An extensive look at the punishment for apostasy in Islam
The punishment for apostasy from Islam is a controversial topic for Muslims living in the West and for ex-Muslims everywhere. That’s because Islam teaches that apostates are to be killed. We know from historic Islamic documents that during Muhammad’s lifetime, and the lifetimes of the next four “Rightly Guided Caliphs”, tens of thousands of Muslims left the faith of Islam and thousands were killed. On a large scale the Muslims made war on groups that chose to leave Islam and massacres of apostates occurred. On a smaller scale individual apostates were executed. This death sentence is in effect whether or not the apostasy occurred in or out of the Islamic state.
Many Muslims living in Islamic countries have no problem with the rule of putting apostates to death. The examples of Robert Hussein of Kuwait, Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan, and Bahaa el-Din Ahmed Hussein el-Akkad of Egypt come to mind. These ugly Muslim governments are succored by the West’s finances and blood while they impose an imperial and brutal religion upon its citizens.
On the other hand, Muslims living in the West are embarrassed by this death sentence. The West values the freedoms of thought and speech, Islam does not, and these virtues have never blossomed under Islamic rule. Consequently, when asked about the Islamic law for apostates many Western Muslims do their best to cover up Islam’s edict. Motivated by conviction, or shame, they make up various defenses and say whatever they can to put your mind at ease and make Islam more acceptable to a naïve, gullible, and ignorant Western audience. It is not difficult to make the Quran dance and say what you want it to say. More on these arguments later.
We must examine the Islamic source materials: the Quran, Hadith, and Sira. We must examine not only Muhammad’s words, but his deeds, and the deeds of those who knew, loved, and obeyed him. What exactly was the law during Muhammad’s and the Caliph’s time? What did the great scholars of Islam teach on this issue?
It is left to the Muslims to define their doctrines. But once defined we should understand them for they affect our lives. Note then that for some 1400 years the defined sentence for apostasy was execution. Few Muslim scholars have ever challenged this definition; the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars supported it. Later in this article as you read the objections of various modern Muslims arguing against the death sentence bear in mind that it is they who are deviating from the judgment established by the depth and breadth of Islamic jurisprudence.
Of course the best arguments for the death sentence are made by Muslim scholars themselves. Therefore, I will draw from their works, or from people who quote them.
[NOTES: 1) This is a revision of an article I wrote many years earlier. Since that time I’ve learned much and after re-examining the article I felt that it needed to be edited and improved. Therefore, I’ve abrogated some of my earlier statements on this topic.
2) You can read more about various apostates from Islam at “Apostates of Islam”]
Let’s start with the definition of apostasy. A simple definition of apostasy is “leaving, departing away from, or deserting, one’s religion.” Further, the Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts defines apostasy:
Arabic “irtidad”. Traditional Islamic law prescribes the penalty of death for a Muslim who commits apostasy. The punishment is not stated in the Quran, but is said to be based on certain Hadith. The advocates and the opponents of the said penalty have, in their attempt to find Quranic support for their views, appealed to certain Quranic verses, but the fact is that none of the arguments offered do full justice to the Quranic context …
As noted above, the Quran does not come out and state explicitly that apostates should be killed. All of the neutral references I examined took this position. However, there are a number of Quranic verses that pertain to apostasy and various Muslim scholars found in them the justification to execute apostates. We will examine a few.
We’ll start with Abul Ala Mawdudi, a highly regarded Muslim scholar from Pakistan who died last century. He argued for the death penalty and against the liberal Muslims. Mawdidi’s work was translated and is available online as “THE PUNISHMENT OF THE APOSTATE ACCORDING TO ISLAMIC LAW”. Some quotations are below. Bold emphasis is mine.
ABUL ALA MAWDUDI
1 The Problem of the Apostate’s Execution from a Legal Perspective
To everyone acquainted with Islamic law it is no secret that according to Islam the punishment for a Muslim who turns to kufr (infidelity, blasphemy) is execution. Doubt about this matter first arose among Muslims during the final portion of the nineteenth century as a result of speculation. Otherwise, for the full twelve centuries prior to that time the total Muslim community remained unanimous about it. The whole of our religious literature clearly testifies that ambiguity about the matter of the apostate’s execution never existed among Muslims. The expositions of the Prophet, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Khulafa’-i Rashidun), the great Companions (Sahaba) of the Prophet, their Followers (Tabi’un), the leaders among the mujtahids and, following them, the doctors of the shari’ah of every century are available on record. All these collectively will assure you that from the time of the Prophet to the present day one injunction only has been continuously and uninterruptedly operative and that no room whatever remains to suggest that perhaps the punishment of the apostate is not execution.
A. The Proof from the Qur’an for the Commandment to Execute the Apostate
Here I wish briefly to offer proof that will quiet the doubt in the hearts of those who, for lack of sources of information, may think that perhaps the punishment of death did not exist in Islam but was added at a later time by the “mawlawis” (religious leaders) on their own.
God Most High declares in the Qur’an:
But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail our revelations for a people who have knowledge. And if they break their pledges after their treaty (hath been made with you) and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief — Lo! they have no binding oaths in order that they may desist. (9:11,12)
The following is the occasion for the revelation of this verse: During the pilgrimage (hajj) in A.H. 9 God Most High ordered a proclamation of an immunity. By virtue of this proclamation all those who, up to that time, were fighting against God and His Apostle and were attempting to obstruct the way of God’s religion through all kinds of excesses and false covenants, were granted from that time a maximum respite of four months. During this period they were to ponder their own situation. If they wanted to accept Islam, they could accept it and they would be forgiven. If they wanted to leave the country, they could leave. Within this fixed period nothing would hinder them from leaving. Thereafter those remaining, who would neither accept Islam nor leave the country, would be dealt with by the sword. In this connection it was said: “If they repent and uphold the practice of prayer and almsgiving, then they are your brothers in religion. If after this, however, they break their covenant, then war should be waged against the leaders of kufr (infidelity). Here “covenant breaking” in no way can be construed to mean “breaking of political covenants”. Rather, the context clearly determines its meaning to be “confessing Islam and then renouncing it”. Thereafter the meaning of “fight the heads of disbelief” (9:11,12) can only mean that war should be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy.
END OF QUOTE
Mawdudi’s argument is that 9:11, 12 is directed against apostates. These verses were some of Muhammad’s last words and were in effect when he died. His point is that a person who leaves Islam is equivalent to a polytheist and therefore Muslims are to make war upon him. This is paralleled by the command in 9:5. Note however, that other traditional Muslim scholars have different opinions on this verse.
Samuel Zwemer was a Christian missionary to Muslims. He taught passionately about Islam and the need to evangelize Muslims. Below is text from his work on apostasy, a work that quotes a number of great Muslim scholars on the subject. Bold emphasis is mine.
THE LAW OF APOSTASY.
In this chapter we propose to give the passages in the Koran which deal with apostasy, together with the interpretation of these passages in standard commentaries. Also to show from Moslem Tradition and standard law books what the code of Islam is in case of apostasy, and the penalties prescribed.
