Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Apostasy in Islam and the Case of Afghan Christian Convert

Much has been written on the issue of apostasy in Islam over the years and centuries since the inception of Islam. Besides numerous commoners, highest clerics, famous legists and great Sufis of Islam have voiced their views in this long legacy of deliberations on this perennial subject. The recent court case of one ex-Muslim Abdul Rahman, who had  converted to Christianity in Afghanistan 15 years ago, for which he is facing death in the court there, have raised a heated debate with huge international media attention, probably for the first time.
Why first time? The reason is very simple. Until now, in the name of internal matters of Islam or Islamic countries, such matters have been taken care of by the Muslim community without letting the outside world meddle in. However, the event of 9/11 and the subsequent pursuance of the Islamic terrorists by the United States and its allies have made it extremely difficult for the Islamic world to keep such acts of inhuman barbarity under the carpet any further. This case in Afghanistan makes it an even thornier issue since the United States and its allies have poured billions of dollars and sacrificed substantially in human casualties in its effort to oust the fanatic Taliban regime and institute democracy and civilized rule. It is inconceivable that the Americans, who have invested so heavily in money and blood to institute good governance there, would agree to such barbaric laws that used to be applied under the Taliban rule.

However, as Abdul Rahman awaits death in the midst of deafening media outcry especially in the West, there are mixed voices coming from the worldwide Muslim community. The Muslims in general and their clerics and imams from the Muslim world have overwhelmingly supported the death of Abdul Rahman for deserting Islam. The truth remains that even if Mr. Rahman is acquitted and let go on the streets of Kabul, the common Muslim mob would capture him and hack him into pieces. The clerics in Afghanistan went on to declare that even if the Government acquits him out of international pressure, they will incite the mob to pull him apart into pieces. The judge presiding over the case also asserted that he would not be intimidated by outside pressure and that he would follow the Afghan law. That means that there waits definitely death for Abdul Rahman for making a choice of his faith on his own. On the other hand, there is another rather faint voice amongst the Muslims that is advocating for the release of Mr. Rahman. Once such voice comes from CAIR (Council for American Islamic Relations), that is asking for the release of Mr. Rahman. CAIR has also been quick to disprove any provision of death in Islam for apostasy. They produced verses from the Koran that allegedly allow Muslims to renounce Islam and adopt another faith. Here are the Koranic verses quoted by CAIR:

1. 'If it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all the people of the earth would have believed! Would you then compel mankind against their will to believe?' (Q10:99)

2. '(O Prophet) proclaim: 'This is the Truth from your Lord. Now let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it.'' (Q18:29)

 3. 'If they turn away from thee (O Muhammad) they should know that We have not sent you to be their keeper. Your only duty is to convey My message.' (Q42:48)

4. 'Let there be no compulsion in religion.' (Q2:256)

It should be noted here that these verses are irrelevant since none of them deals with deserting the faith of Islam in favor of another which is the case with the Afghan convert's renouncing Islam to embrace Christianity. These verses deal with Prophet Muhammad's preaching to the pagans and other infidels of Mecca and point to those who did not show interest in his new religion. It should also be noted the first three verses were revealed in Mecca (first 12 years of his preaching) when the Prophet and his Muslim converts formed a minor force. The last verse, revealed in Medina, suggest that the Jews and Christians of the region were allowed to keep their religions. It should be noted that the Prophet of Islam had, ultimately, exterminated all the non-Muslim clans (Jews and Christians) from Medina, through mass slaughter, enslavement and exile, as he grew in power. This indicates that this last verse might have been devised in the early days after Prophet Muhammad's arrival in Medina as a feeble refugee leader. It should also be reminded that the Prophet had signed a treaty of mutual protection with the Jewish clans after his arrival in Medina and this verse might have been revealed at such a time to reassure the Jewish leaders that the Jews would not be converted into Islam. However, the bottom-line is that none of those verses deals with the cases of renouncing Islam or apostasy.

The verses that deal with the case of apostasy from Islam are listed here:

1. They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper [ Q 4:89]
2. Make ye no excuses: ye have rejected Faith after ye had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin [Q 009.066 ].

There are some other verses in the Koran that also deals with apostasy from Islam and clearly tells us that leaving Islam is a punishable crime. Thus renouncing Islam is definitely not one's personal choice as CAIR and many modern secular education-groomed Muslims would tell us to believe. This punishment ranges from death [Q4:89] to "greatest punishment" [Q 88:21-24] or "painful torments" [Q 9:73-74] on earth, which is to be continued in afterlife. 

Indeed, Prophet Muhammad himself had dealt with those who left Islam in his life-time with death. According to Prophet's biographer ibn Ishaq, two such men were from Mecca who had accepted Islam and joined Muhammad in Medina. They later returned to Mecca and reverted to paganism. After his triumphant arrival in Mecca in 630, the Prophet ordered their execution for renouncing Islam. There is no report that the Prophet had spared anyone who had left Islam in his life-time. Other instances from the hadith (Sahih Bukhari) affirm the punishment with death for rejecting Islam:

Narrated Ikrima:
"Ali burnt some people [hypocrites] 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.' " [ Sahih Bukhari 4.260]
Volume 9, Book 83, Number 17: Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."
Volume 9, Book 89, Number 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

In the light of the Koranic injunctions and traditions and deeds of the Prophet of Islam (Sunnah, hadiths), it becomes evident that apostasy in Islam is a crime and punishment for it is painful torment to death.  In verse 4:89, almighty Allah clearly orders it followers to kill such apostates wherever found. An investigation of the Islamic history of Prophet Muhammad's life and of immediate afterwards tells us that cases of apostasy have invariably been dealt with the death of the apostates.

