Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 03 July 2006
Islamic Teaching on the Consequences of Apostasy from Islam
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
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.
The right to religious freedom, including the right of individuals to change their religion, is taken for granted by most people in the West. However, in Islam all schools of law (madhhahib) agree that adult male apostates from Islam should be killed. The majority of Muslim jurists claim that apostasy from Islam is a crime carrying the God-prescribed penalty of death. Therefore, while conversion from other religions to Islam is welcomed and actively encouraged, Muslims who leave Islam for any other religion must be sentenced to death (unless they repent and return to Islam).
According to criminal law in the Islamic legal system (Shari‘ah), the state must impose mandatory punishments (hudud, singular hadd) for certain specific crimes which are claimed to be committed against God and his rights, and apostasy (rida, irtidad) is often included in this list. These crimes make up a separate category in Shari‘ah criminal law as they are the only ones to have divinely mandated obligatory prescribed punishments which cannot be changed in any way by humans. Apostasy is thus viewed as a very severe crime for which God himself has prescribed the death penalty.
The death penalty for converts from Islam has nevertheless generated much debate since references to apostasy in the Qur’an, the primary source of Islamic law, are rather ambiguous. The hadith (the authoritative traditions recording the sayings and deeds of Muhammad) are therefore the main source used to justify the Shari‘ah punishment of death for apostates.
Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, a popular Pakistani writer on Islam and Islamic law, represents one end of the spectrum in his book The Penal Law of Islam when he claims that:
. . . the sayings and doings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the decision and practice of the Caliph Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him), the consensus of the opinion of the Companions of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and all the later Muslim jurists, and even certain verses of the Holy Qur`an all prescribe capital punishment for an apostate.
In this view he is backed by many well known traditional and contemporary scholars, including the popular 20th century Pakistani Muslim scholar Abul A‘la Mawdudi, a founding-figure of Islamism in the Indian sub-continent, whose Quranic commentary is found in millions of Muslim homes.
The other, liberal end of the spectrum is represented by reformist (modernist) Muslim scholars who claim that an apostate cannot be put to death on the mere grounds of his apostasy, but only if he is also a danger to the Islamic state. Traditionalists however counter that every apostateis a danger to the Islamic social order and has committed high treason. Some reformists also add that the apostate must be given forever to repent, meaning he cannot be executed.
In order to present an accurate and detailed picture of how apostasy is perceived and dealt with in Islam, it is important to discuss the references to apostasy in its two main sources: Qur’an and hadith. These are the foundational source texts from which Islamic scholars developed the Shari‘ah code, which is applied to varying degrees in many Islamic countries. Muslims assert that the Qur’an, as a divine revelation, is applicable for all people at all times. The way of Muhammad (Sunna), his sayings and deeds as recorded in the hadith, is the divinely ordained pattern for applying the Qur’an, and it is the model Muslims must emulate when dealing with issues that arise in new circumstances in a world very different from the one into which Islam first arrived. Analysing the issue of apostasy from Islam in its original sources and its further development in the Islamic schools of law will clarify the consequences faced by apostates.
In the Qur’an there is an emphasis on God`s punishment of apostates in the next life. Apostasy is mentioned in 13 verses in different chapters (suras), but there is no clear and unambiguous mention of any punishment in this world – what is clear is that the apostate will suffer severe punishment in the next world. Here are some examples:
Sura 16:106-107, 109
106. Anyone 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
107. This because they love the life of this world better than the
Hereafter: and Allah will not guide those who reject faith.
109. Without doubt, in the hereafter they will perish.
These verses assume that the cause of apostasy is love of this world, rather than conversion to another religion. The next verse refers simply to a rejection of Allah:
Sura 88: 23-4
23. But if any turn away and reject God
24. God will punish him with a mighty Punishment.
Yusuf ‘Ali comments on this verse that:The Prophet of Allah is sent to teach and direct people on the way. He is not sent to force their will, or to punish them, except in so far as he may receive authority to do so. Punishment belongs to Allah alone. And Punishment is certain in the Hereafter, when true values will be restored.
Therefore, according to ‘Ali’s interpretation of this verse, those who reject Islam are only to be punished in the next life.
Sura 3: 86-91
86. How shall God guide those who reject faith after they accepted it and
bore witness that the Apostle was true and that clear signs had come
unto them? But God guides not a people unjust.
87. Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of God, of His
angels and of all mankind.
88. In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened nor respite
be their (lot).
89. Except for those that repent (even) after that and make amends: for
verily God is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.
90. 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.
91. 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.
According to Mawdudi, this passage refers specifically to the context of Jewish scholars in Arabia who refused to believe the message of Muhammad. The point these verses make is that apostates face a terrible eschatological punishment and there is no clear implication that the fate of apostates is other than eternal damnation.
Despite the aforesaid, a majority of Muslim scholars specifically use the following verses as justification for the belief that apostates from Islam should be killed, asserting that these texts refer to apostates in general. These verses are sura 88:24 "God will punish him with a mighty Punishment," and 16:106:
Anyone 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.
A further verse used to justify punishment for apostasy in this life is Sura 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.
