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Apostasy in Islam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ردة‎, riddah or ارتداد, irtidād, an apostate from Islam is a murtad (Arabic: مرتد‎) is commonly defined as the abandonment of Islam by a Muslim, in word or through deed.[1][2][3] It includes not only explicit renunciations of the Islamic faith by converting to another religion (or abandoning religion altogether),[4][5] but also blasphemy or heresy,[6][7] through any action or utterance implying unbelief, including those denying a "fundamental tenet or creed" of Islam.[8]

While classical Islamic law calls for execution of those who refuse to repent of apostasy from Islam, the definition of this act and whether and how it should be punished, are disputed among Islamic scholars[9][5][10] and strongly opposed by Muslim (and non-Muslim) supporters of the universal human right to choose your own religion.[11][12][Note 1]

As of 2014, there were twelve Muslim-majority countries where apostasy from Islam was punishable by death,[15][16][17] and another thirteen where there were penal or civil penalties.[18] From 1985 to 2006, only four individuals were officially executed by governments for apostasy from Islam,[Note 2] but apostates have suffered from other legal and vigilante punishments -- imprisonment, annulment of marriage, loss of rights of inheritance and custody of children.[20][18] Mainly loss of life has come from killings by "takfiri" insurgents (ISIL, GIA, Taliban) and secret executions (in Iran) that are thought to have numbered in the thousands.

Until the late 19th century, the vast majority of Sunni and Shia jurists held that for adult men, apostasy from Islam was a crime as well as a sin, an act of treason punishable with the death penalty,[5][21] often (depending on the school of law) after a waiting period to allow the apostate time to repent and to return to Islam.[5][22][23][24] But to protect against abuse, exemption was granted to those who were originally forced to embrace Islam, or who apostasized out of fear, or (according to the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i schools) who repented.[25][26] In addition, early Islamic jurists developed legal standards to limit the harsh punishment to apostasy of political kind,[27] which in a religious society is similar to high treason,[28][29]

Later jurists lowered the bar for applying the death penalty,[28][30][5] allowing judges to interpret the apostasy law in different ways,[28] which they did sometimes leniently and sometimes strictly.[30] In the late 19th century, the use of legal criminal penalties for apostasy fell into disuse, although civil penalties were still applied.[5]

In the contemporary world, public (Muslim) support for capital punishment varies from 78% in Afghanistan to less than 1% in Kazakhstan;[Note 3] among Islamic jurists the majority continue to regard apostasy as a crime whose punishment is death.[22] Those who disagree[9][5][32] argue its punishment should be less than death, should be left to God,[11][33][34][35] (human punishment being inconsistent with Quranic injunctions against compulsion in belief),[36][37] or should be enforced only if apostasy becomes a mechanism of public disobedience and disorder (fitna).[Note 4] Secular critics[39][40] argue that the death penalty or other punishment for apostasy in Islam is a violation of universal human rights and an issue of freedom of faith and conscience.[11][12]

Etymology and terminology

Apostasy is called irtidād (which means relapse or regress) or ridda in Islamic literature—the terms do not appear in the Quran.[41] An apostate is called murtadd, which means 'one who turns back' from Islam.[42] (Another source—Oxford Islamic Studies Online—defines murtadd as "not just any kāfir (non-believer)", but "a particularly heinous type".)[43] A person born to a Muslim father who later rejects Islam is called a murtad fitri, and a person who converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a murtad milli.[44][45][46] Takfir (takfeer) (Arabic: تكفيرtakfīr) is the act of one Muslim excommunicating another, declaring them a kafir, an apostate. The act which precipitates takfir is termed mukaffir.

Scriptural references

Quran

The Quran mentions apostasy in many of its verses, expressing God's anger, impending punishment, and refusal to accept repentance towards those who have left the faith. Traditionally, the verses that are thought to "appear to justify coercion and severe punishment" for apostates (according to Dale F. Eickelman),[47] including the traditional capital punishment, are as follows:[48]

But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith, – never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.

— Quran 3:90

Make ye no excuses: ye have rejected Faith after ye had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin.

— Quran 9:66

He who disbelieves in Allah after his having believed, not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith, but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief-- on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.

— Quran 16:106

Say, ... hindering ˹others˺ from the Path of Allah, rejecting Him, and expelling the worshippers from the Sacred Mosque is ˹a˺ greater ˹sin˺ in the sight of Allah.

— Quran 2:217

O believers! Whoever among you abandons their faith, Allah will replace them with others who love Him and are loved by Him. They will be humble with the believers but firm towards the disbelievers ...

— 5:54

Indeed, those who believed then disbelieved, then believed and again disbelieved—˹only˺ increasing in disbelief—Allah will neither forgive them nor guide them to the ˹Right˺ Way.

— 4:137

... whoever trades belief for disbelief has truly strayed from the Right Way.

— 2:108

You are not ˹there˺ to compel them ˹to believe˺, But whoever turns away, persisting in disbelief, then Allah will inflict upon them the major punishment.

But if they repent, perform prayer, and pay alms-tax, then they are your brothers in faith. This is how We make the revelations clear for people of knowledge. But if they break their oaths after making a pledge and attack your faith, then fight the champions of disbelief—who never honour their oaths—so perhaps they will desist.[49]:14

— Quran 9:11-12

Other scholars have pointed out that there is no mention in the Quran of the need to force an apostate to return to Islam, nor any specific corporal punishment to apply to apostates in this world[50][51][52][Note 5]—let alone commands to kill apostates—either explicitly or implicitly;[54][55][56][57] (Verse Q.4:91 talks about "seizing and killing" those who "do not withdraw from you, and (do not) offer you peace and restrain their hands", Q.9:11-12 about "fight[ing] the champions of disbelief", but neither mention these people being apostates.)

In fact, other verses emphasize mercy and lack of compulsion in belief:[58]

There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

— Quran 2:256

Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on!

— Quran 18:29

And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers?

— Quran 10:99

Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder. You are not a watcher over them.

He said: "O my people! See ye if (it be that) I have a Clear Sign from my Lord, and that He hath sent Mercy unto me from His own presence, but that the Mercy hath been obscured from your sight? shall we compel you to accept it when ye are averse to it?

— Quran 11:28

Indeed, those who believed then disbelieved, then believed and again disbelieved—˹only˺ increasing in disbelief—Allah will neither forgive them nor guide them to the ˹Right˺ Way.

— Quran 4:137

Hadith

The classical shariah punishment for apostasy comes from Sahih ("authentic") Hadith rather than the Quran,[59][60][61] Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Heffening holds that contrary to the Qur'an, "in traditions [i.e. hadith], there is little echo of these punishments in the next world... and instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty."[62][page needed]

Allah's Apostle said, "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."

Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.'"

A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu'adh bin Jabal came and saw the man with Abu Musa. Mu'adh asked, "What is wrong with this (man)?" Abu Musa replied, "He embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism." Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down unless you kill him (as it is) the verdict of Allah and His Apostle."

Other hadith give differing statements about the fate of apostates;[34][63] that they were spared execution by repenting, by dying of natural causes or by leaving their community (the last case sometimes cited as an example of open apostasy that was left unpunished).[64]

A man from among the Ansar accepted Islam, then he apostatized and went back to Shirk. Then he regretted that, and sent word to his people (saying): 'Ask the Messenger of Allah [SAW], is there any repentance for me?' His people came to the Messenger of Allah [SAW] and said: 'So and so regrets (what he did), and he has told us to ask you if there is any repentance for him?' Then the Verses: 'How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their Belief up to His saying: Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful' was revealed. So he sent word to him, and he accepted Islam.

There was a Christian who became Muslim and read the Baqarah and the Al Imran, and he used to write for the Prophet. He then went over to Christianity again, and he used to say, Muhammad does not know anything except what I wrote for him. Then Allah caused him to die and they buried him.

A bedouin gave the Pledge of allegiance to Allah's Apostle for Islam and the bedouin got a fever where upon he said to the Prophet "Cancel my Pledge." But the Prophet refused. He came to him (again) saying, "Cancel my Pledge.' But the Prophet refused. Then (the bedouin) left (Medina). Allah's Apostle said: "Medina is like a pair of bellows (furnace): It expels its impurities and brightens and clears its good."

