The Issue of Apostasy in Islam
Published: July 5, 2017 • Updated: October 21, 2020
Author: Dr. Jonathan Brown
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Religion in the Pre-Modern World
The New Role for Religion in the Modern & Global West
The Punishment for Apostasy in the Islamic Juristic Tradition
Apostasy and the Practice of the Early Muslim Community
Reconsidering Apostasy in the Modern Period
How Should Muslims Think about Apostasy Today?
The Consequences of Apostasy Law
1 See Simon Cottee, The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam (London: Hurst, 2015), 13-16.
2 Abū al-Ḥasan al-Māwardī, Adab al-dunyā wa’l-dīn, ed. Muḥammad Ḥasan Sulaymān (Cairo: Dār al-Fārūq, 2008), 183-4.
3 The ʿAhd Ardishīr was produced in the late Sassanid period; Beate Dignas and Engelbert Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 211. See also Iḥsān ʿAbbās, ed., ʿAhd Ardishīr (Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1967), 30.
4 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-ʿilm, bāb man sa’ala wa huwa qā’im ʿāliman jālisan; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-imāra, bāb man qātala li-takūna kalimat Allāh hiya al-ʿulyā’...
5 This Hadith does not appear in any of the main Hadith collections, but it has been considered weak by some scholars like Ibn Ḥajar and ḥasan or ṣaḥīḥ by others. See ʿAbd Ra’ūf al-Munāwī, Fayḍ al-qadīr sharḥ al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaghir, ed. Ḥamdī al-Damardāsh Muḥammad, 13 vols. (Mecca: Maktabat Nizār Muṣṭafā al-Bāz, 1998), 5:2547.
6 For example, even 230 years after the Islamic conquests, only 50% of Iraq was Muslim and only 40% of Iran; Richard Bulliet, “Conversion to Islam and the Emergence of a Muslim Society in Iran,” in Nehemia Levtzion, ed., Conversion to Islam (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), 31; idem, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 85.
7 See Wahba al-Zuḥaylī, Mawsūʿat al-fiqh al-islāmī, 14 vols. (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 2010), 5:714-15.
8 Shams al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, al-Mabsūṭ, 30 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, n.d.), 10:110. I’m indebted to Ramon Harvey for this insight. See https://ramonharvey.com/category/islamic-jurisprudence/
9 One fascinating case occurred in Egypt in the mid 700s CE. A group from the tribe of Banū ʿAbd Kulūl protested before the judge Ibrāhīm al-Ruʿaynī (d. 771) that a man had married one of their women, but that they, as her kinsmen (awliyā’), objected. They wanted the judge to annul the marriage. The judge responded that he would not prohibit what God had allowed and that, if the woman’s guardian (walī) had approved, then the marriage stood. The men appealed the case to the governor, who ordered the judge to annul the marriage. He refused. See Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Kindī, Kitāb al-Wulāt wa kitāb al-quḍāt, ed. Rhuvon Guest (Beirut: al-Ābā, 1908 and Leiden: Brill, 1912), 367.
10 Ibn Ḥajar, Rafʿ al-iṣr ʿan quḍāt miṣr, ed. ʿAlī Muḥammad ʿUmar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, 1988), 275-76, 283.
11 Al-taṣarruf ʿalā al-raʿiyya manūṭ bi’l-maṣlaḥa; ʿAbd al-Karīm Zaydān, al-Wajīz fī sharḥ al-qawāʿid al-fiqhiyya (Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Risāla, 2001), 120-23.
12 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-ḥudūd, bāb karāhiyat al-shafāʿa fī al-ḥadd idha rufiʿa ilā al-sulṭān.
13 ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Shaʿrānī, al-Mīzān al-kubrā (Cairo: Maktabat Zahrān [no date]. Reprint of 1862 Cairo edn. from Maktabat al-Kastiliyya), 2:159.
14 Sarah Barringer Gordon, “Religion in United States Law,” in Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History, ed. Stanley Katz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 5:115.
15 Rim-Sarah Alouane, “Freedom of Religion and the Transformation of Public Order in France,” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 13, no. 1 (2015): 32.
16 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-jihād wa’l-siyar, bāb lā yuʿadhdhabu bi-ʿadhāb Allāh.
17 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb istitābat al-murtaddīn wa’l-muʿānidīn wa qitālihim, bāb ḥukm al-murtadd wa’l-murtadda.
