The Quran’s ultimate command for dealing with the apostates of Islam is to kill them. And Allah arrived at His final decision of killing the apostates in a step-by-step process as situation permitted with Muhammad’s rising power…
In Sharia Law, one who openly leaves Islam is given three days to repent and re-embrace Islam. If he/she doesn’t, he/she must be killed.
The fact that punishment for decisively leaving Islam is death by beheading has been a settled and traditionally practised matter from the beginning of Islam to the present time. But in the face of Western influence and criticisms, some apologists of Islam in the 19th century started raising doubts about the "death punishment" for apostasy in Islam. About this, Abul Ala Maududi, the greatest and most influential 20th-century Islamic scholar, says:
To everyone acquainted with Islamic law it is no secret that according to Islam the punishment for a Muslim who turns to kufr (infidelity, blasphemy) is execution. Doubt about this matter first arose among Muslims during the final portion of the nineteenth century as a result of speculation. Otherwise, for the full twelve centuries prior to that time the total Muslim community remained unanimous about it. The whole of our religious literature clearly testifies that ambiguity about the matter of the apostate's execution never existed among Muslims. The expositions of the Prophet, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Khulafa'-i Rashidun), the great Companions (Sahaba) of the Prophet, their Followers (Tabi'un), the leaders among the mujtahids and, following them, the doctors of the shari'ah of every century are available on record. All these collectively will assure you that from the time of the Prophet to the present day one injunction only has been continuously and uninterruptedly operative, and that no room whatever remains to suggest that perhaps the punishment of the apostate is not execution.[i]
Maududi wanted to kill the doubts about Islam’s command of “death punishment” for Muslim apostates for once and for all, but didn’t succeed. In the face of mountainous odds, Islamic apologists – who are permitted by Islam to lie and deceive, i.e. to exercise Taqiyya, for the good of Islam – would not let the matter settle. A few of today’s small-time Islamic apologists – opposing the 1400-year-old Islamic tradition, all schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and opinions of the stalwart scholars of Islam in all of its history – have taken up the Islamic dispensation of lying and deceiving to deny the undeniable: Punishment for apostasy in Islam is death!
In today's age of globalization, more and more Muslims around the world face the gallows for leaving Islam. Among them is the well-publicized case of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an ex-Muslim and convert to Christianity, who has been given death penalty for leaving Islam. Such incidents attract condemnations, particularly from the West, which brings bad name to Islam. When the infidel world is overwhelmingly powerful as compared to the Islamic world, the survival and spread of Islam, particularly in the West and other kuffar-dominated countries, depends on its being portrayed as a peaceful and civilized religion. And the apologists of Islam, armed with the Islamic sanction of Taqiyya, perform this job very well – at least they try to – by engaging in all kinds of lies and deception in an effort to prove that Islam does not sanction death for apostasy.
I will refer to two Islamic scholars’ recent attempts to deny that Islam commands death for apostasy. One such Taqiyya tactician is Mozambique-born Imam Mahomed Yiossuf Mohamed Adamgy, who lives in Lisbon, Portugal. The other is Bangladesh-born Islamic scholar and Sharia expert Hasan Mahmud, who lives in Canada.
Imam Mahomed Yiossuf Mohamed Adamgy: Learning of the death penalty given to Iranian ex-Muslim and pastor Yousof Nadarkhani (33), Evangelical Christians from Portuguese-speaking Brazil (where people have little idea about Islam) sent queries about whether Islam truly ordains death penalty for leaving Islam. Imam Adamgy wrote an article in response in Portuguese. A reader of islam-watch.org from Portugal translated a section of his article into English and forward to us. Imam Mohamed Adamgy writes:
"There is no compulsion in religion…the fact that a person leaves the Islamic faith, exchanging it for another represents a serious sin. However, this does not violate, in any way, the Islamic Law. The Quran repeatedly condemns those who trade the Islamic faith by another, warning them of the severe punishment that awaits them on the Day of Judgment. However the Quran never determined a worldly punishment for apostates. Consequently, if a Muslim wishes to change his faith he can do it. Belief, by definition, emanates from the heart of the person. Islam leaves no room for doubt as to say that faith is a matter of choice and personal conviction; consequently, no compelling power can be used to force a person to adopt a particular faith or prevent he/she from changing of creed."
He then quotes several verses from the Quran, namely 2:256, 10:99-100, 39:41 and 88:21-22, to show that Islam allows complete religious freedom and choice. He also charges that the propaganda that Islam ordains death penalty for apostates is a lie, born out of Islamophobia of the Westerners.
