Part I. What does Islamic Scholarship say?
"… the statement of Allah's Apostle,
'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'"
(Sahih al-Bukhari vol. 9, No. 57 p. 45)
Summary: In Shari’ah law, the penalty for a Muslim
who departs from Islam is death. Quotations from Islamic
legal sources are presented, so a person can read for
himself the Islamic texts where capital punishment is
prescribed as the appropriate punishment for the crime of
apostasy. A Muslim's fear of being rejected by family
and society and possibly murdered is a deterrent against
conversion from Islam.
1. Ahmad ibn Naqib, Reliance of the
Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.
2. Imam Ibn Anas Malik, Al-Muwatta: The First Formulation of Islamic Law.
Al-Bukhari, The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih Al-Bukhari.
4. Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim: Being Traditions of the
Sayings and Doings of the Prophet Muhammad.
5. Imam Abu Dawud, Sunan Abu Dawud.
6. Ibn-I-Maja, Sunan Ibn-I-Majah.
7. Al Hadis, Mishkat-ul-Masabih
8. Rahman Doi, Sharī'ah: The Islamic Law.
9. Alhaji Ajijola, Introduction to Islamic Law
10. Adbul 'Oudah, Criminal Law of Islam,
11. Adbul 'Oudah, Criminal Law of Islam,
Mohamed El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Comparative Study.
In Islam, an apostate (murtad) is a Muslim who renounces his faith in Islam. This renouncement may be by word or by deed. Muhammad, the
Apostle of Islam, instituted the death penalty for the crime of leaving the fold of Islam.
Until this day, the threat of this prospective punishment negates true religious freedom for
millions of Muslims. Those who leave Islam face the threat of death until they escape to a non-Islamic nation that respects the civil and
human rights of its citizenry.
The severity of punishment varies between nations with Muslim majorities. Some Islamic countries seek to be faithful to the Sunnah
and Qur'an of Muhammad; and, as a
consequence, a Muslim who converts to another religion faces a greater threat of death. On the other hand, other Muslim nations have a more relaxed attitude
towards the Qur’an and the canonical hadith literature. Where this is the case, death is less a threat, but this liberty is not due to the Sunnah
and the Qur'an
of Muhammad, rather it exists because of non-Islamic influences.
Western Muslims claim repeatedly that true Islam is a belief system that teaches and practices religious freedom. This message of tolerance is welcomed
news to Westerners who know little or nothing about the Qur’an and Sunnah but who fear the expanding role of Islam in the West, especially after they
have seen Muslim terrorists strike targets around the world. So, no doubt, the appealing Islamic da’wah message brings them
Many Western political leaders state on national TV that Islam is a religion of peace, liberty, and brotherhood. Their speeches seek 1) to calm the fears of
their nation’s Muslims from reprisals because of Islamic
terrorists' attacks, 2) to minimize opposition against the war on terrorism, and 3) to create a favorable impression among Muslims to garner their votes in
future elections. Yet, they don’t substantiate their assertions from the Sirat (biography), Sunnah (sayings and behavior in the ahadith),
and Shari’ah code of Muhammad. It is one thing to
say Islam is a religion of peace, and it is another thing
to present the historical evidence from the life of Muhammad.
To discover the true nature of religious liberty in Islam, one has to go beyond the
slick, colorful, and inviting Islamic
da’wah literature. The real questions is: What does Muslim scholarship teach on the liberty of Muslims to convert to another religion? To find out what
classic scholars teach is a daunting task that overwhelms most non-Muslims. First, Western Muslims don’t readily distribute their scholarly Shari’ah
literature to non-Muslims; and, secondarily, most libraries don’t have these Islamic legal books on their shelves for the public to read.
Recently, in the London Times, a Muslim stated that apostasy is not punishable by death and that “Islam is the greatest champion of freedom.”
“… Is apostasy punishable by death in Islam? The answer is a categorical no. There is neither any such teaching in the Holy Qur’an nor any example to be found
in the life of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Islam does not permit its followers to take any life because of religious difference. Religion should be a matter of
choice for everyone and in this respect Islam is the greatest champion of freedom. …”
The Times, Ataul M. Rashed, The London Mosque, January 14, 2003.
Obviously, if orthodox Islam has apostasy laws, such that a Muslim may not leave Islam
and convert another religion without punishment, then it lacks meaningful
religious liberty from a rational perspective. It is one thing to claim religious freedom and it is another thing to
actually possess religious liberty.
A book published in the United States, Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, is a translation of
'Umdat al-salik by Ibn Naqib (died
1368 A.D.). This Shari’ah legal manual explicitly presents the punishment for Muslim who leaves Islam. It states that, if a sane person leaves Islam
voluntarily, the person is to be killed by the proper Islamic authority. However, if someone kills an apostate on his own, the killer does not face the
capital punishment, because he has killed someone who deserves to die.
Although this book is published in the United States, it has not been denounced by Muslims. In fact, it is featured by many respected Islamic bookstores
without a word warning that it advocates murderous acts
contrary to human rights and constitutional law. Many
fundamentalist Muslims believe that, even within Western
nations, Shari’a law is supreme over all human legal
systems. For this reason, some in the West who leave Islam
feel threatened by fundamentalist Muslims.
By contrast, imagine the Christian response to a book
claiming that anyone who departs from the Christian faith
has to be executed by the government! And, if a proper
governmental authority is not willing to behead the
apostate, any individual may kill the offender, because he
deserves to die. Such a book would be denounced by all
Christians: Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox
denominations. Also, no Christian bookstore offers such
treasonous books advocating the death of someone who leaves
Christianity. This is not the case in the Muslim community
where there are many books featured that state that a Muslim who leaves Islam
deserves justly to be executed.
In fairness to the reader, the complete section, Apostasy From Islam, is quoted, so that the reader can see the entire text
within its context and read the
justification offered for beheading a person who leaves the fold of Islam.
o8.0 APOSTASY FROM ISLAM (RIDDA)
(O: Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst. It may come about through sarcasm, as when someone is told, "Trim your nails, it is sunna," and he
replies, "I would not do it even if it were," as opposed to when some circumstance exists which exonerates him of having committed apostasy, such as when his tongue runs away with
him, or when he is quoting someone, or says it out of fear.)
o8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam,
he deserves to he killed.
o8.2 In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (A: or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses,
he is immediately killed.
o8.3 It he is a freeman, no one besides the caliph or his representative may kill him. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (def: o17) (O: for arrogating the
caliph's prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).
o8.4 There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (O: or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).
o8.5 If he apostatizes from Islam and returns several times, it (O: i.e. his return to Islam, which occurs when he states the two Testifications of Faith (def: o8.7(12))) is
accepted from him, though he is disciplined (o17).
o8.6 (A: If a spouse in a consummated marriage apostatizes from Islam, the couple are separated for a waiting period consisting of three intervals between menstruations. If the
spouse returns to Islam before the waiting period ends, the marriage is not annulled but is considered to have continued the whole time (dis: m7.4).)
