Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ارتداد, irtidād or ridda‎) is commonly defined in Islam as the rejection in word or deed of one's former religion (apostasy) by a person who was previously a follower of Islam. The Qur'an itself does not prescribe any earthly punishment for apostasy; Islamic scholarship differs on its punishment, ranging from execution - on an interpretation of certain hadiths — to no punishment at all as long as they "do not work against the Muslim society or nation."[1] According to Islamic law apostasy is identified by a list of actions such as conversion to another religion, denying the existence of God, rejecting the prophets, mocking God or the prophets, idol worship, rejecting the sharia, or permitting behavior that is forbidden by the sharia, such as adultery.[2]


Variety of viewpoints

In medieval times, several Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence held that apostasy by a male Muslim is punishable by death, differing on whether to execute the apostate immediately or grant the apostate an initial opportunity to repent and thus avoid penalty. They also differentiated between harmful and harmless apostasy (also known as major and minor apostasy) in accepting repentance.[3][citation needed] However, other scholars also held different views, such as that of Ibrahim al-Nakha'i (d. 715) and Sufyan al-Thawri and their followers, who rejected the death penalty and prescribed indefinite imprisonment until repentance. The hanafi jurist Sarakhsi also called for different punishments between the non-seditious religious apostasy and that of seditious and political nature, or high treason.[4][5]

Medieval Islamic scholars also differed on the punishment of a female apostate: death, enslavement, or imprisonment until repentance. Abu Hanifa and his followers refused the death penalty for female apostates, supporting imprisonment until they re-embrace Islam. Hanafi scholars maintain that a female apostate should not be killed because it was forbidden to kill women by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and because women are unlikely to take up arms and endanger the community.[5]

According to Wael Hallaq apostasy laws are not derived from the Qur'an.[6] In modern times, some Islamic scholars oppose any penalty for apostasy, including Gamal Al-Banna,[7][8] Taha Jabir Alalwani,[9] and Shabir Ally.[10] Quran Alone Muslims do not support the apostasy penalty, citing verses from Qur'an which advocate free will.[11]

Others believe that the death penalty can only be applied in certain cases or when apostasy is coupled with attempts to "harm" the Muslim community, rejecting the death penalty in other cases. These include,[1][12][13] Ahmad Shafaat,[14] Jamal Badawi,[3] Yusuf Estes,[15] Javed Ahmad Ghamidi,[16] and Maliki jurist Abu al-Walid al-Baji.

However, Zakir Naik stated that if a former Muslim speaks against Islam then that is considered as treason and punishable by death in a country ruled by Islamic law, he also stated that he does not know of any country which is ruled by 100% Islamic law.,[17][18][19] a view which is held by other contemporary Islamic scholars such as Bilal Philips,[20] and Yusuf al-Qaradawi,[21] the latter reduces the punishment to imprisonment till repentance in the case of an apostate who did not proclaim apostasy,[22] whereas the judgement which is still widely adopted advocates death for every ex-Muslim, for instance, Sheik Muhammad Al-Munajid the owner, writer and administrator for the popular islam-qa.com site advocates that judgement stating that leaving them alive "may encourage others to forsake the truth".[23]

Contemporary reform Muslims such as Quran Alone intellectuals Ahmed Subhy Mansour,[24] Edip Yuksel,[25] and Mohammed Shahrour[26] have suffered from accusations of apostasy and demands to execute them, issued by Islamic clerics such as Mahmoud Ashur, Mustafa Al-Shak'a, Mohammed Ra'fat Othman and Yusif Al-Badri.[27][28][29]

Prominent recent examples of writers and activists killed because of apostasy claims include Mahmoud Mohammed Taha,[30] Faraj Foda,[31] Rashad Khalifa, Ghorban Tourani, Necati Aydin, Uğur Yüksel, and the Egyptian Nobel prize winner Najib Mahfouz was injured in an attempted assassination, disabling him until his death in 2006.[32]