The word apostate in Arabic is murtadd and one who apostatizes is called man artadd ‘an dinihi, i.e. “Who turns his back on religion.” Two words are used for apostasy in Moslem law: irtidad and ridda. The latter term relates to apostasy from Islam into unbelief, kufr; the former, from Islam to some other religion, for example, Christianity.1 The passages in the Koran dealing with apostasy are the chapter of Women, verse 90; the chapter of the Table, verse 59; and the chapter of the Bee, verse 108, viz:
“Why are ye two parties about the hypocrites, when God hath overturned them for what they earned? Do ye wish to guide those whom God hath led astray? Whoso God hath led astray ye shall not surely find for him a path. They would fain that ye misbelieve as they misbelieve, that ye might be alike; take ye not patrons from among them until they too fight in God’s way; but if they turn their backs, then seize them wheresoever ye and them, and take from them neither patron nor help” (IV. 90, 91). “O ye who believe! Whoso is turned away from his religion-God will bring (instead) a people whom He loves and who love Him, lowly to. believers, lofty to unbelievers, strenuous in the way of God, fearing not the blame of him who blames” (V.59).
It will be sufficient to quote what the standard commentary of Baidhawi says on the first passage: “Whosoever turns back from his belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel.
1 Mufradat-gharib-ul-Quran-lil Sheikh-ar-Raghib, p.191.
Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard.”
All other standard commentaries agree with Beidhawi in their comment on the verse.
A third Koran passage is the chapter on The Bee, XVI. 108. In this verse two types of apostates are distinguished: those who are compelled to apostatize, on whom judgment is lenient; and those who apostatize from their own free will. The commentaries on this passage, also, leave no doubt as to the interpretation. “Whoso disbelieves in God after having believed, unless it be one who is forced and whose heart is quiet in the faith, – but whoso expands his breast to misbelieve, – on them is wrath from God, and for them is mighty woe! That is because they preferred the love of this world’s life to the next; but verily God guides not the unbelieving people.”
Perhaps it is a mistake to use as our fourth reference Surah II. 214, to prove that apostasy merits the death penalty. This verse need not be translated as Dr. W. St. Clair Tisdal has translated it, – “Whosoever shall apostatize from his religion, let him die for it, and he is an infidel”; but correctly, ‘”Whosoever shall apostatize from his religion and dies, he is an infidel.” And we are not dependent on one Koran text, but a careful examination even of the last passage, together with the interpretation of the same, leaves no doubt that according to the commentators the Koran here also declares the punishment for apostasy to be death.
The famous commentary of Al Khazan (used most extensively in the Mohammedan University called Al Azhar), quotes from Malik ibn Anas, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others, and gives this interpretation of the verse: “All the deeds of the apostate become null and void in this world and the next. He must be killed. His wife must be separated from him and he has no claims on any inheritance” (page 155, vol. I, Cairo edition). Ath Tha’alibi (788 A.H.), in his commentary on Sura II, verse 214, leaves no doubt that the verse in question, whatever the grammatical construction may be, demands the death of the apostate. (Cf. vol. i, p.167, Algiers edition, 1323).
1 Mizan-ul-Haqq, by Pfander, revised by Tisdall, p.364, London 1910.
Finally the great commentary of Fakhr-ud-Din-ar-Razi (vol. ii, p.220, lines 17 to 20, Cairo edition, 1308) distinctly favours the interpretation of this verse as given in the translation by Dr. Tisdall and objected to by the Woking critics. He says the apostate should be killed and loses his wife and heritage. Still it is only fair to state that the Arabic Koran text does not necessarily require this rendering, and that Tabari in his commentary does not seem to favour it. In Zarkani’s commentary on Al Muwatta (vol. iii, p. 193) there are many examples given of Jews and Christians who turned Moslem, and when they afterwards apostatized were immediately killed. The statement is made that” change from Islam to any religion whatever requires the death penalty.” Al Nahayat fi Gharib al Hadith, by Ibn Athir (Cairo edition, vol. iv, p. 38), gives instances how the law was applied, and defines when the apostate becomes a Kafir. And to quote, among many, only one Moslem history used as a textbook in the secondary schools of Egypt, Ibn Taqtaqi, in his History called Al Fakhri fil Adab as Sultaniya (1). 67, Cairo edition, 1317), says that Abu Bekr killed all the apostates of Mecca after the death of Mohammed.
END OF QUOTE
Zwemer quotes various Muslim scholars who find support for their position from various verses. Note however, there is no uniformity amongst the traditional scholars defining the meaning of those verses.
THE MAARIFUL COMMENTARY
This commentary (Tafsir) comes from a famous Pakistani scholar, Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi. Some of today’s Muslim fundamentalists regard it as one of the finest commentaries available in English. On verse 2:217:
In short, the fate of an apostate is worse than that of an original disbeliever. This is why Jizyah can be accepted from an original disbeliever while a male apostate who does not return to Islam is killed. If the apostate is a woman, she is imprisoned for life. The reason is that their conduct insults Islam and the insult of such a binding authority deserves no less a punishment.
QURANIC VERSES SUMMARY
The examples above show that different scholars used the Quran to establish the apostate’s death sentence. However, their arguments are not uniform and I’ve not found a united voice on any particular verse. Their arguments have a logical flow but are subjective.
The Hadith is the theological bedrock for the death sentence. There are numerous Hadith that state that apostates are to be killed. Unlike the Quran there is no ambiguity or subjectivity in the Hadith’s statements. All quotes will be from Bukhari’s, Muslim’s, or Malik’s hadith collections. Bold emphasis is mine.
Bukhari’s Hadith Collection
Bukhari, volume 9, #17
“Narrated Abdullah: Allah’s Messenger said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Messenger, cannot be shed except in three cases: in Qisas (equality in punishment) for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (Apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”
Bukhari, volume 9, #57
Narrated Ikrima, “Some atheists were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s messenger forbade it, saying, “Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).” I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Messenger, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.”
Bukhari, volume 9, #58
Narrated Abu Burda, “Abu Musa said…..Behold there was a fettered man beside Abu Musa. Muadh asked, “Who is this (man)?” Abu Musa said, “He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.” Then Abu Musa requested Muadh to sit down but Muadh said, “I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and his messenger,” and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, “Then we discussed the night prayers …..
Bukhari volume 4, #656:
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
Allah’s Apostle said, “You will be resurrected (and assembled) bare-footed, naked and uncircumcised.” The Prophet then recited the Divine Verse:– “As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it: A promise We have undertaken. Truly we shall do it.” (21.104)
He added, “The first to be dressed will be Abraham. Then some of my companions will take to the right and to the left. I will say: ‘My companions! ‘It will be said, ‘They had been renegades since you left them.‘ I will then say what the Pious Slave Jesus, the son of Mary said: ‘And I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them; when You did take me up, You were the Watcher over them, and You are a Witness to all things. If You punish them, they are Your slaves, and if you forgive them, You, only You are the All-Mighty the All-Wise.’ ”
(5.117-118) Narrated Quaggas, “Those were the apostates who renegade from Islam during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr who fought them”.