ACTS THAT ENTAIL LEAVING ISLAM
o8.7 (O: Among the things that entail apostasy from Islam (may Allah protect us from them) are:
(1) to prostrate to an idol, whether sarcastically, out of mere contrariness, or in actual conviction, like that of someone who believes the Creator to be something that has
originated in time. Like idols in this respect are the sun or moon, and like prostration is bowing to other than Allah, if one intends reverence towards it like the reverence due
(2) to intend to commit unbelief, even if in the future. And like this intention is hesitating whether to do so or not: one thereby immediately commits unbelief;
(3) to speak words that imply unbelief such as "Allah is the third of three," or "I am Allah'' — unless one's tongue has run away with one, or one is quoting another, or is one
of the friends of Allah Most High (wali, def: w33) in a spiritually intoxicated state of total oblivion (A: friend of Allah or not, someone totally oblivious is as if insane, and
is not held legally responsible (dis: k13.1(O:))), for these latter do not entail unbelief;
(4) to revile Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace);
(5) to deny the existence of Allah, His beginningless eternality, His endless eternality, or to deny any of His attributes which the consensus of Muslims ascribes to Him (dis:
(6) to be sarcastic about Allah's name, His command, His interdiction, His promise, or His threat;
(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus (def: b7) belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it;
(8) to mockingly say, "I don't know what faith is";
(9) to reply to someone who says, "There is no power or strength save through Allah": "Your saying 'There's no power or strength, etc.' won't save you from hunger";
(10) for a tyrant, after an oppressed person says, "This is through the decree of Allah," to reply, "I act without the decree of Allah";
(11) to say that a Muslim is an unbeliever (kafir) (dis: w47) in words that are uninterpretable as merely meaning he is an ingrate towards Allah for divinely given blessings (n:
in Arabic, also "kafir");
(12) when someone asks to be taught the Testification of Faith (Ar. Shahada, the words, "La ilaha ill Allahu Muhammadun rasulu Llah" (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the
Messenger of Allah)), and a Muslim refuses to teach him it;
(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr);
(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma', def: b7) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or
even one rak'a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse (def: u2.4);
(15) to hold that any of Allah's messengers or prophets are liars, or to deny their being sent;
(n: 'Ala' al-Din 'Abidin adds the following:
(16) to revile the religion of Islam;
(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah;
(18) to deny the existence of angels or jinn (def: w22), or the heavens;
(19) to be sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law;
(20) or to deny that Allah intended the Prophet's message (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be the religion followed by the entire world (dis: w4.3-4) (al-Hadiyya al-'Ala'iyya
There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless. May Allah Most High save us and all Muslims from it.) —
Quotation from: Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of
Islamic Sacred Law, Translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amana Publications, Beltsville, MD, 1997 Revised Edition, p. 595-598.)
It does not take much to become a Muslim apostate. As an
example of how someone may show that he is an apostate, he
merely has to say sarcastically, “"Trim your
nails, it is sunna," and he replies, "I would not do it even
if it were."” The Muslim who makes this deviation from
true Islam — according to one of the most popular
Shari’a books printed near the capital of the United States — deserves death.
The Muslim has the religious liberty to leave Islam.
The only drawback is that he may lose his head, if he seeks
to follow the truth.
Imam Ibn Anas Malik
In the Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik, the punishment for
leaving Islam is execution by beheading after
imprisonment and waiting three days in case the offender
decides to repent and return to Islam.
36.18 Judgement on Abandonment of Islam
15 Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam
that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and
grant him peace, said, "If someone changes his religion
- then strike off his head!"
The meaning of the statement of the Prophet, may Allah
bless him and grant him peace, in our opinion - and
Allah knows best - is that, "If someone changes his
religion - then strike off his head!" refers to those
who leave Islam for something else - like heretics and
suchlike, about whom that is known. They are killed
without being called to repent because their repentance
is not recognised. They were concealing their disbelief
and making their Islam public, so I do not think that
one should call such people to repent and one does not
accept their word. As for the person who leaves Islam
for something else and divulges it, he is called on to
repent. If he does not turn in repentance, he is killed.
If there are people in that situation, I think that one
should call them to Islam and call on them to repent. If
they repent, that is accepted from them. If they do not
repent, they are killed. That does not refer as we see
it, and Allah knows best, to those who convert from
Judaism to Christianity or from Christianity to Judaism,
nor to someone who changes his religion from any of the
various forms of religion except for Islam. Whoever
comes out Islam to something else and makes that known,
that is the one who is referred to, and Allah knows
16 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-Ash'ari.
'Umar asked after various people, and he informed him
about them. Then 'Umar inquired, 'Do you have any recent
news?' He said, 'Yes. A man has become an unbeliever
after he was Muslim.' 'Umar said, 'What have you done
with him?' He replied, 'We let him approach and then
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 repent that he might turn in
repentance 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!"
Quotation from: Malik, ibn Anas (Imam), Al-Muwatta: The First
Formulation of Islamic Law, Translated by Aisha A. Bewley, Madinah Press
Granada, Spain, 1989, p. 303-304.
Three days of grace are extended to a Muslim apostate in case he desire to
repent and return to the most tolerant of all religions, Islam. Otherwise, his
head is to be struck off. Since al-Muwatta is an ancient work of Shari'a
law, it is evident that the punishment for apostasy is not a new innovation
within Islam. In fact, it dates back to Muhammad himself when he came to power
in Medina. Immediately after Muhammad died and it looked like a favorable
opportunity to escape, many Arabians departed from Islam. Their departure is not
surprising because they only became Muslims when Muhammad threatened them with
death. They were never convinced that Muhammad was a divine prophet of God. So,
it was necessary for the successor to Muhammad, Abu Bakr, to fight those who had
left Islam. Those famous wars are called 'Wars of Apostasy." So, it is
evident that Islam would never have survived on its own intellectual and
religious merits. Rather, its success required intimidation, fear, and the
bloody sword on the necks of unbelievers.
The most-respected collection of the sayings and behavior of Muhammad is the canonical
ahadith (hadith, singular; ahadith,
plural) of Al-Bukhari. Muslim legal scholars use these traditions to
establish the punishment for apostasy from Islam. The apostate is not to be burned to death, as 'Ali had done, but they were to be executed nevertheless.
260. Narrated 'Ikrima: '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.'"
— Volume 4, Book 52, Chapter 149, Number 260. p.
(2) CHAPTER. The legal
regulation concerning the male and the female who
reverts from Islam (apostates). Ibn 'Umar, Az-Zuhri
and Ibrahim said, "A female apostate (who reverts
from Islam), should be killed. And the obliging of
the reverters from Islam (apostates) to repent. Allah
said: — 'How shall Allah guide a people who
disbelieved after their belief and (after) they bore
witness that the Apostle (Muhammad) was true, and that
Clear Signs had come unto them? And Allah does not
guide the wrong-doing people. As for such the reward
is that on them (rests) the curse of Allah, the
Angels, and of all mankind. They will abide there-in
(Hell). Neither will their torment be lightened nor it
will be postponed (for a while). Except for those that
repent after that and make amends. Verily Allah is
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Surely those who
disbelieved after their belief, and go on adding to
their defiance of faith, never will their repentance
be accepted, and they are those who have gone astray.'
(Sura 3:86-90) — Volume 9, Book 84, Chapter 2, p.
57. Narrated 'Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said,
"If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I
would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'" — Volume 9, Book 84,
Chapter 2, Number
57, page 45
58. Narrated Abu Burda: Abu Musa said, "I came to the Prophet along with two men (from the tribe) of Ash'ariyin, one on my right and the other on my left,
while Allah's Apostle was brushing his teeth (with a Siwak), and both men asked him for some employment. The Prophet said, 'O Abu Musa (O 'Abdullah bin
Qais!).' I said, 'By Him Who sent you with the Truth, these two men did not tell me what was in their hearts and I did not feel (realize) that they were
seeking employment.' As if I were looking now at his Siwak being drawn to a corner under his lips, and he said, 'We never (or, we do not) appoint for our
affairs anyone who seeks to be employed. But O Abu Musa! (or 'Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.'" The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him and when
Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu
Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested
Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and
repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, "Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us
said, 'I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.'" — Volume 9, Book 84,
Chapter 2, Number 58, p. 45-46.
271. Narrated Abu Musa: 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. —
Volume 9, Book 89, Chapter 12, Number 271, p. 201.
Quotation from: Al-Bukhari, The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Translated by M.M. Khan, Dar AHYA Us-Sunnah,
Al Nabawiya, (Arabic & English), vol. 4 and 9.
From the ahadith of al-Bukhari, it can be seen that
Muhammad himself provided the directive and rationale why a Muslim apostate must
be executed. Since Muhammad himself commanded the death of anyone who leaves
Islam, the punishment for apostasy falls within the category of hadd
punishments, i.e., punishments pre-determined by Allah that cannot be changed
by an Islamic jurist.
Like the ahadith of al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim's collection of ahadith affirms too that the punishment for apostasy is death. It notes that Hanafite legal scholars exempt women
apostates from death, nevertheless they would confine them to prison until they repent and return to Islam.
Chapter DCLXXIII. WHEN IT
IS PERMISSIBLE TO TAKE THE LIFE OF A MUSLIM
(4152) 'Abdullah (b.
