Punishment For Apostasy In Islam

1. Introduction

There is continuity in jurisprudence. Mohammad was not the first messenger.[1] That which was revealed to him was also from previous revelations.[2] All holy books affirm previous ones. The Qur’an also informs that it confirms previous divine Books.[3] Messenger Mohammad was commanded to judge by previous Books on the issues about which no new revelation was received.[4] Qur’an did not transfer part of the rulings in previous books, replaced part thereof with better orders, and literally transferred most of them as they are.[5] When a verse is abrogated by another one that is better for humanity, the previous practice is abandoned. For instance, Mohammad had enjoined the stoning punishment for a while in case of fornication, since no new revelation was received until then. When the related ruling of the Qur’an was revealed, he abandoned the stoning punishment and started to practice the new ruling.[6] We think, the issue of apostasy is similar to this. Related verses in the Old and New Testaments, some narrations from the Messenger Mohammad, and the Qur’an reinforce our opinion.

 2. Punishment for Apostasy in Tradition

In traditional Islamic jurisprudence, apostasy is called “irtidad (riddad)”, and apostate is called “murtad”. In tradition, there is a consensus that apostates must be killed. Hanafis exempt apostate women from this.[7] Apostates must be offered with repentance before being killed. This is a recommended act (mustahab) according to Hanafis, and nearly obligatory- basing on hadiths (wajib) according to other sects.[8] According to the tradition; if an apostate dies, is killed or leaves the country, he loses all his properties. His property is taken as spoils for the treasury after his debts are paid.[9] According to Abu Hanifah what he earned as a Muslim is inherited to the legal inheritors. According to four Imams, his property is inherited to legal inheritors in any case. The wedding of the apostate is null and void automatically. According to Shafis, the wife of the apostate must wait during the waiting period (iddah).
Tradition tries to base the killing of apostates on Qur’an, on the Example (Sunnah) of Messenger Mohammad, and on the consensus of the scholars. Let’s check this false evidence:

a. Evidence from the Qur’an

It is claimed, the following two verses prove that apostates deserve capital punishment:

قُلْ لِلْمُخَلَّف۪ينَ مِنَ الْاَعْرَابِ سَتُدْعَوْنَ اِلٰى قَوْمٍ اُوۨل۪ي بَاْسٍ شَد۪يدٍ تُقَاتِلُونَهُمْ اَوْ يُسْلِمُونَ فَاِنْ تُط۪يعُوا يُؤْتِكُمُ اللّٰهُ اَجْرًا حَسَنًا وَاِنْ تَتَوَلَّوْا كَمَا تَوَلَّيْتُمْ مِنْ قَبْلُ يُعَذِّبْكُمْ عَذَابًا اَل۪يمًا

“Say to those who remained behind of the bedouins, “You will be called to [face] a people of great military might; you may fight them, or they will become Muslims. So if you obey, Allah will give you a good reward; but if you turn away as you turned away before, He will punish you with a painful punishment.” (48:16)

Basing on the words “aw yuslimoon: اَوْ يُسْلِمُونَ : or they will become Muslims” it is provisioned that those who apostate must be killed.[10]

يَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ الشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ قِتَالٍ ف۪يهِ قُلْ قِتَالٌ ف۪يهِ كَب۪يرٌ وَصَدٌّ عَنْ سَب۪يلِ اللّٰهِ وَكُفْرٌ بِه۪ وَالْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَاِخْرَاجُ اَهْلِه۪ مِنْهُ اَكْبَرُ عِنْدَ اللّٰهِ وَالْفِتْنَةُ اَكْبَرُ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ وَلَا يَزَالُونَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ حَتّٰى يَرُدُّوكُمْ عَنْ د۪ينِكُمْ اِنِ اسْتَطَاعُوا وَمَنْ يَرْتَدِدْ مِنْكُمْ عَنْ د۪ينِه۪ فَيَمُتْ وَهُوَ كَافِرٌ فَاُوۨلٰۤئِكَ حَبِطَتْ اَعْمَالُهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْاٰخِرَةِ وَاُوۨلٰۤئِكَ اَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ ف۪يهَا خَالِدُونَ