The case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity, sparked debate on the issue. While he initially faced the death penalty, he was eventually released as he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.[33]

Scriptural references


The Qur'an states that God (in Arabic, Allah) despises apostasy, with severe punishment to be imposed in the hereafter, but not mentioning explicitly any earthly penalty for apostates. Except 16:106-109, the verses that discuss apostasy all appear in surahs identified as Madinan, that is, they belong to the period when the Islamic state had been established, whereas traditional Islamic scholars have proposed that the prophet needed more time and/or power to legislate death as the penalty for apostasy.[citation needed]

The Qur'an contains verses from which it can be inferred that apostasy is not a capital offence.[34]

Sunni hadith

Examples of Sunni Hadiths that sanction the death penalty for apostasy include passages in the Sahih al-Bukhari include Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17, Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:260, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:58 and Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:89:271.[dead link]

The two most popular Hadiths usually cited by orthodox Islamic clerics to support the death penalty for apostates are:

"Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17
"Whoever changed his (Islamic) religion, then kill him" Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57

Shia hadith

Some Shia Hadiths also sanction the death penalty for apostasy. For example, one of the shia Imams has been asked about a Muslim who has converted to Christianity, he answered "he should be killed not called to repent", and when asked about a Christian converting to Islam then converting back to Christianity, he answered "he should be given the chance to repent, otherwise killed" (Al-Kafi 7:257 | 10), (Men la Yahthuruh Al-Faqeeh (Whom an Islamic Cleric is not attending) 3:91 | 341), and (Tahtheeb Al-Ahkam (Rectification of the Rules) 10:140 | 554).[35]

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei

Prominent Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei states that there are two views on the nature of the punishment of apostasy one being that they are prescribed punishments and the other being that they are discretionary punishments.[36] He states that discretionary punishments are to be subjected to certain conditions such as the situation of the individual or if the punishment would be of any benefit to the society. With regard to the view that it is part of the Hudud he states, "Even if we place them in the category of prescribed punishments (Hudud), based on the views of Mirzaye Qomi, the administration of such punishments is particularly limited to the time of the presence and ruling of the Holy Imams, and they will still not be applicable, and again we will have no choice but the discretionary punishments".[36]

He believes that the penalty can only carried out with a proper trial stating that," it is illegal and impermissible to kill them (apostates who have not been put on trial), and the killers deserve retaliation since otherwise it will lead to anarchy which will damage the Muslim society."

Ayatollah Saanei, also differentiates between apostates who leave because of propaganda and the misguided actions of some Muslims whom he believes are not deserving of punishment, and those who engage in acts of desecration against Islam who he believes are deserving of punishment.[36]

What constitutes apostasy in Islam

The orthodox conditions of apostasy are that the person in question (a) has understood and professed the shahada, (b) has acquired knowledge of those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims, (c) is of sound mind at the time, (d) has reached or surpassed puberty, and (e) has consciously and deliberately rejected or consciously and deliberately intends to reject as untrue either the shahada (and what it is commonly known to entail) or those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims.[37][38] Maliki scholars additionally require that the person in question (f) have publicly engaged in the obligatory practices of the religion.[39]

For example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing and professing that God exists and is one, were to then declare that God does not exist, then this would constitute apostasy. Another example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing that salat (prayer) is fard al-ayn (personally obligatory), were to then declare that it was not personally obligatory, then this would constitute apostasy. By contrast, for example: if a sane adult Muslim, knowing that consumption of alcohol is haram (forbidden), were to consume alcohol knowing and professing that it was forbidden, then this would merely constitute disobedience and not apostasy. Another example, if a sane adult Muslim carelessly and thoughtlessly makes a statement of unbelief, then this would not constitute apostasy.[40]

In traditional Islam, there is a distinction between private and public apostasy. Private apostasy is the satisfaction of the above conditions, but without any public declaration. For example, if a sane adult Muslim performed daily prayers, professed them to be obligatory, but personally believed them to not be obligatory, then this would constitute private apostasy. Or for example, if a person professed the shahada with knowledge of its meaning, but in their home secretly worshiped idols, then this would constitute private apostasy. Public apostasy is the satisfaction of the above conditions by means of public declaration.

