The recent rulings by two senior Iranian clerics on Shahin Najafi’s so-called
apostasy put on full display the intellectual poverty of these Shia clerics. The rulings also betray a surprising level of cowardice.
To analyze rulings based on Islamic law – or any kind of law – seriously one should look at it within its own ethical universe. So I am not talking here if the death penalty is right or apostasy should be a crime. Let us pretend we live in a world where these two things are acceptable. And let us, for the sake of argument, further accept that apostasy can be punished by imposing the death penalty. What we are left with is to look at the rulings by the two clerics, Safi and Makarem Shirazi to see if either of the pair has followed any notion of fairness or justice in issuing their verdicts.
Fortunately the two rulings are so similar that all we have to do is translate one. In response to a question about Najafi and his song Makarem Shirazi states: “Any slander towards the infallible Imams and blatant disrespect towards them, if committed by a Muslim, is apostasy and if committed by a non-Muslim comes under the rubric of slander to the prophet (sab ol-nabi).”
The vagueness of the answer is problematic. To assess the fairness of this ruling one must see a discussion. The purpose of scrutinizing the cleric’s discussion would be to evaluate the reasoning behind it. How does Makarem reach this conclusion? Is Makarem a sane person? Is he a competent jurist? Has he made a mistake in fact or reasoning? Without looking at the logic behind the ruling one cannot answer any of the questions. Putting aside the final verdict, the other problem is that Najafi could not defend himself or suggest a different reason behind lyrics interpreted as some as offensive. This is important since under Shia doctrine the person is only an apostate if he had intent to slander and insult.
The rulings are also vague. Makarem does not say he has heard the lyrics or is familiar with them and therefore finds Najafi an apostate. He simply expresses a general rule in response to a specific question. This of course is typical of the Shia clerics. It is as if they are afraid of meaning what they are saying. This is the very definition of lacking the courage of one’s own (alleged) convictions.
The lack of any semblance of reasoning and the vagueness of the rulings would make these fatwas pathetic jokes to any jurist in any legal tradition, were it not for the very real murderous intent behind it. On the other hand, the intellectual poverty and cowardice of the clerics points to how easily they can be neutralized if people were allowed to freely challenge them.