Hasan Mahmud: On 6 March 2012, scholar Hasan Mahmud, on the sideline of a friendly meet-up, engaged an unprepared Ibn Warraq, the ex-Muslim author of "Why I Am Not A Muslim”, into a debate on whether Islam accords death penalty to the apostates of Islam. Ibn Warraq, defending the motion, clearly lost to Hasan Mahmud’s denial that Islam approves death punishment for leaving Islam (See the video).
In the debate, discussing a few relevant verses of his choice, scholar Hasan Mahmud claimed: "The Quran address the issue of apostasy, but nowhere it says, ‘kill the apostates’ …not the Quran.”
In this article, I will outline in detail what the Quranic verses command about dealing with the apostates of Islam, taking the contexts and circumstances of their revelation into consideration. I will also address the lies and deceptions these Islamic scholars use in their denial of Islam's sanction of earthly punishment to Muslim apostates.
The Quran on the Punishment for Apostasy from Islam
It is a well-known fact that when Prophet Muhammad was weak in the early part of his prophetic mission in Mecca (610-622), he could not resort to violence to spread Islam, neither did Allah reveal verses sanctioning Muslims’ engagement in violence during that period. But after he moved to Medina, where he found a secure refuge and soon grew strong in the power of arms, Allah started showing verses of Jihad to take up arms, and Muhammad, accordingly, took to violence to deal with his critics and to impose Islam on unwilling tribes and communities of Arabia. Exactly the same modus operandi applies to the matter of apostasy from Islam. There are a number of verses in the Quran revealed at different time-points that deal with apostasy. Those verses revealed when Muhammad was weak only curse the apostates and warn them of punishment in the afterlife, but verses revealed after the Muslim community in Medina became powerful, namely after the battle of Badr, sanction harsh earthly punishments for apostates.
Apostasy in Mecca
The earliest case of apostasy from Islam arose about five years after the start of Muhammad’s prophetic mission (i.e. ca. 615 CE), when Muhammad, failing to attract the Meccan polytheists to Islam in substantial number, started insulting their religion, tradition and ancestors. This aroused opposition to Muhammad's preaching of Islam in Mecca, and family members of the converted Muslims started convincing and pressuring them to return to the faith of their forefathers. The Meccans were able to seduce a few of Muhammad's disciples back to Paganism, which – according to greatest Islamic historian al-Tabari – was ‘a trial which shook the people of Islam…’ Fearing ‘that they will be seduced from their religion,’ Muhammad ‘commanded them to emigrate to Abyssinia,’ says al-Tabari (VI:45). Under this situation, Allah revealed the first verses, namely verses 16:106-10, referring to apostasy from Islam:
Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief, except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith - but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.
This because they love the life of this world better than the Hereafter: and Allah will not guide those who reject Faith.
Those are they whose hearts, ears, and eyes Allah has sealed up, and they take no heed. Without doubt, in the Hereafter they will perish.
But verily thy Lord, - to those who leave their homes after trials and persecutions, - and who thereafter strive and fight for the faith and patiently persevere,- Thy Lord, after all this is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
The last verse clearly refers to the first Muslim hijrat (emigration) to Abyssinia in 615, and Maududi also gives the same timeline of the revelation of these verses. Obviously, Muhammad was very weak at this time, and could not incite violence against those apostates, who were seduced away from Islam by their family members in Mecca. So, the verses only warn about the horrible hellfire punishment in the afterlife to discourage his disciples from falling away from Islam.
Apostasy in Medina
Next, after his emigration to Medina in 622, Muhammad faced the possibility of losing his disciples on a few occasions, and Allah revealed verses for dealing with each case as situation permitted.
1) Verses 47:25-26: Muhammad's adoption of Jihad violence and unwilling disciples as apostates
After arriving in Medina, Muhammad tried to instigate his followers to engage in violent Jihad against the Pagans of Mecca, which, says the Quran, will help lessen their hardships and open to them the gates of paradise (Quran 47:4-6):
47:4: Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.
47:5: Soon will He guide them and improve their condition,
47:6: And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.