Muslim’s Hadith Collection
Chapter 9: COMMAND FOR FIGHTING AGAINST THE PEOPLE SO LONG AS THEY DO NOT PROFESS THAT THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH AND MUHAMMAD IS HIS MESSENGER
Book 001, Number 0029:
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that when the Messenger of Allah breathed his last and Abu Bakr was appointed as his successor (Caliph), those amongst the Arabs who wanted to become apostates became apostates. ‘Umar b. Khattab said to Abu Bakr: Why would you fight against the people, when the Messenger of Allah declared: I have been directed to fight against people so long as they do not say: There is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was granted full protection of his property and life on my behalf except for a right? His (other) affairs rest with Allah. Upon this Abu Bakr said: By Allah, I would definitely fight against him who severed prayer from Zakat, for it is the obligation upon the rich. By Allah, I would fight against them even to secure the cord (used for hobbling the feet of a camel) which they used to give to the Messenger of Allah (as zakat) but now they have withheld it. Umar b. Khattab remarked: By Allah, I found nothing but the fact that Allah had opened the heart of Abu Bakr for (perceiving the justification of) fighting (against those who refused to pay Zakat) and I fully recognized that the (stand of Abu Bakr) was right.
Chapter 6: WHEN IT IS PERMISSIBLE TO TAKE THE LIFE OF A MUSLIM
Book 016, Number 4152:
‘Abdullah (b. Mas’ud) reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah, but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for life, and the deserter of his Din (Islam), abandoning the community.
Muwatta of Imam Malik
Zaid b. Aslam reported that the Apostle declared that the man who leaves the fold of Islam should be executed.
The various collections of hadith state clearly that apostates are to be killed. No one disputes this. Even the “Quran-only” types acknowledge that the hadith is the basis for the apostate’s death sentence. These hadith detail various times and situations in which apostates were killed. In some cases the apostates fought against the rule of Islam, in other cases they simply rejected Islam, but in all cases leaving Islam was the fundamental reason to kill them.
An event from the Sirat Rasulallah and Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir.
After Muhammad took Mecca, he ordered that 10 people to be killed, and several of them were apostates. Here is the list of names found in Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir. The quote is from Volume 2, page 168.
“The apostle of Allah entered through Adhakhir, [into Mecca], and prohibited fighting. He ordered six men and four women to be killed, they were (1) Ikrimah Ibn Abi Jahl, (2) Habbar Ibn al-Aswad, (3) Abd Allah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh, (4) Miqyas Ibn Sababah al-Laythi, (5) al-Huwayrith Ibn Nuqaydh, (6) Abd Abbah Ibn Hilal Ibn Khatal al-Adrami, (7) Hind Bint Utbah, (8) Sarah, the mawlat (enfranchised girl) of Amr Ibn Hashim, (9) Fartana and (10) Qaribah.
The Sirat Rasulallah provides details behind one of the names – Abdullah Sa’d.
“The apostle had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them, except a small number who were to be killed even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Kaba. Among them was Abdullah Sa’d, brother of the B. Amir Luayy. The reason he ordered him to be killed was that he had been a Muslim and used to write down revelation; then he apostatized and returned to Quraysh and fled to Uthman Affan whose foster brother he was. The latter hid him until he brought him to the apostle after the situation in Mecca was tranquil, and asked that he might be granted immunity. They allege that the apostle remained silent for a long time till finally he said yes.
Abdullah apostatized and Muhammad wanted him dead. Also, Abdullah was one of Muhammad’s scribes and said that the reason he left Islam was because he was able to write his own words as the Quran with Muhammad’s approval. Once he realized the Quran was a sham he left Islam. Later, when Muhammad’s knife was poised at his throat, he realized that Islam was true after all and rejoined the fold.
Tabari’s History, volume 10, focuses on aftermath of Muhammad’s death and the wars of apostasy that occurred. Muhammad coerced many tribes via threat, or direct war, to convert to Islam. After he died many of these tribes no longer wanted to be ruled by Islam. Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s best friend and father of his child bride Aisha, became the Caliph, and in obedience to Muhammad’s commands he waged war upon the apostates, both near and far. Thousands of people who no longer wanted to be Muslims were killed or returned to Islam under threat of death.
Volume 10 is full of the various attacks the Muslims made upon the apostates. The translator of volume 10, Fred Donner, summarizes the situation following Muhammad’s death on page xii. Bold emphasis is mine.
… Even as the core of the Muslim community – the Prophet’s Meccan and Medinan followers – was deciding to remain under united leadership, may other groups whom the Prophet had brought into his community in various parts of Arabia were deciding to end their submission to Medina. Some tribes claimed that they wished to remain Muslims in the religious sense – by performing prayer, for example – but would not send to Abu Bakr the tax payments that Muhammad had requested of them in his last years. Others repudiated both the political and the religious leadership of Medina; they wished simply to go their own way, now that the Prophet was dead, in some cases choosing to follow other figures who claimed, like Muhammad, to be prophets (and whom the Muslim tradition naturally, condemns as “false prophets”). Still others, it seems hoped simply to take advantage of the turmoil in Medina to raid the town, enriching themselves with plunder and ending what they perhaps felt to be vexations demands for tribute. All of these movements are termed riddah “apostasy” by the Muslim sources, even in cases where the opponents of Medina showed no desire to repudiate the religious aspects of the faith. Abu Bakr vowed to fight them all until they were subdued and dispatched several armies to deal with the main rebellions. Indeed, the campaigns did not limit themselves to the reconquest of Arabian tribes that had previously had some contract with Muhammad; they spilled over the whole of Arabia, and many tribes and groups that had had no contact with the Prophet at all, and who certainly had not been allied to or subjected by him, were conquered for the first time. The Arabic sources classify these wars, too, as wars against the riddah, even though they involved neither apostasy nor rebellion – only resistance to expansion of the new Islamic state based in Medina. The riddah wars constitute, in effect, the first chapter in the early Islamic conquest movement that led to the establishment throughout the Near East of a new imperial state ruled by Arabian Muslims.
Below are quotes from Tabari’s History, volume 10.
Abu Bakr’s letter to the apostates.
… So God guided with the truth whoever responded to Him, and the Apostle of God, with His permission, struck whoever turned his back to Him until he came to Islam, willingly or grudgingly.
… I have learned that some of you have turned back from your religion after you had acknowledged Islam and labored in it, out of negligence of God and ignorance of His command, and in compliance with the devil….
… I have sent you someone at the head of an army of the Muhajirun and the Ansar and those who follow (them) in good works. I ordered him not to fight anyone or to kill anyone until he has called him to the cause of God; so that those who respond to him and acknowledge (Him) and renounce (unbelief) and do good works, (my envoy) shall accept him and help him to (do right), but I have ordered him to fight those who deny (Him) for that reason. So he will not spare any one of them he can gain mastery over, (but may) burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take women and children captive; nor shall he accept from anyone anything except Islam.