The Muwatta of Imam Malik offers a case were Rashidun (rightly guide) Caliph Umar admonishes a Muslim leader for not giving an apostate the opportunity to repent before being executed:

Malik related to me from Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abd al-Qari that his father said, "A man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab from Abu Musa al-Ashari. Umar asked after various people, and he informed him. Then Umar inquired, 'Do you have any recent news?' He said, 'Yes. A man has become a kafir after his Islam.' Umar asked, 'What have you done with him?' He said, 'We let him approach and struck off his head.' Umar said, 'Didn't you imprison him for three days and feed him a loaf of bread every day and call on him to tawba that he might turn in tawba and return to the command of Allah?' Then Umar said, 'O Allah! I was not present and I did not order it and I am not pleased since it has come to me!'

The argument has been made (by the Fiqh Council of North America, among others) that the hadiths above — traditionally cited as proof that apostates from Islam should be punished by death — have been misunderstood. In fact (the council argues), the victims were executed for changing their allegiances to the armies fighting the Muslims (i.e. for treason), not for their personal beliefs.[66] As evidence, they point to two hadith, each from a different "authentic" (sahih) Sunni hadith collection[Note 6] where Muhammad calls for the death of apostates or traitors. The wording of the hadith are almost identical, but in one, the hadith ends with the phrase "one who reverts from Islam and leaves the Muslims", and in the other it ends with "one who goes forth to fight Allah and His Apostle", (in other words, the council argues the hadith were likely reports of the same incident but had different wording because "reverting from Islam" was another way of saying "fighting Allah and His Apostle"):

Allah's Apostle said, "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."

Allah's Apostle said: "The blood of a Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle should not lawfully be shed except only for one of three reasons: a man who committed fornication after marriage, in which case he should be stoned; one who goes forth to fight Allah and His Apostle, in which case he should be killed or crucified or exiled from the land; or one who commits murder for which he is killed."

What constitutes apostasy in Islam?

Scholars of Islam differ as to what constitutes apostasy in that religion and under what circumstances an apostate is subject to the death penalty.

Conditions of apostasy in classical Islam

Al-Shafi'i listed three necessary conditions to pass capital punishment on a Muslim for apostasy in his Kitab al-Umm. (In the words of Frank Griffel) these are:

  • "first, the apostate had to once have had faith (which, according to Al-Shafi'i's definition, means publicly professing all tenets of Islam);
  • secondly, there had to follow unbelief (meaning the public declaration of a breaking-away from Islam), (having done these two the Muslim is now an unbeliever but not yet an apostate and thus not eligible for punishment);[Note 7]
  • "third, there had to be the omission or failure to repent after the apostate was asked to do so."[68][67]

Three centuries later, Al-Ghazali wrote that one group, known as "secret apostates" or "permanent unbelievers" (aka zandaqa), should not be given a chance to repent, eliminating Al-Shafi'i's third condition for them.[69][67]

Characteristics

Describing what qualifies as apostasy Christine Schirrmacher writes

there is widespread consensus that apostasy undoubtedly exists where the truth of the Koran is denied, where blasphemy is committed against God, Islam, or Muhammad, and where breaking away from the Islamic faith in word or deed occurs. The lasting, willful non-observance of the five pillars of Islam, in particular the duty to pray, clearly count as apostasy for most theologians. Additional distinguishing features are a change of religion, confessing atheism, nullifying the Sharia as well as judging what is allowed to be forbidden and judging what is forbidden to be allowed. Fighting against Muslims and Islam (Arabic: muḥāraba) also counts as unbelief or apostasy;[70]

Kamran Hashemi classifies apostasy or unbelief in Islam into three different "phenomena":[71]

Issues in defining heresy

While identifying someone who publicly converted to another religion as an apostate was straight forward, determining whether a diversion from orthodox doctrine qualified as heresy (or blasphemy) or something permitted by God could be less so. Traditionally, Islamic jurists did not formulate general rules for establishing unbelief, instead compiling sometimes lengthy lists of statements and actions which in their view implied apostasy or are incompatible with Islamic "theological consensus".[5] Al-Ghazali,[79] for example, devoting "chapters to dealing with takfir and the reasons for which one can be accused of unbelief" in his work on The Criterion of Distinction between Islam and Clandestine Unbelief.[80][81]

Some heretical or blasphemous acts or beliefs listed in classical manuals of jurisprudence and other scholarly works (i.e. works written by Islamic scholars) that allegedly demonstrate apostacy include:

  • to deny the obligatory character of something considered obligatory by Ijma (consensus of Muslims);[82][83]
  • revile, question, wonder, doubt, mock or deny the existence of God or Prophet of Islam or that the Prophet was sent by God;[82][83]
  • belief that things in themselves or by their nature have a cause independent of the will of God;[82][83]
  • to assert the createdness of the Quran, to translate the Quran;[84]
  • to ridicule Islamic scholars or address them in a derisive manner, to reject the validity of Shariah courts;[84]
  • to pay respect to non-Muslims, to celebrate Nowruz the Iranian New Year;[84]
  • to express uncertainty such as "'I do not know why God mentioned this or that in the Quran'...";[85]
  • for the wife of an Islamic scholar to curse her husband;[85]
  • to make a declaration of Prophethood (i.e. for someone to declare that they are a prophet. In early Islamic history, after Muhammad's death, this act was automatically deemed to be proof of apostasy—because Islam teaches Muhammad was the last prophet, there could be no more).[86] (This view is alleged to be the basis of the rejection of the Ahmadiyya as apostates from Islam.)[86][87][88]

While there are numerous requirements for a Muslim to avoid being an apostate, it is also an act of apostasy (in Shafi'i and other fiqh) for a Muslim to accuse or describe another devout Muslim of being an unbeliever,[89] based on the hadith where Muhammad is reported to have said: "If a man says to his brother, 'You are an infidel,' then one of them is right."[90][91][92]

Historian Bernard Lewis writes that in "religious polemic" of early Islamic times, it was common for one scholar to accuse another of apostasy, but attempts to bring an alleged apostate to justice (have them executed) were very rare.[93] One conservative source (Islam Question and Answer) states that, "no one may be judged to be a kafir or fasiq except the one whom the Qur’an and Sunnah indicate is a kafir or fasiq".[92]

The tension between desire to cleanse Islam of heresy and fear of inaccurate takfir is suggested in the writings of some of the leading Islamic scholars. Al-Ghazali "is often credited with having persuaded theologians", in his Fayal al-tafriqa, "that takfir is not a fruitful path and that utmost caution is to taken in applying it", but in other writing he made sure to condemn as beyond the pale of Islam "philosophers and Ismaili esotericists". Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyyah also "warned against unbridled takfir" while takfiring "specific categories" of theological opponents as "unbelievers".[94] Gilles Kepel writes that "used wrongly or unrestrainedly, this sanction would quickly lead to discord and sedition in the ranks of the faithful. Muslims might resort to mutually excommunicating one another and thus propel the Ummah to complete disaster."[95]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for example, tafired all those who opposed its policy of enslaving members of the Yazidi religion. According to one source, Jamileh Kadivar, the majority of the "27,947 terrorist deaths" ISIL has been responsible for (as of 2020) have been Muslims it regards "as kafir",[Note 8] as ISIL gives fighting alleged apostates a higher priority than fighting self-professed non-Muslims—Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc.[97] An open letter to ISIL by 126 Islamic scholars includes as one of its points of opposition to ISIL: "It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief".[98]

There is general agreement among Muslims that the takfir and mass killings of alleged apostates perpetrated not only by ISIL but also by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's jihadis[78] were wrong, but there is less unanimity in other cases, such as what to do in a situation where self-professed Muslim(s) — post-modernist academic Nasr Abu Zayd or the Ahmadiyya movement — disagree with their accusers on an important doctrinal point. (Ahmadi quote a Muslim journalist, Abdul-Majeed Salik, claiming that, "all great and eminent Muslims in the history of Islam as well as all the sects in the Muslim world are considered to be disbelievers, apostates, and outside the pale of Islam according to one or the other group of religious leaders".)[Note 9] In the case of the Ahmadiyya—who are accused by mainstream Sunni and Shia of denying the basic tenet of the Finality of Prophethood (Ahmadis state they believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is a mahdi and a messiah)[100]—the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has declared in Ordinance XX of the Second Amendment to its Constitution, that Ahmadis are non-Muslims and deprived them of religious rights. Several large riots (1953 Lahore riots, 1974 Anti-Ahmadiyya riots) and a bombing (2010 Ahmadiyya mosques massacre) have killed hundreds of Ahmadis in that country. Whether this is unjust takfir or applying sharia to collective apostasy is disputed.[101][102]