It appears that before these Jihad verses were revealed, Muhammad was already pushing his disciples to take the path of violence to lessen their hardships, to which some of his peace-loving followers were opposed. They had refused to engage in violence pointing to absence of Allah's command. As a result, the above verses, sanctioning violent Jihad, readily came down. But even after these Jihad verses came down, some of his disciples – afraid that violence may cost their life – were unwilling to participate in Muhammad's project of Jihad violence. Referring to this, Allah revealed verse 47:20:
Those who believe say, "Why is not a sura sent down (for us)?" But when a sura of basic or categorical meaning is revealed, and fighting is mentioned therein, thou wilt see those in whose hearts is a disease looking at thee with a look of one in swoon at the approach of death.
And targeting those few disciples, who wanted to follow the Quran only partially excluding the violent part, Allah revealed verses 47:25-27:
47:25: “Those who turn back as apostates after Guidance was clearly shown to them,- the Evil One has instigated them and busied them up with false hopes.”
47:26: “This, because they said to those who hate what Allah has revealed, "We will obey you in part of (this) matter"; but Allah knows their (inner) secrets.”
47:27: “But how (will it be) when the angels take their souls at death, and smite their faces and their backs?”
Those of Muhammad's disciples, who had said, "We will obey you in part of (this) matter", have been called apostates in these verses for not wanting to follow Allah's commands completely. Allah says, they were guided by the Evil One (i.e. Satan), and angels will punish them by smiting their faces and backs.
Only a few months after Muhammad's emigration to Medina, Muhammad was not yet that powerful at this time, and could not incite direct violence against those half-believers of Islam, many of whom where native Medina residents (ansars), which would have been counter productive. They were, anyway, part of his community, but only opposed to engaging in violence as Muhammad had wanted. So, in order to coax them into engaging in Muhammad's desired Jihadi violence, warning them of the horrible punishment of hellfire in afterlife was the best policy at this time. And that's Allah reflected in these verses.
2) Verse 2:217: Nakhla Raid in holy month and possibility of apostasy
Another mention of apostasy comes in verses 2:217:
….And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.
This verse was revealed after the raid of Nakhla in the holy month of Rajab, in which eight disciples of Muhammad plundered a Meccan caravan that resulted in death of an attendant of the caravan. Violence and bloodshed in the holy months were prohibited and observed in Arabia. So, the Nakhla bloodshed in the holy month aroused strong criticism of Muslims in Medina, putting Muhammad in a very difficult situation. He initially tried to distance himself from it, putting the blame on the disciples, who perpetrated it. This left those disciples, headed by Abdullah ibn Jahsh, hearted-broken and dejected. Ibn Ishaq writes, "When the apostle said that, the men were in despair and thought that they were doomed. Their Muslim brethren reproached them for what they had done.” (Ibn Ishaq, p. 287-88)
But his community in great hardship, Muhammad needed the booty, and also needed his disciples to take part in future Jihad raids (ghazwa). And Muhammad realized that putting the blame on Abdullah and company would discourage his followers from taking part in future Jihad raids. So, he justified the condemned holy-month violence by revealing verse 2:217, which says:
They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter…
After revealing this verse, Muhammad accepted the booty and distributed among his disciples: "And when the Quran came down about that and God relieved the Muslims of their anxiety in the matter, the apostle took the caravan and the prisoners… God divided the booty when He made it permissible and gave four-fifths to whom God had allowed to take it and one-fifth to God and His apostle.” Muhammad also gave Abdullah the honorific of Amir al Muminin (Commander of the believers).
Nonetheless, this condemned holy-month violence raised the possibility that some of his disciples, especially from amongst those of Medina (ansars), who even reproached the 8 raiders, could have left his religion. So, warning them, the verse concluded: "…And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.”
Power of Muhammad was still not firmly established in Medina, at least not yet tested. Muhammad's opponent Abdullah ibn Obayi, Islam's hypocrite par excellence, was still powerful. Under this situation, inciting direct violence particularly against his Medinan disciples could result in civil war and turn suicidal for Muhammad's mission. So, giving warning of Allah's horrible punishment in the afterlife was still the best policy to discourage anyone from leaving his camp. And like a master tactician, that's what Allah did.
3) Verses 5:54-56: Jewish criticism and exposure of Muhammad’s creed and the possibility of apostasy
Another mention of apostasy in the Quran comes in verses 5:54-56:
O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things.
Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- those who establish regular prayers and regular charity, and they bow down humbly (in worship).
As to those who turn (for friendship) to Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- it is the fellowship of Allah that must certainly triumph.
