Apostasy in Islam: No Punishment
APOSTASY ACCORDING TO ISLAM
by F. Khan
There is a great misconception concerning the subject of apostasy in Islam. It is claimed that Islam considers apostasy as a crime. It is further alleged that Islam prescribes the penalty of death for apostasy. Some go so far as to contend that it is a duty incumbent upon each individual Muslim to kill apostates. In response to these grave misunderstandings, four facts clarifying this very important issue are presented below.
#1. Fact: According to Islam, There is No Compulsion In Matters of Faith
The Holy Quran states in the clearest terms: There is no compulsion in religion (2:256) .
This verse, considered by many as the magna charta of religious freedom and olerance, emphasizes the basic principle that matters of faith are a person’s private concern. The Quran further clarifies this principle by stating that people are provided freedom to choose belief or disbelief in the religion of Islam:
We have truly shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful (76:3).
The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe and let him who please disbelieve (18:29).
Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm (6:104).
#2. Fact: According to the Quran, No Penalty is Imposed for Apostasy
There is no support whatsoever in the Quran for the belief that Muslims are to kill an apostate, or administer any form of punishment for that matter. Rather, the Quran explicitly states that the consequence for apostasy is something that is to be determined by God in the next life:
Whoso disbelieves in Allah after his belief—not he who is compelled while his heart is content with faith, but he who opens his breast for disbelief— on them is the wrath of Allah, and for them is a grievous chastisement (16:106). Moreover, the Quran relates that some people living under Muslim rule in Medina overtly planned to discredit Islam:
And a party of the People of the Book say, Avow belief in that which has been revealed to those who believe, in the first part of the day, and disbelieve in the latter part of it (3:71). It is quite illogical to believe that such a plan could be conceived by people living under a Muslim government, if apostasy was punishable with death?
#3. Fact: According to Hadith (Traditions), Only Apostates Who Became Enemies at War Were Punished
Various Hadith from the collection of Sahih Bukhari are often cited as proof that Islam prescribes death as the punishment for apostasy. A simple review of the context in which these traditions are reported clearly reveal that punishment in these cases were not due to the act of apostasy, but rather the act of treason. Bukhari is explicit on this point. He has two collections of traditions dealing with apostates:
1. Kitab al-mufari’n min ahl al-kufr wa-l-ridda, or “The Book of Those Who Fight (Against the Muslims) From Among the Unbelievers and the Apostates”.
2. Kitab istitabat al-mu’anid’n wa-l-murtadd’n wa qitali-him, or “The Book of Calling to Repentance of the Enemies and the Apostates and Fight with Them”.
The headings of these collections speak for themselves: the first relates only to such apostates that engage in fighting against Muslims, and the second covers only such apostates that join the enemies of Islam.
The oft-quoted Hadith report in Bukhari, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him” (Bukhari 89:2), must be interpreted in this context. It is axiomatic that such a report refers to those apostates only who join enemy forces and fight against the Muslims. Interpreting this report literally leads to an absurd conclusion, not worthy of any serious consideration: it would necessitate the killing of all converts from any faith to any other faith, even those who converted to Islam.
#4. Fact: The Quran and Hadith Relate Incidents of Apostasy Where No Punishment was Imposed
There are clear examples of apostasy related in the Quran and Hadith
with no reference to the apostate receiving any form of punishment.
1. While permitting fighting apostates who joined enemy forces, the Quran cautions Muslims regarding those apostates who joined a tribe who were on friendly terms
with the Muslims, and of others who withdrew from fighting altogether, siding neither with the Muslims nor with the enemies. As for these apostates, the Quran states:
So if they withdraw from you and fight you not and offer you peace, then Allah allows you no way against them (4:90).
2. In Bukhari 94:47, it is related that a man became a Muslim and the next day, upon getting a fever, left Islam under the superstitious belief that his becoming ill was due to his recent pledge to Islam. Nowhere is it related that anyone attempted to kill him; rather it is related that he went away completely unharmed.
3. In Bukhari 61:25, it is related that a Christian became a Muslim, and began performing the work of a scribe for the Holy Prophet Muhammad. He then apostasized, reverting to his Christian faith. After leaving Islam, he spoke of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in extremely derogatory terms, labeling him an imposter. Neither was this person killed nor was he punished in any way for his views. If apostasy is to be punished by death, why weren’t the apostates in these incidents killed?
It is unfortunate that despite clear evidence to the contrary, some people maintain that Islam mandates the killing of apostates. Whether advocated by Muslim or non-Muslim, such a belief must be considered contrary to the clear teachings of Islam and dismissed as propaganda based on either ignorance or illegitimate motive.
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