Overlap with blasphemy

The three types (conversion, blasphemy and heresy) of apostasy may overlap—for example some "heretics" were alleged not to be actual self-professed Muslims, but (secret) members of another religion, seeking to destroy Islam from within. (Abdullah ibn Mayun al-Qaddah, for example, "fathered the whole complex development of the Ismaili religion and organisation up to Fatimid times," was accused by his different detractors of being (variously) "a Jew, a Bardesanian and most commonly as an Iranian dualist")[103] In Islamic literature, the term "blasphemy" sometimes also overlaps with kufr ("unbelief"), fisq (depravity), isa'ah (insult), and ridda (apostasy).[104][105] Because blasphemy in Islam included rejection of fundamental doctrines,[106] blasphemy has historically been seen as an evidence of rejection of Islam, that is, the religious crime of apostasy. Some jurists believe that blasphemy automatically implies a Muslim has left the fold of Islam.[107] A Muslim may find himself accused of being a blasphemer, and thus an apostate on the basis of one action or utterance.[108][109]

Collective apostasy

In collective apostasy, a self-proclaimed Islamic group/sect are declared to be heretics/apostates. Groups treated as collective apostates include zindiq, sometimes Sufis, and more recently Ahmadis and Bahais.[110] As described above, the difference between legitimate Muslim sects and illegitimate apostate groups can be subtle and Muslims have not agreed on were the line dividing them lies. According to Gianluca Parolin, "collective apostasy has always been declared on a case-by-case basis".[110]

Fetri and national apostates

Among Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and others in Ja'fari fiqh, a distinction is made between "fetri" or "innate" apostates who grew up Muslims and remained Muslim after puberty until converting to another religion, and "national apostates"—essentially people who grew up non-Muslim and converted to Islam. "National apostates" are given a chance to repent, but "innate apostates are not.[111]

Children raised in apostacy

Orthodox apostasy fiqh can be problematic for someone who was raised by a non-Muslim (or non-Muslims) but has an absentee Muslim parent, or was raised by an apostate (or apostates) from Islam. A woman born to a Muslim parent is considered an apostate if she marries a non-Muslim,[112][113] even if her Muslim parent did not raise her and she has always practiced another religion. Someone born to an apostate from Islam, raised in their parent's new religion and who stays within that religion, is also an apostate. This is because if one of their parents was born a Muslim their offspring are considered Muslim ("according to scholarly consensus"),[114] and whether or not they know anything about Islam, by simply practicing the (new) religion of their parent(s) they become apostates (according to the committee of fatwa scholars at Islamweb.net).[115]

Contemporary issues of defining apostasy

In the 19th, 20th and 21 century issues affecting shariʿah on apostasy include modern norms of freedom of religion,[5] the status of members of Baháʼí (considered unbeliever/apostates in Iran) and Ahmadi faiths (considered appostates from Islam in Pakistan and elsewhere),[5] those who "refuse to judge or be judged according to the shariʿah,"[5] and more recently the status of Muslims authorities and governments that do not implement classical shariʿah law in its completeness.

Punishment

Execution of a Moroccan Jewess (Sol Hachuel) a painting by Alfred Dehodencq
Execution of a Moroccan Jewess (Sol Hachuel) a painting by Alfred Dehodencq

There are differences of opinion among Islamic scholars about whether, when and especially how apostasy in Islam should be punished,[9][5][116]

From 11th century onwards, apostasy of Muslims from Islam was forbidden by Islamic law,[117][118][119] punishable by death and also by civil liabilities such as seizure of property, children, annulment of marriage, loss of inheritance rights.[5] (A subsidiary law, also applied throughout the history of Islam, forbade non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims to leave Islam and join another religion,[120][121][117][118][119] because it encouraged Muslims to commit a crime.)[49] Starting in the 19th century the legal code of many Muslim states no longer included apostasy as a capital crime, and to compensate some Islamic scholars called for vigilante justice of hisbah to execute the offenders (see Apostasy in Islam#Colonial era and after).

In contemporary times the majority of Islamic jurists still regard apostasy as a crime deserving the death penalty, (according to Abdul Rashied Omar),[22] although "a growing body of Islamic jurists" oppose this,[Note 10] (according to Javaid Rehman)[9][5][32] as inconsistent with "freedom of religion" as expressed in the Quranic injunctions (Quran 88:21-88:22)[36] and Quran 2:256 ("there is no compulsion in religion");[19] and a relic of the early Islamic community when apostasy was desertion or treason.[37]

Still others support a "centrist or moderate position" of executing only those whose apostasy is "unambiguously provable"; and/or reserving the death penalty for those who make their apostacy public. According to Christine Schirrmacher, "a majority of theologians" embrace this stance.[122]

Who qualifies for judgement for the crime of apostasy

As mentioned above, there are numerous doctrinal fine points outlined in fiqh manuals whose violation should render the violator an apostate, but there are also hurdles and exacting requirements that spare (self-proclaimed) Muslims conviction for apostasy in classical fiqh.

One motive for caution is that it is an act of apostasy (in Shafi'i and other fiqh) for a Muslim to accuse or describe another innocent Muslim of being an unbeliever,[89] based on the hadith where Muhammad is reported to have said: "If a man says to his brother, 'You are an infidel,' then one of them is right."[123][124]

According to sharia, to be found guilty the accused must at the time of apostasizing be exercising free will, an adult, and of sound mind,[5] and have refused to repent when given a time period to do so (not all schools include this last requirement). The free will requirement excludes from judgement those who embraced Islam under conditions of duress and then went back to their old religion, or Muslims who converted to another religion involuntarily, either force or as concealment (Taqiyya or Kitman) out of fear of persecution or during war.[25][26] Also excluded are those who have mistreated a copy of a Quran or do not pray Salat out of ignorance and misunderstanding (provided they do not continue to do so after being warned not to).[6]

Some of these requirements have served as "loopholes" to exonerate apostates (apostasy charges against Abdul Rahman, were dropped on the grounds he was "mentally unfit").[125])

Death penalty

In classical fiqh

Traditional Sunni and Shia Islamic fiqhs, or schools of jurisprudence (maḏāhib) agree on some issues—that male apostates should be executed, and that most but not all perpetrators should not be given a chance to repent (the excluded include those who practice magic (subhar), treacherous heretics (zanādiqa, and recidivists").[5] They disagree on issues such as whether women can be executed,[126][127][128] whether apostasy is a violation of "the rights of God",[5][129] whether apostates who were born Muslim may be spared if they repent,[5] whether conviction requires the accused be a practicing Muslim,[5] or whether it is enough to simply intend to commit apostasy rather than actually doing it.[5]

  • Hanafi – recommends three days of imprisonment before execution, although the delay before killing the Muslim apostate is not mandatory. Apostasy is not a Hudood crime.[130] Unlike in other schools it is not obligatory to call on the apostate to repent.[5] Apostate men must be killed, while women must be held in solitary confinement and beaten every three days till they recant and return to Islam.[131] Penalty for Apostasy limited for those who cause Hirabah after leaving Islam, not for personal religion change.[132]
  • Maliki – allows up to ten days for recantation, after which the apostate must be killed. Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[130] Both men and women apostates deserve death penalty according to the traditional view of Sunni Maliki fiqh.[128] Unlike other schools, the apostate must have a history of being "good" (i.e. practicing) Muslim.[5]
  • Shafi'i – waiting period of three days is required to allow the Muslim apostate time to repent and return to Islam. Failing repentance, execution is the recommended punishment for both men and women.[128] Apostasy is not a Hudood crime.[130]
  • Hanbali – waiting period not necessary, but may be granted. Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[130] Execution is traditional recommended punishment for both genders of Muslim apostates.[128]
  • Ja'fari – Male apostates must be executed, while a female apostate must be held in solitary confinement till she repents and returns to Islam.[128][131] Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[130] The "mere intention of unbelief" without expression qualifies as apostasy.[5] Unlike the other schools, repentance will not save a defendant from execution unless they are "national apostates" who were not born Muslims but converted to Islam before apostasizing. "Innate" apostates, who grew up Muslims and remained Muslim after puberty and until converting to another religion, should be executed whether or not they return to Islam.[5][111]