Maududi suggests that Surah 5 was revealed after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah in 628, but at least three lines of evidence suggest that it was revealed even before the revelation of above-discussed verse 2:217 in December 623:
a) Introduction of Jewish rituals into Islam: It is well known that after Muhammad's emigration to Medina brought him in close proximity to Jewish community for the first time, he adopted a number of Jewish rituals and precepts, such as ablution before prayers, circumcision, and prohibition of eating swine meat (pork) etc. And verse 5:3 introduces prohibition of eating swine meat, while verse 5:6 introduces ablution before prayers into Islam. These Muslims started practicing soon after arriving in Medina, not 6 years later in 628.
b) Muhammad’s attempt to draw Jews to Islam: After arriving in Medina, Prophet Muhammad tried to draw the Jews and Christians (and other monotheists, e.g. Magians and Sabaeans) to his creed on the ground that he was only preaching the perfect version of the Abrahamic monotheistic creed, from which the Jews and Christians had deviated. So, in this Surah, verses 5:13 talk about how the Jews have forgotten the context and a good part of their Scripture, while verse 5:14 talk about how the Christians have forgotten or neglected a part of their Scripture. And on these grounds, Allah call the Jews, Christians and other monotheists to Islam in verse 5:69: "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
This call to the Jews to embrace Islam could only occur before he finally decided not to invite them to Islam anymore in verse 2:120: "Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: "The Guidance of Allah,-that is the (only) Guidance." Wert thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither Protector nor helper against Allah.”
And the revelation of verse 2:120 predated the revelation of verse 2:217 in Dec 623 after the Nakhla raid. Therefore, Surah 5 was certainly revealed even before the Nakhla raid. Moreover, Allah would not be stupid to invite the Jews to Islam after Muhammad had already exterminated or exiled all Jews of Medina and those of Banu Mustaliq by 627.
c) Jewish criticism and mockery of Muhammad’s creed: The Meccan Pagans didn't have any idea of the concept of Abrahamic Monotheism, and failed to criticize Muhammad's theological doctrines. But the Jews, especially their learned rabbis – certainly more knowledgeable than Muhammad about Abrahamic creeds and doctrines – were able to criticize and expose many inaccuracies that Muhammad had uttered about the Jewish and Christian faiths in his divine verses. They even mocked his creed. Muhammad had no answers to those criticisms and mockery. In this Surah, verse 5:57-58 makes mention of the Jewish criticism and mockery of Allah revelations, and advises his disciples to stay away from them: "O ye who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport,- whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but fear ye Allah, if ye have faith (indeed). When ye proclaim your call to prayer they take it (but) as mockery and sport; that is because they are a people without understanding.”
And Muhammad was duly worried that the incisive criticism of his creeds by the Jews, which exposed many flaws in his verses and portrayed him as a fake prophet, might convince some of his disciples to turn away from Islam. So, verses 5:54-56 were revealed warning his followers of the hellfire punishment in the afterlife to dissuade them from leaving Islam. The fact that these verses were revealed as a warning against the possible apostasy instigated by the Jewish criticism of his creed is confirmed by the fact that the very next verses (5:57-58) talk about the Jewish mockery of Muhammad's creeds and warn his disciples against associating with them.
At this very early stage in Medina, Muhammad was in no position to incite violence toward his followers, many of them native residents of Medina, should they leave Islam. Warning them was all he could do, and that's what Allah obligingly did in verses 5:54-56.
4) Verse 3:85-91: A Medinan Apostate's repentance and re-embracing of Islam
During Muhammad's time, there were very few cases of apostasy – four according to scholar Hasan Mahmud, but probably a few more. Verses 3:86-91 in Surah Aal-Imran deal with such a case of Medinan apostate:
How shall Allah Guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the Messenger was true and that Clear Signs had come unto them? but Allah guides not a people unjust.
Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of Allah, of His angels, and of all mankind;-
In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be (their lot);-
Except for those that repent (Even) after that, and make amends; for verily Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.
As to those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- never would be accepted from any such as much gold as the earth contains, though they should offer it for ransom. For such is (in store) a penalty grievous, and they will find no helpers.
Maududi interprets that these verses talk about the Jewish scholars, who understood that Muhammad’s message was true, but refused to say so and embrace it. But it most likely deals with a Medinan Muslim convert, who had reverted to polytheism before repenting and re-embracing Islam. Ibn Kathir relates the story as below:
Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn Abbas said, "A man from the Ansar embraced Islam, but later reverted and joined the polytheists. He later on became sorry and sent his people to, 'Ask the Messenger of Allah for me, if I can repent.’ Then,
كَيْفَ يَهْدِى اللَّهُ قَوْمًا كَفَرُواْ بَعْدَ إِيمَـنِهِمْ﴾ (How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their belief)… was revealed and his people sent word to him and he re-embraced Islam.''