They ask you concerning warfare in the prohibited months. Say, fighting in these months is a serious offense. But in the sight of Allah, it is far worse to hinder people from the way of Allah, and to ignore Him, and to prevent them from visiting the sacred mosque, and to expel the dwellers there from it. The oppression is far worse than bloodshed. As for them, they will go on fighting with you till they succeed in turning you away from your faith if they can. Whosoever renounces his faith and dies a renegade, all his works shall be fruitless both in this world and in the hereafter. All such people deserve the fire and shall abide in there forever.” (2:217)

The claim about this verse in tradition is as follows:  “The letter ‘fa’ at the beginning of the expression “fa yamut : فَيَمُتْ = and dies” is subsequent. That means death comes right after turning from religion. Everyone knows that a person does not die right after apostasy, because of turning from religion. Therefore, subsequence may only be provided by execution of the apostate as a legal punishment. Thus, the verse becomes evident that apostates must be killed.”[11]

b. Evidence from Messenger Mohammad’s Example

روى البخاري وغيره عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ قَالَ : { أُتِيَ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلِيٌّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ بِزَنَادِقَةٍ فَأَحْرَقَهُمْ ، فَبَلَغَ ذَلِكَ ابْنَ عَبَّاسٍ ، فَقَالَ : لَوْ كُنْت أَنَا لَمْ أَحْرِقْهُمْ لِنَهْيِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ : لَا تُعَذِّبُوا بِعَذَابِ اللَّهِ ، وَلَقَتَلْتهمْ لِقَوْلِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ } .رَوَاهُ الْجَمَاعَةُ إلَّا مُسْلِمًا ، وَلَيْسَ لِابْنِ مَاجَهْ فِيهِ سِوَى : { مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ }

Here is a narration of Bukhari and many others from Ikrimah: “Some apostates were brought to Viceroy Ali, and he burned them. When Ibn Abbas learned the situation he said: “I would not have burnt them because, the Messenger of God Mohammad forbade it and said: ‘Do not punish by the punishment of God.’ I would have killed them. The Messenger said: ‘Kill him who turns from his religion.'””[12]

لا يحل دم امرئ مسلم إلا بإحدى ثلاث: الثيب الزاني، والنفس بالنفس، والتارك لدينهالمفارق للجماعة

“It is not lawful to kill a Muslim. Except for an adulterer sayyib[13], life for retaliation and one who turns from his religion leaving his society.”[14]

أيما رجل ارتد عن الإسلام فادعه فإن عاد وإلا فاضرب عنقه وأيما امرأة ارتدت عن الإسلام فادعها فأن عادت وإلا فاضرب عنقها

“If a man turns away from Islam invite him back to Islam. If he returns he does, if not decapitate him. If a woman turns away from Islam invite her back to Islam. If she returns she does, if not decapitate her.[15]

c. Evidence from Consensus

It is claimed that there is a consensus of scholars on killing apostates.[16]


3. Punishment for Apostasy in the Old and New Testaments

a. Punishment of Apostates in the Old Testament

Deuteronomy, Chapter 13:
“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.

“If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. None of the devoted things shall stick to your hand, that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger and show you mercy and have compassion on you and multiply you, as he swore to your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.”

Exodus, Chapter 32:
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
And Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.

b. Punishment of Apostates in the New Testament

Hebrews, Chapter 10:
Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

John, Chapter 15:
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

 

4. Punishment for Apostasy in Messenger Mohammad’s Words (Hadith)

 

من بدل دينه فاقتلوه

Whoever changed his religion, then kill him.[17]

This narration cannot be an authentic hadith because it even contradicts itself in this context. E.g. a Christian who has converted to Islam would also be included in the scope of this expression, thus he would have to be killed.