Vigilante application

In contemporary situations where apostates, (or alleged apostates), have ended up being killed, it is usually not be through the formal criminal justice system, especially when "a country's law does not punish apostasy." It is not uncommon for "vigilante" Muslims to kill or attempt to kill apostates or alleged apostates (or force them to flee the country).[14] In at least one case, (the high profile execution of Mahmud Muhammad Taha), the victim was legally executed and the government made clear he was being executed for apostasy, but not the technical "legal basis" for his killing was another crime or crimes,[14] namely "heresy, opposing the application of Islamic law, disturbing public security, provoking opposition against the government, and re-establishing a banned political party."[133] When post-modernist professor Nasr Abu Zayd was found to be an apostate by an Egyptian court, it meant only an involuntary divorce from his wife (who did not want to divorce), but it put the proverbial target on his back and he fled to Europe.[14][134]

Civil liabilities

In Islam, apostasy has traditionally had both criminal and civil penalties. In the late 19th century, when the use of criminal penalties for apostasy fell into disuse, civil penalties were still applied.[5] The punishment for the criminal penalties includes death or prison, while [5][135] In all madhhabs of Islam, the civil penalties include:

(a) the property of the apostate is seized and distributed to his or her Muslim relatives;
(b) his or her marriage annulled (faskh) (as in the case of Nasr Abu Zayd);
(1) if they were not married at the time of apostasy they could not get married[136]
(c) any children removed and considered ward of the Islamic state.[5]
(d) In case the entire family has left Islam, or there are no surviving Muslim relatives recognized by Sharia, the apostate's property is liquidated by the Islamic state (part of fay, الْفيء).
(e) In case the apostate is not executed -- such as in case of women apostates in Hanafi school -- the person also loses all inheritance rights.[34][35][not specific enough to verify] Hanafi Sunni school of jurisprudence allows waiting till execution, before children and property are seized; other schools do not consider this wait as mandatory.[5]
Social liabilities

The conversion of a Muslim to another faith is often considered a "disgrace" and "scandal" as well as a sin,[137] so in addition to penal and civil penalties, loss of employment,[137] ostracism and proclamations by family members that they are "dead", is not at all "unusual".[138] For those who wish to remain in the Muslim community but who are considered unbelievers by other Muslims, there are also "serious forms of ostracism". These include the refusal of other Muslims to pray together with or behind a person accused of kufr, the denial of the prayer for the dead and burial in a Muslim cemetery, boycott of whatever books they have written, etc.[139]

Supporters and opponents of death penalty

Support among contemporary Preachers and scholars
Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed according to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children if they entered Islam and left it after they reach maturity.[140]
Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed according to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children if they entered Islam and left it after they reach maturity.[140]

"The vast majority of Muslim scholars both past as well as present" consider apostasy "a crime deserving the death penalty", according to Abdul Rashided Omar writing circa 2007.[22] Some of the leading lights include:

  • Abul A'la Maududi (1903-1979),[49] who "by the time of his death had become the most widely read Muslim author of our time", according to one source.
  • Mohammed al-Ghazali (1917–1996), considered an Islamic "moderate"[141] and "preeminent" faculty member of Egypt's preeminent Islamic institution—Al Azhar University− as well as a valuable ally of the Egyptian government in its struggle against the "growing tide of Islamic fundamentalism",[142] was "widely credited" with contributing to the 20th century Islamic revival in the largest Arabic country, Egypt.[143] (Al-Ghazali was on record as declaring all those who opposed the implementation of sharia law to be apostates who should ideally be punished by the state, but "when the state fails to punish apostates, somebody else has to do it".[144][143]
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b.1926), another "moderate" Islamist,[145] chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars,[146] who as of 2009 was "considered one of the most influential" Islamic scholars living.[147][148][149]
  • Zakir Naik, Indian Islamic televangelist and preacher,[150] whose Peace TV channel, reaches a reported 100 million viewers,[151][152] and whose debates and talks are widely distributed,[153][154][152] supports killing apostates from Islam, but only those who "propagate the non-Islamic faith and speak against Islam".[155][153]
  • Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, a Shia scholar born in India, studied in Qum, Iran, and as of 2021 the Imam-e Jum‘a and Resident ‘Ãlim of the Jaffari Islamic Center in Canada.[156]
  • Muhammad Saalih Al-Munajjid, a Syrian Islamic scholar, considered a respected scholar in the Salafi movement (according to Al Jazeera);[157] and founder of the fatwa website IslamQA,[158] one of the most popular Islamic websites, and (as of November 2015 and according to Alexa.com) the world's most popular website on the topic of Islam generally (apart from the website of an Islamic bank).[159][160][161]
Opposing the death penalty

Rationale, arguments, criticism for and against killing apostates

The question of whether apostates should be killed, has been "a matter for contentious dispute throughout Islamic history".[168]

For the death penalty

Some arguments offered for a death penalty for those who leave Islam: Throughout Islamic history the Muslim community, scholars, and schools of fiqh have agreed that scripture prescribes this penalty; scripture must take precedence over reason or modern norms of human rights, as Islam is the one true religion; "no compulsion in religion" (Q.2:256) does not apply to this punishment; apostasy is "spiritual and cultural" treason; it hardly ever happens and so is not worth talking about.

  • The issue should be decided not by "reasoning" or one's "whims and desires", but "before all else" by following Islamic scripture (Quran and Hadith) and "the texts and rulings of shariʿah", which all call for killing apostates (Islam Question and Answer).[6]
  • Among early Muslims, among the schools of fiqh both Sunni and Shia, among scholars of shari'ah "of every century ... available on record", there is unanimous agreement that the punishment for apostate is death, and that "no room whatever remains to suggest" that this penalty has not "been continuously and uninterruptedly operative" through Islamic history (Abul Ala Mawdudi);[49] evidence from early texts that Muhammad called for apostates to be killed, and that companions of the Prophet and early caliphs ordered beheadings and crucifixions of apostates has never been declared invalid over the course of the history of Islamic theology (Christine Schirrmacher).[137]
    • "Many hadiths", not just "one or two", call for the killing of apostates (Yusuf al-Qaradawi);[169][170]
    • Verse Q.2:217 — "hindering ˹others˺ from the Path of Allah, rejecting Him, and expelling the worshippers from the Sacred Mosque is ˹a˺ greater ˹sin˺ in the sight of Allah" — indicates the punishment for apostasy from Islam is death (Mohammad Iqbal Siddiqi),[171] Quranic verses in general "appear to justify coercion and severe punishment" for apostates (Dale F. Eickelman).[172]
    • If this doctrine is called into question, what's next? — ritual prayer (salat)? fasting (sawm)? even Muhammad's mission? (Abul Ala Mawdudi).[173][49]
  • It "does not merit discussion" because [the advocates maintain] apostasy from Islam is so rare, (Ali Kettani),[174] (Mahmud Brelvi);[175][176] before the modern era, there was virtually no apostasy from Islam (Syed Barakat Ahmad);[177]
    • the punishment is "rarely invoked" because there are numerous qualifications or ways for the apostate to avoid death (to be found guilty they must openly reject Islam, have made their decision without coercion, be aware of the nature of their statements, be an adult, be completely sane, refused to repent, etc.) (Religious Tolerance website).[178]
  • While it is true that the Quranic states there is "no compulsion in religion" (Q.2:256),[179] this "does not contradict the command to execute the apostate" (Islam Question and Answer);[180]
    • because the verse applies only to entering Islam, when it comes to leaving Islam "the rules change" and a different verse is to be followed: "No believing man and no believing woman has a choice in their own affairs when Allāh and His Messenger have decided on an issue" (Q.33:36) (Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi);[59] (Islam Question and Answer).[180]
    • or because the verse only forbids compulsion to believe "things that are wrong", when it comes to accepting the truth, compulsion is allowed (Peters and Vries explaining a traditional view);[Note 11]
    • Others maintain that verse Q.2:256 has been "abrogated", i.e. according to classical Quranic scholars it has been overruled/cancelled by verses of Quran revealed later, (IOW, compulsion was not allow in the very earliest days of Islam but this was changed by divine revelation a few years later) (Peters and Vries explaining traditional view).[182]
  • The issue should not considered through the lens of freedom of belief for individuals. Islam is the one true religion, and not one religion among many competing in a marketplace of beliefs. It is not limited to persuasion to keep its adherents in the fold.
    • "Those who bleat about personal freedom and freedom of belief" should consider that apostasy is "leaving the true religion and rejecting the shariʿah". Islam was revealed by Allah to "bring justice and fairness to all" (Islam Question and Answer);[183] Islam can "not allow its followers to lower themselves from the sublime status of 'surrendering to the will of Allah--Islam'" to that of willful ignorance (Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi);[184]
    • The apostate provides a terrible example to other Muslims, opening "the way for everyone who wants to leave the faith, thus spreading apostasy and encouraging it" (Islam Question and Answer);[183] If early Muslims "had gotten rid of the apostasy punishment, Islam wouldn't exist today" (Yusuf al-Qaradawi b.1926);[169][170]
    • To allow "any other religion to spread its message as competition to the religion of God" is wrong, and leaving apostates alive gives "evil ... an opportunity to raise its head against" Islam (Abul Ala Mawdudi);[185]
    • While the death penalty may seem harsh, the apostate is "casting doubt on the truth and honesty of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the Messenger of God," which is worse (Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi);[59]
    • Islam should "be judged on its own terms, and not by the secular ideals"; "human rights, democracy, and minority rights" are only "cards ... the western powers" keep "up their sleeves" to play "against any country that they do not like" (Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi).[59]
  • Apostasy should not be thought of as a personal choice of belief, but as treason—not military treason as the term is used in the West, but as "spiritual and cultural" treason (Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi);[59]
    • Because "the social order of every Moslem society is Islam", apostasy constitutes "an offense" against that social order, "that may lead in the end to the destruction of this order" (Muhammad Muhiy al-Din al-Masiri);[186]
    • Apostasy is usually "a psychological pretext for rebellion against worship, traditions and laws and even against the foundations of the state", and so "is often synonymous with the crime of high treason ... " (Muhammad al-Ghazali);[187]
    • A person who has "known the religion which Allaah revealed" yet rejects it, has demonstrated such monumental ingratitude that they do "not deserve to live on the earth of Allah and eat from the provision of Allah" (Islam Question and Answer).[183]
Against death penalty