The delegations of Banu Asad and Ghatafan and Hawazin and Tayyi came to him, and the delegations of Quda’ah encountered Usamah b. Zayd, whereupon he led them to Abu Bakr; so they gathered in Medina, staying with the chiefs of the Muslims on the tenth (day) after the death of the Apostle of God. Then they proposed to do the ritual prayer, provided that they be exempted from the zakat. A council of those who were lodging them agreed to accept that, so that they might attain what they desired. Every one of the chiefs of the Muslims lodged someone of them, except al-‘Abbas. Then they came to Abu Bakr to inform him of their tidings and of what their council had agreed on. But Abu Bakr did not (agree), for he refused (to accept) anything except what the Apostle of God had accepted. They refused (these terms), so he sent them back, giving them respite of a day and a night (to leave), whereupon they dispersed to their tribes.
Another volume of Tabari’s History, volume 17, pages 187-88 details the murder of other apostates.
Among them were many Christians who had accepted Islam, but when dissension had developed in Islam had said, “By God, our religion (din) from which we have departed is better and more correct than that which these people follow. Their religion does not stop them from shedding blood, terrifying the roads, and seizing properties.” And they returned to their former religion. Al-Khirrit met them and said to them, “Woe unto you! Do you know the precept (hukm) of ‘Ali regarding any Christian who accepts Islam and then reverts to Christianity? By God he will not hear anything they say, he will not consider any excuse, he will not accept any repentance, and he will not summon them to it. His precept regarding them is immediate cutting off of the head when he gets hold of them. Those of the Banu Najiyah and other who were in that district came to him, and many men joined him.
… I was in the army that ‘Ali b. Abi Talib sent against the Banu Najiyah. We came to them and found them split into three groups. Our commander said to one of these groups, “What are you?” and they replied, “We are a Christian people who do not consider any religion to be better than ours, and we hold fast to it. Our commander said to them, “Be off with you (i’tazilu)!” He said to another band, “What are you?” and they said, “We were Christians, but we accepted Islam and we hold fast to our Islam.” He said to them, “Be off with you!” Then he said to the third group, “What are you?” and they said, “We are a people who were Christians. We accepted Islam but we do not think, that any religion is better than our previous one.” He said to them, “Accept Islam!” but they refused. He said to his men, “When I rub my head three times, attack them and kill the fighting men and make captive the dependants.”
The dependants were brought to Ali, …
…But there was an old man among the, a Christian called al-Rumahis b. Mansur, who said, “By God the only error I have made since attaining reason was abandoning my religion, the religion of truth, for your, the religion of wickedness. No by God, I will not leave my religion and I will not accept yours so long as I live.” Ma’qil brought him forward and cut off his head.”
page 192, Ma’qil wrote a letter to ‘Ali, the Caliph:
… For anyone who had apostatized, we offered return to Islam or else death. As for the Christians, we made them captive and led them off so that they might be a warning for those of the protected people who come after them not to refuse the jizyah and not to make bold against our religion and community, for the protected people are of little account and lowly in status.
SUMMARY OF THE HISTORICAL SOURCES
The history tells us that the apostates were killed by the various Caliphs following Muhammad’s death for leaving Islam. Christians were of “little account and lowly in status.” That proves that some of the apostates were no threat to the Muslims, and they didn’t fight the Muslims. They were murdered for the only reason of leaving Islam. They realized the evil in Islam and chose to leave it.
All four major schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence state that the apostate is to be put to death. Mawdudi cites the writings of the four schools:
E. Agreement of the Leading Mujtahids (Jurists)
To copy the consecutive writings of all the lawyers from the first to the fourteenth century A.H. would make our discussion very long. Yet we cannot avoid mentioning that however much the four Schools of Law may differ among themselves regarding the various aspects of this problem, in any case all four Schools without doubt agree on the point that the punishment of the apostate is execution.
According to the School of Malik, as written in his book Muwatta:
From Zayd ibn Aslam, Malik has reported that the Apostle of God declared: Whoever changes his religion should be executed. Malik said about this tradition: As far as we can understand this command of the prophet means that the person who leaves Islam to follow another way, but conceals his kufr and continues to manifest Islamic belief, as is the pattern of the Zindiqs and others like them, should be executed after his guilt has been established. He should not be asked to repent because the repentance of such persons cannot be trusted. But the person who has left Islam and publicly chooses to follow another way should be requested to repent. If he repents, good. Otherwise, he should be executed.
According to the Hanbali School as explained in the well authenticated book al-Mughni:
In the opinion of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal any adult and rational man or woman who renounces Islam and chooses kufr should be given a three day period to repent. The person who does not repent should be executed. This is also the opinion of Hasan Basri, Zuhri, Ibrahim Nakhi, Makhul, Hammad, Malik, Layth, Awzai, Shafi’i and Ishaq ibn Rahwiyah.
Imam Tahawi has provided an interpretation of the Hanafi School in his book Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar as follows:
The lawyers differ among themselves concerning whether or not the person who has apostatized from Islam should be requested to repent. One group says it is much better that the imam (leader) requests the apostate to repent. If he repents, he should be released. Otherwise he should be executed. Imam Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Rahmatullah are among those who have expressed this opinion. A second group says there is no need to request repentance. For them the condition of the apostate resembles that of the harbi kafir (“the infidel at war”). The infidels at war whom our invitation has already reached need not be invited to Islam before initiating war against them. Nevertheless every effort should be made to fully inform all others who have not been previously invited to repent, before attacking them. Likewise every effort should be made to bring back to Islam the person who has apostatized for lack of information about Islam. But the person who understands Islam well and deliberately renounces Islam, should be executed without any invitation to repentance. This opinion is supported by a statement of Imam Abu Yusuf also who writes in his book al-Amla’: I will execute an apostate and will not ask for repentance. If, however, he hastens to repent, I will leave him and commit his affair to God.
An extended explanation of the Hanafi school is found in the Hidayah and reads:
When any person forsakes Islam — Refuge is in God — then Islam should be presented to him. If he has any doubt, every effort should be made to clear it. For it is highly possible that he is afflicted by some doubt, which, if removed, will avert his evil prospect of death by the better prospect of re-embracing Islam. But according to the leading lawyers it is not necessary to offer him Islam because he has already received its invitation.
Unfortunately at this time I have no reliable book dealing with Shafi’i jurisprudence; yet the representation of this school as found in the Hidayah is as follows:
It is recorded from Shafi’i that it is incumbent upon the imam to grant the apostate a three day respite. It is illegal for him to execute him before the respite expires, since the apostasy of a Muslim could be the result of some form of doubt. Thus there must be some time given him as an opportunity for consideration and reflection. We consider three days to be sufficient for this purpose.