Differences of Opinion

Of public apostasy, traditional scholars can differ in their opinions as to whether there are different 'grades' of seriousness. Some scholars make distinctions between apostates who declare a loss of belief (i) only after being directly prompted, (ii) without any prompting but do not seek to spread their disbelief, and (iii) seek to spread their disbelief (by preaching). Especially after the Mihna by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun in 218 AH/833 CE, traditional scholars have strongly discouraged the practice of directly questioning a person's current beliefs, thereby avoiding false and unjust accusations of apostasy derived from direct questioning. In the Shafi'i school, it is an act of apostasy for a sane adult Muslim to accuse or describe another as an unbeliever (unless it established beyond any doubt).[41]

Of public apostasy, traditional scholars can also differ in their opinions as to when the required conditions of (a) understanding of the shahada, (b) 'necessary knowledge' of the sharia, and (c) 'sound mind' are satisfied in order for a valid ruling of apostasy to be made. For example: if a person were to profess the shahada but was not taught its meaning and so continued to worship idols, and if on being correctly informed of the meaning of the shahada did not accept it as true, then he or she may be judged to have never been a Muslim in the first place, and therefore not an apostate. Another example: if a person believed pork to be halal (permissible), the judgement of apostasy (as opposed to mere ignorance) would be dependent upon whether he or she were deemed to be adequately taught the essentials of the shariah. Another example: under Mamluk rule in Egypt, scholars ruled that anyone declaring themselves to be a new Prophet - thereby denying by implication that Muhammad was last prophet - was deemed to be insane and exempt from any judgement whatsoever.[42] This opinion later came to be favoured by the Hanafi Ottoman scholars. Before the Mamluks, the declaration of Prophethood was automatically deemed to be proof of apostasy. Hanifi and Shafi'i also disagree on whether ridiculing (Islamic) scholars is an act of apostasy.[43]

Today, a minority of 'Modernist' or 'Revisionists' Muslims ascribe additional requirements to disbelief to constitute apostasy, such as joining the enemies who are at war with Muslims, or as in Qur'an (Qur'an [Quran 5:33]) "those who wage war against God and His Apostle",[3] however, what constitutes "war against Allah and His Apostle" for those Islamic Scholars varies widely, ranging from simply declaring disbelief in Islam to explaining reasons and arguments for that disbelief.

Yusuf al Qaradawi

Yusuf al Qaradawi believes that punishment for apostasy is an established Islamic Tradition and that all the jurists are unanimous on this. He writes,

All Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished. However, they differ regarding the punishment itself. The majority of them go for killing; meaning that an apostate is to be sentenced to death. Authentic Hadiths have been reported in this regard. Ibn `Abbas reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Whoever changes his religion, you kill him." (Reported by all the group except Muslim, and at-Tabarani also reported it with a sound chain of narrators. Also recorded in Majma` Az-Zawa'id by Al-Haythamiy.)[44]

Al-Qaradawi states that if an apostate proclaims and openly calls for apostasy in speech or writing, then the punishment is the death penalty, otherwise, imprisonment till repenting.[21][45]

About people who are self-declared as Muslims but are suspected by the traditional Islamic scholars of committing what amounts to apostasy, for instance, by writing what could be interpreted as a result of disbelief in Islam or traditional interpretation of it, according to Al-Qaradawi who calls this "intellectual apostasy" and refers to it as a "hypocrisy (which) is more dangerous than open disbelief", it is not the role of the Muslim Community, rather it is the role of scholars to respond to these types of ideas:

Intellectual apostasy is always propagated night and day. We feel its relentless and ruthless effects on our society. It needs a wide scale attack at the same level of strength and thinking. The positive religious obligation here is for Muslims to launch war against such a hidden enemy, to fight it with same weapon it uses in waging attack against the society. Here comes the role of erudite scholars who are well versed in Islamic Jurisprudence.


