Ziaur Rahman, New Age Islam
08 Feb 2015
Quran has dealt with all the issues that were prominent during the life of the prophet (saw). Since apostasy was a common phenomenon during the rise of Islam, both in Makkah and Madina, Quran deals with the issue in clear verses. In Makkah, there were people who would embrace Islam but when they were pressurized by the polytheists in various ways, most of them would leave Islam. After the victory of Makkah, when Islam and Muslims became a dominant force, people accepted Islam in hordes. However, many left Islam whenever their material and social interests seemed to be in danger in the face of the polytheists and the Jews.
Therefore, there are a number of verses in the Quran dealing with punishment or lack of punishment for apostasy. To be precise, there are six verses that clearly deal with the issue of apostasy. One verse is about the hypocrites.
1) “And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever - for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally.(Al Baqarah: 217)
2) “Indeed, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief - never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a way.”(Al Nisa: 137)
3) “And Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders. And Allah said, "I am with you. If you establish prayer and give zakah and believe in My messengers and support them and loan Allah a goodly loan, I will surely remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way."(Al Maidah: 12)
4) “Indeed, those who reject the message after their belief and then increase in disbelief - never will their [claimed] repentance be accepted, and they are the ones astray. Indeed, those who disbelieve and die while they are disbelievers - never would the [whole] capacity of the earth in gold be accepted from one of them if he would [seek to] ransom himself with it. For those there will be a painful punishment, and they will have no helpers.”(Al Imran: 90-91)
5) “O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion - Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah ; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.”(Al Maidah:54)
6) “They swear by Allah that they did not say [anything against the Prophet] while they had said the word of) disbelief and disbelieved after their [pretense of] Islam and planned that which they were not to attain. And they were not resentful except [for the fact] that Allah and His Messenger had enriched them of His bounty. So if they repent, it is better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”(Tawbah:74
Anyone can study the verses that discuss the issue of apostasy very clearly. The Quran does not prescribe any physical punishment for those who abandon the Deen after accepting it. The Quran only says that God will punish them with severe torment in the Hereafter for what they have earned.
More important, the verse No. 2 quoted above says that “those who have believed, then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief - never will Allah forgive them”. It means an apostate will be allowed to live even after his disbelief and to vacillate between Islam and Kufr in an Islamic state or society without any punishment. He will be given enough time (till his natural death) to repent and proclaim his belief in God.
However, there is one verse about hypocrites (munafiqoon) about whom God says that they have disbelieved after belief and says that he will pardon a section of munafiqs while punish the other section because the other section will be perpetual sinners (and will not repent in their entire life.)
“Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after your belief. If We pardon one faction of you - We will punish another faction because they were criminals.”(At-Taubah: 66)
Thus God says that he will forgive a faction of munafiqs. This may be about those munafiqs who would later truly become Muslims while the other faction will die with their hypocrisy and so will be punished by God in the Hereafter.
Hypocrites (Munafioon) were those Muslims who outwardly proclaimed that they were believers but were disbelievers from within. Quran tells Muslims not to go by their inner beliefs and to deal with them as Muslims if they say they are Muslim. Prophet Muhammad was informed of such munafiqs through intuition so that he may be aware of their mischief and conspiracy but no punishment was proposed for them as they outwardly claimed they believed in one God and the last prophet (saw).
It is also important to note that God prescribes severe punishment for crimes that violates the rights of people (huququl Ibad) such as theft, adultery, rioting, bloodshed and causing social ills. For example, the Quran prescribes punishment for theft;
“[As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah . And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.”(Al Maidah: 38)
It also prescribes punishment for Adultery:
The woman or man found guilty of sexual intercourse - lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah , if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.”(Al Nur:2)
It prescribes harsh punishment for rioting, bloodshed and mischief making:
“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment,”(Al Maidah: 33)
But the Quran does not prescribe any physical punishment for the apostates because apostasy is not the violation of the rights of people but the violation of the right of God (huqallah). God deserves to be worshipped and respected because He is the sole Creator of the Universe and has created all the human beings and all the living and non-living beings and provides them with all that is needed for the protection, comfort and sustenance. So, one who does not believe in Him violates the right of God. God says that the responsibility of punishing those who violate His rights lies with Him alone. Only He can give such people a befitting punishment. These people will be given enough time to repent and turn to God. If not, they will be given a severe punishment in the Hereafter. Man cannot give them a severe punishment in the world. That’s why He does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy as He does for other crimes like theft, adultery, rioting, bloodshed (fasad) etc.