The Light of Life ministry details the following positions of the four major Orthodox schools:
There are two opinions on this issue. Some believe that the apostate should be given a period for repentance consisting of three days, while others are of the opinion that he is to be granted no time for reconsideration but should only be offered Islam. If he accepts the offer, he is to be set free; if not, he is to be put to death immediately.
If a Muslim becomes apostate — Allah forbid! — the imam should grant him three days’ grace; he is not to be killed before this period expires, for the apostasy of a Muslim from his faith often results from his confusion.
If he repents after three days, he is to be released; but if he does not, he is to be killed on the third day, at sunset.
If he accepts Islam thereafter, it is good; if not, he is to be killed, for Allah says to “kill those who believe in many gods” (Sura al-Tawba 9:5), without fixing a deadline. The Prophet also said, “Kill him who changes his religion,” without mentioning a delay, because the apostate is surely a hostile unbeliever and no asylum seeker (musta’min) who has asked for protection; furthermore, he is no dhimmi (a non-Muslim under Islamic rule), for no poll tax is demanded of him. Therefore, he should be killed without reservation.
There are several tomes that address the penalty for apostasy. The first I quote from, the “Reliance of the Traveller”, is a book of Shafi’i jurisprudence.
Apostasy from the Reliance of the Traveller.
F1.3, (page 109):
Someone raised among Muslims who denies the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakat, fasting Ramadan, the pilgrimage, or the unlawfulness of wine and adultery, or denies something else upon which there is scholarly consensus (ijma’, def: b7) and which is necessarily knows as being of the religion (N: necessarily known meaning things that any Muslim would know about if asked) thereby becomes an unbeliever (kafir) and is executed for his unbelief (O: if he does not admit he is mistaken and acknowledge the obligatoriness or unlawfulness of that which there is scholarly consensus upon. As for if he denies the obligatoriness of something there is not consensus upon, then he is not adjudged an unbeliever).
o1.0 WHO IS SUBJECT TO RETALIATION FOR INJURIOUS CRIMES (page 582)
o1.2, (page 583)
The following are not subject to retaliation:
(3) A Jewish or Christian subject of the Islamic state for killing an apostate from Islam (O: because a subject of the state is under its protection, while killing an apostate from Islam is without consequences);
o5.0 THE EXPIATION TO ALLAH FOR TAKING A HUMAN LIFE
(O: There is no expiation for killing someone who has left Islam, a highwayman, (def: o15), or a convicted married adulterer, even when someone besides the caliph kills him.)
o8.0 APOSTASY FROM ISLAM (RIDDA) (page 595)
(O: Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst. It may come about through sarcasm, as when someone is told, “Trim your nails, it is sunna,” and he replies, “I would not do it ever if it were,” as opposed to when some circumstance exists which exonerates him of having committed apostasy, such as when his tongue runs away with him, or when he is quoting someone, or says it out of fear.)
o8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
o8.2 In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (A: or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.
o8.3 If he is a freeman, no one besides the caliph or his representative may kill him. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (def: o17) (O: for arrogating the caliph’s prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).
o8.4 There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (O: or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).
- “O” represents a excerpt from the commentary of Sheikh ‘Umar Barakat.
- “A” represents a comment by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil Durubi.
- “N” represents a comment by Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman
The Encyclopaedia of Islam on Apostasy.
MURTADD (a.), “one who turns back”, especially from Islam, an apostate. Apostasy is called irtidad or ridda; it may be committed verbally by denying a principle of belief or by an action, for example treating a copy of the Kur’an with disrespect.
1. In the Kur’an, the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only; the “wrath of God” will fall upon him according to a sura of the latest Meccan period (XVI, 108-9) and severe punishment ( ‘adhab ) “except he did it under compulsion and his heart is steadfast in belief”. Similarly, it is written in the Medinan sura III, 80 ff., “… This is the punishment for them, that the curse of Allah, the Angels and of men is upon them for all time (82); the punishment shall not be lightened for them and they shall not be granted alleviation, (83) except for those who later repent and make good their fault, for Allah is forgiving and merciful. (84) Those who disbelieve after believing and increase in unbelief, shall not have their repentance accepted; they are the erring ones. (85) Those who are unbelievers and die as unbelievers, from none of them shall be accepted the earth-full of gold, even if he should wish to ransom himself with it; this is a painful punishment for them and there will be no helpers for them” (cf. also IV, 136; V, 59; IX, 67). Sura II, 214, is to be interpreted in the same way, although it is adduced by al-Shafi’i as the main evidence for the death penalty, “… He among you who falls away from his belief and dies an unbeliever—these, their works are fruitless in this world and the next, and they are the companions of the fire for ever”.
2. There is little echo of these punishments in the next world in the Traditions (cf. Ibn Madja, Hudud , bab 2; Ibn Hanbal, i, 409, 430, 464-5; v, 4, 5). Instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty. Thus Ibn ‘Abbas transmits an utterance of the Prophet, “Slay him, who changes his religion” or “behead him” (Ibn Madja, Hudud , bab 2; al-Nasa’i, Tahrim al-dam, bab 14; al-Tayalisi, no. 2689; Malik, Akdyia, tr. 15; cf. also al-Bukhari, Istitabat al-murtaddin, bab 2; al-Tirmidhi, Hudud , bab 25; Abu Dawud, Hudud , bab 1; Ibn Hanbal, i, 217, 282, 322). According to another tradition of Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Aisha, the Prophet is said to have permitted the blood to be shed of him “who abandons his religion and separates himself from the community (djama’a)” (al-Bukhari, Diyat, bab 6; Muslim, Kasama, tr. 25, 26; al-Nasa’i, Tahrim al-dam, bab 5, 14; Kasama, bab 6; Ibn Madja, Hudud , bab 1; Abu Dawud, Hudud , bab 1; al-Tirmidhi, Diyat, bab 10; Fitan, bab 1; Ibn Hanbal, i, 382, 444). But there was no agreement from the first on the nature of the death penalty; thus ‘Ikrima (d. 106/724) and Anas b. Malik (d. 91/710) criticise ‘Ali for having burned apostates (al-Bukhari, Istitabat al-murtaddin, bab 2; al-Tirmidhi, Hudud , bab 25; Abu Dawud, Hudud , bab 1; Ibn Hanbal, i, 217; according to a variant the reference is to Zindiks or Zutt, who served idols; al-Nasa’i, Tahrim al-dam, bab 14; Ibn Hanbal, i, 282, 322). According to a tradition | [VII:635b] of ‘Aisha’s, apostates are to be slain, crucified or banished (al-Nasa’i, Tahrim al-dam, bab 11; Kasama, bab 13; Abu Dawud, Hudud, bab 1).