Punishment for apostasy


Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest Islamic institution in the world[47][48], concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left the Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed pertaining to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children after they reach maturity.

In medieval Islamic law (sharia), the consensus view was that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi'a scholars.[49] A minority of medieval Islamic jurists, notably the Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d. 1090),[4] Maliki jurist Ibn al-Walid al-Baji (d. 494 AH) and Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), held that apostasy carries no legal punishment.[50]

Contemporary Islamic Shafi`i jurists such as the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa,[51][52] Shi'a jurists such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri,[53] and some jurists, scholars and writers of other Islamic sects, have argued or issued fatwas that either the changing of religion is not punishable or is only punishable under restricted circumstances, but these minority opinions have not found broad acceptance among the majority of Islamic scholars.[1][12][13][14]

View of Mahmud Shaltut

Mahmud Shaltut, the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University argued that a worldly punishment for apostasy was not mentioned in the Qur'an and whenever it mentions apostasy it speaks about a punishment in the hereafter[54]

Applying law in the Muslim world

Most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance. Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain religious courts for all aspects of jurisprudence, and religious police assert social compliance. Sharia is also used in Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Some states in northern Nigeria have reintroduced Sharia courts. In practice the new Sharia courts in Nigeria have most often meant the reintroduction of relatively harsh punishments without respecting the much tougher rules of evidence and testimony of regular courts. The punishments include amputation of one/both hand(s) for theft, stoning for adultery, and execution for apostasy. In 1980, Pakistan, under the leadership of President Zia-ul-Haq, the Federal Shariat Court was created and given jurisdiction to examine any existing law to ensure it was not repugnant to Islam[55] and in its early acts it passed ordinances that included five that explicitly targeted religious minorities: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Qur'an; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslims.

Under traditional Islamic law[56] an apostate may be given up to three days while in incarceration to repent and accept Islam again and if not the apostate is to be killed without any reservations.

Opposition to execution

In a book on the issue, Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed argue that Islamic law that calls for death for apostasy is in conflict with a variety of fundamentals of Islam. They contend that the early development of the law of apostasy was essentially a religio-political tool, and that there was a large diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment.[57]

Medieval Muslim scholars (e.g. Sufyan al-Thawri) and modern (e.g. Hasan at-Turabi), also have argued that the hadith used to justify execution of apostates (see below) should be taken to apply only to political betrayal of the Muslim community, rather than to apostasy in general.[58] These scholars argue for the freedom to convert to and from Islam without legal penalty.

Other prominent Islamic scholars like the Grand Mufti of Cairo Sheikh Ali Gomaa have stated that while God will punish apostates in the afterlife they should not be executed by human beings.[59] Ali Gomaa later clarified that leaving Islam without punishment was not what he meant; "What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished."[60]

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, an Islamic scholar, writes that punishment for apostasy was part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form by Muhammad (see Itmaam-i-hujjat), hence, he considers it a time-bound command and no longer punishable.[61]


S. A. Rahman, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, argues that there is no indication of the death penalty for apostasy in the Qur'an.[62]

W. Heffening states that in Qur'an "the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only," adding that Shafi'is interpret verse [Quran 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in the Qur'an.[63] Wael Hallaq holds that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text."[6] The late dissenting Shia jurist Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a significant Shi'a religious authority, stated that the Quranic verses do not prescribe an earthly penalty for apostasy.[53]

Popular Islamist author Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi argued that verses [Quran 9:11] of the Qur'an sanction death for apostasy. However, scholars such as S. A. Rahman reject Mawdudi's interpretation, concluding "that not only is there no punishment for apostasy provided in the Book but that the Word of God clearly envisages the natural death of the apostate. He will be punished only in the Hereafter…"[64] He continues and says that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an.

