The Problem of Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy, or the rejection of religion, is a highly controversial issue in Islam. And after the case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man charged with apostasy (View related MyScribbles article here), discussions about apostasy and the manner in which an apostate should be dealth with have sprung up throughout the Muslim world with a renewed impetus.
There are three main ideological divisions among Muslim scholars about apostasy:

  • Those who believe it is punishble (by death) after the apostate converts to another religion and then back to Islam several times with the objective of "making fun" of the religion. Holders of this view also maintain that if an individual becomes an apostate after careful research and a thorough understanding of the other religion, he is not punishable.
  • Those who believe an apostate must be punished by death the first time he turns away from Islam. The holders of this view also maintain that execution can be carried out only after a three-day ultimatum given to the apostate to reconsider his decision and to subsequently reconvert.
  • Those who believe there is no earthly punishment for apostasy and that Allah will punish the apostate in the hereafter.

This mess of ideas is further compounded by the fact that all of them are underpinned by religious citations from the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammed) and the Qur'an (Koran). Here are some of the citations used to justify that apostasy is not punishable and that Allah despises it:

  • "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. " (Sura 2:256)
  • "Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way." (Sura 4:137)
  • "O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things." (Sura 5:54)
  • "Intellect is the foundation of my religion and knowledge my weapon." (Hadith)

According to this Wikipedia article, nowhere in the Qur'an is it explicitly mentioned that there is an earthly punishment for apostasy. Afghan scholar, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, was imprisoned for expressing the same views about apostasy last year. He narrowly escaped death punishment.

Those who believe apostasy must be punished by death base their arguments mainly on the following two Hadith texts:

  • "Whoever changes his religion shall be killed." (Abu Dawood)
  • "It is not lawful to kill a man who is a Muslim except for one of the three reasons: Kufr (disbelief) after accepting Islam…" (Abu Dawood)

Some scholars do not consider these two texts enough evidence on the basis of which to execute an apostate, because the texts have simply been quoted by individuals and attributed to Mohammed and because there is no endorsement to the quotations from a reliable source. Furthermore, neither Mohammed, nor any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.

It is interesting to note that when a female becomes an apostate, she is only punishible by a life sentence not death. Also, mentally retarded individuals are exempt from any form of punishment.

However, heated debates still continue among Muslim scholars on this issue. Until they come to a definite conclusion, many Muslim countries, whose constitutions are based on this ambiguous Sharia law, will be going against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by punishing apostates by death.

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5 Responses to “The Problem of Apostasy in Islam”

  1. 1 Adnan Siddiqi April 18, 2006 at 1:03 am

    I would not comment about hadith since many of them are not authentic at all regarding quranic verses which you quoted on your post,none of them reflecting that God gave permission to muslims to kill apostates.Yes God Himself is saying that He would give punish.Whats wrong in it,did you curse your mom ,dad or teachers when they punished you because you were not listening THEM?stop criticizing Islam only,if you are so eager for apostates then write about chrisitian,jews ,hindu and other apsotates too,the haterd you show against islam is just frustration of yours nothing else and yeah worthless too.Peace

  2. 2 myscribbles April 18, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I think you have misunderstood the post. I never said that the Qur’an endoreses a death punishment for apostasy; in fact, I never endoresed any side of the argument in this post. I have merely presented the arguments from both sides.

    Furthermore, I have not criticized Islam; I have simply provided the viewpoints of two different schools of thought in Islam regarding apostasy.


  3. 3 Mohamed December 15, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Its funny but this idot called Adnan talks about people insulting Islam yet what he said about hadith will probably get him into trouble in some “Islamic” countries.

  4. 4 Frank May 12, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    This is a good article.

    You’re out on a limb even in reflecting calmly and peacefully on an important matter

    Thank you for doing that. I found your article helpful and instructive


  1. 1 هشام سليم اتصل بي و هنأني و قال أنا باك.أنا هباك كمان يا جورج . « يعني الرسول كداب . أيوه الرسول كداب و محمد خول الخولات.جورج قال لنا كده.سحر Trackback on November 25, 2008 at 1:04 am

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I no longer update this weblog due to academic and other preoccupations. However, feel free to browse through its older entries. Thanks.
This is a weblog where a journalism enthusiast Afghan student writes about hot contemporary issues from an Afghan perspective. Enjoy your visit! Contact: mail . myscribbles @ gmail . com

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