Mas'ud) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon
him) as saying: It is not permissible to take the life
of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact) that there
is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah,
but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer,
2131 a life for
life, and the
deserter 2132 of his Din (Islam), abandoning the
(4153) 'This hadith has been narrated on the authority
(4154) 'Abdullah (b. Mas'ud) reported: Allah's
Messenger (may peace be upon him) stood up and said:
By Him besides Whom there is no god but He, the blood of
a Muslim who bears the testimony that there is no god
but Allah, and I am His Messenger, may be lawfully shed
only in case of three persons: the one who abandons
Islam, and deserts the community [Ahmad, one of the
narrators, is doubtful whether the Holy Prophet (may
peace be upon him) used the word l'l-jama'ah or
and the married adulterer, and life for life.
(4155) This hadith has been reported on the authority of A'mash with the same chain of narrators but with a
slight variation of words, i.e. he did not say: By Him
besides Whom there is no god. — Vol. III, Book Kitab al-Qasama,
Numbers 4152-4155, 898-900.
PROHIBITION OF A DESIRE FOR A POSITION OF AUTHORITY AND
4490. ... When Mu'adh
reached the camp of Aba Musa, the latter (received him
and) said: Please get yourself down; and he spread for
him a mattress, while there was a man bound hand and
foot as a prisoner. Mu'adh said: Who is this? Abu Musa
said: He was a Jew. He embraced Islam. Then he
reverted to his false religion and became a Jew. Mu'adh
said: I won't sit until be is killed according to the
decree of Allah and His Apostle (may peace be upon
him) (in this case). Abu Musa said: Be seated. It will
be done. He said: I won't sit unless he is killed in
accordance with the decree of Allah and His Apostle (may
peace be upon him). He repeated these words thrice. Then
Abu Mina ordered him (to be killed) and he was killed.
2295 Then the two
talked of standing in prayer at night. One of them, i.e.
Mu'adh, said: I sleep (for a part of the night) and
stand in prayer (for a part) and I hope that I shall get
the same reward for sleeping as I shall get for standing
(in prayer). 2296
— Vol. III. Book Kitab Al-Imara, Chapter DCCLVI,
Quotation from: Muslim, Imam, Sahih Muslim: Being Traditions of the Sayings and Doings of the
Prophet Muhammad as Narrated by His Companions and compiled under the Title
Al-Jami'-Us-Sahih, Translated by 'Abdul H. Siddiqi, Vol. III.
Sunan Abu Dawud
Another trustworthy (sahih) collection of ahadith is the Sunan of Abu Dawud.
It supports the death penalty for apostasy too.
XXXIII. KITAB AL-HUDUD
[BOOK OF PRESCRIBED
PUNISHMENT OF AN APOSTATE
(4337) 'Ikrimah said:
'Ali burned some people who retreated
3794 from Islam. When
Ibn 'Abbas was informed of it, he said: If it had been
I, I would not have them burned, for the Apostle of
Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Do not inflict
Allah's punishment on anyone, but would have had killed
them on account of the statement of the Apostle of Allah
(may peace be upon him). The Apostle said: Kill those
who change their religion. When 'Ali was informed about
it he said: How truly Ibn 'Abbas said!
(4338) 'Abd Allah (b. Mas'ud) reported the Apostle of
Allah (may peace be upon him) as saying: The blood of a
Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah
and that I am the Apostle of Allah should not be
lawfully shed but only for one of three reasons: married fornicator, 3795 soul for soul, 3796 and one who
deserts his religion separating himself from the community. 3797
(4339) 'A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported
the Apostle of Allah
(may peace be upon him) as saying: 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 with Allah
and His Apostle, 3798 in which case he should be killed
or crucified or exiled from the land ; or one who
commits murder for which he is killed.
(4340) Abu Burdah said on the authority of Abu Musa: I
went to the Prophet (may peace be upon him) while two
men who were Ash'aris were with me. One of them was on
my right and the other on my left side. Both of them
asked him for employment. The Prophet (may peace be upon
him) was silent. He asked: What do you say, Abu Musa,
or 'Abd Allah b. Qais (Abu Musa's, name)? I replied: By
Him Who has sent you with truth, they did not inform me
of what they had in their hearts, and I did not know
that they would ask for an employment. He said: I have
the scene before my eyes that he had his toothstick
below his lip which receded. He (the Prophet) said: We
will never or will not put in charge of our work anyone
who asks for it. But go, ye, Abu Musa, or 'Abd Allah b.
Qais. He then sent him as a Governor of the Yemen. After
him he sent Mu'adh b. Jabal. When Mu'adh came to him, he
said: Come down, and he put a cushion for him. He saw
that a man was chained with him. He asked: What is this? He replied: He was a Jew and he accepted Islam. He
then converted to his religion, an evil religion. He
said: I will not sit until he is killed according to
the decision of Allah and His Apostle (may peace be upon
him). He said: Yes, be seated. He said: I will not sit until he is killed according to the decision of Allah and His Apostle (may peace be upon him). He
said it three times. He then commanded for it and he was killed. Both of them then discussed the question of prayer and vigilance at night. One of them,
probably Mu'adh, said: So far as I am concerned, I sleep and I keep vigilance; I keep vigilance and I sleep; I hope for the same
reward for my sleep as for, my vigilance.
(4341) Abu Musa said: Mu'adh came to me when I was in
the Yemen. A man who was Jew embraced Islam and then
retreated from Islam. When Mu'adh came, he said: I will
not come down from my mount until he is killed. He was
then killed. One of them said: He was asked to repent
(4342) Abu Burdah said: A man who turned back from Islam
was brought to Abu Musa. He invited him to repent for
twenty days or about so. Mu'adh then came
and invited him (to embrace Islam) but he refused. So he
(4343) The tradition mentioned above has also been
transmitted by Abu Musa through a different chain of
narrators. But there is no mention of demand of
(4344) The tradition mentioned above has also been
transmitted by al-Qasim through a different chain of
narrators. This version has: He did not come down until
he was killed, and he did not ask him for repentance.
(4345) Ibn 'Abbas said: 'Abd Allah b. Abi Sarh used to
write (the revelation) for the Apostle of Allah (may
peace be upon him). Satan made him slip, and he joined
the infidels. The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon
him) commanded to kill him on the day of Conquest (of
Mecca). 'Uthman b. 'Affan sought protection for him. The
Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) gave him
(4346) Sa'd said: On the day of the Conquest of Mecca
'Abd Allah b. Said b. Abi Sarh hid himself with 'Uthman
b. 'Affan. He brought him and made him stand before the
Prophet (may peace be upon him), and said: Accept the
allegiance of 'Abd Allah, Apostle of Allah! He raised
his head and looked at him three times, refusing him
each time, but accepted his allegiance after the third
time. Then turning to his Companions he said: Was not
there a wise man among you who would stand to him when
he saw me that I had withheld my hand from accepting his
allegiance and killed him? They said: We did not know
what you had in your heart, Apostle of Allah! Why did
you not give us a signal with your eye? He said: It is
not advisable for a Prophet to have tricks that deceive
with the eyes.
(4347) Jarir reported the Prophet (may peace be upon
him) as saying: When a slave runs away and reverts to
polytheism, he may lawfully be killed.
Quotation from: Dawud, Imam Abu, Sunan Abu Dawud:
English Translations with Explanatory Notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan, Sh. Muhamad
Ashraf Publications, Lahore, Pakistan, First Edition 1984 (Reprinted 1996), Vol.
III, Book XXXIII, Chapter 1605, p. 1212-1214
The Sunan of Ibn Majah is one of the six sahih (trustworthy) traditions
(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Sunan An-Nisa'i,
and Sunan Ibn Majah) that are the basis of Shari’ah law. Here it is clear that
it is permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who turns apostate. Tradition
No. 2535 shows that the Apostle of Islam himself made it obligatory that a
Muslims who forsakes Islam must be killed.
20. BOOK OF PRESCRIBED
Chapter No. I (Shedding) Blood
of a Muslim in Not Lawful But in Three Cases.