Arguments against the death penalty include: that some scholars throughout Islamic history have opposed that punishment for apostasy; that it constitutes a form of compulsion in faith, which the Quran explicitly forbids in Q.2.256 and other verses, and that these override any other scriptural arguments; and especially that the death penalty in hadith and applied by Muhammad was for treasonous/seditious behavior, not for a change in personal belief.

  • How can it be claimed that there was a consensus among scholars or community (ijma) from the beginning of Islam in favor of capital punishment when a number of companions of Muhammad and early Islamic scholars (Ibn al-Humam, al-Marghinani, Ibn Abbas, Sarakhsi, Ibrahim al-Nakh'i), opposed the execution of murtadd? (Mirza Tahir Ahmad);[188]
    • in addition there have been a number of prominent ulema (though a minority) over the centuries who argued against the death penalty for apostasy in some way, such as ...
      • The Maliki jurist Abu al-Walid al-Baji (d. 474 AH) held that apostasy was liable only to a discretionary punishment (known as ta'zir) and so might not require execution;[167]
      • The Hanafi jurist Al-Sarakhsi (d. 483 AH/ 1090 CE)[189][190] and Imam Ibnul Humam (d. 681 AH/ 1388 CE)[191] and Abd al-Rahman al-Awza'i (707–774 CE),[192] all distinguished between non-seditious religious apostasy on the one hand and treason on the other, with execution reserved for treason;
      • Ibrahim al-Nakhaʿī (50 AH/670 - 95/96 AH/717 CE) and Sufyan al-Thawri (97 AH/716 CE - 161 AH/778 CE) as well as the Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d. 1090), believed that an apostate should be asked to repent indefinitely (which would be imcompatable with being sentenced to death).[167][193]
  • There are problems with the scriptural basis for sharia commanding the execution of apostates
    • Quran (see Quran above)
      • Compulsion in faith is "explicitly" forbidden by the Quran ('Abd al-Muta'ali al-Sa'idi);[194] Quranic statements on freedom of religion -- 'There is no compulsion in religion. The right path has been distinguished from error' (Q.2:256) (and also 'Whoever wants, let him believe, and whoever wants, let him disbelieve,' (Q.18:29) -- are "absolute and universal" statement(s) (Jonathan A.C. Brown),[55] (Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa),[162] "general, overriding principle(s)" (Khaled Abou El Fadl)[195] of Islam, and not abrogated by hadith or the Sword Verse (Q.9:5); and there can be little doubt capital punishment for apostasy is imcompatable with this principle -- after all, if someone has the threat of death hanging over their head in a matter of faith, it cannot be said that there is "no compulsion or coercion" in their belief (Tariq Ramadan).[196]
      • Neither verse Q.2:217, (Mirza Tahir Ahmad),[197] or any other Quranic verse says anything to indicate an apostate should be punished in the temporal world, aka dunyā (S. A. Rahman),[198] (W. Heffening),[199] (Wael Hallaq),[200][53] (Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri);[165] the verses only indicate that dangerous, aggressive apostates should be killed, (Mahmud Shaltut),[167] (e.g. "If they do not withdraw from you, and offer you peace, and restrain their hands, take them and kill them wherever ye come upon them" Q.4:90), (Peters and Vries describing argument of Islamic Modernists);[201][202]
      • Another verses condemning apostasy — Q.4:137, "Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief -- God will never forgive them nor guide them to the path" — makes no sense if apostasy is punished by death, because killing apostates "would not permit repeated conversion from and to Islam" (Louay M. Safi);[58] (Sisters in Islam);[203]
    • Hadith and Sunnah (see hadith above)
      • "According to most established juristic schools, a hadith can limit the application of a general Qur'anic statement, but can never negate it", so the hadith calling for execution cannot abrogate the "There is no compulsion in religion" verse (Q.2:256) (Louay M. Safi);[Note 12]
      • The Prophet Muhammad did not call for the deaths of contemporaries who left Islam (Mohamed Ghilan)[204] -- for example, apostates like "Hishâm and 'Ayyash", or converts to Christianity, such as "Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh" -- and since what The Prophet did is by definition part of the Sunnah of Islam, this indicates "that one who changes her/his religion should not be killed" (Tariq Ramadan);[196]
      • another reason not to use the hadith(s) stating “whoever changes his religion kill him” as the basis for law is that it is not among the class of hadith eligible to be used as the basis for "legal rulings binding upon all Muslims for all times" (Muhammad al-Shawkani (1759–1834 CE));[204] as their authenticity is not certain (Wael Hallaq);[200] the hadith are in a category relying "on only one authority (khadar al-ahad) and were not widely known amongst the Companions of the Prophet," and so ought not abrogate Quranic verses of tolerance (Peters and Vries describing argument of Islamic Modernists);[205]
      • The hadith(s) "calling for apostates to be killed are actually referring to "what can be considered in modern terms political treason", not change in personal belief (Mohamed Ghilan),[204] (Adil Salahi);[Note 13] punishment of collective conspiracy and treason against the government (Enayatullah Subhani);[207] (Mahmud Shaltut);[Note 14] and in fact, translating the Islamic term ridda as simply "apostasy" — a standard practice — is really an error, as ridda should be defined as "the public act of political secession from the Muslim community" (Jonathan Brown);[179]
  • The punishment or lack for apostasy should reflect the circumstances of the Muslim community which is very different now then when the death penalty was established;
    • Unlike some other sharia laws, those on how to deal with apostates from Islam are not set in stone but should be adjusted according to circumstances based on what best serves the interests of society. In the past, the death penalty for leaving Islam "protected the integrity of the Muslim community", but today this goal is no longer met by punishing apostasy (Jonathan Brown);[179]
    • the "premise and reasoning underlying the sunna rule of death penalty for apostasy were valid in the historical context" where 'disbelief is equated with high treason' because citizenship was 'based on belief in Islam', but doesn't apply today (Abdullahi An-Na'im, et al.);[208][209] the prescription of death penalty for apostasy found in hadith was aimed at prevention of aggression against Muslims and sedition against the state (Mahmud Shaltut);[167] it's a man-made rule enacted in the early Islamic community to prevent and punish the equivalent of desertion or treason (John Esposito);[37] it is probable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam to combat political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims, those who desert Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community, and is not intended for those who simply change their belief, converting to another religion after investigation and research (Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri).[165]
    • the concept of apostasy as treason is not so much part of Islam, as part of the pre-modern era when classical Islamic fiqh was developed, and when "every religion was a 'religion of the sword'" (Reza Aslan);[210] and every religion "underpinned the political and social order within ... the states they established" (Jonathan Brown);[179] “…the premodern period was an era in which citizenship was defined by religion. In the worlds of Islam and Christendom alike, to declare allegiance to another religion while continuing to reside in the land where one’s original religion was dominant, was to renounce allegiance to one’s co-religionists in a way tantamount to treason” (Intisar Rabb);[211] "This was also an era in which religion and the state were one unified entity. ... no Jew, Christian, Zoroastrian, or Muslim of this time would have considered his or her religion to be rooted in the personal confessional experiences of individuals. ... Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity... your religion was your citizenship."[210]
    • transcending tribalism with religious (Islamic) unity could mean prevention of civil war in Muhammad's era, so to violate religious unity meant violating civil peace (Mohamed Ghilan).[204]
    • capital punishment for apostasy is a time-bound command, applying only to those Arabs who denied the truth even after having Muhammad himself explained and clarified it to them (Javed Ahmad Ghamidi).[212]
    • now the only reason to kill an apostate is to eliminate the danger of war, not because of their disbelief (Al-Kamal ibn al-Humam 861 AH/1457 CE);[191] these days, the number of apostates is small, and does not politically threaten the Islamic community (Christine Schirrmacher describing the "liberal" position on apostasy);[122] it should be enforced only if apostasy becomes a mechanism of public disobedience and disorder (fitna) (Ahmet Albayrak).[38]
  • In Islamic history, laws calling for severe penalties against apostasy (and blasphemy) have not been used to protect Islam, but "almost exclusively" to either eliminate "political dissidents" or target "vulnerable religious minorities", (Javaid Rehman)[213] which is hardly something worthy of immitating.
  • Executing apostates is a violation of the human right to freedom of religion, and somewhat hypocritical for a religion that enthusiastically encourages non-Muslims to apostatize from their current faith and convert to Islam. (Non-Muslims and liberals Muslims)