لا يحل دم امرئ مسلم إلا بإحدى ثلاث: الثيب الزاني، والنفس بالنفس، والتارك لدينهالمفارق للجماعة

“It is not lawful to kill a Muslim. Except for an adulterer sayyib[18], life for retaliation, and one who turns from his religion leaving his society.”[19]

أيما رجل ارتد عن الإسلام فادعه فإن عاد وإلا فاضرب عنقه وأيما امرأة ارتدت عن الإسلام فادعها فأن عادت وإلا فاضرب عنقها

“If a man turns away from Islam invite him back to Islam. If he returns he does, if not decapitate him. If a woman turns away from Islam invite her back to Islam. If she returns she does, if not decapitate her.[20]

5. Punishment for Apostasy According to the Qur’an

The word for apostasy in Qur’an is “irtidad”, which appears eight times in verb pattern. Four of those are used with other words meaning “to see again”,[21] “to return by tracking”,[22] and “to blink”.[23] Two of them are used with the word “dubr”(back), meaning “to turn one’s back”,[24] and the other two is used with the word “din”(religion), meaning “to apostatize”.[25] Before evaluating these verses, we want to search for the apostasy punishment of the Old Testament in the verses of Qur’an.

The verse 2:54 verifies the punishment of apostasy in Torah. Allah commands:

“(Remember that) When Moses said to his people: Oh my people! You have wronged yourselves grievously by taking the calf for worship. Turn now, to your Creator and slay (the guilty ones) among you. This is right for you in the sight of your Creator (for that) He accepts you penance. He is the only acceptor of penance and He is the Merciful.” (2:54)

Children of Israel pulled through much hardship under the leadership of Moses. This was from Allah, a great favor for them. As for this, the punishment of apostasy for them needs to be severe. This punishment, as it is revealed in the Old Testament and verified in Qur’an is capital punishment.

Moses had warned his community about this punishment as the following verse shows:

“My people! Enter the holy land which Allah has ordained for you. Do not turn back, lest you lose what you already have.” (5:21)

The following verse shows that this punishment is abrogated for Muslims:

“Had We enjoined upon them: ‘Slay yourselves’, or ‘Leave your habitations’, very few of them would have done it; yet if they had done as they were admonished, it would have been better for them and would have given them firmness.” (4:66)

There are many verses showing that this punishment is abrogated. These are the verses for the ones who apostatize:

“Oh you who believe! Whoso among you turns back from his religion, Allah will soon bring a community whom He loves and who loves Him. They will be humble towards believers and firm against concealers. They will strive in the cause of Allah and will not fear the reproach of any faultfinder. That is Allah’s grace. He bestows it upon whosoever deserves it. Allah is Bountiful, All-Knowing.” (5:54)

We need to read the expression “Allah will soon bring a community” together with the following verse:

“There you are; being called upon to spend in the cause of Allah, but some of you are being niggard. Whoever is being niggard is in fact being niggard to himself. Allah is All-Sufficient, but you are in need. If you turn away, He will replace you with a community, and they will not be like you.” (47:38)

In short, apostasy is a man’s choice. People live in this world according to their choices and they die some day. Their case is ruled in the day of reckoning.

Muqatil Ibn Suleiman (d.767) reports that 12 Muslims apostatized and went out of Medina. They united with the disbelievers in Mecca. Then one of them named Harith ibn Suwayd regretted and came back to Medina. He sent a message to his brother Julas stating “I came back with repentance. Learn from the Messenger of Allah, if I have a right to repent. Else I will go to Damascus.” Julas informed the Messenger of Allah but received no response. Then these verses are revealed:[26]

“How can Allah guide people who once believed, but after they received clear signs and affirmed that the Messenger was a true one; lapsed into disbelief? Allah does not guide the wrong-doers. The recompense (of what they did), is that the curse of Allah and of the angels and of all men shall upon them. Thus they shall abide. Neither shall be any commutation in their punishment, nor shall they be given any respite. But for those who repent and mend their ways, Allah is forgiving and merciful.” (3:86-89)

The word “punishment” shows “the curse of Allah, and of his angels, and of all men”. The article (ال) of punishment (عذاب) is for referring to the preceding expression.

The same word appears in 9:74 as an indefinite noun. The verse is as follows:

“They swear by Allah that they said nothing, whereas they indeed said the words of blaspheme, and fell into unbelief after submitting. They undertook something which they could not carry into effect. They are spiteful against Muslims for no other reason than that Allah and His Messenger have enriched them through His bounty! So, if they repent, it will be to their own good. But if they turn away, Allah will make them suffer a painful punishment in this world and in the hereafter. None in the world will be able to protect or help them.” (9:74)

The expression “in this world and in the hereafter” shows that the punishment will be both in this world and in the hereafter. The verses in the 3rd chapter (Family of Imran) explain the part of it in this world. The expression “they shall abide” shows that they will be in that situation for all of their lives. The expression “but for those who repent and mend their ways” points to the opportunity of repentance which requires the punishment to be in this world. The part in the expression “mend their ways” points at a reasonable time for repenting, on the contrary to general opinion of sects as a few days. Because someone who is confused and gave up his faith usually needs a reasonable time to mend his ways.

