The widely publicized 2006 case of the conversion of an Afghan citizen to Christianity, caused the issue of apostasy under Islamic Law (sharia), to be brought to public attention. It raised troubling questions about freedom of religion and interfaith relations in Islam. As such, it caused many Muslims to re-examine their Qur'an in order to ascertain if indeed death for apostasy is what their holy book prescribes.
Mainstream media made a lot of this event to further demonize Muslims, by showing the world how hateful Islam is against other religions. After all, Islam is the only religion that prescribes death for anyone who leaves it to join another religion. At the same time Muslims boast about Islam being the fastest growing religion in the world. Yet other religions are humane enough to not kill their former adherents for leaving their religion and becoming Muslims.
It was also strange to see that after killing thousands of Afghans and Iraqis and calling their deaths collateral damage, the US was so "deeply concerned" for the life of this one Afghani. How hypocritical indeed!
Along with other things, this story shows how far Muslims have strayed from their religion. The truth is that if you search the Qur'an from cover to cover you will not find death prescribed as a punishment for apostasy. In fact you will find the opposite.
I will prove this by first quoting what one American Muslim leader has written. Then I will reference and discuss verses in the Qur'an which opposes the idea of death for apostasy. It should be noted that the information used to dispel the idea of death for apostasy in Islam, is taken solely from Qur'an and Islamic sources. No western or non-Islamic sources were used. As such, the arguments are from within Islam and therefore no claims can be made of external influences, such as western democracy, creeping in to change the religion. The words of Qur'an is more than sufficient to dispel the erroneous idea of death for apostasy in Islam.
Is there a death penalty for apostasy in Islam?
Quoted response of American Muslim Leader:
“No. That, however, does not prevent some people from murdering Muslims for "changing" their religion when the clear original meaning of the Arabic word translated as "change" is "alter," not "turn away." There is a clear Arabic term for "turn away" and that word is not used in the sources underlying the typical polemics calling for the murder of apostates. The basis first cited by the polemicists is a case where the leaders of several tribes refused to pay the Zakat, saying it was tribute paid to Muhammad and not a requirement of Islam, thus falsifying the faith from a position of authority ~ "changing" their religion. Judaism prescribes the death penalty for the identical offense, so that a rabbi who declared (or, as a judge, ruled) that stoning for adultery is not the Law of the Torah would be falsifying the Law and subject to the capital penalty for that.
”There were several people who accepted Islam during the time of the prophet who then left and returned to their former communities, and NONE of them were pursued in any way, let alone killed. One person who left, and on the way out killed a shepherd and his wife, was apprehended and killed for the murders ~ later "jurists" also used this event to "explain" that apostasy was capital. However, it is not a part of Shari’a law at all.
”Apostasy, Adultery, and Abrogation (the idea that some verses of the Qur'an "abrogate" others) are what I call "The Hypocrite-Makers." Shari’a Law prescribes NO temporal penalty for apostasy, but the priests have made it capital; Shari’a Law prescribes a hundred stripes for adultery, but the priests have made it capital; and to deny ANY part of the Qur'an is denial and an absolute departure FROM Islam, but the priests pick and choose what they want to implement and what not. All three of these things produce hypocrites, each in its own way.
”All three, however, are firmly entrenched in traditional Abbasid jurisprudence, including all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence. These draconian errors will be considerably reduced when the Arabs and their followers are nearly annihilated, which is the next prophesied event that has not yet occurred; and the further indications of the relevant prophecies are that the restoration of the original Shari’a Law, which rejects all three, will be in and from America. At present, this is a minority view regarded as heresy.”
The above words of this American Muslim leader rings true especially during this time. I also want to add the following from the life of Prophet Muhammad (saaw) regarding compulsion in religion. In the article titled "'Real' Islam and Jihad - A rejoinder", Dr Habib Siddiqui writes the following:
In the Quranic commentaries it is written that an Ansari who had previously been a polytheist had two sons who had converted to Christianity. These two sons had become fascinated by Christianity and very devoted to it, but their father was now a Muslim and upset that his sons had become Christians. He went to the Holy Prophet and said to him: "Rasula-lah! What can I do to these sons of mine who have become Christians? Whatever I have tried, still they do not accept Islam. Do you give me permission to force them to leave their religion and become Muslims?" The Prophet said: "No. La ikraha fid-din, there is no compulsion in religion."
Let's further explore death for apostasy in Islam by answering a few more questions.
Isn't a Muslim who gives up Islam considered an apostate and is subject to the Death Penalty in most Middle East countries?