In his book on Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, Rahman declares the verse [Quran 2:256] which contains the explicit language, "Let there be no compulsion in religion...", to be "one of the most important verses of the Qur'an, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind…". He goes on to criticize the attempts by Muslim scholars over the ages to narrow its broad humanistic meaning and impose limits on its scope in their attempts to reconcile it with their interpretations of Muhammad's Sunna.


Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Heffening holds that contrary to the Qur'an, "in traditions [i.e. hadith], there is little echo of these punishments in the next world... and instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty."[55] Wael Hallaq states the death penalty was a new element added later and "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet."[6]

The Hadith record cases for which Muhammad allowed apostates to live:

Jabir ibn `Abdullah narrated that a Bedouin pledged allegiance to Muhammad for Islam (i.e. accepted Islam) and then the Bedouin got fever whereupon he said to Muhammad "cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. He (the Bedouin) came to him (again) saying, "Cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. Then he (the Bedouin) left (Medina). Muhammad said, "Madinah is like a pair of bellows (furnace): it expels its impurities and brightens and clear its good."[3]

Another hadith reports that Ubayd-Allah ibn Jahsh converted to Christianity and Muhammad also left him unharmed.[65][66]

Ayatollah Montazeri holds that it is probable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam to combat political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims, and is not intended for those who simply change their belief or express a change in belief. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He argues that capital punishment should be reserved for those who desert Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community, and not those who convert to another religion after investigation and research.[53]


According to Muslim Islamic scholar Cyril Glassé, death for apostasy was "not in practice enforced" in later times in the Muslim world, and was "completely abolished" by "a decree of the Ottoman government in 1260AH/1844AD."[67]

Support for the death penalty


There are no verses in the Quran explicitly dictating the death penalty for apostasy. However, more recently, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, a noted 20th century Islamic Scholar argued that verses [Quran 9:11] of the Qur'an sanction death for apostasy. The argument given by Mawdudi[68][unreliable source?] for these verses is:

"The following is the occasion for the revelation of this verse: During the pilgrimage (hajj) in A.H. 9 God Most High ordered a proclamation of an immunity. By virtue of this proclamation all those who, up to that time, were fighting against God and His Apostle and were attempting to obstruct the way of God's religion through all kinds of excesses and false covenants, were granted from that time a maximum respite of four months. During this period they were to ponder their own situation. If they wanted to accept Islam, they could accept it and they would be forgiven. If they wanted to leave the country, they could leave. Within this fixed period nothing would hinder them from leaving. Thereafter those remaining, who would neither accept Islam nor leave the country, would be dealt with by the sword." In this connection it was said: "If they repent and uphold the practice of prayer and almsgiving, then they are your brothers in religion. If after this, however, they break their covenant, then war should be waged against the leaders of kufr (infidelity). Here "covenant breaking" in no way can be construed to mean "breaking of political covenants". Rather, the context clearly determines its meaning to be "confessing Islam and then renouncing it". Thereafter the meaning of "fight the heads of disbelief" ([Quran 9:11]) can only mean that war should be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy."

Mawdudi's interpretation is supported by other Muslim writers. For example, Afzal ur-Rahman in Muhammad, Blessing for Mankind, Seerah Foundation, London, Revised Second Edition, 1988, p. 218 under "Apostasy" states:

"People who turn away from Islam and do not repent but wage war and create mischief in the land are also considered as murderers. "But if they break their oaths after making compacts and taunt you for your faith, you should fight with these ringleaders of disbelief because their oaths are not trustworthy: it may be that the sword alone will restrain them" (Quran 9:12). And in Surah Al-Nahl, "But whosoever accepts disbelief willingly, he incurs God's Wrath, and there is severe torment for all such people"(Quran-usc 16:106)".

Even the above interpretations indicate ""waging war and creating trouble in the land" as the issue of concern to the society, while mere change of belief is mentioned to be dealt by God Himself.


In the Hadith the death penalty is mentioned in several passages. For example,

Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."

Other examples include Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:260, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:58 and Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:89:271.