Middle way

Abu al-Walid al-Baji (d. 474 AH), medieval Maliki jurist, held that apostasy was liable only to a discretionary punishment (ta'zir), not penalties fixed by Islamic law (hadd), making the death penalty optional not mandatory.[167]

At least some conservative jurists and preachers have attempted to reconcile following the traditional doctrine of death for apostasy while addressing the principle of freedom of religion. Some of whom argue apostasy should have a lesser penalty than death.[11][33][34][35]

At a 2009-human rights conference at Mofid University in Qom, Iran, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, stated that "if an individual doubts Islam, he does not become the subject of punishment, but if the doubt is openly expressed, this is not permissible." As one observer (Sadakat Kadri) noted, this "freedom" has the advantage that "state officials could not punish an unmanifested belief even if they wanted to".[214]

Zakir Naik, the Indian Islamic televangelist and preacher[150] takes a less strict line (mentioned above), stating that only those Muslims who "propagate the non-Islamic faith and speak against Islam" after converting from Islam should be put to death.[155][153]

In practice -- historical impact

630 CE-1800 CE

The charge of apostasy is often used by religious authorities to condemn and punish skeptics, dissidents, and minorities in their communities.[51] From the earliest history of Islam, the crime of apostasy and execution for apostasy has driven major events in Islam. For example, the Ridda wars (civil wars of apostasy) shook the Muslim community in 632–633 AD, immediately after the death of Muhammad.[51][215] These wars split the two major sects of IslamSunni and Shia, and caused numerous deaths.[216][217] Sunni and Shia sects of Islam have long accused each other of apostasy.[218]

Some Christian converts to Islam who reportedly reverted to Christianity and were executed include "Kyros", who was executed by burning in 769 CE, “Holy Elias” in 795 CE, “Holy Bacchus” in 806 CE.[219]

Historian David Cook writes that "it is only with the 'Abbasi caliphs al-Mu'taṣim (218-28 AH/833-42 CE) and al-Mutawakkil (233-47 /847-61) that we find detailed accounts" of apostates and what was done with them. Prior to that, in the Umayyad and early Abbasid periods, measures to defend Islam from apostasy "appear to have mostly remained limited to intellectual debates"[220] He also states that "the most common category of apostates" — at least of apostates who converted to another religion — "from the very first days of Islam" were "Christians and Jews who converted to Islam and after some time" reconverted back to their former faith.[221]

Some sources emphasize that executions of apostates have been "rare in Islamic history".[19] According to historian Bernard Lewis, in "religious polemic" in the "early times" of Islam, "charges of apostasy were not unusual", but the accused were seldom prosecuted, and "some even held high offices in the Muslim state". Later, "as the rules and penalties of the Muslim law were systematized and more regularly enforced, charges of apostasy became rarer."[93] When action was taken against an alleged apostate, it was much more likely to be "quarantine" than execution, unless the innovation was "extreme, persistent and aggressive".[93] Another source, legal historian Sadakat Kadri, argues execution was rare because "it was widely believed" that any accused apostate "who repented by articulating the shahada" (LA ILAHA ILLALLAH "There is no God but Allah") "had to be forgiven" and their punishment delayed until after Judgement Day. This principle was upheld "even in extreme situations", such as when an offender adopted Islam "only for fear of death" and their sincerity seemed highly implausible. It was based on the hadith that Muhammad had upbraided a follower for killing a raider who had uttered the shahada.[Note 15]

The New Encyclopedia of Islam also states that after the early period, with some notable exceptions, the practice in Islam regarding atheism or various forms of heresy, grew more tolerant as long as it was a private matter. However heresy and atheism expressed in public may well be considered a scandal and a menace to a society; in some societies they are punishable, at least to the extent the perpetrator is silenced. In particular, blasphemy against God and insulting Muhammad are major crimes.[224]

In contrast, historian David Cook maintains the issue of apostasy and punishment for it was not uncommon in Islamic. From the 7th century through the 18th century, atheists, materialists, Sufi, and Shii sects were accused and executed for apostasy in Islam. In the 8th century, apostates of Islam were killed in West Asia and Sind.[225]

Zindīq (often a "blanket phrase" for "intellectuals" under suspicion of having abandoned Islam" or freethinker, atheist or heretic who conceal their religion)[226] experienced a wave of persecutions from 779 to 786. A history of those times states:[224]

"Tolerance is laudable", the Spiller (the Caliph Abu al-Abbās) had once said, "except in matters dangerous to religious beliefs, or to the Sovereign's dignity."[224] Al-Mahdi (d. 169/785) persecuted Freethinkers, and executed them in large numbers. He was the first Caliph to order composition of polemical works to in refutation of Freethinkers and other heretics; and for years he tried to exterminate them absolutely, hunting them down throughout all provinces and putting accused persons to death on mere suspicion.[224]

The famous Sufi mystic of 10th-century Iraq, Mansur Al-Hallaj was officially executed for possessing a heretical document suggesting hajj pilgrimage was not required of a pure Muslim (i.e. killed for heresy which made him an apostate), but it is thought he would have been spared execution except that the Caliph at the time Al-Muqtadir wished to discredit "certain figures who had associated themselves" with al-Hallaj.[227] (Previously al-Hallaj had been punished for talking about being at one with God by being shaved, pilloried and beaten with the flat of a sword. He was not executed because the Shafi'ite judge had ruled that his words were not "proof of disbelief."[227])

In 12th-century Iran, al-Suhrawardi along with followers of Ismaili sect of Islam were killed on charges of being apostates;[51] in 14th-century Syria, Ibn Taymiyyah declared Central Asian Turko-Mongol Muslims as apostates due to the invasion of Ghazan Khan;[228] in 17th-century India, Dara Shikoh and other sons of Shah Jahan were captured and executed on charges of apostasy from Islam by his brother Aurangzeb.[229]

Colonial era and after

From around 1800 up until 1970, there were only a few cases of executions of apostates in the Muslim world, including the strangling of a woman in Egypt (sometime between 1825 and 1835), and the beheading of an Armenian youth in the Ottoman Empire in 1843.[5] Western powers campaigned intensely for a prohibition on the execution of apostates in the Ottoman Empire. British envoy to the court of Sultan Abdülmecid i (1839–1861), Stratford Canning, led diplomatic representatives from Austria, Russia, Prussia, and France in a "tug of war" with the Ottoman government.[230] In the end (following the execution of the Armenian), the Sublime Porte agreed to allow "complete freedom of Christian missionaries" to try to convert Muslims in the Empire.[5] The death sentence for apostasy from Islam was abolished by the Edict of Toleration, and substituted with other forms of punishment by the Ottoman government in 1844. The implementation of this ban was resisted by religious officials and proved difficult.[231][232] A series of edicts followed during Ottoman's Tanzimat period, such as the 1856 Reform Edict.