Al-Khazan’s commentary of the Qur’an interprets this verse as meaning: "All the deeds of the apostate become null and void in this world and the next. He must be killed. His wife must be separated from him and he has no claims on any inheritance." This commentary quotes from Malik ibn Anas, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others and has been used extensively at the influential Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Other commentaries interpreting the verse as demanding the death of the apostate include those of al-Tha‘alibi and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, although Tabari does not favour such an interpretation. In fact, few mainstream Muslim authorities would agree with Gibb and Kramers` Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, that the Qur’an mentions nothing about a death penalty for apostasy. A Qur’anic passage, which, according to Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, "states clearly how the renegades should be treated" runs as follows (Sura 9: 11-12):
11. But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practise regular charity, - they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand.
12. But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith, - fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.
Mawdudi too regards this passage as meaning that war must be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy, accepting this as definite proof that the Qur’an calls for the death penalty on apostates.
A final key Qur’anic passage in the argument regarding a humanly inflicted death penalty for apostasy is in Sura 4: 88-89 :
88. Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? God hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom God hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom God hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way.
89. They but wish that ye should reject the Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): but take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of God (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.
Zwemer states that all standard commentaries interpret this verse as an instruction to kill apostates. For example, Baidhawi`s commentary says: "Whosoever turns back from his belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard. 
It is important here to consider the traditional understanding of the background to this passage (Q 4:88-89). It is thought to refer to a particular group of alleged Arab converts to Islam who later relapsed into paganism. These individuals, known as the Hypocrites (munafiqun), nearly caused a disaster for the Muslim cause when they deserted at the Battle of Uhud (625 A.D.). The Muslims of Medina were divided as to whether the Hypocrites should be put to the sword or left alone. Eventually a middle course was decided upon as prescribed in these verses. That is, they were treated with caution, but given the opportunity to make good ("flee from what is forbidden") and be re-admitted into the fold of Islam. The instruction to "seize them and slay them wherever ye find them" applied to those who subsequently deserted again. They were considered both enemies and deserters and were to be punished with death, "the penalty of desertion which is enforced by all nations actually at war".
It is, in fact, the commentators who have extended the application of the instruction about seizing and slaying to all apostates. This could be considered as a legitimate part of the processes called ijma‘, qiyas, and ijtihad, that were used to formulate Shari‘ah. Ijma‘ means consensus, qiyas means analogy, and ijtihad means applying reason and effort in interpretation. These processes enabled Muslims to derive all the various rules for an Islamic way of life from the primary sources of Qur’an and hadith.
Note on "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (Q 2:256)
The Qur’anic verse "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (Q 2:256) is often quoted by Muslims when describing their faith to non-Muslims. Many important classical jurists and interpreters saw this verse on no compulsion as having been abrogated by later verses such as the sword verse (Q 9:5),  or Q 9:73 “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites and be firm against them.” This latter is the first possible interpretation offered by Al-Qurtubi in his tafsir of the Qur’an. Abrogation of earlier Qur’anic verses by later ones is an accepted doctrine of Islamic interpretation. Another interpretation offered by Al-Qurtubi is that the verse means that those who submitted through the sword should not be called compelled or forced, even though they were!  Other traditional interpreters strictly limit the application of this verse to specific incidents in the life of Muhammad (asbab al-nuzul) for which it was revealed and which have no further implications for Muslims.
Other interpretations include: 1. That Muslims are free to leave their own religion without expecting any punishment (this is a minority view held by modernists and apologists who claim later verses and hadith cannot be used as a justification for ignoring a fundamental and eternal Qur’anic principle); 2. Non-Muslims are not to be forced to convert to Islam; 3. Muslims are not compelled to perform specific Islamic duties; they are free to neglect, if they so choose, their religious obligations.
While the Qur’an is ambiguous on the penalty for apostasy, and does not appear to have any universally applicable command to kill apostates, this is not true of the hadith and of Qur’anic commentaries. It is also a fact of history that apostates were killed in the time of Muhammad on his orders, and immediately after his death by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, in the Ridda (apostasy) Wars.
The strongest evidence Muslim jurists use to prove that apostasy is a hadd offence punishable by the death penalty is based on a few hadith, the clearest one narrated by Ikrima, from Ibn Abbas.
Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57
Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to `Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn `Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah`s Apostle forbade it, saying, `Do not punish anybody with Allah`s punishment (fire).` I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah`s Apostle, `Whoever changed his [Islamic] religion, then kill him.` "
From this hadith (appearing in variants in several collections) it is clear that the penalty for apostasy ordained by Muhammad is death, though it should not be by burning. It is on this hadith that most jurists base their view that the apostate must be sentenced to death. They point out that the words "kill him" appear as a grammatical imperative in Arabic, implying an order, which must be obeyed. Although Bukhari’s collection of hadith is considered the most authoritative collection, some scholars claim that this specific hadith is a weak tradition (i.e. not reliable). While this is the most direct hadith dealing with apostasy, there are a number of other hadith dealing indirectly with the penalty for apostasy from Islam:
Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 83, Number 17:
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 man who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and the one who reverts (separates himself) from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.
(This hadith also appears with slight variations in Bukhari, 9:17; 12.169; Muslim, 11, 89-90; Abu- Dawud 4; 487; Al-Tirmidhi 993; Mishkat al Masabih, 3466).
Many jurists rely on this hadith in their claim that Muhammad prescribed the death penalty for apostasy. However some claim that those who separate themselves from the community are those who fight against it, not simply change their religion.
