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On Apostasy and Islam: 100+ Notable Islamic Voices affirming the Freedom of Faith - Part 2


" ... Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error ..." [2:256]

By Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

April 2, 2007

This is Islam's unambiguous affirmation of freedom of faith, which also applies to changing of faith. The Qur'an illuminates before the humanity the two highways [90:10], one of which leads to salvation. Islam is an invitation to the highway toward salvation, but it is based on FREEDOM OF CHOICE.

On Apostasy and Islam:

100+ Notable Islamic Voices affirming the Freedom of Faith

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

Upper Iowa University

14.     Islamic Research Department, Al-Azhar University

"The Islamic Research Department of Al-Azhar University has called the penalty for apostasy as null and void and has said that the ways of repentance are open for the whole life. ... So an apostate can repent over his mistake anytime during his life and there would be no fixed period for it." [Al-Alamul Islami, the weekly organ of Rabita Alam al-Islami, 23rd August 2002, quoted in Dr. M. E. Subhani, Global Media Publications, 2005, p. 25]

15.     Dr. Jamal Badawi

[Professor Emeritus, St. Mary's University, Canada]

"The preponderance of evidence from both the Qur'an and Sunnah indicates that there is no firm ground for the claim that apostasy is in itself a mandatory fixed punishment (hadd), namely capital punishment." [Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam?"

"When a man in Madinah apostated from Islam, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) neither ordered his execution nor punished him in any other way, and when the man finally left Madinah, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never sent anyone to arrest him or punish him because of his apostasy." [Apostasy-Dialogue with Dr. Jamal Badawi]

16.     Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali

[Professor of law at the International Islamic University of Malaysia; author of Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 2003 and Freedom of Expression in Islam, 1994]

"The controversy been exacerbated further by reliance on the provision in the Sunnah which authorizes the death penalty for apostasy without due consideration of other evidence in the Sunnah to the effect that punishment by death was meant only for apostasy accompanied by hostility and treason. ... The Prophet did not treat apostasy as a proscribed offense (hadd), but, on the contrary, pardoned many individuals who had embraced Islam, then renounced it, and then embraced it again. ... [T]he Qur'an is consistent in its affirmation of the freedom of belief and it fully supports the conclusion that the objectives of the Shari ah cannot be properly fulfilled without granting people the freedom of belief, and the liberty to express it." [Chapter: Freedom of Religion in Mohammad Hashim Kamali’s Freedom of Expression in Islam Islamic Text Society, 1997]

17.     Dr. Tariq Ramadan

[Swiss Muslim Academic and Scholar]

"Q What about apostasy? What happens if you are born and educated a Muslim but then say: I have now decided that Islam is not for me. Would you accept that someone born into a Muslim family has a right to say that they no longer believe, and that families and communities must respect that?

A) I have been criticised about this in many countries. My view is the same as that of Sufyan Al-Thawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam, who argued that the Koran does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. Neither did the Prophet himself ever perform such an act. Many around the Prophet changed religions. But he never did anything against them. There was an early Muslim, Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who went with the first emigrants from Mecca to Abyssinia. He converted to Christianity and stayed, but remained close to Muslims. He divorced his wife, but he was not killed." [Interview: Tariq Ramadan]

18.     Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahari [d. 1979 AD]

[Prominent and influential Iranian scholar, cleric, academic, and political figure]

The late Ayatollah Mutahhari highlighted the incompatibility of coercion with the spirit of Islam, and the basic redundancy of punitive measures in the propagation of its message. He wrote that it is impossible to force anyone to acquire the kind of faith that is required by Islam, just as 'it is not possible to spank a child into solving an arithmetical problem. His mind and thought must be left free in order that he may solve it. The Islamic faith is something of this kind. ['Islam and the Freedom of Thought and Belief’, Al-Tawhid, p.154, cited in Kamali mentioned above]

19.     Dr. Hassan Turabi

[Sudanese Islamic leader and intellectual]

"Q) You believe that apostasy should not be punishable by death. There has been a recent case of an Afghan who was about to be killed for apostasy but was saved under the pretense of mental illness. The case was recognized internationally as Italy wants to grant him asylum.