This was also the time that Islamic modernists reformers like Muhammad Abduh (d.1905) and Rashid Rida (d.1935), argued that to be executed it was not enough to be an apostate, the perpetrator had to pose a real threat to public safety.[168]

Efforts to convert Muslims to other religions were extremely unpopular with the Muslim community. Despite these edicts on apostasy, there was constant pressure on non-Muslims to convert to Islam, and apostates from Islam continued to be persecuted, punished and threatened with execution, particularly in eastern and Levant parts of the then Ottoman Empire.[231] The Edict of Toleration ultimately failed when Sultan Abdul Hamid II assumed power, re-asserted pan-Islamism with sharia as Ottoman state philosophy, and initiated Hamidian massacres in 1894 against Christians, particularly the Genocides of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and crypto-Christian apostates from Islam in Turkey (Stavriotes, Kromlides).[233][234][235][not specific enough to verify]

In the colonial era, the death penalty for apostasy was abolished in Islamic countries that had come under Western rule or in places, such as the Ottoman Empire, Western powers could apply enough pressure to abolish it.[5] Writing in the mid 1970s, Rudolph Peters and Gert J. J. De Vries stated that "apostasy no longer falls under criminal law"[5] in the Muslim world, but that some Muslims (such as 'Adb al-Qadir 'Awdah) were preaching that "the killing of an apostate" had "become a duty of individual Moslems" (rather than a less important collective duty in hisbah doctrine) and giving advice on how to plead in court after being arrested for such a murder to avoid punishment.[236]

Some (Louay M. Safi), have argued that this situation, with the adoption of "European legal codes ... enforced by state elites without any public debate", created an identification of tolerance with foreign/alien control in the mind of the Muslim public, and rigid literalist interpretations (such as the execution of apostates), with authenticity and legitimacy. Autocratic rulers "often align themselves with traditional religious scholars" to deflect grassroots discontent, which took the form of angry pious traditionalists.[58]

In practice in the recent past

While as of 2004 apostasy from Islam is a capital offence in only eight majority-Muslim states,[15] in other states that do not directly execute apostates, apostate killing is sometimes facilitated through extrajudicial killings performed by the apostate's family, particularly if the apostate is vocal.[Note 16] In still other situations, it is not uncommon for "vigilante" Muslims to kill or attempt to kill apostates or alleged apostates, in the belief they are enforcing sharia law that the government as failed to.

Penalties (actual or proposed) for apostasy in some Muslim-majority countries as of 2020. .mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{}  Death penalty   Prison   Converting a Muslim is a crime   Loss of child custody/marriage
Penalties (actual or proposed) for apostasy in some Muslim-majority countries as of 2020.
  Death penalty
  Prison
  Converting a Muslim is a crime
  Loss of child custody/marriage

Background

More than 20 Muslim-majority states have laws that punish apostasy by Muslims to be a crime some de facto other de jure.[15] As of 2014, apostasy was a capital offense in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.[15] Executions for religious conversion have been infrequent in recent times, with four cases reported since 1985: one in Sudan in 1985; two in Iran, in 1989 and 1998; and one in Saudi Arabia in 1992.[15][19] In Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Yemen apostasy laws have been used to charge persons for acts other than conversion.[15] In addition, some predominantly Islamic countries without laws specifically addressing apostasy have prosecuted individuals or minorities for apostasy using broadly-defined blasphemy laws.[238] In many nations, the Hisbah doctrine of Islam has traditionally allowed any Muslim to accuse another Muslim or ex-Muslim for beliefs that may harm Islamic society, i.e. violate the norms of sharia (Islamic law). This principle has been used in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and others to bring blasphemy charges against apostates.[239][240]

The source of most violence or threats of violence against apostate has come from outside of state judicial systems in the Muslim world in recent years, either from extralegal acts by government authorities or from other individuals or groups operating unrestricted by the government.[241][page needed] There has also been social persecution for Muslims converting to Christianity. For example, the Christian organisation Barnabas Fund reports:

The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related "crimes" is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.[242]

Similar views are expressed by the non-theistic International Humanist and Ethical Union.[243] Author Mohsin Hamid points out that the logic of widely accepted claim that anyone helping an apostate is themselves an apostate, is a powerful weapon in spreading fear among those who oppose the killings (in at least the country of Pakistan). It means that a doctor who agrees to treat an apostate wounded by attacker(s), or a police officer who has agreed to protect that doctor after they have been threatened is also an apostate -- "and on and on".[244]

Contemporary reformist/liberal Muslims such as Quranist Ahmed Subhy Mansour,[245] Edip Yuksel, and Mohammed Shahrour have suffered from accusations of apostasy and demands to execute them, issued by Islamic clerics such as Mahmoud Ashur, Mustafa Al-Shak'a, Mohammed Ra'fat Othman and Yusif Al-Badri.[246]

Apostate communities

Christian apostates from Islam

Regarding Muslim converts to Christianity, Duane Alexander Miller (2016) identified two different categories:

  1. 'Muslims followers of Jesus Christ', 'Jesus Muslims' or 'Messianic Muslims' (analogous to Messianic Jews), who continue to self-identify as 'Muslims', or at least say Islam is (part of) their 'culture' rather than religion, but "understand themselves to be following Jesus as he is portrayed in the Bible".
  2. 'Christians from a Muslim background' (abbreviated CMBs), also known as 'ex-Muslim Christians', who have completely abandoned Islam in favour of Christianity.

Miller introduced the term 'Muslim-background believers' (MBBs) to encompass both groups, adding that the latter group are generally regarded as apostates from Islam, but orthodox Muslims' opinions on the former group is more mixed (either that 'Muslim followers of Jesus' are 'heterodox Muslims', 'heretical Muslims' or 'crypto-Christian liars').[247]

Atheist apostates from Islam

Writing in 2015, Ahmed Benchemsi argued that while Westerners have great difficulty even conceiving of the existence of an Arab atheist, "a generational dynamic" is underway with "large numbers" of young people brought up as Muslims "tilting away from ... rote religiosity" after having "personal doubts" about the "illogicalities" of the Quran and Sunnah.[248] Immigrant apostates from Islam in Western countries "converting" to Atheism have often gathered for comfort in groups such as Women in Secularism, Ex-Muslims of North America, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain,[249] sharing tales of the tension and anxieties of "leaving a close-knit belief-based community" and confronting "parental disappointment, rejection by friends and relatives, and charges of "trying to assimilate into a Western culture that despises them", often using terminology first uttered by the LGBT community -- "'coming out,' and leaving 'the closet'".[249] Atheists in the Muslim world maintain a lower profile, but according to the Editor-in-chief of FreeArabs.com:

When I recently searched Facebook in both Arabic and English, combining the word ‘atheist’ with names of different Arab countries I turned up over 250 pages or groups, with memberships ranging from a few individuals to more than 11,000. And these numbers only pertain to Arab atheists (or Arabs concerned with the topic of atheism) who are committed enough to leave a trace online.[248]

Public opinion

A survey based on face-to-face interviews conducted in 80 languages by the Pew Research Center between 2008 and 2012 among thousands of Muslims in many countries, found varied views on the death penalty for those who leave Islam to become an atheist or to convert to another religion.[31] In some countries (especially in Central Asia, Southeast Europe, and Turkey), support for the death penalty for apostasy was confined to a tiny fringe; in other countries (especially in the Arab world and South Asia) majorities and large minorities support the death penalty.

