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.

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