Another hadith used to justify capital punishment for apostasy deals with some people from the tribe of ‘Ukal:
Bukhari, 1.234; Narrated Abu-Qilaba,
Anas said, "Some people of ‘Ukal or ‘Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels. The news reached the Prophet early in the morning and he sent (men) in their pursuit and they were captured and brought at noon. He then ordered to cut their hands and feet (and it was done), and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron, they were put in ‘Al-Harra’ and when they asked for water, no water was given to them." Abu-Qilaba said, "Those people committed theft and murder, became infidels after embracing Islam and fought against Allah and His Apostle." (4.261)
This hadith is repeated several times and implies that while the punishment for theft was the cutting off of their limbs, they were then killed for rejecting Islam and becoming infidels, i.e. apostatising. However not all jurists agree with this, some claiming the death penalty was imposed for armed robbery (hiraba).
Reward in paradise for killer of apostate
An important factor encouraging obedience to the command to kill apostates is the special reward in Paradise earned by the killer according to hadith. Sahih Muslim and Bukhari record this as follows:
Bukhari, 4.808: Ali ibn Abu Talib,
I relate the traditions of Allah`s Messenger (peace be upon him) to you for I would rather fall from the sky than attribute something to him falsely. But when I tell you a thing which is between you and me, then no doubt, war is guile.
I heard Allah`s Messenger (peace be upon him) saying, "In the last days of this world there will appear some young foolish people who will use (in their claim) the best speech of all people (i.e. the Qur`an) and they will abandon Islam as an arrow going through the game: Their belief will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have practically no belief), so wherever you meet them, kill them, for he who kills them shall get a reward on the Day of Resurrection."
A similar hadith is found in Sahih Muslim, 2328.
There are reports of Muhammad himself ordering the execution of specific apostates, and not drawing the line at women. For example, one story from the hadith runs:
On the occasion of Battle of Uhud (when Muslims had to retreat) a woman became apostate. On this the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: `Ask her to repent and if she does not repent, kill her.` (Baihaqi).
Another tradition says:
A woman named Umm Ruman committed apostasy. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ordered: She may be presented Islam. Then if she repents, it would be better, otherwise she should be put to death. (Daraquini and Baihaqi).
Opportunity to repent?
There are contradictory traditions concerning whether an apostate should be given a chance to repent. The story of Mu`adh who would not dismount until the apostate had been killed suggests that no opportunity to repent need be given. However, in Abu Dawud`s version of this tradition, it is added that they had tried in vain to convert the apostate back to Islam.
Bukhari, 5.632: Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri,
The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent Abu Musa and Mu`adh to Yemen and said to both of them "Facilitate things for the people (be kind and lenient) and do not make things difficult (for them). Give them good tidings, and do not repulse them; and both of you should obey each other."
Once Mu`adh asked Abu Musa, "How do you recite the Qur`an?" Abu Musa replied, "I recite it while I am standing, sitting or riding my riding animals, at intervals and piecemeal." Mu`adh said, "But I sleep and then get up. I sleep and hope for Allah`s reward for my sleep as I seek His reward for my night prayer."
Then he (i.e. Mu`adh) pitched a tent and they started visiting each other.
Once Mu`adh paid a visit to Abu Musa and saw a chained man. Mu`adh asked, "What is this?" Abu Musa said, "(He was) a Jew who embraced Islam and has now turned apostate." Mu`adh said, "I will surely chop off his neck. And Mu’adh did it in such a way that maximum pain is caused to the chained man. Indeed he did according to the instruction the messenger of Allah had given him.
Abu Dawud, Book 38, 4341
Abu Musa said: the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to me when I was in the Yemen. A man who was Jew embraced Islam and then retreated from Islam. When the Prophet came (peace be upon him), he said: I will not come down from my mount until he is killed. He was then killed. One of them said: He was asked to repent before that.
One of the narrators said his eyes were taken out before he was killed and the Prophet (peace be upon him) liked the way he was killed.
This text is not essentially an anti-Jewish tradition. It has less to do with Jews as Jews than with the issue of apostasy - the Islamic attitude is once a Muslim, always a Muslim - or death.
On the other hand, a tradition recorded by Malik describes the Caliph ‘Umar`s horror at the idea of executing an apostate without giving him a chance to repent:
Malik’s al-Muwatta, 36:16
Did you then not shut him up for three days and give him a round loaf daily and try to induce him to repent? Perhaps he would have repented and returned to obedience to God. O God! I was not there, I did not order it and I do not approve; see, it was thus reported to me.
The next text is of interest because it implies that an apostate is not entitled to a decent burial, but that in death as in life he must be humiliated:
Bukhari, 4.814: Anas ibn Malik,
There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read surat al-Baqarah and Aal-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: "Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him."
Then Allah caused him to die, and the people buried him, but in the morning they saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is the act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and took his body out of it because he had run away from them."
They again dug the grave deeply for him, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is an act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and threw his body outside it, for he had run away from them."
They dug the grave for him as deep as they could, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. So they believed that what had befallen him was not done by human beings and had to leave him thrown till vultures and dogs eat his or her body.
The Islamic legal code, the Shari‘ah, was derived from Qur’an and hadith using the methodology of ijma‘, qiyas and ijtihad. In modern times, under the impact of Western colonial rule, Islamic law was gradually phased out in some Islamic countries, which retained at most only certain aspects of Shari‘ah, usually family law, as a part of their more secular legal systems. This process began as the Ottoman Empire came into closer contact with Europe in the nineteenth century. Over the past few decades however, this secularisation process has been reversed, and the Islamic penal code has been reintroduced in some Islamic countries including Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and parts of Nigeria, as part of a wider process of Islamisation, (while in Saudi Arabia the Shari‘ah is the official Constitution). The official introduction of the Islamic penal code has a deep symbolism for the populace, but implementation varies to a remarkable degree depending on power relations between centre and periphery as well as on varying interpretations of the legal issues.