2533. Abu 'Umama b. Sahl b. Hunaif is reported to
have said that 'Uthman b. 'Affan looked at them (the
rebels) and heard them mentioning the murder. Upon this,
he said, "Do they give me a threat of killing? Then why
are they killing me? Indeed, I have heard Allah's
Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
saying, "The blood of a Muslim is not lawful except for
one of the three reasons: man fornicates while he is
fortified (in a wedlock), will be stoned to death; or a
man kills a person without any justification or a man
turns an apostate after his (embracing) Islam." By
Allah, I did not commit fornication either in
pre-Islamic period (Ignorance) nor in (the state of)
Islam, I have not killed any Muslim and have not turned
an apostate since I have embraced Islam."
2534. 'Abdullah, called Ibn Mas'ud (Allah be
pleased with him), reported that Allah's Messenger
(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "The
blood a Muslim is not lawful who testifies that there is
no god but Allah and that I am Allah's Messenger, but
(it is lawful to shed blood) in one of the three cases:
(killing) a person, an aged fornicator or a man who
forsakes his religion (Islam) and deserts the body (of
Chapter No. II One who Deserts his Religion
2535. Ign ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him)
reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of
Allah be upon him) said, “Kill him who changes his
religion (of Islam).”
Quotation from: Ibn-I-Maja Al-Qazwini, Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad B.
Yazid, Sunan Ibn-I-Majah, Translated by Muhammad Tufail Ansari, Kazi
Publications, Lahore, Pakistan, 1993, vol. IV. p. 1-2.
The Mishkat-ul-Masabih states that a retrograde (i.e., apostate) deserves the death penalty, because Mus'ud reported that this was the command of Muhammad
himself. As Muhammad gained more power, the less tolerant he became of anyone
who differed from him.
1150 — The sentence of murder.
5.Abdullah-b-Mus'ud reported that the Apostle of Allah said: The murderer of a Muslim bearing witness 'that there is no god
but Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah' is not lawful except for one of the three (reasons ): life for life, a married adulterer and a retrogade
from his religion — one who leaves the united body. 1151 — Agreed
Quotation from: Al Hadis, Mishkat-ul-Masabih, translated by al-Haj Maulana Fazlul Karim, Islamic Book Service, New Delhi, India, 1998 Edition, Vol. 2, p. 492
Rahman A. Doi
In Part III: Crimes and Punishments of Shariah: The Islamic Law, Professor Doi, who was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association at
the University of Cambridge while studying for his Ph.D., elucidates the criminal nature of apostasy and its punishment. In spite of his liberal education at
Cambridge University, he argues that the punishment for leaving the fold of Islam is death.
Al-Riddah means rejection of the religion of Islam in favour of any other religion
either through an action or through words of mouth. The act of apostacy thus
puts an end to one's adherence to Islam. When one rejects the fundamental principles
of faith (iman) like faith in the Existence of Allah or the Messengership of
His Prophet Muhammad as contained in the credal statement of Islam, the Kalimah
al-shahadah. Similarly the rejection of the belief in the Qur'an as the Book
of Allah or the belief of the message contained in it, or the belief in the
Day of Resurrection, or Reward and the Punishment of Allah will all amount to
apostacy. The rejection of the obligatory ritual practices like Salat (prayers),
Zakat (giving of the poor-rate), Siyam (Fasting in the month of Ramadan), and
Hajj Pilgrimage will also amount to acts of Irtidad. Likewise, if one imitates
the practices of non-Muslims in their prayers etc; it will be considered an
act of apostacy. 67
The following Qur'anic verse explains the gravity of sin and the crime of apostacy:
كَيْفَ يَهْدِي اللّهُ قَوْمًا كَفَرُواْ بَعْدَ إِيمَانِهِمْ وَشَهِدُواْ أَنَّ الرَّسُولَ حَقٌّ وَجَاءهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَاللّهُ لاَ يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ — أُوْلَـئِكَ جَزَآؤُهُمْ أَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ لَعْنَةَ اللّهِ وَالْمَلآئِكَةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ
خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا لاَ يُخَفَّفُ عَنْهُمُ الْعَذَابُ وَلاَ هُمْ يُنظَرُونَ — إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ تَابُواْ مِن بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُواْ فَإِنَّ الله غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ. سورة آل عمران ٨٦ — ٨٩
"How shall Allah guide those who reject faith after they accepted it and
bore witness that the Apostle was true and the clear signs had come unto them.
But Allah guides not the people unjust of such the reward is that on them rests
the curse of Allah, of His Angels and of all mankind in that will they dwell;
nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be their lot, except for those
that repent (even) after that and make amends; for verily Allah is oft-forgiving,
Most Merciful." [Al-E-Imran 3:86-89] 68
The punishment for apostacy is prescribed in the following Hadith of the Prophet:
عن ابن عبّـاس رضى الله عنه، قال: قال رسول
الله صلّى الله
عليه وسلّم: "من بدّل دينه فاقـتـلوه".
It is reported by Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger
of Allah (S.A.W.) said: "Whosoever changes his religion (from Islam to
anything else), bring end to his life.'' 69
The punishment by death in the case of apostacy has been unanimously agreed
upon by all the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. But, if one is forced
to pronounce something that amounts to apostacy, while his heart is satisfied
with Iman (faith), he will not be charged with apostacy in those circumstances.
The Qur'an says:
مَن كَفَرَ بِاللّهِ مِن بَعْدِ إيمَانِهِ إِلاَّ مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالإِيمَانِ وَلَـكِن مَّن شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْرًا فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِّنَ اللّهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ.
سورة النحل ١٠٦
"Anyone who after accepting Faith in Allah, utters Unbelief, except under
compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith; but such as open their breast
to Unbelief, on them is wrath from Allah and theirs will be a dreadful penalty."
In the books of Ahadith, the causes of revelation (Asbab al-Nuzul) of this
verse are mentioned referring to the case of 'Ammar bin Yasir. 'Ammar's father
Yasir and mother Sumayyah were subjected to unbearable tortures for their belief
in Islam and love for the prophet, but in spite of the tortures they never recanted.
'Ammar was a young man of less mature age. In a weak moment, while suffering
great tortures at the hands of the pagan Arabs and thinking of his parent's
suffering uttered something that was construed as recantation, though his heart
never wavered. Abu Jahl had made iron chains and had put them around his body
in the hot summer days. The chains became hot like live charcoals due to the
heat of the sun. In such desperate moments he said something which was reported
to the Prophet. The Prophet thereupon said about 'Ammar:
ملىءٌ إيماناً من فرقهِ إلى قـدمهِ
'Ammar is full of Iman
from his head to his feet."
It was on this occasion that the above verse was revealed.
The other legal aspects concerning the effects of apostacy on marriage, divorce
and inheritance are discussed in the respective chapters dealing with them.
Quotation from: Doi, A. Rahman I., Shar'ah: The Islamic Law, A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 4th printing, 1998,
Professor Doi states, “The punishment by death in the
case of apostacy has been unanimously agreed upon by all
the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.” The four
Sunni schools (madhhabs) of Islamic law follow
the four Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafi’i,
and Ibn Hanbal, who all agree that a murtad
deserves death. So, it is evident that the majority
Islamic legal opinion requires the death of any Muslim who
leaves the fold of Islam. The religious liberty within
Islam gives it the liberty to execute a Muslim
who converts to another religion.
The Introduction to Islamic Law by Alhaji Ajijola states that the penalty for apostasy is a
hadd sentence, meaning the sentence has already been established by
Allah. The idea behind a hadd sentence is that Allah has pre-determined
the judgment for a particular crime. Consequently, there is no discretionary
room for an Islamic judge (Qadi) to alter the punishment for apostasy.
Since Allah pre-determined that the apostate must be beheaded, the role of the
Qadi is merely to determine whether or not a person has left the fold of
Islam. If the person has become an apostate, the Qadi has no option but
to sentence the person to beheading.
Hadd or Fixed Sentence
It is that punishment, the limits of which have been defined in the Qur'an and traditions of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).
Adulteress or adulterer is to be whipped or stoned;
Apostasy - death;
Drinking wine-eighty lashes;
Theft - cutting of the left hand;
Highway robbery-death or cutting of limbs etc.
