Catholics seem to trust that their faith will prevail, and therefore the fear of apostasy is not as large as in fundamental Protestant Christian sects.

Apostasy is acknowledged in Judaism as when a person leaves one faith for another. In the case of a person who was either born a Jew, or who has completed a Jewish conversion, true apostasy is not possible because that person is considered always a member of the Jewish faith. Consequently they are welcomed back at any time. Under Jewish law therefore, the status of an apostate in issues such as marriage, inheritance, divorce and/or status does not change as that person is not truly capable of leaving the faith, since it is an inherent part of them. Apostasy does not seem to be a belief that greatly concerns Jews.

In Islam apostasy is defined as a Muslim that intentionally abandons Islam for another religion. Islam believes that all people are born to be Muslim, and it is only through the misguidance of parents or caregivers that a person becomes a non-Muslim. Those who through misguidance are not Muslim are therefore not culpable. Only those who willingly turn away from Islam are committing the sin of apostasy. Like the more fundamental Christian religions, Islam appears to be highly concerned with apostasy, and, also like some Christian sects, feels the world is threatened by it. Islam believes that in order to avoid apostasy, its followers must pray and study holy books devoutly and regularly.

Apostasy is a punishable crime, sometimes even by death, according to certain passages in the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament is a holy book for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, this applies to all three. However, countries that distinguish themselves as Christian or Jewish, either officially or in practice, and some Islamic countries, do not incorporate this into their penal systems. However, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 there were eighteen countries that have laws prohibiting apostasy, all of them in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia-Pacific; these countries declare Islam to be their official religion, and Saudi Arabia is one of them.

Musings on Apostasy

Apostasy is the abandonment of a certain religion and therefore the abandonment of truth, according to that religion. Isn’t it then ironic that the aforementioned religions see an apostate as a person who has turned away from the truth, whereas the apostate sees the situation in the opposite light: that the truth has been realized? This begs the question: what is truth? It is then clear that there is no single answer to that question, at least in the area of faith. Isn’t it also ironic that in all of the religions it is possible for the accused apostate to recant, and once again embrace said religion and therefore accept its form of truth, but in doing so, the apostate abandons a different truth? However, after such pondering, the definition of truth itself becomes blurry, as does the belief in it. Accordingly, the next question arises: what is more important, life or belief? The purpose of this article is not to provide an answer, but to point out the amazing, but obvious fact that humans demand an answer, despite the unanswerability of it. Throughout history there are examples of people who refused to recant their beliefs (Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc…). Truly these are glorious examples, and history has done them justice, but when the accused stands as a live person, such as Raif Badawi, whose suffering is current and ongoing, it is difficult to declare which should take precedence, life or belief. It is unlikely that Mr. Badawi will live to see the end of his sentence, if indeed it is executed to its full extent. Cruelly, he is being faced with having to answer this unanswerable question. His suffering is palpable, as is the suffering of his wife, his children and not to mention his lawyer. Like a wave, this suffering spreads through the world in concentric circles, affecting us all in varying ways.

Why do humans impose this suffering on themselves? How do humans justify the administration of punishments on those whose only crime is a difference in belief? When is it acceptable to inflict this suffering on others? Where can a person go to escape such extreme magnitude of belief? What can be done to stop such barbarism? What can be done? What can be done?

In the case of Mr. Badawi, the answer is that the international community should unequivocally condemn the sentence along with the threat of universal withdrawal from the use of Saudi oil, rendering its current government impotent. That is, of course, impossible; and a belief in its possibility is equally as unrealistic as a belief in the need to punish apostasy. So what will happen to Mr. Badawi? Only time will tell, but time itself is an answer at the moment. Time provides the hope that as a result of persistence and pressure by multiple sources, the Saudi Arabian government will commute his sentence. It is not possible to know why the administration of his lashes has not been performed on a weekly basis as the sentence dictates, but the hope is that the condemnation of his sentence by some international figures and institutions has had an impact.

In Berlin the weekly demonstrations organized by Amnesty International are in front of the Saudi embassy on Thursdays in the early afternoon. The demonstrations are planned to continue until the full commutation of Mr. Badawi’s sentence.

Amnesty's campaign for Raif Badawi


By Sasha Prince
Sasha is a classical singer and animal lover and has been in Berlin since 2014. She is from the US and the place she lived the longest is Austin, Texas.

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