There are different schools in Islamic law, but their rulings on apostasy are all very similar. They unanimously prescribe death for adult male apostates, while outlining the legal processes involved. Sunni Islam is divided into four schools of law called Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali, named after the four great Imams who founded them. A summary of Sunni laws on apostasy is given in Mohammed Al-Abdari Ibn-Hadj`s famous book Al Madkhal: All schools agree that it is permitted to kill apostates from in front or from behind; that their blood if shed brings no vengeance; that their property belongs to true believers; and finally that their marriage ties become null and void.
1. The Hanafi School
The Hanafi school of law is dominant in Turkey, and the Indian sub-continent. The Hedaya, a famous and authoritative textbook of Hanafi law, categorically states that there are only two options for an apostate: Islam or death:
“There are only two modes of repelling the sin of apostasy, namely, destruction or Islam”.
The Hedaya lays down the following procedure for dealing with apostasy: The Islamic faith may be explained to the apostate, in the hope that this can persuade and reassure him of the rightness of Islam after all. This step is not obligatory, but is desirable and strongly encouraged since "there are only two modes of repelling the sin of apostasy, namely, destruction or Islam, and Islam is preferable to destruction."  The apostate is to be imprisoned for three days, and if he has not returned to the faith by the end of that time, he is then to be killed. Various arguments for and against the three day waiting rule are given. The point is also made that no penalty is incurred by anyone who kills an apostate before he has been given an exposition of the faith, even though such a premature killing is "abominable".
Female apostates are treated differently: they are not to be killed, but to be imprisoned until they recant. A boy who is a minor is also not to be killed but to be imprisoned. The Hanafis regard the Islam of a minor as valid but not his apostasy. This is in contrast to the Shafi‘is, who do not pay regard to a minor`s Islam or apostasy as the minor is dependent on the parents in Islam and is not "original" in it. In Islamic law a minor is not held to be capable of an act that might injure himself and the Hanafis apply this same rule to disregard the apostasy of a minor. The mentally ill and those intoxicated by alcohol are not held responsible for their act.
There are also detailed instructions in the Hedaya regarding other penalties for apostasy.
1. An apostate loses his right to his property until he returns to Islam.
2. If a person dies (or is killed) in his apostasy the property that he acquired before his apostasy is given to his Muslim heirs.
3. That which was acquired during his apostasy goes to the public treasury.
4. If an apostate’s children become apostates or if he has children during his apostasy, they cannot inherit from him.
5. The Muslim wife of an apostate inherits from him.
6. A female apostate's estate goes in its entirety to her heirs.
7. A Muslim man cannot inherit from his apostate wife unless she apostatises during sickness.
8. The purchase, sale, manumission, mortgage or gift of an apostate's property are suspended. If he returns to Islam they are valid, but if he dies or is killed or flees to another country the acts are null.
9. A man’s apostasy results in an immediate separation from his wife, since Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.10. If an apostate defector returns to Muslim territory and has again become Muslim, he may regain from his heirs any territories which they hold.
The Hedaya also contains complex rules about the status of children and grandchildren of apostates. In general, the children are also regarded as apostates and may in some circumstances be "compelled" to become a Muslim, whereas an apostate's grandchild is considered "an original infidel and an enemy". The descendents of an apostate who has left to reside in a foreign country are the property of the state.
2. The Maliki School
The Maliki school of law is predominant in North and West Africa. According to this school, women as well as men should be put to death for apostasy. The apostate is confined for three days and given the chance to repent, however a judgement that the apostate should be killed before the end of three days is valid. If the apostate does not repent then he is killed, his body is not washed or buried. A heretic or hypocrite (munafiq) is not given the chance to repent but is killed immediately. Insulting Muhammad or any of the prophets of Islam is punishable by death and repentance is not accepted. If Allah is insulted repentance is accepted. A female apostate is also killed if she does not repent in three days. A woman who is pregnant, nursing a child, divorced and in the waiting period with the option of returning to her husband, will have her death sentence postponed.
Like the Hanafi School, the Maliki school lays down detailed rules about the treatment of apostates who have avoided being executed. These include the following, which assume that the apostate has embraced Christianity: Muslims are forbidden to give branches to him to carry on Palm Sunday, to sell him wood from which a crucifix might be made or copper from which bells could be cast, and they are forbidden to alienate a house in order that it may be used as a church. In addition, Muslims are forbidden to buy an animal slaughtered by an apostate, and to lend or hire to an apostate either their slave or an animal to ride. When one party in a marriage apostatises, the marriage is dissolved without needing a divorce procedure.
3. The Shafi`i School
Like the Maliki school, the Shafi`i school (predominant in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines), requires the death of all adult apostates, regardless of sex. The classical Shafi‘i Manual of law, ‘Umdat al-Salik (The Reliance of the Traveller) by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368), states the principle that a sane adult Muslim male who apostatises must be killed if he does not repent: 
o8.0 APOSTASY FROM ISLAM (RIDDA)
o8.0 Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst . . .
o8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatises from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
o8.2 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.
. . .
o8.4 There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (O: or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).
(Note: ‘O’ denotes an excerpt from the commentary of Sheikh ‘Umar Barakat).