There is no punishment that people should inflict on someone who apostatizes. His punishment is the curse of Allah, and of the angels, and of all men. This curse can be interpreted as being excluded in social interactions and/or being deprived of some opportunities. Whoever repents gets rid of that curse. While this is the decree of Qur’an, all sects agree upon the death penalty for apostasy. The roots of this problem should be searched in history and politics.

The 3rd chapter goes on like this:

“Those who disbelieved and have hardened in their disbelief after once believing, their repentance shall not be accepted. Such men have surely strayed. Those who disbelieved and died as unbelievers,[27] not even an earth full of gold will be accepted from them as ransom. For such people there is painful punishment, and none shall come to their help.” (3:90-91)

The verses are about the ones who disbelieved and have hardened in their disbelief. If they do not repent and die in this situation, they will end in hell. In that case, repentance is the only thing that will save them but it should not be too late. The verse below informs that a late repentance won’t be of any good.

“Repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: Surely now I repent; nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers. These are the ones for whom We have prepared a painful punishment.” (4:18)

The repentance of the Pharaoh was not accepted based on this ground.[28]

It is possible to think that behind Harith Ibn Suwayd’s fear of being killed, lies the notice and practice of capital punishment for apostasy in the communities of his time. If the report is authentic, the reason of Allah’s messenger not responding should be that there is no new revelation about the subject and that the old punishment is still in effect.

Another verse goes like this:

“They ask you concerning warfare in the prohibited months. Say, fighting in these months is a serious offence. But in the sight of Allah, it is far worse to hinder people from the way of Allah, and to ignore Him, and to prevent them from visiting the sacred mosque, and to expel the dwellers there from it. The oppression is far worse than bloodshed. As for them, they will go on fighting with you till they succeed in turning you away from your faith, if they can. Whosoever renounces his faith and dies a renegade, all his works shall be fruitless both in this world and in the hereafter. All such people deserve the fire and shall abide in there forever.” (2:217)

It is reported in the verse that whoever apostatizes and dies as he is, all of what he did in this life will come to naught. But if he repents and reforms himself, he saves his life and his afterlife. It generally requires a certain amount of time for someone to repent and reform himself. Months, maybe years…

The issue of apostasy also appears in Qur’an without the word “irtidad”. Some verses go like this:

“Do you ask of your prophet such things as were asked of Moses before? Whoever changes the way of belief for that of disbelief has surely strayed from the right way. Many of the people of the Book desire to turn you anyhow back to unbelief only out of the envy in their hearts after the truth has become quite clear to them. Yet, forgive them, and condone them till Allah enforces His judgment. Surely Allah has measures for everything.” (2:108-109)

 

6. Freedom of Religion According To Qur’an

Qur’an has legitimized the freedom of religion.[29] There is no compulsion in religion.[30] The messengers declare the divine laws.[31] They remind,[32] warn, and tell the good news,[33] but they do not use force.[34] The last messenger of Allah is commanded in Qur’an: “You cannot lead the way for whom you like, but Allah leads the way for whoever that shows the necessary effort”.[35] Despite being insulted by men, Allah the Almighty legitimizes them their right to live and reprieves their punishment to the Day of Reckoning.[36] Qur’an shows that a man can fall to disbelief again and again after once believed,[37] but commands others to invite them to the true way of Allah with rightness and kindness.[38] Because of the test in this world, it is informed that one can hear offending words from people of other religions and that he should be patient about it and say “our work is ours and your work is yours”, “your religion is yours and my religion is mine”.[39] In order to form a virtuous society which Qur’an aims at, there have to be a freedom of religion and the ones who disbelieve should be able to express themselves without any fear. There is no meaning to state being a believer in a community in which there is no freedom of religion. In fact, these types of communities encourage insincerity and hypocrisy. Consequently, we can say that a belief which is desired by the Qur’an is one that is formed by total satisfaction through reflecting and using correct information.[40]

If we are to think that the freedom of religion in the Qur’an should also be in other scriptures, we can say that capital punishment might be aimed at apostasy accompanied by corruption. As a matter of fact, it is the punishment of offenses against public order in the Qur’an.[41] A similar case can be seen in the story of Moses and the angel.[42] On the other hand, it is also possible to think that this punishment was only a law for the children of Israel for that they were blessed with so many favors.