These verses also threaten only afterlife punishment to this apostate, no punishment in this world. Timing of the revelation of this verse as well as specificity of the case must be considered to understand why Allah showed leniency toward that apostate. According to Maududi, these verses were revealed immediately after Battle of Badr (March 624), i.e. less than two years after Muhammad's emigration to Medina in June 622. It was still very early time for Muhammad, who was in effect a refugee in Medina, to incite violence against his Medinan converts (ansars), who were Muhammad's main base of support and power there. Moreover, the verses were directed at the specific case of this apostate's proposal to repent and re-embrace Islam. So, the question of commanding to kill him doesn't arise, as repentance within three days and re-embracing Islam is allowed in standard Islamic law. So, it's understandable why these verses shows leniency toward that apostate.
5) Verses 4:88-89, the decisive verse for dealing with the apostates of Islam
Verses 4:88-89 are the decisive verses in the Quran to deal with apostates. It commands killing of apostates, if they do not re-embrace Islam. But none of the deceptive apologist scholars of Islam – namely Hasan Mahmud and Mohamed Adamgy as well as others – who want to portray that Islam doesn't punish apostates, would ever mention these verses in their discussion of apostasy. Here are the verses (Maududi's translation):
4:88: How is it with you that there are two opinions among you concerning the hypocrites,whereas Allah has turned them back (to their former state) because of the evils they have earned? Do you desire to show guidance to him whom Allah has let go astray? You cannot find a path for him whom Allah has turned away from the right path.
4:89: They really wish that you should also become disbelievers, as they themselves are so that both may become alike. So you should not take friends from among them unless they migrate in the way of Allah; and if they do not migrate, then seize them wherever you find them and slay them and do not take any of them as friends and helpers.
The meaning of these verses are crystal clear on their own. Verse 4:88 says that Allah has turned some Muslims away from Islam, and because of this action of Allah, those ex-Muslims now "wish" that other Muslims also be like them. Allah, after turning them away from Islam, now commands them to come back to Islam. If they don't, Muslims are commanded to seize and kill them in verse 4:89 in saying "So you should not take friends from among them unless they migrate in the way of Allah; and if they do not migrate, then seize them wherever you find them and slay them."
According to Maududi, in this Surah, verses 1-28 deal with issue of the Battle of Ohud (March 625), verse 47 gives final warning to Banu Nadir before attacking and exiling them in August 625, and verse 43 introduces tayammum or ablutions with dust in absence of water during the attack on Banu Mustaliq in 627. Muhammad's military power was tested and firmly established in Medina, especially after he succeeded in exiling the Jewish tribe of Banu Qainuqa in mid-624 CE. So, at the time of the revelation of this verse, when Muhammad was attacking and exiling or mass-slaughtering one Jewish tribes after another from Medina and beyond, he could deal with individual apostates as he wished. And, we see him to command death for apostates in verse 4:89.
6) Verses 9:11-14: Commanding killing of apostates
Another set of verses, revealed later than 4:89, that relate to apostasy are:
9:11: But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.
9.12: And if they break their oaths after their agreement and (openly) revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief – surely their oaths are nothing – so that they may desist.
9.13: What! will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you first; do you fear them? But Allah is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers.
9.14: Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the hearts of a believing people.
These verses were revealed at the height of Muhammad's power during the hajj pilgrimage in 631 CE, a year before Muhammad died. They were directed at the Pagans of Mecca. The preceding verse of sword, 9:5, gave Meccan Pagans the option of embracing Islam or death. And these verses (9:11-14) are saying: If under the threat of death as per verse 9:5, they embrace Islam and keeps Islamic rituals and obligations, they should be embraced as their Muslim brothers. But should they, after embracing Islam, turn renegades and start criticizing Islam, their leaders, who incite such apostasy, should be punished by the hands of Muslims. Maududi has this to say about these verses:[ii]
A. The Proof from the Qur'an for the Commandment to Execute the Apostate
Here I wish briefly to offer proof that will quiet the doubt in the hearts of those who, for lack of sources of information, may think that perhaps the punishment of death did not exist in Islam but was added at a later time by the "mawlawis" (religious leaders) on their own.