A) There are too many Quranic verses to recite (regarding this). We are ordered to debate with Christians and Jews except those who are unjust. We believe in their prophets who are our prophets too. We believe in their books even if some distortion took place. We are ordered to treat them cordially." [Interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat]

"To be punishable [as a capital offence] apostasy has to be more than just intellectual apostasy. It would have to translate into not only sedition but actually insurrection against society.” [quoted in Globalization and the Muslim World: Sub-Saharan Africa in a Comparative Context]

20.     Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid

[Former President of Indonesia and leader of Nahdat ul Ulema]

"Muslim theologians must revise their understanding of Islamic law, and recognize that punishment for apostasy is merely the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to the early days of Islam. Such punishments run counter to the clear Quranic injunction "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

People of goodwill of every faith and nation must unite to ensure the triumph of religious freedom and of the 'right' understanding of Islam, to avert global catastrophe and spare millions of others the fate of Sudan's great religious and political leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was executed on a false charge of apostasy." [Extremism Isn't Islamic Law]

21.     Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri

... a significant Shi'a religious authority, states that the above verses do not prescribe an earthly penalty for apostasy and adds that it is not improbable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam due to political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims and not only because of changing the belief or expressing it. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He does not hold that a reversion of belief because of investigation and research is punishable by death but prescribes capital punishment for a desertion of Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community. [Wikipedia: Apostasy in Islam; direct BBC Persian link]

22.     Dr. Muhammad Ma'ruf al-Dawalibi

[Former Professor of Law in University of Damascus, Syria; member, Supreme International Council for Mosques, Makkah]

"... it has never been proved that the Messenger of God exacted punishment on apostates by killing them. This was also what the caliph Omar Ibn Abd al-Aziz did. ... Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut ... says that many scholars are of the opinions that Hudud punishment cannot be proved by Hadiths reported by single individuals. He also says that disbelief in itself is not justification for shedding blood. The real justification would be aggression against Muslims, fighting them ..." [quoted in Prof. Dr. Ala'Eddin Kharofa, Nationalism, Secularism, Apostasy and Usury in Islam, A.S. Noordeen, 1994, p. 13]

23.     Sheikh Gamal Al-Banna

[Egyptian Islamist thinker, author, and journalist]

In an article titled "No Punishment for Ridda [Muslims leaving Islam]; Freedom of Thought is the Backbone of Islam," Al-Banna quoted all the Koranic verses on the subject, and then said: "These verses are clear with regard to ridda in Islam; they make no mention of any torture or punishment for the Murtad in this world, like the punishments for thieves or murderers. The [only] dreadful and terrifying punishment is the rage of Allah. This is compatible with the policy and spirit of the Koran, and the many other texts included in it, that are based on belief in persuading the individual and his intent without coercion or pressure, and that state that his freedom is maximal... [Sheikh Gamal Al-Banna: Social and Religious Moderation Vs. Political Extremism]

24.     Dr. Abdul Aziz Sachedina

[Professor, Religious Studies, University of Virginia]

"The ethics of Islamic law allow for an interesting dilemma in regards to the issue of free speech because there is no clear understanding between civil and religious violations. There are certain acts, such as apostasy, that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the legal system and don’t have a defined penal punishment as outlined in the Qu’ran. 'There can be no particular punishment for apostasy from a legal point of view,' Sachedina said. 'From a religious point of view, only God has the power to punish you.' [Cultural Differences Explain Muslim Reaction to Danish Cartoons, Sachedina Says]

25.     Dr. Rachid Ghannouchi

[Leading Islamic thinker and philosopher, and also a scholar on the European Council for Fatwa and Research]