3. a. In Fikh, there is unanimity that the male apostate must be put to death, but only if he is grown up (baligh) and compos mentis (‘akil) and has not acted under compulsion (mukhtar ). A woman, on the other hand, is imprisoned, according to Hanafi and Shi’i teaching, until she again adopts Islam, while according to al-Awza’i, Ibn Hanbal (al-Tirmidhi, Hudud , bab 25), the Malikis and Shafi’is (cf. Umm, i, 131, where al-Shafi’i vigorously attacks Abu Yusuf who is not mentioned by name) she also is put to death. Although this punishment is not properly Hadd (cf. thereon, al-Shafi’i, Umm, vii, 330, ll. 20-2) it is regarded as such by some jurists, as it is a question of a Hakk Allah (cf. e.g. al-Sarakhsi, Siyar, iv, 162); therefore the execution of the punishment lies with the imam; in the case of a slave, however, the mawla can carry it out, as with any other Hadd punishment. Execution should be by the sword. According to the above traditions, apostates must sometimes have been tortured to death. The caliph ‘Umar II had them tied to a post and a lance thrust into their hearts (Abu Yusuf, Kharadj, 112). Al-Badjuri expressly forbids any form of torture, like burning, drowning, strangling, impaling or flaying; according to him, Sultan Baybars II (708-9/1308-9) was the first to introduce torture (Snouck Hurgronje, Verspr. Geschriften, ii, 198). Lane (Manners and customs, ch. iii, near the end) records the case of a woman who had apostatised and was led through the streets of Cairo on an ass, then strangled in a boat in the middle of the Nile and thrown into the river. (The throwing of a corpse into the Nile was already usual in Cairo in the Fatimid period; cf. Mez, Renaissance des Islâms, 29.) In quite recent times, followers of the Kadiyani or Ahmadiyya [q.v.] sect in Afghanistan were stoned to death (OM, v , 138).
One should here call attention to an agreement which is probably not accidental. Since in Islam, in addition to apostasy, unchastity and unnatural vice are punished by death, even by stoning, according to both Shafi’is and Malikis, as well as blaspheming God or a prophet, and magic, we find in Islam all crimes punished by death which in the Mishna (Sanhedrin, vii, 4) are threatened with stoning.
The Encyclopaedia of the Quran
Apostasy from the Encyclopaedia of Quran (EQ), page 119.
I assume that this article was written by a Muslim because the work is tainted with apologetics. The editor, Jane McAuliffe, did a poor job in vetting this work. But the writer makes two important points that I have bolded.
Abandoning the religion of Islam is therefore not only iritidad but also kufr and fisq. It is through the juxtaposition of this terminological triad that the Qur’an articulates the idea of apostasy.
The characterization and fate of those who commit apostasy vary in the Qur’an. What is striking, especially in the light of later juristic developments, is that although apostates are usually assigned a place in hell, there is no mention of any specific corporal punishment to which they are to be subjected in this world. In certain chapters of the Qur’an, the apostates are described merely as “having strayed from the right path” (Q 2:108; also 4:167), while in others they are threatened with a severe yet unspecified punishment in this world and in the hereafter (Q 9:74). They are ignorant and “their punishment is that upon them is heaped the curse of God, of angels and of people in their entirety” (Q 3:87). In fact, in Q 2:109, the believers are even asked to forgive them: …
It is quite plausible that the various types of reaction to apostasy, from the near oblivion to the angry chastisement may be a reflection of the changing circumstances with which the Qur’an had to deal as its mission evolved. At the early stages, the Prophet did not have the effective power to deal with the apostates and thus the Qur’an adopted a considerably more lenient attitude. With the growing strength of the new religion that attitude changed into a confident and less compromising one.
The article’s tone implies a “Quran-only” approach when dealing with apostasy. I assume the author is ashamed of the order’s brutality. Hence his article suggests subtly that the death sentence is not what Muhammad really wanted. Note the two important points above, 1) Initially Muhammad was not able to murder apostates because he was without power, but after he acquired that power Muhammad began to murder apostates and critics alike, 2) Even this author sees in the Quran (9:74) a severe, physical, punishment to be dealt out to the apostates. Execution would fit the bill nicely.
The tomes reference various scholars’ works and state that the Quran does not mandate the death sentence explicitly but traditional Islamic jurisprudence based upon the Sunna and hadith do. The Ency. of Islam says it plainly, “In Fikh (jurisprudence), there is unanimity that the male apostate must be put to death.” This ruling has been the accepted Islamic law for the last 1400 years.
Throughout the Muslim world and community various scholars and writers address this topic. Below is a sampling of some of their writings.
The Ayatollah of Iran, Ali Khamenei, said that the sentence for apostasy is execution.
TEHRAN, Sept 1 (Reuters) – Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that anyone questioning basic Islamic principles could face execution, after a newspaper advocated more liberal laws on capital punishment in Iran.
“If anyone denies Islamic principles, including the Islamic law of retribution, then this person is an apostate and the sentence of an apostate is evident under Islam,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying.
Islamic laws usually require that apostates be sentenced to death.
Khamenei was reacting to recent articles in the moderate daily Neshat which advocated a more liberal interpretation of Iran’s Islamic laws, saying the law of retribution did not necessarily demand capital punishment.
The “Islam Online” webpage addresses various topics in Islam. Regarding the punishment for an apostate they write:
The prescribed punishment for a murtadd:
If a sane person who has reached puberty voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be punished. In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.
No one besides the caliph or his representative may kill the apostate. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (for arrogating the caliph’s prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).
I could go on cutting and pasting similar quotes from other sites and articles. But by now the point is made: Established, historical Islamic theology and jurisprudence mandates the execution of apostates. The question is not if Islam mandates it, the question is whether or not the non-quranic sources of Islam that establish it are authentic and trustworthy. That brings us to the next section.
Some Muslims living primarily in the West have come out against the apostate’s death sentence and argue that Islam does not permit the death sentence for simple apostasy in this day and age. I have found 3 standard arguments, with minor variations, used by “non-death” Muslims. As I read their writings I sense that they are ashamed of the edict and want to present a more human image to the ugly face of Islam.
These non-death arguments are thin and tenuous and deserve to be scrutinized. Below, in my words, are the three differing arguments I’ve found that oppose the death penalty:
- The Quran does not state that apostates should be killed therefore the doctrine for the death sentence is incorrect.
- During Muhammad’s time apostasy involved treason and as such apostates were enemies of the state and deserved to be killed.
- Only Muhammad, and Muhammad alone, was allowed to kill apostates because he was a special prophet like Moses.
In my opinion the strongest argument of the three is the first one. This, I believe, is a valid argument for the non-death proponents to make. If the Quran were really the supercharged text that Muslims claim than this could be a glaring omission.
Below is a brief overview of these arguments taken from their supporter’s work.
Representing non-death argument #1 is Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. He addresses this in his article “Q & A THE PUNISHMENT OF APOSTASY IN ISLAM”. It is a well written argument and he makes his first point strongly. Below are what I believe to be his three main points:
1) “It is a significant fact that the Book of God does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy.”
Dr. Shafaat supports this by making 3 sub-points. I’ll summarize them as:
- Allah would have included this important penalty in the Quran if he wanted it performed.