God Most High declares in the Qur'an:
But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail our revelations for a people who have knowledge. And if they break their pledges after their treaty (hath been made with you) and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief – Lo! they have no binding oaths in order that they may desist. (9:11,12)
The following is the occasion for the revelation of this verse: During the pilgrimage (hajj) in A.H. 9, God Most High ordered a proclamation of an immunity. By virtue of this proclamation all those who, up to that time, were fighting against God and His Apostle and were attempting to obstruct the way of God's religion through all kinds of excesses and false covenants, were granted from that time a maximum respite of four months. During this period, they were to ponder their own situation. If they wanted to accept Islam, they could accept it and they would be forgiven. If they wanted to leave the country, they could leave. Within this fixed period nothing would hinder them from leaving. Thereafter those remaining, who would neither accept Islam nor leave the country, would be dealt with by the sword. In this connection, it was said: "If they repent and uphold the practice of prayer and almsgiving, then they are your brothers in religion. If after this, however, they break their covenant, then war should be waged against the leaders of kufr (infidelity). Here "covenant breaking" in no way can be construed to mean "breaking of political covenants". Rather, the context clearly determines its meaning to be "confessing Islam and then renouncing it". Thereafter the meaning of "fight the heads of disbelief" (9:11,12) can only mean that war should be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy.
So, verses 9:11-12 and 4:89 – the last verses revealed in the Quran concerning apostasy – clearly call for killing the apostates of Islam.
Ignorance or Deception? Muslim scholars’ use of wrong verses to discuss apostasy in Islam!
Another notable tack the apologists of Islam apply in the discussion of apostasy – either out of deliberate deception or utter ignorance – is their use of wrong verses to show Islam's treatment of apostates in a softer or humane light. Such verses can be categorized into two types: a) verses totally unrelated to apostasy; b) verses that concern the hypocrites, not apostates.
a) Unrelated verses in the discussion of apostasy
Let us take a look at a few such verses cited by Mohamed Adamgy (2:256, 10:99-100, 39:41 and 88:21-22):
- Quran 10:99-100: "If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! No soul can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.”
- Quran 39:41: "Surely We have revealed to you the Book with the truth for the sake of men; so whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul and whoever errs, he errs only to its detriment; and you are not a custodian over them.”
- Quran 88:21-22: "Therefore do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish. Thou art not one to manage (men's) affairs.”
- Quran 2:256: "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.”
Amongst these verses, the first three sets have absolutely nothing to do with the issue of apostasy from Islam. Only the last verse, 2:256, the most quoted Quranic verse by Islamist apologists, deserve some attention, although it doesn't relate to apostasy, i.e. a Muslim's deserting Islam. Deceptive apologists quote only the first part of this verse: "Let there be no compulsion in religion”. But the whole verse gives a rather different or confusing impression. Without taking the context of its revelation, it is difficult to grasp its true meaning. Ibn Kathir relates the circumstances under which this verse was revealed as follows:
It was reported that the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this Ayah, although its indication is general in meaning. Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said that before Islam, "When (an Ansar) woman would not bear children who would live, she would vow that if she gives birth to a child who remains alive, she would raise him as a Jew. When Banu An-Nadir (the Jewish tribe) were evacuated from Al-Madinah, some of the children of the Ansar were being raised among them, and the Ansar said, ‘We will not abandon our children’. Allah revealed,
﴿لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِى الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ﴾
(There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path.)''
Abu Dawud and An-Nasa'i also recorded this Hadith. As for the Hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded, in which Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said to a man,
قَالَ: إِنِّي أَجِدُنِي كَارِهًا قَالَ:
«وَإِنْ كُنْتَ كَارِهًا»
("Embrace Islam.'' The man said, "I dislike it.'' The Prophet said, "Even if you dislike it.'')
So, this verse was revealed on the occasion of Muhammad's exiling the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir in 625 CE. And it dealt with what to do with the children of the ansars (Medinan Muslim converts), who were being raised by those Jews and were about to be taken far away to be raised as Jews. And when the ansar parents didn't want their children to be taken away for raising them as Jews, Muhammad revealed this verse clearly mandating that Jewish religion must not be forced upon those Muslim children. So, this verse has nothing to do with the issue of a Muslim's leaving Islam. It exclusively addresses the issue of imposing another religion upon Muslims.
b) Use of verses concerning the hypocrites in the discussion apostasy from Islam
Another set of wrong verses Islamist apologists use in the discussion of apostasy from Islam actually deal with the hypocrites, not apostates. Hypocrites were those Muslims, whose leader was Abdullah ibn Obayi, who embraced Islam outwardly, but were not sincere and steadfast in engaging in every command of Allah and Muhammad. In front of Muhammad, they claimed allegiance to Islam; but on Muhammad's back, they used to mock and ridicule him. And, they often abstained from joining Muhammad's violent Jihad expeditions.