Quotation from: Ajijola, Alhaji, Introduction to Islamic Law, International Islamic Publishers, New Delhi, India, 1989, p. 128.
Adbul Qadir 'Oudah
Adbul Qadir 'Oudah’s, who was an Egyptian Shari'a scholar, wrote compendium of Islamic criminal law presents, in
considerable detail, the orthodox view of the precarious state of a Muslim
apostate. In a true Islamic state, an apostate has no legal protection, since he
is not under the protection of its governance. In an Islamic system, he is to be
brought before the legal authority, and there he is given a chance to repent and
to return to Islam. If he elects not to repent and to return to Islam, then he
must be immediately executed. This is the opinion of all four madhhabs (Hanifi,
Maliki, Shaf'i, and Hanbali) of Sunni legal opinion.
Further, if a Muslim government does not punish the apostate, then an individual
Muslim has an obligation to kill the apostate himself. The reason is that the
law of Allah is obligatory upon all Muslims whether or not an Islamic state
recognize the supremacy of Shar'a law. It is not permissible for a Muslim
to punish a Muslim who murders an apostate. This gives every Muslim the right —
actually, they are divinely obligated — to take the Shari’ah law into their own
hands and murder the apostate in cold-blood.
(377) (b) Apostate (Murtad)
An apostate (Murtad) may be defined as a Muslim who renounces the faith of
Islam. In other words apostasy in the Shariah terminology applies to a Muslim
alone. If a non-Muslim renounces his religion, he is not treated as an apostate
According to the Shariah taking 'murtad's' life is an impunitive act or one
exempt from punishment. 1 Hence if some one kills him, he will not be deemed
as wilfully guilty, 2 whether he does so before allowing the apostate a chance
to repent or thereafter; for as long as the offender persists in apostasy, he
is open to any maltreatment with impunity.
The general rule in this regard is that the apostate should be punished by
the competent authority and if any body else kills him he commits a wrong act
as he encroaches on the power vested in such authority. But the person in question
will be liable to punishment for his act being prejudicial to the power of the
compentent [sic] person and not for homicide. This is the view advocated by
the jurists belonging to all the
Quotation from: 'Oudah, Adbul Qadir, Criminal Law of Islam, Translated by S. Zakir Aijaz, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India, 1999 (Improved edition), Volume
II. p. 258-262.
In Volume IV, the author revisits the topic of
apostasy where he states that the apostate is open to
homicide by any Muslim.
Adbul Qadir 'Oudah
An apostate is one who abandons Islam and embraces another religion. According
to the Shariah an apostate is open to homicide. 1 Hence
if some one kills him of his own accord he will not be accountable as a wilful
murderer whether he kills
him before or after allowing him the option to repent. 1 for
every excess in the state of apostasy is warrantable.
As a rule, killing of an apostate is the responsibility of public authority.
If any one kills him without permission he will be guilty of transgression
and will as such be liable to punishment. But he will be punished for the
infringement of public authority and not for homicide in itself. This is the
position of all the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. 2 Imam
Malik, however, holds a different view altogether. 3 According
to him, an apostate is insecure (not impeccable) but his killer will be liable
to tazeer and he will have to pay blood price to the Bait-ul-mal.
He argues that the choice of repentance must be given to the apostate, for
on turning an apostate he becomes an infidel. If any one takes his life, he
kills an infidel and killing of an infidel is unwarrantable and the killer
is under the obligation to pay the blood price to the Bait-ul-mal, which alone
is the rightful heir of the infidel. According to his view, apostasy invalidates
the right to the security of life and infidelity ensures this right. The discrepancy
here is obvious which is enough to reject the opinion in question. It may
also be asserted for the refutation of such a view that by virtue of being
a Muslim one acquires the right to security, while infidelity invalidates
it since an infidel acquires the right to security owing to an agreement of
refuge, assumption of responsibility to protect, pledge etc., and as none
of such guarantees of security applies to an apostate, he will not remain
secure on turning an infidel.
The laws in force are at variance with the Shariah in that these laws
do not provide for any punishment for abandoning one's faith. The reason [is]
that they are enframed on secular basis, hence logic demands that change of
religion does not entail any penalty under such legislation. The Shariah
on the other hand owes its origin to the religion of Islam and, therefore,
it is quite natural that it lays down punishment for abandoning the faith.
The Egyptian law like other modern laws in force is
secular in nature and that is why there is [no] provision in it for the punishment
of an apostate. But absence of such provision does not mean that apostasy
is lawful and incurs no penalty. On the contrary apostasy under the Shariah
is an offence punishable by death. The relevant provisions of the Shariah
are still valid and cannot be suspended. No secular legislation can annul
these provisions as has been explained in this book in the context of the
ingredients of crime. Therefore, if any one kills an apostate he will not
be liable to punishment for homicide inasmuch as he does an act warrantable
under the Shariah and exercises one of the rights he enjoys. 1
Quotation from: 'Oudah, Adbul Qadir, Criminal
Law of Islam, Translated by S. Zakir Aijaz, Kitab Bhavan,
New Delhi, India, 1999 (Improved edition), ISBN:
81-7151-273-9 (set), Volume IV. p. 19-21.
A Muslim who converts to another religion in an
Islamic nation is in a very precarious condition,
because he is liable to be murdered by anyone with
impunity, including being murdered by members of his own
family, even his own father or brother. Such a killing
is looked upon as honorable, because it is sanctioned by
Allah and it does away with the dishonor of a convert to
who brings shame upon his Muslim family.
No secular legislation can annul these provisions as
has been explained in this book in the context of the
ingredients of crime. Therefore, if any one kills an
apostate he will not be liable to punishment for
homicide inasmuch as he does an act warrantable under
the Shariah and exercises one of the rights he enjoys.
Law of Islam Vol. IV, p. 21.
Mohamed S. El-Awa
As a former Associate Professor of Law,
El-Awa seeks to draw Islamic scholars away from
classifying apostasy as a hadd crime. He argues
that it should be classified as a ta'zir crime,
meaning a crime for which the Qadi may exercise a
discretionary sentence for a particular crime. Professor
El-Awa admits that "the overwhelming majority of Muslim
jurists classify the punishment for drinking alcohol and
apostasy as hadd punishments." So his voice of
moderation is in the minority of scholarly
Nevertheless, he still views apostasy as a
crime that requires punishment which also serves as a
strong deterrent and warning to anyone else who may
think of leaving Islam for another religion. It is
obvious that apostasy laws create fear in the mind of
any Muslim who begins to question Islam. The Muslims
knows that he or she will be rejected, despised, and
persecuted by family and friends if he or she decides to
become a Christian. In some cases, he or she will face
death itself. The strongest bond that holds the Ummah of Islam
together is fear.
Categorization of the Punishments
Drinking and Apostasy
(Shurb al-Khamr wa al-Ridda)
I. Traditional Islamic Law
The overwhelming majority of Muslim jurists classify the punishments for
drinking alcohol and apostasy as hadd punishments, 1 and
the Western scholars of Islamic law do likewise. 2 The Western
scholars in fact follow the views stated in one or the other of the texts
on Islamic law. But in order to conduct an objective study of these two penalties,
it is necessary to consult the texts of ahadith, especially those compiled
by jurists who concentrated their research on ahadith of a legal nature
(ahadith al-ahkam), since both these punishments are prescribed in
the Prophet's traditions. The two punishments are not mentioned in the Qur'an,
and the Prophet dealt with these crimes in different ways on different occasions.
3 It is therefore a question of understanding and explaining the
relevant ahadith rather than of writing a treatise on a specific legal
This appears to be a departure from the
traditional approach to the various topics of Islamic jurisprudence. The
traditional approach is to explain the law as it stands in the medieval
legal manuals and to condemn any attempt to reinterpret the authorities
and sources of the Shari'a, i.e., the Qur'an and the Sunna,
on the grounds of the finality and exclusive authority of these manuals
as the expression of the Shari'a. This, briefly, is the doctrine
of taqlid, which was established as early as the mid-seventh century
A.H. 4 This is a doctrine which has gained very wide support
on the basis of the infallibility of the alleged consensus (ijma').