Yes, that's true. In some Muslim countries, it is believed that apostates are to be sentenced to death, due to certain passages from the secondary documents of Islam: the Hadiths, a collection of sayings and actions attributed to the Prophet of Islam. Most of these sayings -- unlike the Qur'an -- were not written down immediately during the life of the Prophet, but were orally transmitted about 250 years after the death of the Prophet (saaw). Although, all Muslims value the knowledge and wisdom in these secondary documents (the Hadiths), we know that any Hadith should be rejected if it contradicts the Qur'an. The Prophet Muhammad (saaw) said the following regarding this:
Ali (RA) narrated, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, there is NO DOUBT that, there will be Hadiths coming after me, claiming that I have said things. So you MUST test those Hadiths from the QURAN. If it is really according to the QURAN only then accept it, otherwise reject it. (Sanan Dar Qatni, Vol-2, Book – Imrani Abee Musa, Matba Farooqi – 513)
Was it possible that Jews, hypocrites and other enemies of Islam united together and tried to include fabricated Hadiths, to mislead the Muslim community? Yes, of course. Even during the life of the Prophet (saaw) the enemies of Islam demanded he change verses of Qur'an, to which the Prophet (saaw) answered that he didn’t have any authority to do. The proof that an attempt had been made by the enemies of Islam with introduction of false Hadiths is the fact that out of seventeen original books of Hadiths, only seven are accepted by our religious scholars. More than 60% were rejected as being fabricated and misleading.
Is it possible that still in the seven accepted books of Hadiths there might be fabricated Hadiths? Yes, and many have been found. In fact many Hadiths, were rejected for contradicting the Qur'an. The enemies of Islam could not influence the Qur'an but they were able to influence the Hadiths. In fact, you will never find Muslims who endorse death for apostasy quoting anything from the Qur'an to justify their position. They always quote from Hadiths.
The Qur'an directly contradicts the idea that apostates should be sentenced to death
No where in the Qur'an is punishment for apostasy prescribed, even though the Qur'an mentions apostasy in several verses.
Additionally, prescribing the death penalty for apostasy appears to contradict the following verse of the Qur'an:
"...There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is here forth distinct from error..." [2:256]
In the light of the above verse, a person has to be totally irrational to believe that Islam prescribes execution for apostasy. Having the punishment of being killed for leaving the religion of Islam is severe compulsion. The Qur'an is clearly against any compulsion in religion.
The Qur'an further states:
"Say (Muhammad it is) truth from the Lord of all. Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, LET him disbelieve." [18:29]
In no uncertain terms, Allah commands the Prophet (saaw) to allow people to exercise full liberty regarding believing and disbelieving in Islam. If claims are made that the Shari'a recommends killing apostates, this law cannot be Islamic because it contradicts the above two verses.
The Qur'an further states:
"And so, O Prophet, exhort them, thy task is ONLY to exhort; thou canst NOT compel them to believe." [88:21-22]
"Thy duty is to make the message reach them; it is OUR PART to call them to account." [13:40]
"Call thou (all mankind) unto thy Sustainer's path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in MOST KINDLY MANNER..." [16:125]
"Those who believe, then reject Faith, then believe (again) and again reject Faith, go on increasing in Unbelief--Allah will not forgive them nor guide them on the Way." [4:137]
An apostate cannot enjoy the repeated luxury of believing and disbelieving if punishment is death. A dead man has no further chance of again believing and disbelieving.
Furthermore, if taken at face value, this verse indicates that Allah will only withdraw His guidance after repeated rejections. It does not tell the Prophet (saaw) to kill the apostate. So, what right do these religious authorities and Imams have to deprive a person of access to that divine guidance after the first?
The Qur'an states:
"How shall Allah guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the apostle was true and that clear signs had come unto them? But Allah guides not a 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, make amends; For verily Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful." [3:86-89]
It is obvious from these verses that no punishment is to be inflicted for apostasy. By no stretch of the imagination can the phrase, "curse of Allah," be interpreted to be a license to murder anyone considered to be an apostate. If any such commandment was prescribed it would have been clearly defined as all other punishments are in the Holy Qur'an.
The Qur'an also mentions that apostates can be forgiven if they amend and repent. How could they amend and repent if apostates are to be killed? By forced repentance and reacceptance of Islam? Does not the Qur'an state that there is no compulsion in religion? What use is the supposed repentance and supposed amendment of a person who is forced to do so under duress and compulsion, as if a gun were pointed to his head? It is not logical to think that just because the apostate has been threatened with execution and repented under duress and compulsion, that anything has truly changed in his or her heart. The person who threatens an apostate with death and, as a result, gets the apostate to repent is only deluding himself into thinking that he has actually brought faith back to the apostate's heart and mind. The verse that states that there is no compulsion in religion should be enough for a fair minded person to realize that Islam does not teach death to apostates.
In reading the Qur'an from cover to cover we find that certain punishments are specifically spelled out for committing crimes. The Qur'an is very specific about the punishment for murder, theft, adultery, warring on others, etc and gives specific guidance as to how Muslims should address people committing these crimes. Yet for turning away from Islam, no specific punishment to be meted out by Muslims is mentioned. The words of the Qur'an clearly states that not Muslims, but Allah will punish them. In reality this makes sense.
Leaving Islam for another religion is a matter between Allah and that person. If a person peacefully lives in society observing the rights and rituals of his new religion and not harming anyone then there is no crime that he has committed requiring human intervention. The Qur'an does not specify any earthly punishment for him because if he does any earthly wrong to harm himself or society, Allah and society's laws are already in place to address that.
The Qur'an says, "count not your religion as a favor to Allah, it is a favor to you!" Allah does not have to force anyone to stay in Islam with the threat of death for apostasy.
For more Quranic proofs answering questions about Death for Apostasy in Islam, check out the following by Sheikh Imran Hosein:
Does Qur'an Teach Death For Apostasy?