In the 20th Century, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi defended traditional views on apostasy against the idea of freedom of religion in Islam.[68] He summarized what he saw as the most likely objections by critics:

  • This idea is against the freedom of conscience. How can it be right to offer an apostate the gallows when he has decided to leave Islam?
  • A faith which people maintain because of the fear of death cannot be genuine faith. This faith will be manifestly hypocritically chosen to deceive in order to save one's life. (Religious hypocrisy is the ultimate sin in Islam)
  • If all religions approve of execution for apostasy, it will be difficult not only for Muslims to embrace another religion but also for non-Muslims to embrace Islam.
  • It is contradictory to say on one hand "There is no compulsion in religion (Qur'an [Quran 2:256])" and "Whosoever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him disbelieve ([Quran 18:29])", and on the other to threaten to punish by death who renounces Islam and moves to reject Islam.

Maududi claims that the misunderstanding and criticism arises because of a "fundamental misconception" about Islam:

If Islam is truly a "religion" in the sense that religion is understood at present, surely it would be absurd to prescribe the penalty of execution for those people who wish to leave it because of their dissatisfaction with its principles. It is not only a "religion" in the modern technical sense of that term but a complete order of life. It relates not only to the metaphysical but also to nature and everything in nature. It discourses not only on the salvation of life after death but also on the questions of prosperity, improvement and the true ordering of life before death.

Maududi also declares:

Whatever objections the critics pose regarding the punishment of the apostate, they make them bearing in mind only a single "religion" (madhhab). In contrast, when we present our arguments to demonstrate the validity of this punishment, we have in view no mere "religion" but a state which is constructed on a religion (din) and the authority of its principles rather than on the authority of a family, clan or people.

And since it is a state, Maududi declares it "has the right to protect its own existence by declaring those acts wrong which undermine its order", and proceeds to equate apostasy to treason. He then discusses the difference between a kafir, a dhimmi, and the appropriateness of death for them if they apostatize after conversion, and for those born of Muslim parents he states:

In any case the heart of the matter is that children born of Muslim lineage will be considered Muslims and according to Islamic law the door of apostasy will never be opened to them. If anyone of them renounces Islam, he will be as deserving of execution as the person who has renounced kufr to become a Muslim and again has chosen the way of kufr. All the jurists of Islam agree with this decision. On this topic absolutely no difference exists among the experts of shari'ah.

Maududi considers the threat of execution as not forcing someone to stay within the fold of Islam, but as a way of keeping those who are not truly committed out of the community of Islam.

It is also wrong to interpret "the execution of the apostate" as our forcing a person, by threatening him with death, to adopt a hypocritical behaviour. In fact the matter is the opposite. We want to block entrance into our society of those people who are afflicted with the disease of capriciousness and keep on playing musical chairs with theories and ideas for their own amusement, and who lack totally the stability of belief and character which the building of an order of life requires. Constructing an order of life is a highly serious task. In the society which takes on this task, there can be no place for fickle and unstable people.

Maududi rejects the third criticism because unlike other religions which are free to exchange believers, Islam is "on whose ideas and actions society and state are constructed" cannot allow "to keep open its door that would spell its own ruin, the scattering of its own structure's parts, the stripping away of the bonds of its own existence", and he compares this to the treason penalty on the books of the U.S. and Britain. Maududi also rejects the charge of contradiction. In his words:

"There is no compulsion in religion" (la ikraha fi'd din: Qur'an [Quran 2:256]) means that we do not compel anyone to come into our religion. And this is truly our practice. But we initially warn whoever would come and go back that this door is not open to come and go. Therefore anyone who comes should decide before coming that there is no going back.


Essentially the same arguments are sketched by the Shi'i Islamic author Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi in the brief article Apostasy (Irtidad) in Islam,[69] relying upon the opinions of some of the earlier scholars of Islam.