First, I will discuss two verses in Surah 9, namely 9:66 and 9:74, which Muslim scholars frequently use in the discussion of apostasy, although they actually deal with the hypocrites. Let me quote verse 9:66 with preceding and following verses:
9.64: The Hypocrites are afraid lest a Sura should be sent down about them, showing them what is (really passing) in their hearts. Say: "Mock ye! But verily Allah will bring to light all that ye fear (should be revealed).
9.65: If thou dost question them, they declare (with emphasis): "We were only talking idly and in play." Say: "Was it at Allah, and His Signs, and His Messenger, that ye were mocking?"
9.66: 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.
9.67: The Hypocrites, men and women, (have an understanding) with each other: They enjoin evil, and forbid what is just, and are close with their hands. They have forgotten Allah; so He hath forgotten them. Verily the Hypocrites are rebellious and perverse.
Reading verse 9:66 along with the earlier and previous verses obviates the fact that it talks about the hypocrites, not apostates.
Similarly verses 9:74 also refer to the hypocrites, not apostates of Islam, which becomes clear if read it along with the preceding verse:
9.73: O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed.
9.74: They swear by Allah that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them.
These verses were revealed at about the time of Muhammad's Jihad expedition to Tabuk in 630 at the height of his power. At that time, he could deal with any issues freely as he wished. But these verses do not talk about apostates of Islam, but about the hypocrite Muslims, and those Muslims, who didn't join the Tabuk expedition on various excuses. Until this time, Muhammad had to bear with the hypocrite Muslims of Medina, because a couple of difficulties prevented him from dealing with them as he wished.
First: Those hypocrite Muslims never openly said that they left Islam. Instead, they openly maintained that they were Muslim. And Muhammad had prohibited shedding the blood of Muslims, which carried mandatory death penalty, unless it happened by accident.
Second: Abdullah ibn Obayi, the leader of the hypocrites, was not only powerful, but also highly respected by both the Pagans and Jews of Medina and beyond. So, dealing harshly with Obayi was difficult, especially when Muhammad, in effect, was a refugee in Medina. Taking harsh measure against Obayi could have been even suicidal for Muhammad, as it could set off a "civil war" in Medina – where Obayi and his followers would have joined hands with the Jews, whom Obayi tried to defend every time Muhammad attacked them. And that's why verse 9:66 says: "If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you” – meaning that although Muhammad was unable to punish the powerful ones, such as Obayi, among the hypocrites, but he would certainly punish others, the weak ones, among them. Now that Muhammad had become the most powerful king in Arabia, he decided to punish at least some of the hypocrites, and Allah revealed a verse accordingly. Maududi's comment on these verses, quoted below, obviates the same reality:
This Command enunciated the change of policy towards the hypocrites. Up to this time, leniency was being shown to them for two reasons. First, the Muslims had not as yet become so powerful as to take the risk of an internal conflict in addition to the one with the external enemies. The other reason was to give enough respite to those people who were involved in doubts and suspicions so that they could get sufficient time for attaining to faith and belief. But now the time had come for a change of policy. The whole of Arabia had been subdued and a bitter conflict with the external enemies was about to start; therefore, it was required that these internal enemies should be crushed down so that they should not be able to conspire with the external enemies to stir up any internal danger to the Muslims.
So, verses 9:66 and 9:74 do not deal with apostasy from Islam per se, although reading them in isolation gives such an impression. They were directed at the hypocrites, aka the non-steadfast and doubtful Muslims. And even if these referred to apostates, they certainly talk about punishing ("crushing down" in Maududi's words) the weak ones among them in this world.
Verse 4:137 – A wrong verse scholar Hasan Mahmud used as his "trump card"
Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief, - Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way. (4:137)
In the debate with Ibn Warraq, scholar Hasan Mahmud used verse 4:137 like a "trump card" to prove that Islam does not approve any earthly punishment for apostasy whatsoever. Referring to this verse, he said:
"When someone accepts Islam and leaves Islam… then again embraces Islam and again leaves Islam, and increases his disbelief, his everything will be doomed and he will be punished [in afterlife], this and that… So the Quran gave an apostate to come to Islam… (but) Sharia law of killing apostates does not give this right to the apostate... When a Muslim leaves Islam, again embraces Islam, again leaves Islam… this is a cycle, which the Quran allows to an apostate. Where this verse will stand, if we kill the apostates? Does a dead body come back to Islam?"