Apostasy consists in the abjuration of Islam, either mentally, or by words, or by acts incompatible with faith. As to oral abjuration, it matters little whether the words are said in joke, or through a spirit of contradiction, or in good faith. But before such words can be considered as a sign of apostasy they must contain a precise declaration:
1. That one does not believe in the existence of the Creator, or of His apostles; or
2. That Mohammed, or one of the other apostles, is an impostor; or
3. That one considers lawful what is strictly forbidden by the ijma e.g. the crime of fornication; or
4. That one considers to be forbidden what is lawful according to the ijma; or
5. That one is not obliged to follow the precepts of the ijma, as well positive as negative; or
6. That one intends shortly to change one`s religion; or that one has doubts upon the subject of the truth of Islam, etc.
As to acts, these are not considered to be incompatible with faith, unless they show a clear indication of a mockery or denial of religion, as e.g. throwing the Koran upon a muck heap or prostrating oneself before an idol, or worshipping the sun.
Like the Hanafi school, Nawawi states that a minor and the mentally ill are not held responsible for their apostasy. Minors are thought to follow their parents in religion. If a minor was forced to embrace Islam then his apostasy is not valid. However, if he accepted Islam in full faith then he is apostate and the death penalty applies to him. Drunkenness is not considered an excuse in the Shafi`i school. Apostasy under violent compulsion is overlooked. On the status of the children of apostates, Nawawi writes:
The child of an apostate remains a Moslem, without regard to the time of its conception, or to one of its parents remaining a Moslem or not. One authority, however, considers the child whose father and mother have abjured the faith to be an apostate, while another considers such a child to be by origin an infidel. (The child should be considered as an apostate. This is what the jurists of Iraq have handed down to us as the universally accepted theory.)
Nawawi continues on the subject of an apostate's property:
As to the ownership of the property of an apostate dead in impenitence, it remains in suspense, i.e. the law considers it as lost from the moment of abjuration of the faith; but in case of repentance it is considered never to have been lost. However, there are several other theories upon the subject, though all authorities agree that debts contracted before apostasy, as well as the personal maintenance of the apostate during the period of exhortation, are charges upon the estate. It is the same with any damages due in consequence of pecuniary prejudice caused to other persons, the maintenance of his wives, whose marriage remains in suspense, and the maintenance of his descendant or descendants. Where it is admitted that ownership remains in suspense, the same principle must be applied to dispositions subsequent to apostasy, in so far as they are capable of being suspended, such as an enfranchisement by will, and legacies, which all remain intact where the exhortation is successful, though not otherwise. On the other hand, dispositions which, by their very nature, do not admit of such suspension, such as sale, pledging, gift, and enfranchisement by contract, are null and void ab initio, though Shafi`i, in his first period, wished to leave them in suspense. All authorities, however, are agreed that an apostate's property may in no case be left at his disposition, but must be deposited in charge of some person of irreproachable character. But a female slave may not be so entrusted to a man; she must be entrusted to some trustworthy woman. An apostate's property must be leased out, and it is to the court that the slave undergoing enfranchisement by contract should make his periodical payments.
Someone who slanders Muhammad or insults one of the prophets of Islam is killed without being given the chance of repentance.
Anwar Ahmad Qadri, a Pakistani lawyer, in his book A Sunni Shafi‘i Law Code, which is a translation of Mukhtasar fil Risalah of a classical Shafi‘i jurist, Abu Shuja‘ al-Isfahani (d. 1106), states: 
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.
4. the Hanbali School
According to the Hanbali School of Law predominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, if a boy who became a Muslim with his parents reaches maturity as an apostate, he is not killed since his faith in Islam occurred when he was dependent on others. Rather he is to be forced to return to Islam by being arrested and beaten. However if a boy comes to Islam on his own and then apostatises, reaching maturity as such, he must be killed. Apostasy of a drunkard is not valid. According to both Malik and Hanbal, the repentance of the unbeliever who apostatises is not accepted if repeated, based on Surah 4, verse 137:
Those who believe, and then disbelieve, and then believe, and then disbelieve, and then increase in unbelief - Allah is not likely to forgive them nor to guide them on any way.
If the apostate is killed prior to his call to repentance, the killer is not punished or required to pay blood money. Hanbalites also permit the descendents and descendents’ descendents of apostates to be enslaved. Women are dealt with in the same way as men and heretics are killed without the opportunity to repent.
Shia Islam remained in close contact with Sunni Islam during the development of the four Sunni schools of law. Consequently, Shia law closely resembles Sunni law, differing no more from it than the four schools differ from each other:
Every individual of the male sex who, born in the religion of Islam, apostasizes, no longer enjoys the protection of Islam, but is ipso facto condemned to death. His wife should be separated from him; and his property is confiscate . . . The woman guilty of apostasy is not punished with death, even if she was born in the Moslem faith, but she is condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and is to be beaten with rods at the hours of prayer . . . A child born of a heretic after the apostasy of the father, and of a Mohammedan mother, and conceived after the apostasy, is subject to the same conditions as his parents; and if he is assassinated, the murderer cannot be punished by the law of retaliation.
note: contemporary abuse of the dissolution of the apostate’s marriage
The ruling on the dissolution of the apostate’s marriage has recently been employed in countries like Egypt by Islamist groups and lawyers to enforce the divorce of liberal-secularists of Muslim heritage who have made what are considered to be "apostate" statements. It can also be used to split up couples where one member converts from Islam.
