Punishment Of Apostasy


I live in UK and am trying to dispel some of the misconceptions that I have regarding some sensiytive issues. I was very concerned about the issue on punishment for apostasy. In this regards I came across Mr Shahezad Saleem's views on the following youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8Y6WpnFKJM>.

I desparately require your assistance so that I can clarify what the real ruling is. I am in rather confused.

I noticed that you focus on the word Mushrikoon but I do not see that in all relevant narratives including the one you quote "faman baddala deenahu …" I am not able to see that it is limited to mushrikoon of Makkah. I also note that almost all the schools in Islam hold that the apostate has to be executed.


Mr Javed Ahmed Ghamidi's research on the topic has led him to believe that the Islamic Shari'ah does not prescribe any punishment for the apostates. The prophetic sayings regarding executing those who converted from Islam during his lifetime are not general Shari'ah commandments. They are but an application of the Divine Law regarding the Messengers of God and their direct addressees. What follows is translation of Mr Ghahmidi's analysis of the issue:

The Islamic Shari'ah does not prescribe any punishment for the apostates. The orthodox view in this regard is based on an erroneous interpretation of a prophetic saying. Sahih of Imam Bukhari has the following report ascribed to the Companion, Abdullah b. Abbas:

Execute the person who changes his faith. (Bukhari No: 3017)

The early Muslim jurists have generalized this prophetic command rendering it applicable to all possible cases of apostasy from the time of the Prophet (sws) to the Last Day. Thus they consider it an eternal Shari'ah punishment for the apostates. According to this view every Muslim who at his free will leaves Islam will be put to death. The early jurists's difference of opinion on this issue is confined to two questions; whether the apostate can be granted an opportunity to repent and embrace the faith and if yes then how long can the execusion be delayed on this ground. The Hanafites, however, exempt women from this punishment for whom they endorse life imprisonment. All other jurists unanimously hold that all the apostates, men or women, should be killed.

I believe that this viewpoint is erroneous in all respects. While I dot not doubt the authenticity of the saying ascribed to the Holy Prophet (sws) I believe it was not a general principle. It was only an application of the Divine directive regarding the rejecters of the Messengers. Therefore it was specifically meant for the people among whom the Holy Prophet (sws) was raised and whom the Holy Qur'an commonly calls Ummiyyoon (the unlettered) and the Mushrikoon (the polytheists).

I intend to explain my view in the following paragraphs:

It is a recognized fact that God did not owe men right of life and the means to live on earth. This life and other blessings He has granted men in order to test them. The amount of one's life on earth is predetermined. One remains in test and enjoys the respite granted to him until when the Oft Wise and all Knowing God sees fit to give him death. The Lord then sends down the angle of death who takes man back to His presence.

Generally God determines the duration of the test for individuals as he wills. However, if a Messenger is sent among a people, and they are directly communicated the truth through the Messenger of God, they are subjected to a specific divine plan in this regard. The Holy Qur'an explicitly states that because these people are exposed to bare truth and they are left with no excuse to reject it, they lose their right of life if they persist on rejecting the message. Since the basic purpose of their life was test and trial which ends after the truth is unveiled to them in its ultimate form leaving them with no excuse to deny it by the Messenger they are deprived of their life and punished by death directly by God. This is the establish law of the Almighty regarding the addressees of the Messengers of God on earth.

The process adopted in execution of this divine law regarding the Messengers of God generally takes two forms. First, if the Messenger and His followers fail to find a shelter, a settlement where they could establish their political power, the rejecters are overtaken by the natural calamities. The divine punishment thus appears in the form of rain and storms etc which eliminate the entire nation from the face of the earth. According to the Holy Qur'an, the nations of 'Aad, Thamood, Noah, Lot, and many other Messengers were punished this way. Second, if the Messenger is able to find a shelter and manages to lead his movement to the state that it acquires political sovereignty in an independent area then the rejecter nation is first subdued and then put to death by the hands of the Massagers and their Companions. In the case of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) the second kind of process was adopted. Therefore, the Almighty directed him that if any individual from among the ummiyyun, ie his nation, does not accept the faith even up till the 9 AH, he should be warned on the same day in the plain of Arafaat that they are given a final respite to the end of Muharram. If they persist in their rejection after this term then they must be subjected to this divine law regarding the rejecters of the Messenger of God.

When the sacred months are over slay these idolaters wherever you find them and for this purpose arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent from rejection and idolatry and take to prayer and do their alms, leave them. God is forgiving and merciful. (9:5)

The same divine directive has been explained by the Holy Prophet (sws) in the following words:

I have been directed to fight these people until they declare that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad (sws) is His messenger, establish prayer and render the alms levy. If they comply by these commandments their lives would then be spared unless they violate any Islamic injunction (punishable by death). As for the inner intentions (of a man) that is upon God to decide. (Muslim No:22)

As explained above this divine law was enforced explicitly for the ummiyyoon (the unlettered people), the nation of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). After the life of the Holy Prophet (sws) and his direct addressees, no other person can be subjected to this law till the Day of Judgment. Even the people of the Book among the direct addressees of the Messenger were exempted from this punishment. Therefore we see that the Holy Qur'an, after a mention of this punishment for the polytheists of Arabia, has explicitly directed the Holy Prophet to adopt a different course of action regarding the People of the Book. They are spared the death punishment and were allowed to live. However, they had to surrender before the Islamic rule and pay jizyah (a kind of tax). The Almighty says:

Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. (9:29)

If this divine directive regarding the direct addressees of the Messengers of God is properly understood one does not find it difficult to understand that as a direct corollary of the same directive those among the polytheists of Arabia who adopted polytheism after having embraced the Faith have to be subjected to this punishment. I it in this connection the Holy Prophet said:

Execute the person who changes his faith.

The world 'man' (whoever/the person) in the above statement specifically refers to the group of people among the polytheists who returned to their faith after having accepted Islam, just as the word 'al-naas' in the prophetic saying mentioned above regarding fighting the people. When the prophetic saying regarding fighting those people is based clearly on a Qur'anic directive and is applied with the given specification the same specifications would apply to the deductions based on that. The jurists have taken the word 'al-naas' (the people) in the prophet saying regarding fighting those people as general Islamic directive instead of basing it on the relevant Qur'anic directive. Similarly they have done with the narrative regarding the apostates. Thus they have added to the list of crimes punishable by death in the Islamic Shari'ah. (Ghamidi, Javed Ahmed, Burhaan 3st ed., (Lahore: Daru ul isharaaq, 2001), pp 127-30)

This view has been formed on the basic sources of Islam and the fact that many great scholars of the past held another view does not necessitate abandoning it. One should, however, readily revise one's view if it can be shown that it contradicts any of the direct commands of God and His Messenger.

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