- Lesser sins and crimes have penalties detailed explicitly in the Quran, such as the penalty for theft. Therefore the more severe apostate’s death sentence should most certainly be established by the Quran.
- The Quran mentions apostasy several times but does not prescribe any penalty.
Dr. Shafaat’s 2nd main point is
“The death penalty for apostasy conflicts with the Quran.”
He supports this points with the two following statements:
a) There is no mandatory death penalty in the Quran for any crime.
b) The death penalty for apostasy in fact conflicts with the Quran.
I think his argument begins to weaken here and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge for himself. I will only address his best point, #1.
Dr. Shafaat’s 3rd main point is
“Thus according to the Quran the apostates are to be treated like other kuffar: If they want to live in peace with the Muslims, they are to be left in peace and if they assume a hostile attitude, then they are to be treated accordingly.”
The whole of Dr. Shafaat’s thrust is to argue from a “Quran only” position and he does an excellent job. Dr. Shafaat knows that the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence establish the death penalty and he avoids them altogether in this discussion. However, he has promised a later article regarding apostasy and the Hadith.
The second non-death argument varies from the first and this is my summary:
“The area that Muhammad lived in was tribal and violent and those that left Islam were actually committing treason. Therefore it was acceptable for that time period to execute apostates, but now it is no longer needed or acceptable.”
One Muslim apologist using this tack writes:
“Much has been made of this. It’s comparable to the movement to refuse to pay taxes to the Feds while still claiming the right to live in America. Imagine that on a large basis, such that the very economic legs of the nation would not only wobble, but collapse and put an end to the American entity. Do we remember the Civil War and its economic rationale?”
This type of argument accepts the death sentence but asserts that it was limited for that time and age and dealt with apostasy as treason. You can find variations on the theme above from various Muslim apologists. I think the article referenced above is very poor, and I was surprised at its weakness. Not only did he make several out-of-context statements, he based his argument primarily upon non-Islamic premises.
The third argument is similar to the second and covers the killing of unbelievers or polytheists as well. It also asserts that the death sentence was for a limited time – for Muhammad alone to execute. It goes something like this:
“Muhammad was a prophet like Moses and he was given the right to execute those that rejected his message. However, that right was for him alone and following his death his followers did not have the right to kill apostates, unless in self defense. Since the Quran does not issue a general for-all-time command to execute apostates then Muslims are not allowed to do so. Killing apostates is wrong because the Quran’s silence on the subject means that it cannot be done.”
Variations of this argument can be found in various articles. A re-packaging of the argument is:
“The scholar is saying that the authority to kill polytheists who reject Islam, and to kill those who are Muslim and subsequently (left) Islam, was limited to the Prophet Muhammad. The implication of that assertion is that no Muslim today can kill any rejecters or anyone who leaves Islam, because no Muslim today is a messenger of God.”
I’m not going to go into great detail countering their arguments. That is not the purpose of this article. But I will make some general points and show that their arguments rest upon shaky ground and cannot stand scrutiny.
RESPONSE TO ARGUMENT #1
Dr. Shafaat makes a strong case against the death penalty by asserting that the Quran does not mandate execution. Many of the great Muslim scholars find justification for execution from the Quran but their arguments, based solely upon their interpretation of various verses, are subjective and are not uniform.
But I think Dr. Shafaat’s argument rests upon shaky presuppositions:
1) He assumes that the Quran addresses all the fundamental tenets of Islam. Dr. Shafaat believes that the Quran is a be-all-and-end-all book, i.e. that it should cover all the important aspects to establish the faith. But that that assumption is wrong. The Quran does not cover all the primary aspects of Islam. Sam Shamoun has written articles deconstructing the myth that the Quran is a complete religious text. For example, take the direction of prayer. Muslims are to pray 5 times a day facing Mecca. Sam writes:
1. Again, if it is claimed that the first house of worship is the Kabah in Mecca, can you please produce a single Quranic verse explicitly stating this?
2. What direction is the Qiblah? [In what direction was the original Qiblah pointing? Cf. this article.]
3. If you say it is Mecca, can you show this from the Quran itself?
4. What is the location of the sacred mosque (Ali’s Inviolable Place of Worship), i.e. masjid al-haram?
5. If you claim that it is Mecca, can you produce a single verse stating that the sacred mosque is located there?
Sam proves that when it comes to the more important topic of Muslim prayer, the Quran fails to tell its followers what direction to face when praying. As such, the Quran is an incomplete religious text and Islam must rely upon non-quranic sources in order to make sense to its followers. If the Quran fails to address this most important topic should we be surprized that it fails to address lesser points? On the other hand, if the Quran is the work of Muhammad, a man with many failings, then we should expect it to be incomplete.
Mawdudi’s work argues against Shafaat’s position best:
Some people, after hearing these discourses from the Hadith and the Law, keep on asking: Where is the punishment written in the Qur’an? Even though we have demonstrated the presence of this order also in the Qur’an in the beginning of our discussion, yet, for the satisfaction of these people, let us suppose the commandment is not found in the Qur’an. Still the large number of Hadith, the decisions of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the united opinions of the lawyers suffice fully to establish this commandment.
We ask those who deem this evidence insufficient and request some Quranic reference to prove the existence of this commandment: In your opinion is the full Islamic penal code the same as that which is found in the Qur’an? If your answer is in the affirmative, it is as if you are saying that apart from those actions which the Qur’an designates as criminal and for which a penalty is prescribed, no other action will be punishable as a crime. Then consider this matter again. Can you run any government in the world successfully even for one day on this principle? If you answer in the negative and you yourself also admit that an Islamic order of government must reckon with other crimes also besides those crimes and their punishment mentioned in the Qur’an and the need for a detailed penal code relative to them, then we ask a second question. Which law will be more worthy to be called Muslim: The law which was in use during the rule of the Prophet and the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs and which was accepted with full agreement and without break for thirteen hundred years by the whole Muslim community’s judges, magistrates and legal scholars or the law formulated at present by some persons who have been influenced and overcome by non-Islamic studies and non-Islamic culture and civilization and who have not obtained even a partial education in Islamic disciplines?
2) The second significant weakness in Dr. Shafaat’s argument is that he does not account for the Hadith’s statements. He did say that he intends to write an article addressing the Hadith and implies that the authentic (sahih) Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim are not so “sahih” with respect to apostasy. This position also represents a departure from established Islamic scholarship.
3) The third weakness of Dr. Shafaat’s argument is it implies that the Muslims who murdered and massacred so many apostates were wrong, committed great sins, and didn’t know Islam! This includes Abu Bakr and Ali. He implies that the four “Rightly Guided” Caliphs of Islam weren’t so right, and weren’t so guided. Further, they were cold blooded murderers! I have a hard time believing that Abu Bakr and Ali didn’t know what Muhammad wanted with respect to apostates.
RESPONSE TO ARGUMENT #2
The main thrust of this argument is that apostates were committing treason and deserved to be killed. However, if you examine the cases where an execution occurred, treason is not always mentioned or implied. Rather, the only reason given consistently to execute apostates was that they left the faith.
