Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 11 April 2006
Converts from Islam - Free to choose?
The case of Abdul Rahman, on trial last month in the Afghan capital Kabul for converting from Islam to Christianity, made the international headlines for some days. Both judge and prosecutor stated that, if found guilty, he would face the death sentence in line with the teachings of shari‘a [Islamic law].
Many Western leaders urged that he should be released and the Afghan authorities duly found a pretext for doing so.
The response of other Muslims was more mixed. Senior clerics in Afghanistan said that if the state failed to execute him they would incite the people to murder him – a people who by and large appear to agree that death is appropriate for those who leave Islam. But a number of Muslims in the West have denied the existence of the classic Islamic teaching on apostasy. For example, London-based Mufti Abdul Barkatullah said that the Shafi’i school of Islamic law eschews the death penalty for apostasy. This assertion is so easily refuted from the Shafi’i texts that one can only think the mufti assumes that no non-Muslim would ever bother to check his words.
The classical Shafi‘i manual of law, "‘Umdat al-Salik" [The Reliance of the Traveller] by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (died 1368) is unambiguous on this point. I quote from an English translation by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, published in the USA in 1997:
"8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatises from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
8.2 In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed."
Anwar Ahmad Qadri, a Pakistani lawyer, published "A Sunni Shafi‘i Law Code"
in Pakistan in 1984. This work is a translation of "Mukhtasar fil Risalah"
by the classical Shafi‘i jurist Abu Shuja al-Isfahani (died 1106), and states, including footnotes:
"Art. 113 Rules for Apostates. It is obligatory to ask the person apostatising from the religion of Islam, or on irtidad, (1) to offer taubah three times; then it is good if he did it, otherwise, he shall be killed (2); then, he will neither be given a bath, nor any funeral prayer, and so also, he will not be buried in the graveyard of Muslims.
¹ May be a male or a female, as he or she refuses to accept Allah, or falsifies any of the Prophets or holds as legal the things held haram by consensus or ijma‘.
² If a free man, the imam will kill him but not by burning; if anyone kills him except the imam, he will be punished by ta‘zir; if the apostate is a slave, the master will kill him."