Ulema who support death as punishment for apostasy do not cite verses from the Quran, and even if they do, they cite only irrelevant verses of the Quran which do not deal with apostasy or punishment for apostasy because in truth, there is not a single verse in the Quran about punishment of apostasy. Therefore, they cite some hadiths that support death sentence for apostasy. For example, the following hadiths are cited in support of punishment for apostasy:
1. Bukhari (52:260) - "...The Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.”
2. Bukhari (83:37) - "Allah's Apostle never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: (1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) (2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and (3) a man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate."
3. Bukhari (84:58) - "There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, 'Who is this (man)?' Abu Muisa said, 'He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.' Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, 'I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice.' Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, 'Then we discussed the night prayers'"
However, they ignore or suppress the following hadiths that do not support death for apostates:
Bukhari :: Book 4 :: Volume 56 :: Hadith 814
There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Al-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: "Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him." Then Allah caused him to die, and the people buried him, but in the morning they saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is the act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and took his body out of it because he had run away from them." They again dug the grave deeply for him, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is an act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and threw his body outside it, for he had run away from them." They dug the grave for him as deep as they could, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. So they believed that what had befallen him was not done by human beings and had to leave him thrown (on the ground).
From the hadith, it is evident that the Christian was not killed and died a natural death though from the hadith it is also clear that he was buried in Madina where the prophet (saw) and his companions lived.
Muslim :: Book 20 : Hadith 4593
It has been narrated by Salama b. al-Akwa’ that he visited al-Hajjaj who said to him: O son of al-Akwa’, you have turned apostate and have come to live again in the desert with the Bedouins (after your migration). He said: No, but the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) has permitted me to live in the desert.
Malik :: Book 36 : Hadith 36.18.16
Malik related to me from Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abd al-Qari that his father said, “A man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab from Abu Musa al-Ashari. Umar asked after various people, and he informed him. Then Umar inquired, ‘Do you have any recent news?’ He said, ‘Yes. A man has become a kafir after his Islam.’ Umar asked, ‘What have you done with him?’ He said, ‘We let him approach and struck off his head.’ Umar said, ‘Didn’t you imprison him for three days and feed him a loaf of bread every day and call on him to tawba (seeking forgiveness) that he might turn in tawba and return to the command of Allah?’ Then Umar said, ‘O Allah! I was not present and I did not order it and I am not pleased since it has come to me!’ ”
The following hadith shows that the apostates were killed for multiple crimes – theft, murder, breach trust, qisas and mischief making on earth.
Sahih Muslim Book 016, Number 4130:
Anas b. Malik reported that some people belonging (to the tribe) of 'Uraina came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) at Medina, but they found its climate uncongenial. So Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to them: If you so like, you may go to the camels of Sadaqa and drink their milk and urine. They did so and were all right. They then fell upon the shepherds and killed them and turned apostates from Islam and drove off the camels of the Prophet (may peace be upon him). This news reached Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and he sent (people) on their track and they were (brought) and handed over to him. He (the Holy Prophet) got their hands cut off, and their feet, and put out their eyes, and threw them on the stony ground until they died.
Book 016, Number 4137:
Anas reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) pierced their eyes because they had pierced the eyes of the shepherds.
Therefore, from an honest study of the Quran, the conclusion can be drawn that Quran does not prescribe death sentence for apostasy as it is a crime against Allah and only He wants to punish them.
A New Age Islam columnist, Ziaur Rahman is an independent writer based in Calcutta.