However, Ibn Warraq identifies earlier scholars of Islam who found support in the Qur'an for the death penalty for apostasy.[70] He quotes al-Shafi'i (died 820 C.E.), the founder of one of the four orthodox schools of law of Sunni Islam that verse [Quran 2:217] meant that the death penalty should be prescribed for apostates, and Al-Thalabi and Al-Khazan concurred, and states that Al-Razi in his commentary on 2:217 says an apostate should be killed. Ibn Warraq also quotes commentaries by Baydawi (died c. 1315-1316) on [Quran 4:89] as "Whosoever turns back from his belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel". Verse ([Quran 4:88]) reads:

Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way.

Effects on Islamic learning

The English historian C. E. Bosworth argues that while the organizational form of the Christian university allowed them to develop and flourish into the modern university, "the Muslim ones remained constricted by the doctrine of waqf alone, with their physical plant often deteriorating hopelessly and their curricula narrowed by the exclusion of the non-traditional religious sciences like philosophy and natural science," out of fear that these could evolve into potential toe-holds for kufr, those people who reject God."[71]

Apostasy in the recent past


The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives not from government authorities but from individuals or groups operating with impunity from the government.[72] An example is the stabbing of a Bangladeshi Christian evangelist (a "murtad fitri" or Muslim-born apostate) while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke.[73] Bangladesh does not have a law against apostasy, but some Imams encourage the killing of converts from Islam. Ex-Muslims in Great Britain have faced abuse, violence, and even murder at the hands of Muslims.[74] There are similar reports of violent intimidation of those electing to reject Islam in other Western countries.[75]

Other examples of persecution of apostates converting to Christianity have been given by the Christian organisation Barnabas Fund:

The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related "crimes" is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.[76]

Similar views are expressed by the 'non-religious' International Humanist and Ethical Union.[77]

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found relatively widespread popular support for death penalty as a punishment for apostasy in Egypt (84% of respondents in favor of death penalty), Jordan (86% in favor), Indonesia (30% in favor), Pakistan (76% favor) and Nigeria (51% in favor).[78]

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

In March 2006, an Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman was charged with apostasy and could have faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity. His case attracted much international attention with Western countries condemning Afghanistan for persecuting a convert. Charges against Abdul Rahman were dismissed on technical grounds by the Afghan court after intervention by the president Hamid Karzai. He was released and left the country to find refuge in Italy.[72]

Two other Afghan converts to Christianity were arrested in March 2006 and their fate is unknown. In February 2006, yet other converts had their homes raided by police.[72]

Islamic Republic of Iran

Salman Rushdie is a prominent[citation needed] contemporary figure accused of apostasy. In 1989 a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the ruler of Iran at the time, calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for the blasphemy of authoring the book The Satanic Verses.

According to US think tank Freedom House, since the 1990s the Islamic Republic of Iran has sometimes used death squads against converts, including major Protestant leaders. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has engaged in a systematic campaign to track down and reconvert or kill those who have changed their religion from Islam.[72]

15 Ex-Muslim Christians[79] were incarcerated on May 15, 2008 under charges of apostasy. They may face the death penalty if convicted. A new penal code is being proposed in Iran that would require the death penalty in cases of Apostasy on the Internet.[80]

At least two Iranians - Hashem Aghajari and Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari - have been arrested and charged with apostasy in the Islamic Republic (though not executed), not for self-professed conversion to another faith, but for statements and/or activities deemed by courts of the Islamic Republic to be in violation of Islam, and that appear to outsiders to be Islamic reformist political expression.[81] Hashem Aghajari, was found guilty of apostasy for a speech urging Iranians to "not blindly follow" Islamic clerics;[82] Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari was charged with apostasy for attending the 'Iran After the Elections' Conference in Berlin Germany which was disrupted by anti-regime demonstrators.[83]

Youcef Nadarkhani is an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death for apostasy.