Without going any further into this doctrine, we can say that it is becoming
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
clear that there is an urgent need to reinterpret
the principles contained in the Qur'an and the Sunna, if any reform is to
take place within the Islamic legal systems. 5 Such a view may
be criticized as putting forward a description of the law as it ought to
be, not as it is. Indeed, such a criticism is sound, but one cannot refrain
from pointing out that the Islamic legal manuals are in some cases inadequate.
Nevertheless, for those who may not like it, I should say that the views
expressed in this chapter are by no means the innovations of an unauthorized
student of Islamic law. Fortunately, authoritative jurists have mentioned
them, if not explicitly, then at least by implication. But to return to
our subject, we will deal first with the punishment for drinking and afterwards
with the punishment for apostasy.
II. The Punishment for Drinking. [p. 44-49. skipped]
III. The Punishment for Apostasy
The Arabic word for apostasy is "ridda" or "irtidad,"
which literally means "turning back." The former is usually used
to signify turning back from Islam to another religion or to unbelief, while
the latter has this
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
meaning in addition to others; a person who forsakes Islam for unbelief or
for another religion is called a murtadd (apostate). 46
The common view among Muslim jurists, as well as among Western orientalists,
is that apostasy from Islam is a crime for which the death penalty is prescribed.
The majority of the Muslim jurists, it has been remarked, classify this punishment
as being in the hadd category. 47
It has already been noted that hadd punishments are punishments determined
by the Qur'an or the Sunna of the Prophet, and that they are to be carried
out if guilt is proven. Now in order to determine whether or not apostasy
is a crime for which Islamic law has prescribed the alleged hadd punishment,
one should consult the verses of the Qur'an, and the ahadith dealing with
the subject, as well as the practice of the Prophet's Companions, which indicates
how they understood both the Qur'an and the Sunna in relation to the matter.
In this way it can be seen whether what is commonly accepted among Muslim
jurists is correct or not.
III. 1. Apostasy in the Qur'an
Apostasy is mentioned in the Qur'an in thirteen verses contained in different
surahs, but in none of these verses can one find any mention of punishment
to be carried out in this world. On the contrary, all that these verses contain
is the assurance that the apostate will be punished in the Hereafter. 48
Some examples of such verses may be useful to demonstrate this fact. Surah
XVI, verse 106 states, "Whoever rejects faith in God after believing
in Him, excepting under compulsion while his heart remains firm in faith —
but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from God and theirs
will be a dreadful penalty." 49 This verse was revealed during
the late Meccan period, and it is clear from the words that the apostate is
threatened only with punishment in the next life.
In Madina, where the Prophet established his state shortly after his migration
(hijra), Surah II was revealed. In this Surah the mention of apostasy
was also accompanied by the warning that the apostate would be punished in
the next world (verse 217). At Madina the Prophet also received the revelation
of the third surah of the Qur'an, in which apostasy was again mentioned in
many verses, but always with the declaration that the apostates would be punished,
not in this world but in the next (verses 86-91). In yet another Madinian
revelation, the Qur'an declared: "O you who believe! if one of you should
turn back from his religion, then God
will bring a people whom He shall love, and they too shall love Him"
(V: 54). In this verse the murtadd is certainly exempt from any sort
of punishment in this life.
At the same time, one can say that the death penalty for apostasy — especially
when it is considered as a hadd punishment — contradicts the Qur'anic
principle law states in Surah II, verse 256, which proclaims "No compulsion
in religion." Ibn Hazm, to avoid this criticism, claimed that this verse
had been abrogated and that compulsion is allowed in religion; consequently,
according to him, the punishment for apostasy does not contradict the Qur'an.
50 However, this claim is invalid, since Qur'anic scholars have
established the abrogated verses and this verse is not among them. 51
Accordingly, one can say with the Encyclopaedia of Islam that "In
the Qur'an the apostate is, threatened with punishment in the next world only."
III. 2. The Sunna and Apostasy
It is a common practice among Muslim jurists, when introducing their discussion
of apostasy, to quote one or the other of the Qur'anic verses dealing with
the subject. At the same time, the strongest evidence they use to prove that
apostasy is a hadd-type offence punishable by the death penalty is
that of two prophetic reports which we shall now examine along with the report
about the group from the tribe of 'Ukal to which reference was made in the
first chapter of this study. 53
As for the report concerning the 'Ukal group, some of the Muslim jurists
claim that they were punished because of their apostasy. 54 The
same view is held by some Western orientalists. Zwemre, in his book The
Law of Apostasy in Islam, describes the case of the 'Ukal as the earliest
case of apostasy. He quotes Muslim concerning it, and comments that the text
shows how "the earliest apostates were tortured by Muhammad." 55
On the other hand, the prevalent view among Muslim jurists is that the case
of this group of 'Ukal and 'Urayna was a case of hiraba (armed robbery)
and it was for this crime that they were punished. 56 The text
itself demonstrates this very clearly. It is true that most jurists classify
them as apostates (murtaddun) and rebels against God and His Prophet
(muharibun), but the term apostate came to be used incidentally or
because the people of 'Ukal and 'Urayna, in addition to their having committed
the crime of hiraba, also rejected Islam. In any case, it is universally
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
agreed that this incident has noting to do with the punishment ordained in
Islamic law for apostasy. Accordingly, nothing can be inferred from this report
to help in determining the punishment for apostasy.
Another Prophetic report commonly used in discussing the subject is the hadith
transmitted by Bukhari, Muslim. and Abu Dawud: "The life of a Muslim
may be taken only in three cases, i.e., in the case of a married adulterer,
one who has killed a human being (qatal nafsan), crucified, Islam,
forsakes his religion and separates himself from his community (al-murtaddu
'an dinihi al-mufariqu lil-jama'a). 51 On the basis of this
hadith the jurists maintain that the Prophet allowed the death penalty for
a Muslim if he apostatized. 58 But this report was narrated by
Abu Dawud in different words, in which the Prophet explained what he meant
by "one who forsakes his religion and separates himself from his community."
In the latter version, such an individual is described as "a man who
went out (from the community) to fight against God and His Prophet, and should
then be put to death, crucified or imprisoned." 59 In order
to reconcile the words of this hadith with the words of the Qur'an
(Surah V, verses 33-34), Ibn Taymiyya explained that the crime referred to
in this hadith is the crime of hiraba (armed robbery). He holds that
this is an explanation of the words in the former version, "one who forsakes
his religion ... "
Accordingly, this hadith has nothing to do with the case of simple
apostasy, i.e., apostasy which is not accompanied by fighting against God
and His Prophet. 60 In other words, this report indicates that
anyone who commits the crime of hiraba in fact separates himself from
his religion because a Muslim would never commit such a crime. Again, the
law for apostasy cannot be inferred from this hadith.
The strongest emphasis is laid on a hadith narrated by Ibn 'Abbas
in which the Prophet said, "Whoever changes his religion, kill him;"
61 it is primarily on the strength of this hadith that jurists
based their view that an apostate should be sentenced to death. Their work
on the subject generally 62 shows them to interpret the words,
"Kill him," as a grammatical imperative, sighat alamr, that
is, as an order which must be carried out.
In his book, The Religion of Islam, Muhammad 'Ali defended the view
that Islam knows of no death penalty for apostasy unless the apostate joins
forces with the enemies of Islam in a state of actual war, in which case he
is killed not because of his apostasy but simply like any other fighter against
Islam (muharib). 63 He supported his view by explaining
that unless we apply this limitation to its meaning, the preceding hadith
be reconciled with other hadith or with the principles laid down in
the Qur'an. 64 Moreover, the wording of this hadith is very broad,
including any change from one religion to another, implying that even a non-Muslim
who becomes a Muslim, or a Jew who becomes a Christian must be killed. On
these grounds Muhammad 'Ali stated that the hadith cannot be accepted without
placing a limitation upon its meaning. 65
This last statement is already agreed upon by the majority. All schools,
with the exception of the Zahiri and some Shafi'i jurists, allow that a non-Muslim
who changes from his original religion to any other is not to be harmed, while
a Muslim who leaves Islam for any other religion should be sentenced to death
unless he returns to Islam. 66 The Hanafi school puts another limitation
on the meaning of this hadith by applying it to male apostates only.