First, scholar Mahmud seems to be unaware of the fact that Sharia law gives an apostate three days to repent and come back to Islam. Then only, they will be killed.
Second, from the reading of verse 4:137, it in no way seems to deal with the classic issue of someone's leaving Islam decisively. The next verse, which Mr. Mahmud deliberately left out of mention, clarifies what it actually deals with:
Q 4:138: "To the Hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them (but) a grievous penalty.”
So, this verse exclusively deals with characteristics of the hypocrites; it doesn't talk about apostates at all. To interpret this verse, Ibn Kathir even gave the title "Characteristics of the Hypocrites and Their Destination”, as I quote him below:
Characteristics of the Hypocrites and Their Destination
Allah states that whoever embraces the faith, reverts from it, embraces it again, reverts from it and remains on disbelief and increases in it until death, then he will never have a chance to gain accepted repentance after death. Nor will Allah forgive him, or deliver him from his plight to the path of correct guidance. This is why Allah said,
﴿لَّمْ يَكُنْ اللَّهُ لِيَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ وَلاَ لِيَهْدِيَهُمْ سَبِيلاً﴾
(Allah will not forgive them, nor guide them on the (right) way). Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that his father said that Ahmad bin Abdah related that Hafs bin Jami said that Samak said that Ikrimah reported that Ibn Abbas commented;
﴿ثُمَّ ازْدَادُواْ كُفْراً﴾
(and go on increasing in disbelief), "They remain on disbelief until they die.'' Mujahid said similarly. Allah then said,
﴿بَشِّرِ الْمُنَـفِقِينَ بِأَنَّ لَهُمْ عَذَاباً أَلِيماً ﴾
(Give to the hypocrites the tidings that there is for them a painful torment.) Hence, the hypocrites have this characteristic, for they believe, then disbelieve, and this is why their hearts become sealed.
Apostasy from Islam in the context of the Sword Verse (9:5)
Quran 9.5: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”
This verse clearly says that unless the unbelievers "repent, establish regular prayer and pay regular charity (zakaat)" – that is, they embrace Islam and openly practice it – Muslims must make every effort to seize and kill them. Maududi in his comment related to verse 9:5 (& 9:11-12), quoted above, says: “[unbelievers] were granted from that time a maximum respite of four months. During this period, they were to ponder their own situation. If they wanted to accept Islam, they could accept it and they would be forgiven. If they wanted to leave the country, they could leave. Within this fixed period, nothing would hinder them from leaving. Thereafter those remaining, who would neither accept Islam nor leave the country, would be dealt with by the sword.”
Therefore, the holy Quran commands that if a non-Muslim does not embrace Islam and openly practice it within four months, he/she must be killed. Then, what should happen to a Muslim, who leaves Islam and become a non-Muslim? When the Quran has commanded that non-Muslims, such as the Hindus, should be killed after giving a four-month period to embrace Islam, should it let a non-Muslim, who apostatized from Islam, walk away scot-free?
Commonsense as well as tradition say that if the Quran calls for killing a normal non-Muslim, such as a born Hindu, it should punished a non-Muslim born out of apostasy from Islam with greater severity. For example, the Saudis even hire Hindus from India and Christians from the West to employ in well-paid and respectable jobs in Saudi Arabia. But they kill a Muslim, if he/she leaves Islam, and becomes Hindu, Christian or atheist.
Discussion of the apostasy-related Quranic verses in this article, taking the circumstances of their revelation into consideration, establishes beyond an iota of doubt that Allah, like a master tactician, in a step-by-step process, arrived at His ultimate decision that the punishment for apostates of Islam is death. So, what the Quran says about apostasy from Islam? "Kill the Apostates"!
[Read the next part of this article: What Was Prophet Muhammad's Command about Apostasy? Kill Whoever Leaves Islam! ]
[i] Abul Ala Mawdudi (1994) The Punishment Of The Apostate According To Islamic Law, Trs Syed Silas Husain & Ernest Hahn (Original in Urdu “Murtadd ki Saza Islami Qanun mein”, Islamic Publishers Ltd., Lahore, 1963), p. 12
[ii] Ibid, p. 13
1) Ibn Kathir's Tafseer of the Quran
2) Abu Ala Maududi's Tafseer of the Quran
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