In the survey, Muslims who favored making Sharia the law of the land were asked for their views on the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.[31] The results are summarized in the table below. (Note that values for Group C have been derived from the values for the other two groups and are not part of the Pew report.)[31]

Middle East and North Africa
Country Group A:  % Muslims support sharia Group B: Support death for apostasy as a % of Group A Group C: Group B as % of all Muslims
Egypt 74 86 63.6
Palestine 89 66 58.7
Jordan 71 82 58.2
Iraq 91 42 38.2
Tunisia 56 29 16.2
Lebanon 29 46 13.3
South and Southeast Asia
Country Group A:  % Muslims support sharia Group B: Support death for apostasy as a % of Group A Group C: Group B as % of all Muslims
Afghanistan 99 79 78.2
Pakistan 84 76 63.8
Malaysia 86 62 53.3
Bangladesh 82 44 36.1
Thailand 77 27 20.8
Indonesia 72 18 13.0
Southeast Europe and Central Asia
Country Group A:  % Muslims support sharia Group B: Support death for apostasy as a % of Group A Group C: Group B as % of all Muslims
Russia 42 15 6.3
Tajikistan 27 22 5.9
Kyrgyzstan 35 14 4.9
Bosnia 15 15 2.3
Kosovo 20 11 2.2
Turkey 12 17 2.0
Albania 12 8 1.0
Kazakhstan 10 4 0.4
Visualisation of the total % of Muslims per country who support the death penalty for apostasy according to the 2013 Pew report's values.
Visualisation of the total % of Muslims per country who support the death penalty for apostasy according to the 2013 Pew report's values.

Overall, the figures in the 2012 survey suggest that the percentage of Muslims in the countries surveyed who approve the death penalty for Muslims who leave Islam to become an atheist or convert to another religion varies widely, from 0.4% (in Kazakhstan) to 78.2% (in Afghanistan).[31] The Governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait) did not permit Pew Research to survey nationwide public opinion on apostasy in 2010 or 2012. The survey also did not include China, India, Syria, or West African countries such as Nigeria.

By country

The situation for apostates from Islam varies markedly between Muslim-minority and Muslim-majority regions. In Muslim-minority countries "any violence against those who abandon Islam is already illegal". But in Muslim-majority countries, violence is sometimes "institutionalised", and (at least in 2007) "hundreds and thousands of closet apostates" live in fear of violence and are compelled to live lives of "extreme duplicity and mental stress."[250]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary[251] to Article 18 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.[252]

Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria voted in favor of the Declaration.[252] The governments of other Muslim-majority countries have responded by criticizing the Declaration as an attempt by the non-Muslim world to impose their values on Muslims, with a presumption of cultural superiority,[253][254] and by issuing the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam—a joint declaration of the member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference made in 1990 in Cairo, Egypt.[255][256] The Cairo Declaration differs from the Universal Declaration in affirming Sharia as the sole source of rights, and in limits of equality and behavior[257][page needed][258][259] in religion, gender, sexuality, etc.[256][260] Islamic scholars such as Muhammad Rashid Rida in Tafsir al-Minar, argue that the "freedom to apostatize", is different from freedom of religion on the grounds that apostasy from Islam infringes on the freedom of others and the respect due the religion of Islamic states.[5]

Literature and film

Films and documentaries

Books by ex-Muslims

  • Ham, Boris van der; Benhammou, Rachid (2018). Nieuwe Vrijdenkers: 12 voormalige moslims vertellen hun verhaal (New Freethinkers: 12 Former Muslims Tell Their Story). Amsterdam: Prometheus. p. 209. ISBN 9789044636840.
  • Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2007). Infidel: My Life (Mijn Vrijheid). Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 9780743295031.
  • Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2011). Nomad: From Islam to America. Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 9781847398185.
  • Al-Husseini, Waleed (2017). The Blasphemer: The Price I Paid for Rejecting Islam (Blasphémateur ! : les prisons d'Allah). New York City: Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 9781628726756.
  • Jami, Ehsan (2007). Het recht om ex-moslim te zijn (The Right to Be an Ex-Muslim). Kampen: Uitgeverij Ten Have. ISBN 978-9025958367.
  • Mohammed, Yasmine (2019). From Al Qaeda to Atheism: The Girl Who Would Not Submit. Free Hearts Free Minds. ISBN 978-1724790804.
  • Rizvi, Ali Amjad (2016). The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason. New York City: St Martin's Press. ISBN 9781250094445.
  • Saleem, Aliyah; Mughal, Fiyaz (2018). Leaving Faith Behind: The journeys and perspectives of people who have chosen to leave Islam. London: Darton, Longman & Todd. p. 192. ISBN 978-0232533644. ASIN 0232533644.
  • Warraq, Ibn (2003). Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1591020684.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ The penalty of killing of apostates is in conflict with international human rights norms which provide for the freedom of religions, as demonstrated in such human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide for the freedom of religion.[13] [14]
  2. ^ "one in Sudan in 1985; two in Iran, in 1989 and 1998; and one in Saudi Arabia in 1992",[19]
  3. ^ Pew Research Center taken from 2008 and 2012[31]
  4. ^ Ahmet Albayrak writes in The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia that regarding apostasy as a wrongdoing is not a sign of intolerance of other religions, and is not aimed at one's freedom to choose a religion or to leave Islam and embrace another faith, but that on the contrary, it is more correct to say that the punishment is enforced as a safety precaution when warranted if apostasy becomes a mechanism of public disobedience and disorder (fitna).[38]
  5. ^ Legal historian Wael Hallaq writes that "nothing in the law governing apostates and apostasy derives from the letter" of the Quran.[53]
  6. ^ (two of the Kutub al-Sittah or the six most important collections of hadith for Sunni Muslims)
  7. ^ for example Ibn Taymiyya wrote "not everyone who falls into unbelief becomes an unbeliever" Laysa kull man waqaʿa fi l-kufr ṣāra kāfir.[67]
  8. ^ killings have been directly by ISIL or through affiliated groups, from its inception in 2014 to 2020 according to Jamileh Kadivar based on estimates from Global Terrorism Database, 2020; Herrera, 2019; Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights & United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office, 2014; Ibrahim, 2017; Obeidallah, 2014; 2015[96]
  9. ^ according to one "well known Muslim journalist of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, Maulana Abdul-Majeed Salik", "All great and eminent Muslims in the history of Islam as well as all the sects in the Muslim world are considered to be disbelievers, apostates, and outside the pale of Islam according to one or the other group of religious leaders. In the realm of the Shariah [religious law] and tariqat [path of devotion], not a single sect or a single family has been spared the accusations of apostasy."[99]
  10. ^ "More recently, a growing body of Islamic jurists have relied on Quranic verses which advocate absolute freedom of religion.[citation needed]
  11. ^ "Finally the argument is put forward that killing an apostate must be considered as compulsion in religion, which has been forbidden in K 2:256, though this verse was traditionally interpreted in a different way." Footnote 38: "According to some classical scholars this verse had been abrograted by later verses. The current interpretation of this verse, however, was that it forbids compulsion to things that are wrong (batil) but not compulsion to accept the truth"[181]
  12. ^ See for example al-Shatibi, al-Muafaqat (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Ma'rifah, n.d.), vol. 3, pp. 15-26; quoted in [58]
  13. ^ "The sunnah, which is consistent with the Qur’an, reserves the death penalty for those who apostatised and treasonously fought against the Muslims"[206]
  14. ^ the prescription of death penalty for apostasy found in hadith was aimed at prevention of aggression against Muslims and sedition against the state[167]
  15. ^ Muhammad had been unimpressed by claims that the dead man had adopted Islam only for fear of death. 'Who will absolve you, Usama,` he asked the killer repeatedly, for ignoring the confession of faith?`" source: ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, p.667; al-Bukhari, 5.59.568; Muslim 1.176[222][223]
  16. ^ examples of countries where the government does not facilitate extra-judicial killings are Turkey, Israel, and parts of India.[237]

Citations

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  2. ^ Diane Morgan (2009), Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice, ISBN 978-0313360251, pp. 182–83
  3. ^ Ghali, Hebatallah (December 2006). "Rights of Muslim Converts to Christianity" (PhD Thesis). Department of Law, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The American University in Cairo, Egypt. p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 September 2014. Whereas apostate (murtad) is the person who commits apostasy ('rtidad), that is the conscious abandonment of allegiance or ... renunciation of a religious faith or abandonment of a previous loyalty. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "No God, not even Allah". The Economist. 24 November 2012. Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Peters, Rudolph; Vries, Gert J. J. De (1976). "Apostasy in Islam". Die Welt des Islams. 17 (1/4): 1–25. doi:10.2307/1570336. JSTOR 1570336. By the murtadd or apostate is understood as the Moslem by birth or by conversion, who renounces his religion, irrespective of whether or not he subsequently embraces another faith
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Bibliography and further reading

External links

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