According to Islamic law, to bring a charge a plaintiff must have a direct legal interest manifesting how the plaintiff is being harmed by the accused. The legal tool of hisba is invoked in such cases as it is based on an Islamic doctrine, which states that each Muslim has the responsibility to enforce ‘Islamic behaviour’ in his society. Where one member of society deviates from this, every Muslim is offended and therefore has direct interest.
Muslim scholars discuss apostasy
Having examined apostasy in the context of the sources of Islam, it is important to relate it to the Islamic social context. In view of the scarcity and ambiguity of Qur`anic references to any humanly imposed penalty for apostasy, how did such an emphasis on capital punishment for apostasy arise? Muslim apologists often say that it was in large measure due to the activities of some Jewish and Muslim hypocrites in the very early years of Islam who conspired to create confusion in the newly formed Muslim community by professing to convert to Islam and then renouncing it. This alleged conspiracy, whose supposed goals were entirely political, was dealt with ruthlessly by Muhammad who ordered those responsible for the treachery to be killed.
Therefore, in spite of the Qur`anic statement forbidding "compulsion in religion" (2:256), later Muslim writers seem to have misunderstood the contexts in which the above punishments were implemented. They fastened on apostasy as the action to be punished rather than on the political conspiracy that was the alleged reason for the apostasy. The contemporary Lebanese scholar, Subhi Mahmassani, claims for example that Muhammad never killed anyone merely for apostasy; rather the death penalty was applied when apostasy was linked to an act of political betrayal of the Muslim community. Zwemer believes that early Islamic law and practice regarding apostasy were probably less rigid and less severe than those codified after Islam had spread beyond Arabia. He asserts that many of the hadith regarding apostates were created to express later tendencies for which divine authority and Muhammad’s example were needed.
It seems that the basic reason for the application of the death penalty to apostates is that apostasy is seen as treason. The historical origins of the concept can be seen in the actions of the hypocrites and in the Ridda (apostasy) rebellions against the first Caliph Abu-Bakr. Both were attacks upon the political authority of the Muslim ruler, as opposed to simple conversion to another faith. Because Islam is seen as a total way of life with no separation of religion from politics and the state, and because Islam is accepted as the basis of the legitimate state and its legal system, desertion from Islam is dealt with as political treason. The result of this merging of political and religious issues is that in Muslim-majority countries conversion from Islam to another religion is viewed as treasonable and shameful defection. During times of war defection in many states is punishable by death, and as Islam traditionally considers itself to be in a perpetual cosmic battle with kufr (infidelity), apostasy can be seen as betrayal and treason.
Dr Y. Zaki (a leading British convert to Islam), emphasised this viewpoint in a discussion on BBC radio in 1991: "Islam is not just a religion, it`s a state, and Islam does not distinguish between sacred and secular authority . . . apostasy and treason are one and the same thing." Since treason is punishable by death, he argued, so too is apostasy.
Abul A‘la Mawdudi represents a similarly severe stand, arguing that Islam is not simply a religion like Christianity, but a complete order of life embracing all spheres and serving as the basis of society, state and civilisation. As such it is cannot allow itself to be made "the toy of individual free wills". Fundamental differences cannot be accepted in such a system (minor differences are), and an apostate who has demonstrated that he is not willing to assimilate into his society’s order must be cast out of it, for he has rejected its very foundation. Mawdudi states that it is preferable for an apostate to emigrate from a Muslim state, but if he stays he becomes a great danger to society, spreading a malignant plague among the population which must be eliminated by the death penalty.
Abdurahman Abdulkadir Kurdi, professor of Qur’an and Sunna at Umm al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, makes the same point, stating that:
"The law of apostasy is equal to the man-made law of treason, with one important distinction; it is not tantamount to denouncing or breaking with one`s country. Renouncing Islam is regarded as a betrayal of faith in God Himself and a denunciation of kinship. Capital punishment is the penalty in man-made law for treasonable action and has become recognized internationally as the norm or standard law for such a crime."
Seeking to emphasize the merciful nature of Islam he goes on to say:
"Repentance is required before executing the penalty. Sentence must be delayed for at least three days if there is hope of repentance, even though the penitent is not sincere. Will any sort of man-made law accept such repentance in a case of treason? No such understanding of human weakness has been exhibited among the community of nations yet."
Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, seeking to counter the argument that the Islamic punishment for apostasy is too severe, writes:
"If Islam were a mere religion in the sense in which this term is commonly used, a hotchpotch of dogmas and rituals, having no direct relation with the economic, political and social structure of society, then such severe punishment for apostasy would have certainly been the height of high-handedness because the change of religion would not have, in the least, disturbed the social order. But the problem is that in Islam the Kingdom of Heaven whose foundations are firstly laid in the heart of man is to be essentially externalised in every phase of social set up i.e. in politics, in economics, in law, in manners and in international relations. In such circumstances it is quite obvious that when a person rebels against the Kingdom of Heaven within his heart, he commits high treason against the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the visible and concrete expression of the Kingdom of Heaven within the heart. The persons who commit treason are always dealt with severely in every political order. A stern attitude is always adopted by all sane governments against rebels and disruptionists, and so is the case with Islam. There is nothing unusual in what Islam has done. In Islam religion is not a matter of private relationship between man and Allah, but is intertwined with society. So when he abandons Islam he in fact revolts against the authority of the Islamic State and society."