According to their view, a female apostate is not liable to the death penalty
since she is not in any position to fight against Islam, which is the ostensible
the reason for putting to death an apostate. 67
But these limitations on the meaning of the above hadith still do not lead
to the conclusion of Muhammad 'Ali, i.e., that an apostate cannot be put to
death unless he is in a real state of war against Islam. A careful and objective
study of the subject, avoiding the apologists' view which influenced Muhammad
'Ali, may lead to an entirely different conclusion.
IV. A View Concerning Apostasy
It has already been mentioned that nothing in the Qur'anic verses cited can
be taken as a justification for the death penalty as a hadd punishment
for apostasy. As for the Sunna, it has been said that one of the two reports
concerned has nothing to do with the point in question. However, the other
hadith, in which the death penalty was ordered for the apostate, was understood
as a clear command prescribing the death penalty as a hadd punishment
The jurists have usually tried to avoid the execution of the punishments
as far as possible, either on the principle of doubt (shubuhat) or
through the law of proof. Yet in relation to apostasy they have extended the
cases in which the punishment can be carried out, through broadening the words
and acts which might be considered as formal apostasy, to an extent entirely
beyond the actual meaning of apostasy, the changing one's religion. 68
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
The jurists were led to this, I feel, by the emphasis placed on the question
of faith by Islamic law and the feeling that, after changing his religion,
an individual might become an example which could be imitated. Moreover, it
is common knowledge among Muslims that nothing is worse than becoming a disbeliever
after being a Muslim. The jurists were also influenced by the literal meaning
of the report which ordered the apostate to be put to death. I will focus
my inquiry into the punishment for apostasy on this last consideration.
To understand an Islamic legal clause, one should consult the authorities
on the origins of Islamic law ('ulama' al-usul). The point to be sure
of here is the meaning of the imperative mood (sighat al-amr) in Arabic
generally and in Qur'anic and Prophetic usage in particular.
The jurists who have written concerning the subject have indicated that the
imperative may be used in sixteen different ways; among them are recommendation,
inimitability, threat, permission, and the literal meaning of the imperative,
which signifies a command or an order. 69 And because in the hadith
concerned the imperative mood is indeed considered to be a command or order,
jurists have generally placed the punishment for apostasy in the hadd
category. The imperative mood, however, cannot be said to be restricted to
a single meaning unless there is factual evidence to support it.
The factual evidence in the case in question by no means supports the view
that this imperative usage indicates an order. In the first place, the Qur'anic
verses concerned did not prescribe any punishment for apostasy but simply
declared it to be a great sin. Secondly, the Prophet who said these words
about apostates never himself had an apostate put to death. There were some
cases in which people apostasized after converting to Islam, but the Prophet
never ordered any of them to be killed. 70 On the contrary, Bukhari
and Muslim 71 related that "an Arab (a bedouin) came to the
Prophet and accepted Islam; then fever overtook him while he was still at
Madina, so he came to the Prophet and said, 'Give back my pledge,' but the
Prophet refused; then he came the next day and said to the Prophet, ‘Give
me back my pledge,' and the Prophet refused. The Arab did the same a third
day and the Prophet refused." The report goes on to say that the man
afterwards left Madina unharmed. This is a clear case of apostasy in which
there was no punishment. It is clear from the words of the report that the
bedouin was seeking to return to his old religion, or at least to leave Islam,
but in spite of this he went away unharmed. 72
Another case of apostasy is reported in which the apostates were a group
of Jews who had accepted Islam and then returned to their original
religion; the case is mentioned in the Qur'an III: 71-73. These Jews would
pretend that they had accepted Islam in the first part of the day and show
that they did not believe in it at the end of the day. This was done, according
to the Qur'an, in order to undermine the confidence of newly-converted Muslims.
At that time the Prophet was the ruler of Medina. Consequently, one cannot
imagine how such people could have done this under a government which punishes
apostasy with the death penalty, while they were not in fact, punished in
This is the factual evidence relating to the hadith concerned, and accordingly,
I understand apostasy to be punishable by ta'zir punishment and not
by hadd. The words, "kill him," in the hadith concerned,
however, make it possible for the judge to go beyond the limits of ta'zir
laid down in another previously-mentioned hadith, 74 the
one in which the Prophet ordered a man found drinking for the fourth time
to be sentenced to death as a ta'zir punishment. 75
In spite of the view that apostasy is punishable by a hadd punishment,
that is, by the death penalty, there are jurists who consider its punishment
to be ta'zir. This view was expressed during different eras of Islamic
law. During the caliphate of 'Omar, a man came to him from a section of the
army which was fighting for Islam, and the Caliph asked him what had been
done with some people who were known to have apostatized. The man replied
that they had been killed, the requirement of the hadd punishment.
'Omar then said that if he could have taken them in peace it would have been
the best thing for him. The man asked 'Omar what he would have done if he
had taken them in peace, and the Caliph replied that he would have asked them
to return to Islam and if they refused he would have imprisoned them. 76
Imprisonment is clearly not one of the hadd punishments, and it could
not have been inflicted on these apostates except as ta'zir.
Among the followers of the Prophet's companions, Ibrahim al-Nakh'i (d. 95
A.H.) and Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161 A.H.) held the view that the apostate should
be invited back to Islam and should never be sentenced to death .77
Baji, the distinguished Maliki jurist, made it very clear that apostasy is
"a sin for which there is no hadd punishment." 78
A sin of this sort can be punished only by a ta'zir punishment. Finally,
Ibn Taymiyya stated categorically that the punishment for apostasy is a ta'zir
punishment; it is or should be a severe punishment, but still it is in the
category of ta'zir. 79
Moreover, the jurists who hold that the apostate should be sentenced to death
do not all agree that this is a hadd punishment; they sometimes
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
call it hadd and sometimes not. 80 According to the Hanafi,
Shafi'i, and Zahiri school, the death penalty for apostasy is a hadd
punishment, 81 and, although according to the Hanbali school it
is not a hadd punishment, still an apostate should be killed because
of his unbelief (kufr). However, Ibn Qudamah, in Al-Mughni,
did not categorize the punishment as ta'zir or as anything else. 82
The Islamic penal system recognizes three kinds of punishments: hadd
(fixed punishment), qisas (retaliation), and ta'zir (discretionary
punishments). The second is certainly out of the question here, and since
it cannot be proved that the punishment for apostasy pertains to the category
of hadd, it can only be understood as a ta'zir punishment. The
preceding remarks about the reasons for claiming drinking to be punishable
by hadd also apply here and need not be repeated.
To sum up, the Qur'an prescribes no punishment in this life for apostasy.
The Prophet never sentenced a man to death for it. Some of the companions
of the Prophet recognized apostasy as a sin for which there was a ta'zir
punishment, as did some jurists. Actually, Islamic law considers apostasy
as the most major sin and the limits for ta'zir are not, in its case,
of binding force. Thus, a court may either sentence an apostate to death,
imprison him, or prescribe whatever other punishment it thinks appropriate.
Also, the law-makers of a Muslim community may enact whatever punishment they
feel to be suitable for this offence.
V. A Survey of the Punishments for Drinking and Apostasy
The conclusion reached in the two preceding sections was that drinking and
apostasy cannot be categorized as crimes for which there are hadd punishments.
While both are sins which a Muslim is urged strongly to avoid, a ta'zir
punishment is prescribed for both under Islamic law, and such a punishment,
by its nature, is expected to vary according to the culprit's personal character,
the circumstances, the time, and the manner in which the crime was committed.
Some may question the basis for prescribing punishments for these two sins.
In fact Islamic criminal law knows of no distinction between sin and crime,
although such a distinction is well-established among Western thinkers and
in the Western literature in both law and philosophy. But as the function
of ta'zir in Islamic law is to provide a legal sanction for every sin
for which there is neither a hadd punishment nor penance (kaffara),
84 the distinction between sin and crime, or between criminal action
and moral guilt, no longer exists.
Accordingly, the use of the word sin (ma'siya) in this text and in
Islamic legal writing as well, should be understood to refer to an action
or omission for which there is no hadd punishment or penance, but which
makes its doer liable to a ta'zir punishment.