"The first challenge was that of ar-Ridda (the turning away or back, or apostasy, from Islam), which Ghannouchi views more as a military insurrection than an act of apostasy." [quoted in Dr. Azzam Tamimi's Democracy: The Religious and the Political in Contemporary Islamic Debate]

26.     Organization: Council of American-Islamic Relations [CAIR]

“Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion. Islam advocates both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, a position supported by verses in the Quran, Islam's revealed text … ‘Religious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion. Islam has no need to compel belief in its divine truth. As the Quran states: ‘Truth stands out clear from error. Therefore, whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks.’ (2:256)

‘We urge the government of Afghanistan to order the immediate release of Mr. Abdul Rahman.’ Before issuing its statement, CAIR consulted with members of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars that interprets Muslim religious law.” [CAIR Calls For Release Of Afghan Christian]

27.     Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman

[Former Rector, International Islamic University, Malaysia; former Chairman, International Institute of Islamic Thoughts]

"The conceptual confusion occurs in the early period of Islam, because this political conspiracy took the form of apostasy while the real goal was to destroy the Muslim community. The confusion lies in taking the act for what it appeared to be and not for what it was meant to be. They mistook political conspiracy for an exercise of the human right of freedom of belief and choice. The jurists seemed to exercise little analysis concerning the whole question. The word apostasy alone determined their position.

This misunderstanding of the significance of the word apostasy in the Qur'an and the punishment to it in the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) destroyed in the classical jurisprudence the basis of the Islamic concept of tolerance and human responsibility.

The early Muslim position on apostasy ... was not directed against freedom of conscience and belief but towards enforcing the policy of Islamisation of the warring Bedouin tribes and toward checking conspiracy." [The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic Methodology and Thought, IIIT, 1981, p. 104]

28.     S. A. Rahman

[Former Chief Justice of Pakistan]

... the Qur'an is silent on the question of death as the punishment for apostasy, despite this subject occurring no less than twenty times in the Holy Book. Rahman then traces the chain of transmission of the Hadith which proclaims 'kill whoever changes his religion'. ...

As this is a solitary Hadith (ahad), Rahman finds some weakness in its transmission (isnad). Rahman's conclusion is also supported by other evidence, such as the fact that neither the Prophet himself nor any of his Companions ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of the faith. [cited in Kamali, mentioned above]

29.     Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl

[Distinguished scholar and Professor of Law and Islamic Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, USA]

But while the Koran mentions ridda, it never calls for the execution of apostates. There is no record of the prophet killing an apostate himself. And executions of apostates have been rare in Islamic history. "The common argument is that it clearly contradicts the Koran, which says there should not be compulsion in religion," said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law expert and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. [In Kabul, a Test for Shariah]

30.     Dr. Fathi Osman

[Commenting on 2:256]

"This principle of freedom of faith is assured in many other Qur'anic verses. As examples, we read 10:99, 11:28, and 88:21-22. Forcing any person to act in any way nullifies the moral and legal responsibility of that person in such an action, whether it is good or evil; consequently, he/she cannot be respectively rewarded or punished for that forced action. Accordingly, imposing Islam by force on any human being will never bring out God's acceptance and reward to the imposer or the one upon whom it was imposed. ...

Another report attributed the reason of revelation [of 2:256] to another incident, in which two sons of a Yathribi were persuaded to be Christians by some Syrian merchants whom they joined. Their parents wanted to get them back by force, but the Prophet stressed their right to make their own free decision, and the verse was revealed to support what the Prophet had said. Al-Zamakhshari, the distinguished linguist and commentator of the Qur'an, commented on the above verse: 'God has not conducted the matter of faith through compelling and forcing, but through enabling] the person to make his/her own decision] and willfully choosing.' " [Concepts of the Qur'an: A Topical Reading, 2nd Ed., Los Angeles, CA: MVI Publication, p. 808]

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