Abdul Wahid Pedersen is a prominent Danish convert to Islam, and has been a controversial figure in the Danish media for quite some time. The latest uproar concerns an interview in which Mr. Pedersen refused to condemn stoning as a punishment, and the resulting reactions by politicians and in the media.
One thing you’ll notice in this interview with Abdul Wahid Pedersen is his use of the fallacy of equivalence: “Why don’t you ask a priest in the state church of his view of crucifixions? Should that be written out of the Bible, too?”
This is more fallacious than most arguments. Nowhere does the Bible prescribe crucifixion as a punishment. The crucifixion of Christ (and the two thieves) was not normative, and to assign it such equivalence is a vile canard.
But Mr. Pedersen, like Mohamed Elmasry, relies on never being called to account for his malicious and spurious analogies. Needless to say, his interviewer obliges him, and asks no hard questions.
“I can’t change the fact that stoning is part of Islam”
by Morten Vestergaard
Extremist? Imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen has been called ‘extremist’ based on his earlier statements on stoning and Sharia. But what does he think about stoning?
Abdul Wahid Pedersen is an imam in Nørrebro, Copenhagen, and on the board of directors of Muslimernes Fællesråd (Muslims’ Common Council). He is a frequently quoted imam in the media, and has repeatedly been criticized for not rejecting capital punishment by stoning. Last week Minister of Welfare Karen Jespersen (Venstre) called the imam ‘an extremist’ with reference to his statements on stoning.
Abdul Wahid Pedersen, what is your real view on stoning?
“Sharia is the set of rules surrounding Islam, concerning what to eat, how to pray etc. I consider Islam a whole, where you have no option of cherry-picking individual parts, for this would set one above God. When I’m asked about stoning, I must confirm that stoning exists in Islam. I’m no liar. I acknowledge that it exists, and I can’t change the fact that stoning is part of the Islamic system of justice. This, then, has been turned into my ‘supporting stoning’. Of course I’m not enthusiastic about stoning, but this is not an issue of my ‘supporting stoning or not’. The word ‘support’ gives the impression that it is something I find attractive and am aiming to have instituted.”
So stoning is not a form of punishment you think should be adopted?
“It has already been adopted elsewhere in the world, something I have no influence on. Of course it will never be adopted in Denmark, but I can only concern myself with things I can change, and I can’t change the fact that stoning exists in places like Afghanistan.”
But you could state your opinion about it being part of Islam?
“I do not like stoning, and I find it to be a very violent form of punishment. But it is a form of punishment instituted by God as a strong hint to stay away from each others’ spouses. Thus it is absurd to keep inquiring the opinion of me or other Muslims about it. If I would condemn stoning, I’d apostatize myself from Islam.”
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Other Muslims have publicly condemned stoning. Why can’t you do this?
“It’s up to them what they say, I can’t interfere in that. I’ve made a choice, I’ve chosen Islam, and to me Islam is a package deal.”
How do you feel when you see and hear about cases of stoning in, say, Somalia?
“Like everyone else, I find stoning disgusting. But it is madness to spend newspaper ink on a hypothetical question. This is way out of proportion. Worldwide we may be seeing 3-4 cases of stoning annually, all while Denmark has contributed to killing of thousands in Iraq, and we hand over people to torture in Afghanistan. Why not concern ourselves with that, when we have an actual chance of influencing the politicians who decided that Danish forces should be in Iraq? I have no chance to influence the politicians in Afghanistan who adopted stoning. Let us discuss things that bear relevance to Danish society.”
Can you understand that many become confused over your explanations of stoning?
“I don’t know. People keep asking me about stoning, and people keep making me look like the bad guy. Why don’t you ask a priest in the state church of his view of crucifixions? Should that be written out of the Bible, too? It is as impossible for me to ‘condemn stoning’ as it is for a priest to write crucifixions out of Christianity. Both of these would constitute apostatizing from the religion.”
But isn’t the difference that crucifixion is not in use today?
“The theological dilemma remains the same, and then it makes no difference whether it is in use or not. As a Muslim it is not possible to write Sharia out of Islam, no matter how reprehensible we find stoning.”
The case in brief
Last week Minister of Welfare Karen Jespersen (Venstre) in an article in Jyllands-Posten accused imams Abdul Wahid Pedersen and Zubair Butt Hussein from Muslimernes Fællesråd of being Muslim extremists.
The minister criticized the municipality of Copenhagen for working with Muslimernes Fællesråd with a reference to Abdul Wahid Pedersen earlier having refused to condemn the practice of stoning.
The Mayor of Integration in the municipality of Copenhagen, Jakob Hougaard (Social Democrats) rejects the criticism: “We have taken the issue up front with him, and his response was not cause for any concern.”
[A brief English-language article is here.]
Below is a letter to editor of the newspaper Århus Stiftstidende on this topic (available only in the print edition), also translated by Henrik Ræder Clausen:
A stone’s throw from the Middle Ages
Religious texts must never become more important than our Danish laws, morality and common sense.
By Henriette Kjær
Member of Parliament, political spokesman for the Danish Conservative Party
If a person commits adultery, the punishment according to Sharia law, and by implication imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen, is execution by stoning.
Once again the debate about imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen and his opinion of stoning flares up, and even though it may look like a discussion we’ve had several times before, it never ceases to be relevant.
For in the statements of this imam we have a clear example of why we must never take our democracy or the Rule of Law for granted. Persons like Abdul Wahid Pedersen still exist, with their darkened view of humans, who do not respect the equal right of humans to life and the right to decide over their own bodies.
It is impossible to comprehend how one can actually stone another human being to death, setting aside every trace of empathy and common sense. This is beyond my understanding.
Abdul Wahid Pedersen has repeatedly justified his refusal to reject stoning by stating that stoning is a hypothetical problem in Denmark anyway, as this punishment would never be used.
But this justification is no less disturbing. For it does not change the fact that Abdul Wahid Pedersen would support stoning in Denmark if it were possible.
Therefore we have to react. Stoning is one thing. A different problem is that a person like Abdul Wahid Pedersen, born and raised in Denmark, by way of principle sets religious law above the law currently in force in Denmark.
To me, this way of thinking is not understandable, but Abdul Wahid Pedersen is free to think and say what he wants. We must defend freedom of expression, even when we do not like what the imam says.
But that does not imply that we should abstain from criticizing this contempt for humans that stoning constitutes. European human rights are built on respect for humans and a ban on capital punishment. In the same vein, we have a long tradition of freedom of religion, as well as criticism of religion here in Europe — we must protect both of these.
For this reason, we should use our freedom of expression to defend democratic principles and to make clear that religious texts never must become more important than our Danish laws, morality and common sense.