 

7. Conclusion

According to The Old and New Testaments, apostates must be killed. Since Messenger Mohammad was commanded to judge by previous Books on the issues without new revelation, he enjoined capital punishment for apostates during a period. Words narrated from him on this issue prove this. However, this ruling was abrogated by the Qur’an. In fact, the tradition carries on the rulings of previous religions, as it does about the punishment of adultery. This problem sources from the habit of not putting the Qur’an into the center of our lives. According to tradition, Messenger Mohammad’s Example is independent evidence. Therefore, his words are not considered from the point of the Qur’an, and it is claimed that many things that are not mentioned in the Qur’an are regulated by Messenger Mohammad’s words. So, two different rulings in the Qur’an and in the Example are supposed to be regulating two different sides of an issue. The relation between The Qur’an and The Example has been disconnected in tradition. The Example is taken as an independent resource, and many regulations that conflict with the Qur’an are made, just as on the issue of killing apostates. This attitude drives Muslims away from life.

 

 


[1] Qur’an 46:9

[2] Qur’an 42:13

[3] Qur’an 3:2-3, 50

[4] Qur’an 6:90

[5] Qur’an 2:106

[6] Abdulaziz Bayindir, Dogru Bildigimiz Yanlislar, 3rd ed, p. 296 on.

[7] Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut, X, 98; Al-Qasani, Badai, VII, 134.

[8] Maydani, al-Lubab, IV, 148; Ibn Rüshd, Bidayat al-mujtahid, II, 448; Shirbini, Mughni al-muhtaj, 149 vd.;Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, VII, 124.

[9] Mughni al-muhtaj, 149 vd.; Mughni, VII, 124.

[10] Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut, X, 98.

[11] Ibn Ashur, al-Tahrir wal Tanwir, 2/272.

[12] Bukhari, Istibana, 2.

[13] A man or woman having married and had intercourse may be married or widowed when he/she committed adultery. The word sayyib includes both cases.

[14] Bukhari, Diyat, 6; Muslim, Qasama, 6.

[15] Al-Zaylai, Nasb al-raya III, 457.

[16] Mughni, X, 72.

[17] Bukhari, Jihad 149, Istitaba 2; Abu Dawood, Hudud 1; Tirmidhi, Hudud, 25; Nasai, Tahrim 14; Ibn Majah, Hudud 2; Ahmad bin Hanbal, I/2, 7, 28, 282.

[18] A man or woman having married and had intercourse may be married or widowed when he/she committed adultery. The word sayyib includes both cases.

[19] Bukhari, Diyat, 6; Muslim, Qasama, 6.

[20] Al-Zaylai, Nasb al-raya III, 457.

[21] Qur’an 12:96.

[22] Qur’an 18:64.

[23] Qur’an 14:43, 27:40.

[24] Qur’an 5:21, 47:25.

[25] Qur’an 2:217, 5:54.

[26] Tafsir Muqatil ibn Sulaiman, Tahqiq: Ahmad Farid, Beirut 1424/2002, vol.1, p.180-181.

[27] Qur’an 3:106.

[28] Qur’an 10:90-91.

[29] Qur’an 18:29.

[30] Qur’an 2:256.

[31] Qur’an 16:35.

[32] Qur’an 88:21.

[33] Qur’an 5:19.

[34] Qur’an 88:21-26.

[35] Qur’an 28:56.

[36] Qur’an 3:181, 36:47, 19:88, etc.

[37] Qur’an 4:37.

[38] Qur’an 16:125.

[39] Qur’an 3:186, 28:55, 109:1, etc.

[40] Qur’an 6:149.

[41] Qur’an 5:32.

[42] Qur’an 18:80.

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Date: May 17, 2014