By S. Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com
According to Islam, a murtad (apostate) is one who renunciates Islam. There were many during the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH) who had for many reasons become apostates. The payment of Zakat was one of the reasons. There have been various other reasons for apostasy in different periods of Islamic history. In the present age too, many Muslims turn apostates though many non-Muslims also come into the fold of Islam. Actually leaving one’s own religion and accepting another has been a common phenomenon among all religions. So, one who is apostate for one religion is a true believer in the eyes of the other. During the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH), some of the apostates would announce their apostasy while the others would keep their apostasy secret and pose themselves as Muslims like the munafiqs (hypocrites). God had made the Prophet (PBUH) aware of such apostates and hypocrites. The Quran says:
“And you are always informed of their mischief”. (Al Maidah: 13)
According to the Quran, apostasy is a major sin. God has warned the apostates of grave torments in the Hereafter. The Quran says that an apostate invites the wrath of God, and the curse of the angels and all the creatures on the earth. They are destined to live in the hell for ever because by denying the existence and oneness of God they join the ranks of the non-believers.
God loves human beings a lot and so expects man to renunciate kufr and shirk and take refuge in Him. Therefore, when a man declares his faith in God, He is extremely pleased with him. But when he turns an apostate denying his oneness, he invites His rage getting his place fixed in the hell.
However, it is to be noted that despite declaring apostasy one of the gravest sins (kabair), the Quran does not prescribe death or any other physical punishment for the apostates whereas it prescribes physical punishments for other social crimes like theft, murder, violence and rioting and adultery and so on. For theft the punishment is hand amputation:
“Cut off (from the wrist joint) the (right) hand of the thief, male or female, as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise. “(Al Maidah: 38)
For adultery, the punishment is hundred lashes:
“The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment. “(Al Noor: 2)
For rioting and unjustified violence the punishment is death or the noose or amputation of hand and leg or exile:
“The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter. “(Al Maidah: 33)
The Quran lays down the policy of life for a life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, wound for a wound but though there is curse and condemnation for the apostate in the world and a warning for a grave torment in the hell in the hereafter, there is no punishment outlined for him in the world. The Quran deals with the issue of apostasy on five occasions (in Surah Al Baqrah, Al Maidah, Al Noor, Al Nisa, Al Nahl and Al-i-Imran) and does not speaks of physical punishment in the world for the apostate. One of the verses says:
“And whosoever of you turns back from his religion and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever." (Al Baqarah: 217)
From the verse quoted above it is evident that the apostate has the possibility of reaching his physical age in the state of apostasy. It there was a punishment or death punishment for apostates, the Quran would not speak of the possibility of him dying in the state of kufr (apostasy). The verse also makes it clear that all the good deeds of the apostate done during his Islamic period are wasted and he is destined to live in the hell for ever.
Not only that no physical punishment has been prescribed by the Quran for the apostate but also he has been given the chance to reform himself and come back to the fold of Islam. The following verse corroborates this view.
“Verily, those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe (again), and (again) disbelieve, and go on increasing in disbelief; Allah will not forgive them, nor guide them on the (Right) Way.“ (Al Nisa: 137)
A person can become a Muslim then become an apostate and then become a Muslims again and become an apostate again only when he is given a chance to live and reform himself. If there was a death sentence for the apostate, he would be killed the first time he turned an apostate and would not get a chance to live his physical age and die a natural death as an apostate.
As has been stated earlier that God loves human beings extremely and does not want his slaves go to hell due to kufr and shirk. Therefore, he is never disappointed with man and expects that one day good sense will prevail over him and he will come into the fold of Islam.
“How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their belief and after they bore witness that the Messenger (Muhammad) is true and after clear proofs had come unto them? And Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers).They are those whose recompense is that on them (rests) the Curse of Allah, of the angels, and of all mankind. They will abide therein (Hell). Neither will their torment be lightened, nor will it be delayed or postponed (for a while). Except for those who repent after that and do righteous deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Verily, those who disbelieved after their Belief and then went on increasing in their disbelief (i.e. disbelief in the Qur'an and in Prophet Muhammad ) - never will their repentance be accepted [because they repent only by their tongues and not from their hearts]. And they are those who are astray. Verily, those who disbelieved, and died while they were disbelievers, the (whole) earth full of gold will not be accepted from anyone of them even if they offered it as a ransom. For them is a painful torment and they will have no helpers. “(Al Imran: 86-91)
According to the verses quoted above, God has given man a chance to repent. God may forgive those who repent and do good deeds afterwards. However, the repentance of only those who are on their death bed and are not sure of living anymore is not accepted. But this applies to all the sinners and not to the apostates alone. The Quran says that if one shows repentance at the time of death and wills all his gold equal to the weight of the earth to be given away in the name of God, his repentance will not accepted. For such people, there is severe torment and there is no one to help.
Therefore, the Quran advises man to forgive such persons and overlook their actions as no one except God knows when he causes change of heart in someone (the apostate) and guides him towards Islam.
“So because of their breach of their covenant, we cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard. They change the words from their (right) places and have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. And you will not cease to discover deceit in them, except a few of them. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (good-doers)“ (Al Maidah: 13)
Then the question arises why there is no physical punishment for the apostate ( a non-Muslim) in the world while the Quran prescribes death for the sins and social crimes of Muslims. The answer is that all the human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims are equal in the eyes of God in terms of rights. God is very strict in terms of huqooqul ibad (rights of human beings). He does not tolerate violating the rights of human beings or inflicting loss to the life, dignity and property of other human beings by anyone. In other words, God deals heavily with social crimes as they create anarchy and lawlessness on earth. Theft, adultery, murder, violence, rioting and other social crimes cause disturbance in the society and bring social, moral and economic disorder on earth. But matter of faith involves the God himself. The apostate is a sinner against God and not against the society as long as he does not commit other social crimes. That is why God promises to deal with an apostate in the hereafter because apostasy is a grave sin against God and a befitting punishment can only be given in the hereafter by putting him in the fires of hell. And so before subjecting him to the severest torments in the hell, God wants to give him ample time in the world to either reform himself or to prepare him for the eternal torments in the hereafter. In that case the apostate would not have any arguments left to defend himself.