Apostasy In Islam – Part 2: Muslim Objections

In the last article we looked at the substantive evidence for the death penalty for apostasy in the Islamic sources. Now let’s think about the objections Muslims bring in response.

1.“It’s the equivalent of the death penalty for high treason”
A reminder of the verse in discussion. Sura 4:89 states:

“They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved, so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper (Sahih International)”

As discussed in part one, what constitutes treason if as the Qur’an says, the cause is Allah’s? This is further complicated by the fact the Qur’an makes no distinction between the religious and the political spheres.

Morocco recently retracted the death penalty for apostasy using this argument, although this puts the Moroccan Islamic Courts at odds with the Qur’an, the Hadith and the mainstream schools of Shariah. Nonetheless – a welcome development.

2.“The Qur’an supports freedom of conscience”
Writers like Kashif N. Choudry make this liberal argument in Huffpost citing Suras like 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion”) and Sura 18:29 (“The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve”).

However, freedom of conscience and apostasy are two separate issues. It could be argued these Suras allow for some ‘freedom of conscience’ in that it lets people stay as they are – if you are a Christian, you can stay a Christian: no-one should force you to become a Muslim. Unfortunately other Suras such as  9:5 and 8:39, do support conversion by force, showing the Qur’an’s internal inconsistency.

In any case this is not an argument against apostasy, when a Muslim decides to leave Islam. The Qur’an and Hadith discussed in this article are clear the punishment is death. It’s also worth stating that Dr Choudry is from the Ahmaddiya sect of Islam, whose theology is rejected by both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

What does the Bible teach? Are Christians being hypocritical?

3.“The Old Testament supports death for apostasy!”
In the Old Testament, YHWH decrees the death penalty for his covenant people in Deuteronomy 13, but note carefully the reasons (italics mine):

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer….. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” Deut 13: 1-3, 5

In Sura 4:89 the offence is ceasing to worship Allah; in Deuteronomy, it is incitement to worship other gods, so it’s not equivalent. The worship of these ‘other gods’ involved shrine prostitution, bestiality and child sacrifice. Is YHWH unjust to decree capital punishment in this instance or is it consistent with His hatred of sin? It’s also worth noting the second element of this command; this is the same God who redeemed and rescued His people from slavery.

But crucially – is this command applicable today? Why do churches not mandate the death penalty for idolatry as in 1400 BC? Because God’s wrath against sin is satisfied by Jesus death on the Cross. Romans 5:9:

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For, if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

There is no equivalent once-for-all justification for sin in the Qur’an. In fact, Allah’s ‘wrath’ isn’t about sin, but disbelief.

5. Jesus kills people in Luke 19:27!
This is an annoying non-argument, but as it comes up so often we need to deal with it.

In Luke 19:27 Jesus says “but those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:27)

Let’s look at the context of this statement. This is taken from the Parable of the Ten Minas, about a king, who puts his servants in charge of his money until his return. (Side note: if Muslims acknowledge that Jesus is the ‘king’ in this parable, what does that make Muhammad?) The ‘king’s return’ is a reference to a future event, specifically Jesus’s Second Coming. What is the point of this parable? To warn people to accept Christ as their King before He returns on Judgement Day. This is in fact a reference to Christ’s deity, and as the Qur’an affirms in Sura 22:-56-7 that “the sovereignty on that [Judgement] Day will be that of Allah,” Muslims cannot make this argument without making things massively awkward for themselves.

So what does the New Testament teach on apostasy?
Jesus never compelled anyone to remain his disciple. Jesus taught that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). His hearers (like today) found that hard to take, and as John records, “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). Jesus lets them go; he doesn’t chase them down and have them arrested. Notice also Jesus’ reaction to the Jews’ rejection of him:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37)

Jesus does not call for the Jews to be put to death, even though by rejecting him they were rejecting YHWH himself; rather he lets them choose. Similarly when Judas betrays him and Peter denies him, Jesus submits to the consequences of their actions. Jesus even restores Peter, who goes on to establish His church.

In fact find a single example in the New Testament of a Christian being killed for leaving Christianity, or of Christians being commanded to kill apostates? In both cases, the answer is ‘no.’

Practical examples
Can you name a Christian, or post-Christian country where apostasy from Christianity is a crime punishable by death today? Can you name any Christian denomination where the death penalty for apostasy (or idolatry) is supported?

According to the latest Freedom of Thought report, the following Muslim countries all mandate the death penalty for apostasy from Islam: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In Pakistan the death penalty is for blasphemy.

In Christ, YHWH honours man’s freedom to choose; Allah keeps Muslims in Islam through fear. Look how honestly this is articulated by Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi in 2013:

“If they [Muslims] had gotten rid of the punishment [often death] for apostasy, Islam would not exist today.”