Robert Spencer addresses this argument:
But it is not true that Muhammad ordered the execution only of apostates who joined the enemies of Islam. His statement baddala deenahu, faqtuhulu — if anyone changes his religion, kill him — includes no caveat. He didn’t say, “If anyone changes his religion, kill him only if he joins the enemies of Islam.” He simply said, “If anyone changes his religion, kill him.” This statement is amply attested in the Hadith, and is accepted as authentic by all except the most disingenuous Islamic scholars. It appears in various forms in Bukhari, Ibn Majah, An-Nasai, Tayalisi, Malik, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, and other authorities.
Nor does Muhammad make any exception when enunciating the principle in this way: “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims” (Bukhari, vol. 9, bk. 83, no. 17).
As you read the various historical stories of the apostates who were murdered by Muslims you often find no mention of opposition to the state, rather you find people who searched their own consciences and soul and decided that Islam was not true. As seen above, the Christians said to Ali,
“By God, our religion from which we have departed is better and more correct than that which these people follow. Their religion does not stop them from shedding blood, terrifying the roads, and seizing properties.” And they returned to their former religion.”
There is no mention of rebellion. There is no mention of fighting Islam. These Christians realized they had made a mistake in believing that Islam contained truth and righteousness. They saw the deeds of Islam and it repulsed them. In good conscience they could no longer follow such a criminal faith and they left it. Their stand cost them their lives but it carried an eternal weight of glory. They stood up to a Satanic power, and that faith, that precious faith, is something God values and rewards.
RESPONSE TO ARGUMENT #3
The third argument is the weakest of the three: Muhammad alone was authorized by Allah to kill apostates.
Similar to the response to argument #1, this argument ignores the Hadith, Sira, and body of jurisprudence. Further, consider all of the apostates murdered by Abu Bakr, Ali, and other Muslim leaders. If killing apostates were for Muhammad alone, then shouldn’t Abu Bakr and Ali have known? Does it seem logical that these men misunderstood Muhammad’s teachings? These men lived with Muhammad and knew both his words and deeds. I cannot accept that they were ignorant or disobedient.
Analysis of apostasy requires examination of the full scope and weight of the Islamic source materials. We have on one side, a few Muslims, primarily living in the West, arguing that the Quran does not teach execution. On the other hand, the Hadith state specifically that apostates are to be executed, the historical records detail the massacre of thousands of apostates, and the comprehensive weight of Islamic jurisprudence pronounces the death sentence. Both sides cannot be right. Either the modern, “non-death” Muslims are right, and the Companions were fools, liars, and murderers, or the Caliphs of Islam, the great scholars of Islam, the records of Hadith, are correct, and the non-death Muslims are deluded, or playing a shell game to con a Western audience.
When compared to the corpus of Islamic jurisprudence the “non-death” arguments crumble like a sheet of aluminum foil. Their positions cannot stand for they argue from poorly supported assumptions, silence, or a limited use of Islamic theological texts. The non-death arguers are “innovators” and introduce a new “interpretation” of the Quran. The Quran is incomplete and does not spell out all details, but within it are passages that imply apostates should be executed. That coupled with both the other sources of Islam and the actions of the Companions proves that the death sentence for apostasy is Islam’s official position.
Below are 5 “talking points” or topics for discussion related to apostasy and Islam.
#1 As mentioned earlier, 9:74 states that apostates are to be subjected to a severe physical punishment. We are not told by the Quran what that punishment is. However, the Hadith mandates that the punishment is death. The Encyclopaedia of the Quran also states that when Muhammad had power he began to kill apostates. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that this severe punishment was execution.
Apostates are unbelievers, and Muhammad’s final position on unbelievers was that they were to be killed (Q 9:5). Isn’t it understandable then that Muhammad would naturally classify apostates under a similar edict?
#2 Muhammad promised heavenly reward for those who kill apostates:
Bukhari, vol. 9, #64.
“… So, wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”
The biographical records state that those who had apostatized prior to the incorporation of Mecca into the Islamic state were ordered to be executed (Abdullah b. Sa’d and others). These people were Muslims living in Medina and later left Islam. When able, Muhammad ordered their deaths. These people would correspond to Muslims living in the West who left Islam. Following the Sunnah these Muslims are already under a death sentence. It would not be against Islamic law for Muslims to murder these ex-Muslims “wherever they are”, and it would obtain a reward for the Muslim. This means that the devout Muslims living in the West are potential murderers if they choose to obey their faith.
#3 I am reminded of Jesus words, “Satan was a murderer from the beginning”, and, “In fact a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God”… John 16:2. Indeed, many Muslims who have converted to Christianity have paid the price with their lives. There is a Satanic vein in Muhammad’s command to kill apostates.
#4 This aspect of Islam portrays one of its most ugly faces – i.e. the murder of those who think for themselves. It is no wonder that Muslim countries continue to regress since freedom of thought, freedom of creativity, freedom of expression are stifled. We see the Muslim states falling further behind the rest of the world in areas like education, science, and the arts. The more Islamic a state becomes, the farther it regresses. Iran is a perfect case in point.
#5 What is to be made of a religion that functions as a religious mafia, forbids men to think and choose for themselves, and kills those that leave it?
We have examined the theological foundation of Islam and found that Islam’s established ruling is that apostates are to be killed wherever they are. The Quran implies this while the Hadith, Sira, and works of jurisprudence state it clearly. When the breadth and depth of Islam are examined this is the only conclusion that can be drawn.
Islam brings a knife to the throat of all that is non-Muslim, be they Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, or apostates. It is incumbent upon Christians to expose this brutality and speak out against and oppose the darkness of this command. Supporting ministries like Voice of the Martyrs is something all Christians can do.
Rev A: 11-7-97 Rev B: 24 Jan, 2007
 The Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts – page 16, (written by M. Mir – a Muslim writer)
 ibid, pages 12-23
 Bukhari, Muhammad, “Sahih Bukhari”, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India, 1987, translated by M. Khan
 Muslim, Abu’l-Husain, “Sahih Muslim”, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1971, translated by A. Siddiqi
 Malik, “Muwatta”, Taj Company, New Dehli, India, 1985
 Guillaume, A., “The Life of Muhammad”, a translation of Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan.
 Ibn Sa’d, (d. 852 A.D.), “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir”, (Book of the Major Classes), translated by S. Moinul Haq, Pakistan Historical Society.
 al-Tabari, “The History of al-Tabari”, (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk), State University of New York Press 1993
 Hahn, Mawdudi, op. cit. pages 18-19
 Misri, Ahmad, “Reliance of the Traveler”, Amana, Beltsville, MD, 1994
 Encyclopadia of Islam, published by Brill, Leiden, Netherlands
 Encyclopaedia of the Quran, edited by Jane McAuliffe, Brill, Leiden, Netherlands.
 Hahn, Mawdudi, op. cit., page 20.