This question, therefore, should be rephrased. Why, it could be asked, did
the Prophet order penalties for some sins, while other were left to the discretion
of judges or rulers? A simple explanation might be that he ordered punishment
for the major sins in order to draw the Muslims' attention to them, and so
that those who committed them would not go unpunished. While the Qur'an proclaims
that there will be a grave punishment for sins in the Hereafter, this might
lead people, as it has led some, to say that nothing should be done about
these sins in this world or through the state's authority. To prevent this,
the Prophet called attention to some major misdeeds and taught his followers
that such conduct must be punished. Major misdeeds can be understood to mean
two principal things: (1) an act or omission which may become so widespread
among people as to threaten the public interest, and (2) an act or omission
which is likely to harm a human being either physically or mentally, the spread
of which is undesirable. In other words, any sort of conduct which threatens
the existence or the well-being of the community, either directly or indirectly,
may be considered a major sin in this sense.
The purpose behind punishing such conduct is merely to deter people from
indulging in it; as was shown earlier, deterrence is one of the major purposes
of punishment in Islamic law. 85 But in this context deterrence
plays the role of a mere means, while in its earlier context it could be regarded
as an end in itself. The kinds of conduct mentioned previously should not
exist in a Muslim society; at the same time it is the right and responsibility
of the government to safeguard the society from such conduct or such harm
where these exist, and the imposition of penalties or punishments is one of
the means by which society can be so safeguarded.
The protection of society is universally accepted as a purpose of punishment.
86 It assumes that crime is wrong done against the public interest,
a threat of the preservation of order which should be prevented. On the other
hand, it is for the good of the individual not to repeat this sort of action,
even if the means of preventing him are necessarily painful." 87
The protection of society is, I think, the purpose behind such punishments
as those in question, i.e., the punishments for drinking and aposta-
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
sy, for Islamic law has prescribed deterrent punishments for such crimes
or misdeeds in order to safeguard Muslim society from their consequences.
88 To support this view, one has only to demonstrate what effect
these misdeeds can have upon the community and how they can harm its existence
or well-being. For the sake of clarity, this topic is divided into two subsections.
V. 1. Drinking [Pages 58-61 skipped]
V. 2. Apostasy
Apostasy has been discussed less than drinking. The subject is completely
unknown to Western writers; some orientalists have written about it, but only
to explain the Muslim point of view, as they have understood it. It was dealt
with in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, but merely as a matter of historical
importance and without any attempt to explain the punishment's rationale in
It has already been mentioned that Muslim writers hold two different views
concerning it. The more common is that the punishment for aposta-
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
sy is the death penalty and that it falls in the category of hadd.
A less common, but well-documented, view is that is a ta'zir punishment
which may be as severe as the death penalty and which must, like all ta'zir
punishments, be determined according to the particular circumstances of each
However, none of the supporters of either of these two views has tried to
question the purpose behind prescribing a punishment for such conduct. The
holders of the first view did not analyse its purpose because it was, according
to them, a hadd punishment which need not be widely discussed but was
simply to be accepted as the will of God. Those who hold the second view do
so unquestioningly, because they concentrate on presenting evidence and proof
of their point of view. Although in some of the Islamic law texts, especially
of the Hanafi school, one can find some general comments about the reasons
underlying the punishment for apostasy, such general observations do not contribute
much toward achieving the aim of an attempted modern legal study.
It was assumed at the beginning of this section that the principle underlying
the punishment for drinking and apostasy was the protection of society against
the potential or actual harm of such acts. This has been adequately proved
with regard to drinking. Whether or not it is also correct with regard to
apostasy is the subject of the next pages.
Some preliminary observations are necessary here. The first concerns the
widely held principle among Muslims that Islam provides a total system of
life, starting from birth, extending throughout every moment of life. Matters
such as infant-feeding and child-rearing, marriage and divorce, legacy and
inheritance, bargains and contracts, war and peace, international relations,
the treatment of minorities, and many other aspects are governed in one way
or another by legal rules in the sources of Islamic law. Secondly, Muslims,
and especially Muslim jurists, consider all these aspects as having the same
importance as, let us say, ritual prayer (salat) and fasting. Hence,
any problem which arise should be treated and solved in the way recommended
by, or at least in harmony with, the related rules in Islamic law. 113
Accordingly, all aspects of Islamic law should be taken and accepted as a
unit, one total and indivisible system. 114 With regard to these
principles, some jurists hold that if the ruler (or the government) acts against
some of the rules of Islamic law, he should be advised by the learned men
to rectify the error by complying with them and to remedy the harm, if any,
brought about by his actions. If he, or the government, does so the matter
is over. But if
not, the believers should fight for their right to be governed in accordance
with the divinely ordained rules of Islam. 115
A Muslim state should be shaped in this way and the various authorities in
it should be given their power in accordance with, and not outside, the limits
of the law of Islam. This principle is recognized as a fundamental one, to
the extent that all conflicts and challenges which have been raised against
the rules of one or another Muslim country have been connected with it. 116
Recently, the demand to adopt this principle was behind the conflict between
the Islamic movement and some of the Arab governments. 117
It is quite natural, according to such principles, to consider loyalty to
the laws of the community as a highly necessary condition for the enjoyment
of the protection of the law and the authority of the state. At the same time,
it is natural to consider disloyalty as a reason for justifying the deprivation
of such protection. This was the explanation given for the punishment for
apostasy by some modern writers on the subject. 118
The question which remains is how disloyalty to the Islamic law could be
an act harmful to society and how punishment for it can be justified. For
this point we can give two explanations. The first one relates to the case
referred to in the Qur'an, 119 i.e., the case of the Jews who would
pretend that they had accepted Islam at the beginning of the day, while at
the end of it, they would say that they had rejected it in order to weaken
the commitment of newly-converted Muslims. The second is the case of those
who apostatize from Islam and join hands with its enemies in an actual state
of war, or who unite people against Islam or the Muslim state and then fight
Both cases are clearly harmful to the society. While the former encourages
the people to reject the law and order of the society (which is based on its
religion) by rejecting the religion itself, the latter involves the waging
of war, or helping those who wage it, against the apostate's own state. In
both cases punishment is, I believe justified, in order to protect society
from the harm brought by the apostate's action. However in any other case,
that is, in cases of simply change of one's religion, punishment cannot be
justified. One can understand, therefore, the Hanafi school's view of punishing
the male apostate only, leaving the female apostate unpunished, because she
is not able to fight against the Muslim state, which the male apostate is
able to do. 121 This view was understood by some as being based
on the "potentiality to fight," consequently, it was not accepted.
But the fact is that it is based on what usually happens and not on the mere
potentiality. The proof is that some of the Hanafi jurists stated that "an
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
could not be punished for mere unbelief, but to prevent the mischief of war"
which follows his rejection of Islam. 123
Finally, the concept of punishing a person who displays disloyalty toward
his country is well-known in all legal systems. In modern legal systems, this
may be called treason or conspiracy, but the concept is almost always the
To summarize, Islam is regarded by Muslims not as a mere religion but as
a complete system of life. Its rules are prescribed not only to govern the
individual's conduct but also to shape the basic laws and public order in
the Muslim state. Accordingly, apostasy from Islam is classified as a crime
for which ta'zir punishment may be applied. The punishment is inflicted
in cases in which the apostate is a cause of harm to the society, while in
those cases in which an individual simply changes his religion the punishment
is not to be applied. 125 But it must be remembered that unthreatening
apostasy is an exceptional case, and the common thing is that apostasy is
accompanied by some harmful actions against the society or state. A comparison
between the concept of punishing those who commit treason in modern systems
of law and those who commit apostasy in Islamic law would be useful. Assuredly,
the protection of society is the underlying principle in the punishment for
apostasy in the legal system of Islam.
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
PUNISHMENT IN ISLAMIC LAW: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
Quotation from: El-Awa, Mohamed S., Punishment in Islamic Law: A Comparative Study,
Markazi Maktaba Islami, Delhi, India, 1st Edition 1983, Printing
2000, p. 49-56.
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Last edited 2-15-2003