  Many of pagan tribes around Medina, who had accepted Islam during Prophet Muhammad's time, reverted to their parental faiths after the death of the Prophet in 632 AD. Islamic historians al Baydawi and others have given a list of such tribes. The Prophet's first biographer and the great Islamic scholar ibn Ishak writes, "When the apostle was dead, most of the Muslims thought of withdrawing from Islam..". Obviously, they might have thought that the fear and duress, under which they had submitted to Islam, were gone with the death of the Prophet. The first Caliph, Abu Bakar's immediate task was to wage a bitter and daunting war for the reconversion of dissenters into Islam - what came to be known as the wars of the apostasy (ridda). After sanguinary wars under the leadership of the barbaric Khalid ibn Walid, whom the Prophet had given the title of "The Sword of Islam" - these revolts of the fierce and recalcitrant Bedouin desert tribes were subdued and their peoples brought back to submission to Islam 1.

Indeed, killing, imprisonment and exile of the apostates from the time of Prophet Muhammad to the recent times has remained glorious traditions in Islam. Ibn Warraq gives of list the victims of apostasy during the Islamic rules in his book "Why I am not a Muslims" 2. In India, when Emperor Akbar introduced rights of the Hindus to a limited scale and even tried to introduce a composite religion called Din-e-Ilahi in order to accommodate all faiths, he was labeled an apostate by the Ulema and Islamic scholars, who included famous Sufi Muslims of his time 3. But his hold on the power saved him. When Dara Shukoh, son of emperor Shahjahan, like his great grandfahther Akbar, took a sympathetic view of the Hindus of India, he was called an apostate by larger Muslim community. His bigot brother Awrangzeb with blessings from the Ulema, scholars and Sufis of Islam, launched war against him, defeated and executed him although Dara was the rightful successor.

There are no instances, where an apostate has been allowed to go scot-free during the rule of Islamic domination. Only alternative has been is to repent and revert into the fold of Islam to avoid persecution including death, imprisonment and exile. The erudite judge of the Afghan convert's trial, with his impeccable knowledge of the Islam (Koran & Sunnah), affirmed exactly the same in one of his statement appeared in a BBC report:

"The Prophet Muhammad has said several times that those who convert from Islam should be killed if they refuse to come back," says Ansarullah Mawlafizada, the trial judge."
"Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, kindness and integrity. That is why we have told him if he regrets what he did, then we will forgive him," he told the BBC News website.

Indeed, killing the apostates has remained a tradition in Islam through all the ages. Apostates, who dare declaring their renouncement of Islam or dare displaying their engagement in the activities of the new faith, are being killed in Muslim countries, often by the mobs. One such case is of one Dibaji of Iran, who renounced Islam and became a Christian priest. After his release following serving a jail term, he was soon found in a forest tortured to death.

Yet, there are not many cases of such death despite an overwhelming number of Muslims are leaving Islam. Knowing the definite punishment for apostasy, most of them never disclose their desertion of Islam. They leave Islam silently and majority of them become atheists or freethinkers which does not require engaging in any kind of rituals unlike embracing another religion. Yet, those who have dared disclosing their renouncement of Islam have invariably faced death fatwas from the Islamic clerics, Muslim mobs and Islamic Governments. Salman Rushdie, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Taslima Nasreen are such examples who dared declaring their rejection of Islam as well as criticize it. They are all facing death fatwas but protection by the Western Government has saved their lives. Bangladeshi Taslima Nasreen in 1994 narrowly survived a rampaging Muslim mob that was hunting her down and left the country with assistance of Swedish embassy to save her life. These apostates would not survive a minute from the Muslim mobs if let go in the streets of Muslim countries. It should be noted here that most Muslim countries have signed the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which assures every individuals right to choose his/her religion as per article 18: 

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Yet, Muslim countries have consistently broken this obligation with absolute impunity from the UN and the international community. The event of 9/11 has changed the way outside world should look at the events that occur inside the domain of the Islamic countries. The non-Islamic world is definitely realizing that what happens inside the fold of Islam, notwithstanding its violation of human rights and dignity of the citizens of Muslim countries and community, are also matters of concern to themselves. Because in the globalized world, these things also affect them in the long run. Attacks of 9/11 and numerous other terror attacks in the Western world over the years and decades are some of the example. Recent surge in honor killing of Muslim women in Europe , for abandoning the Islamic faith and life-style has alarmed the West about how a vicious ideology allowed to be nurtured in far-off lands affects the West in the long run. It is in the interest of the West to look into what goes on in the backyards of the Muslim countries and make efforts to put then in line with the UN's declaration of human rights. The West's overwhelming interest in the case of this Afghan apostate's trial points to a positive sign. However, the West must not think that they have obligation to be nosy in matters in countries like Afghanistan only, where they have invested big sum of tax-payers' money. They must look into every member states of the UN, including the so-called modern Islamic states like Malaysia, Algeria, Iran etc, where renouncing Islam is banned.


1. Foundations of Islam, Benjamin Walker, 2002, Rupa Press, New Delhi, p230-31.

2. Why I am not a Muslim, Ibn Warraq, 1995, Prometheus Books, Chapter 10.

3. Caliphs and Sultans, Shashi R Sharma, p201-216

MA Khan is the editor of and the author of  Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery.

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