Bahá'ís in Iran, the nation of origin of the Bahá'í Faith and Iran's largest religious minority, were accused of apostasy in the 19th century by the Shi'a clergy because of their claim to a valid religious revelation subsequent to that of Muhammad. These allegations led to mob attacks, public executions and torture of early Bahais, including the Bab.[84]

Saudi Arabia

According to the "Online Saudi-arabian Curriculum مناهج السعودية الألكترونية",[85] taught at schools, we read under the title "Judgements on Apostates أحكام المرتدين" the following (in Arabic):[86]

"An Apostate will be suppressed three days in prison in order that he may repent ..... otherwise, he should be killed, because he has changed his true religion, therefore, there is no use from his living, regardless of being a man or a woman, as Mohammed said: "Whoever changes his religion, kill him", narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim."


On March 21, 2006, the Algerian parliament approved a new law requiring imprisonment for two to five years and a fine between five and ten thousand euros for anyone "trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion." The same penalty applies to anyone who "stores or circulates publications or audio-visual or other means aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam."[72]


More recently, on 21 January 2007, the Central Council of Ex-Muslims was founded in Germany, an association led by Iranian exile Mina Ahadi and Turkish-German immigrant Arzu Toker. The association stands up for former Muslims who chose to abandon Islam. Shortly after going public on February 28, 2007, the group received death threats by radical islamists.[87]

On 18 April 2007, two Turkish converts to Christianity, Necati Aydin and Uğur Yüksel, were killed in the Malatya bible publishing firm murders. Having tortured them for several hours, the attackers then slit their throats. The attackers stated that they did it in order to defend the state and their religion. The government and other officials in Turkey had in the past criticized Christian missionary work, while the European Union has called for more freedom for the Christian minority.[88][89][90]


The Mohammed Hegazy case, shows the huge problems in that country for those wishing to leave Islam and be recognised as a member of another religion — where Hegazy has suffered death threats from family and prominent Islamic figures alike. A Judge ruled "He (Hegazy) can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can't convert." He is the first Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to seek official recognition of his conversion from the Egyptian Government.[91]

In February 2009, a second case came to court, of convert to Christianity Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, whose effort to officially convert to Christianity, faced opposing lawyers who advocated he be convicted of "apostasy," or leaving Islam, and sentenced to death.

"Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals," El-Gohary said. "We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us." El-Gohary, 56, has been attacked in the street, spat at and knocked down in his effort to win the right to officially convert. He said he and his 14-year-old daughter continue to receive death threats by text message and phone call.[92]

In 1992 Islamist militants gunned down Egyptian secularist Farag Foda. Before his death he had been declared an apostate and foe of Islam. During the trial of the murderers, Azhari scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali testified that when the state fails to punish apostates, somebody else has to do it.[93]

In April 2006, after a court case in Egypt recognized the Bahá'í Faith, members of the clergy convinced the government to appeal the court decision. One member of parliament, Gamal Akl of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said the Bahá'ís were infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion, thus ignoring the historical nature of the conversion and the fact that most living Bahá'í have not, in fact, ever been Muslim.[94]

Other countries

Vigilantes have killed, beaten, and threatened converts in Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Turkey, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, and Kenya. In November 2005, Iranian convert Ghorban Tourani was stabbed to death by a group of fanatical Muslims. In December 2005, Nigerian pastor Zacheous Habu Bu Ngwenche was attacked for allegedly hiding a convert. In January 2006, in Turkey, Kamil Kiroglu was beaten unconscious and threatened with death if he refused to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam.[72] In a highly public case, the Malaysian Federal Court did not let Lina Joy convert to Christianity in a 2-1 decision.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is the British branch of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, who represent former Muslims who fear for their lives because they have renounced Islam. It was launched in Westminster on 22 June 2007. The Council protests against Islamic states that still punish Muslim apostates with death under the Sharia law. The Council is led by Maryam Namazie, who was awarded Secularist of the Year in 2005 and has faced death threats.[95] The British Humanist Association and National Secular Society sponsored the launch of the organisation and have supported its activities since.[96]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief."

Islamic scholar Dr. Fathi Osman has stated that in modern times, leaving the religion of Islam is within the rights of an individual.[97] Dr. Osman is a representative of the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.[98]

See also


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