Muhammad taught and practised the death penalty for apostasy. The Qur’an, the Hadith and the Tafsirs all support it, as do all mainstream schools of Islamic law. Jesus neither killed nor ordered anyone to be killed for ceasing to follow him while he was on earth. The Old Testament prescribes death for idolaters, not apostates, but these prescriptions are no longer taught or practised because of Jesus’ fulfilment of the OT law on the Cross, satisfying God’s righteous anger at sin. Jesus warns of the destruction of those who reject his Kingship at his Second Coming; even in Islam, Jesus, not Muhammad, will come back to judge the world. May the Lord grant Muslims repentance and faith in Him for salvation before that day comes.

Introducing DCCI!

Defend Christ Critique Islam (DCCI) Ministries seeks to preach the Gospel to Muslims using apologetics and polemics.

Like the Apostle Paul, “we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God” (2 Cor 4:2). Rather “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”

Our motivation is love for Muslims to bring them to repentance and faith in Christ for eternal life.

Apostasy In Islam – Part 1


A man in Saudi Arabia, locally identified as Ahmad Al-Shamri, has been sentenced to death for apostasy. After allegedly uploading videos renouncing Islam and Muhammad in 2014, Mr Al-Shamri was arrested and imprisoned on charges of atheism and blasphemy, and lost his second appeal on 25th April.

Some Saudi Twitter users expressed horror:

Others can’t wait to see the ‘show’:

On 29th April 2017 in Germany, Farima S, an Afghan refugee and assistant at her local community church, was stabbed to death in front of her children. German police said there was evidence of a religious motive for the killing; the victim’s sister said it was because she converted to Christianity.

Sura 4:90 appears to soften 4:89 by offering amnesty to those who return with peace terms. So is it in fact traitors, as some Muslims argue, not apostates, who should be killed? Do the reliable hadith collections offer any clarification on this issue?

But is death for apostasy Islamic? What do the source texts say?

Apostasy in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sharia

Sura 4:89 states:

“They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved, so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper (Sahih International)”

Some interpret this to be about desertion after various battles with the polytheists; Sura 4:90 gives some context:”Except for those who take refuge with a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty or those who come to you, their hearts strained at [the prospect of] fighting you or fighting their own people. And if Allah had willed, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them (Sahih International)”

Al-Bukhari 4:52:260 (and Bukhari 9:84:57)

“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.”

What is the crime here? Not desertion but leaving Islam.

Bukhari 9: 64:84:

“Narrated ‘Ali:Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah’s Apostle, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick (i.e., I may say things just to cheat my enemy). No doubt I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, wherever you find them, kill them, for who-ever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”

Muhammad even advocates death for nominal Muslims, whose religion ‘doesn’t go beyond their throats’ i.e., is all talk and no practice.

Bukhari 9: 89:271:

“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”

What did Abu Musa do that was worthy of death? He reverted to Judaism. Sahih Muslim 1676:

“Abdullah (b. Mas’ud) reported Allah’s Messenger 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, a life for life, and the deserter of his Din (Islam), abandoning the community.”

In the account of Muhammad’s life by Ibn Ishaq (Guillaume, p.550-1), Abdullah bin Khatal kills a slave then apostatises; later, in fear of his life and clinging to the curtains of the Ka’aba, Muhammad orders him to be killed (see also Bukhari 5:59:582.)

Hence we conclude the Islamic sources tell us Muhammad ordered death for apostasy, aside from treachery in battle. Even if you disregard the substantial evidence to the contrary and maintain that apostasy is just a synonym for political treachery, what political system was Muhammad fighting for? He was fighting “in Allah’s cause” (Sura 4:89). If the battle is “Allah’s cause” – and Islam does not differentiate between the religious and political spheres – then someone who ceases to believe in Allah ceases also to believe in Allah’s cause, therefore commits treachery according to the Qur’an, and is punishable by death.

Christians on the other hand are told not to fight other people ‘in YHWH’s cause’; Jesus tells Peter to “put your sword away” (John 18:11). Rather we are to follow Jesus’ example (plus that of the apostles and early church), and suffer for our faith. If the Christian life is too difficult, you can leave, just as Demas did (2 Timothy 4:10). Paul didn’t kill him for his apostasy – he just got Mark to help him instead. When the prodigal son turns his back on his father in Luke 15, the father doesn’t hunt him down and punish him – rather he awaits him to freely return. Compare Muhammad’s actions with the reaction of the Father:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

What does the Shariah say about apostasy? World renowned scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawisays:“The Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-‘ashriyyah, Al-Ja’fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.”

Death for apostasy is affirmed by the main schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi’a.

In the next article we will look at Muslim objections to these arguments.