On the other hand, El-‘Awa, an Egyptian lawyer and Islamic scholar, claims that while in other cases of Shari‘ah offences Muslim jurists have tried to moderate the punishments meted out to offenders, in relation to apostasy they have made it more severe, extending the cases in which the punishment is to be carried out by broadening the meaning of words and acts considered as formal apostasy beyond the actual meaning of apostasy which is simply to change one’s religion. He thinks this happened historically because of the fear that apostates would serve as examples for others to follow, thus harming the public interest and weakening Islam, and also because of the strength of the Arabic imperative "kill him" in the above mentioned hadith which led the jurists to place the punishment for apostasy in the hadd category. El-‘Awa himself disagrees with this traditional consensus, claiming that as the Qur’an itself does not prescribe a punishment for apostasy its punishment should fall under the ta‘zir (discretionary) rather than hadd category. This distinction would allow a discrimination between a simple change of religion in which case no punishment needs to be applied, and cases in which harm is caused to society where the punishment must be inflicted. He claims that there have always been a small minority of jurists holding to this position, including the famous medieval scholar Ibn-Taymiyya.
Al-Azhar University is of the opinion that apostasy is a Hudud crime. In extracts from the proceedings of Al-Azhar’s Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research (1968) the following passage on the death penalty for an apostate (murtadd) appears:
A murtadd is one who turns back from Islam to disbelief and error. Never could a man who has tasted the sweetness of Islam think of relapsing into unbelief.
The punishment for apostasy is instituted in the following traditions:
(a) Whoever changes his religion, put him to death.
(b) It is unlawful to shed a Muslim`s blood excepting only for one of three causes, namely, adultery after marriage, life for life and apostasy.
(c) It is related that Muadh Ibn Djabal came to Abu Musa al-Ashari at whom he found tied man (sic). On hearing that this man was a Jew, then became a Muslim, then returned back to his first religion, Muadh refused to sit down until the apostate had been slain, saying three times, Such is the decision of Allah and of his Apostle.
(d) It is related that the Prophet, on hearing that a woman called Umm Marwan had apostatised from Islam, directed that she should be asked to repent, otherwise she would be killed.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular Qatari cleric often defined as moderate by Western media and politicians, states that the majority view of Muslim jurists supports the death penalty for apostasy:
All Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished. However, they differ regarding the punishment itself. The majority of them go for killing; meaning that an apostate is to be sentenced to death.
Al-Qaradawi also lists other implications of a Muslim being defined as an apostate:
Accusing a Muslim of kufr is a very serious matter which entails very serious consequences – his killing and the confiscation of his property become lawful. As a kafir, he must be separated from his wife and children; there can be no bond between him and other Muslims; he must be deprived of his inheritance and cannot be inherited from; he must be denied the Islamic burial and the salah for the dead person; and he must not be buried in a Muslim graveyard.
The late Zaki Badawi, doyen of British Muslim scholars, argued that the death penalty for apostasy was formulated under the Umayyads and ‘Abbasids and then became normative doctrine of all schools of Islamic law. He states:
As suggested, earlier jurists, with a few exceptions, supported the death penalty for the apostate and this remains the case to the present day. 
Badawi notes that there were a minority of scholars, such as Ibrahim al-Nakhi (d. 713) who opposed the death penalty, arguing that the apostate should be given unlimited time to recant. The reason was that he could find no evidence in the Qur’an for capital punishment and he did not accept the hadith calling for the death sentence as authentic. However, he too accepted the principle of coercion which called for inducing the apostate to recant. However, Al-Nakhi’s opinion was ignored by the founders of the law schools.
Badawi also argues that in the early Islamic state apostasy was manipulated by the rulers and the establishment ulama for political aims. The jurists gave apostasy a very wide definition:
The renunciation of Islam either through converting to another religion, or becoming an atheist, or rejecting well known parts of the Shariah such as the prohibition on the consumption of wine or treating Islamic texts with disrespect, or insulting God or the Prophet or any of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, or holding an unacceptable doctrine. 
This enabled rulers to suppress opposition by labelling its leaders as apostates.
The above discussion illustrates the complexities of Muslim political and religious identities and the seriousness attributed by many Muslims to the rejection of Islam by a Muslim. This attitude is a result of the way Islamic sources and history have been interpreted by jurists and scholars and implemented by rulers right from the beginning. Despite differences and minority opinions there is broad agreement in Islamic law, both Sunni and Shi‘a, about the basic penalties for apostasy, including the execution of male apostates. Muslims are highly sensitive to the issues raised by the Islamic laws on apostasy, sensing themselves to be under attack from the liberal West, accused of negating universally accepted individual human rights. Notwithstanding the defensive efforts of some more liberally minded scholars, apostasy continues to be highly repulsive to most Muslims, who would instinctively justify the strict penalties as commensurate with the perceived severity of the crime against the very basis of the Muslim community (umma), amounting to deliberate treason and betrayal of the cause.
© Patrick Sookhdeo
 General Assembly of U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18
 Unlike Protestant Christianity, Islam is a religion concerned more with orthopraxy (the right thing to do) than with orthodoxy (the right thing to believe). Similar to rabbinic Judaism it is, among other things, a codified system of law (the Shari‘ah) claimed to be divinely given, and based on the Qur’an, the hadith (the collected sayings and deeds of Muhammad), as well as on the consensus of Islamic jurists (ijma‘) and analogical reasoning (qiyas). The Qur’an and hadith are seen as divinely inspired texts. Religious law encompasses all of life and is still of paramount importance for most Muslims.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), pp. 49-50, 53.
Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, The Penal Law of Islam , (Lahore: Kazi Publications, 1979) p. 97.
 Abul A‘la Mawdudi, The Punishment of the apostate According to Islamic Law, Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1963. English translation by Syed Silas Husain & Ernest Hahn, 1994. p, 17.
 Rudolph Peters & Gert J.J. De Vries, “Apostasy in Islam”, Die Welt des Islams, Vol. XVII, No. 1-4, 1976-7, pp. 14-18.
 ‘Ali, Y., The Holy Qur’an, The Islamic Foundation, UK, 1975, p.1729.
Zwemer, S., The Law of Apostasy in Islam, Marshall Brothers Ltd, UK, 1924, p.34-5.
 Gibb, H. and Kramers., Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1974, p.413.
Siddiqi op. cit. p. 97
 Abul A‘la Mawdudi, The Punishment of the apostate According to Islamic Law, Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1963 English translation by Syed Silas Husain & Ernest Hahn, 1994. pp, 18-19.
Zwemer, op. cit. p. 33-4.
Pickthall, op. cit. p. 57, footnote.
 ‘Ali, Y, op. cit. p. 207, footnote 606.
 S.A. Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, pp. 15-17 where he claims Ibn al-‘Arabi, Zamakhshari and al-Baydawi held this view. See also the discussion in Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, pp. 50-51.
 Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary on the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley, Vol. 1, London:Dar al-Taqwa, 2003, pp. 659-661.
 See S.A. Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, Lahore: Institute of Islamic culture,1978, pp.16-25. Rahman on p. 16 declares this verse to be “one of the most important verses of the Qur’an, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind . . .”. He goes on to criticise the attempts by Muslim scholars over the ages to narrow its broad humanistic meaning and impose limits on its scope in their attempts to reconcile it with their interpretations of Muhammad’s Sunna.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), p. 51.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), p. 52.
 A category of defining hadith according to the reliability of their transmitters. A weak hadith is not to be rejected outright, but one must find whether the transmitter’s traditions are supported elsewhere.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), p. 52.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), pp. 51-52.
 Quoted in Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi, The Penal Law of Islam , (Lahore: Kazi Publications, 1979) p. 103-4.
Quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.50
 See Appendix A. Al-Hedaya, Vol. II, (Hanafi Manual).
 The Hedaya: Commentary on the Islamic Laws, Vol. II, Book IX, Chapter IX, p. 225.
The Hedaya: Commentary on the Islamic Laws Vol. II translated by Charles Hamilton (New Delhi: Nusratali Nasri for Kitab Bhavan, reprinted 1985) p. 225
Ibid. pp. 225-6
The Hedaya, op. cit. p. 246, Siddiqi, op. cit, p. 110
The Hedaya, op. cit. p. 228
Ibid. p.239, 244-5
 See Appendix B, Al-Risala (Maliki Manual).
F.H. Ruxton `Convert`s Status in Maliki Law`, Moslim World, Vol. iii, p. 38 quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.42
 F.H. Ruxton op. cit. quoted in Zwemer p. 43
 Nawawi, `Minhaj-at-Talibin` , quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.49
 Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, The Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual O Islamic Sacred Law, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Beltsville, Maryland: amana publications, new edition, 1997, pp. 595-596.
Quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.47-50
Quoted in Zwemer op. cit. p.47-50
 Anwar Ahmad Qadri, A Sunnin Shafi‘i Law Code, Lahore: SH. Muhammad Ashraf, 1984, p. 123.
Joseph Schacht, An introduction to Islamic Law, (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p.16
A. Querry, `Recueil de Lois concernant Les Musulmans Schyites, Vol. ii, quoted in Zwemer op.cit. p.51
Abdul Hameed Abu Sulayman , “Al-dhimmah and Related Concepts in Historical Perspective”, Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 9 No. 1 (January 1988), pp. 18-19
 Mahmassani, S., Arkan huquq al-insan, Dar al-`ilm li`l-malayin, Beirut, 1979, p. 123-124, ref. in Mayer op. cit. p.170
Zwemer op. cit. p.35
 Sunday Programme, BBC Radio 4, 12 May 1991.
 Abul A‘la Mawdudi, The Punishment of the apostate According to Islamic Law, Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1963 English translation by Syed Silas Husain & Ernest Hahn, 1994. pp, 46-49.
Abdurahman Abdulkadir Kurdi, The Islamic State: A Study based on the Islamic Holy Constitution, (London: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1984) p. 52-53
Siddiqi op. cit. pp. 108-9
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), p. 53.
 Mohamed S. El-Awa, Punishment in Islamic Law: A Contemporary Study, (Plainfield: American Trust Publications, 2000), pp. 54-64.
 Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, “Punishment in Islam”, in D.F. Green, ed., Arab Theologians on Jews and Israel: Extracts from the Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research, pp. 71-72
 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism, p. 45.
 Zaki Badawi, “Freedom of Religion in Islam”, unpublished paper presented 10 January 2003.
 Zaki Badawi, “Freedom of Religion in Islam”, 10 January 2003.
 Zaki Badawi, “Freedom of Religion in Islam”, 10 January 2003.
Gibb, H., and Kramer, J., Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), article on ``Murtadd` by W. Heffening p.413; but see Siddiqi op. cit. p.109 where he states: "There is almost complete consensus of opinion among the jurists that apostasy from Islam (Irtidad) must be punished by death."