18 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-diyāt, bāb qawl Allāh taʿālā inna al-nafs bi’l-nafs…; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim:kitāb al-qasāma wa’l-muḥāribīn…, bāb mā yubāḥu bihi dam al-muslim.
19 Muwaṭṭa’: kitāb al-aqḍiya, bāb al-qaḍā’ fī-man irtadda ʿan al-islām.
20 Al-Zuḥaylī, Mawsūʿat al-fiqh al-islāmī, 6:174-182.
21 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-īmān, bāb taḥrīm qatl al-kāfir baʿd an qāla lā ilāh illā Allāh.
22 Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī, al-Sunan al-kubrā, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAṭā, 11 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1999), 8:341.
23 Al-Bayhaqī, Sunan, 8:343.
24 Al-Shāfiʿī states that punishment for apostasy can only operate on the basis of outward expression, instructing us, “Know that [the judge’s] ruling is based on external reality (al-ẓāhir), and he is not making licit what God has prohibited. But God rules on what is internal (al-bāṭin), because God most high is master of what is internal”; al-Shāfiʿī, Kitāb al-Umm, ed. Rifʿāt Fawzī ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (Mansoura: Dār al-Wafā’, 2001), 7:416.
25 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-muḥāribīn min ahl al-kufr wa’l-ridda, bāb idhā aqarra bi’l-ḥadd wa lam yubayyin hal li’l-imām an yastura ʿalayhi; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-tawba, bāb qawluhu taʿālā inna al-ḥasanāt tudhhibna al-sayyi’āt.
26 Sunan of Abū Dāwūd: kitāb al-adab, bāb fī al-nahy ʿan al-tajassus.
27 For a discussion of these Hadiths, see Ibn Ḥajar, al-Dirāya fī takhrīj aḥādīth al-Hidāya, ed. ʿAbdallāh Hāshim al-Yamānī (Beirut: n.d.), 2:136-8; idem, Lisān al-mīzān, 6 vols. (Hyderabad: Dā’irat al-Maʿārif al-ʿUthmāniyya, 1330/), 3:323.
28 Al-Mawsūʿa al-fiqhiyya (Kuwait: Wizārat al-Awqāf, 1983), 3:175.
29 Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā (Beirut: Dār al-Āfāq al-Jadīda, n.d.), 11:191; al-Bayhaqī, Sunan, 8:343.
30 Muḥammad bin Faraj al-Qurṭubī Ibn al-Ṭallāʿ, Aqḍiyat Rasūl Allāh (often known as al-Aḥkām), ed. Fāris Fatḥī Ibrāhīm (Cairo: Dār Ibn al-Haytham, 2006), 24.
31 This report appears in the Sīra of Ibn Isḥāq, the Tārīkh of al-Ṭabarī and the Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim. For a useful breakdown of this material, see http://www.ahlalhdeeth.com/vb/showthread.php?t=5614
32 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-aḥkām, bāb man nakatha bayʿatan.
33 Al-Bayhaqī, Maʿrifat al-sunan wa’l-āthār, ed. ʿAbd al-Muʿṭī Amīn Qalʿajī (Cairo and Aleppo: Dār al-Waʿī, 1991), 12: 250.
34 This report is found in Sunan of Saʿīd bin al-Manṣūr, ed. Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān al-Aʿẓamī (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), vol. 3, pt 2 pp. 226-7. It is also found in the Sunan of al-Bayhaqī, 8:337-41. Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī argues that Umar did not approve of the execution not because he did not consider death the appropriate punishment for apostasy but because such punishments should not be carried out in an army on campaign (due to the necessity of war, ḍarūrat al-ḥarb); Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, al-Ḥurriyya al-dīniyya wa’l-taʿaddudiyya (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 2007), 46.
35 Abd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī, al-Muṣannaf, ed. Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān al-Aʿẓamī, 11 vols. (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1403/1983), 10:171.
36 Patricia Crone and Fritz Zimmermann, The Epistle of Sālim ibn Dhakwān (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 90, 93-4.
37 Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin Jaʿfar al-Narshakhī, Tārīkh Bukhārā, ed. Amīn ʿAbd al-Majīd Badawī (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1960), 73.
38 This report appears in the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī, and al-Albānī declared it weak. See Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, Silsilat al-aḥādīth al-ḍaʿīfa wa’l-mawḍūʿa, 13 n. 1 (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Maʿārif, 2004), 13:1:942-3 .
39 Christian Sahner, “Swimming against the Current: Muslim Conversion to Christianity in the Early Islamic Period,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 136, no. 2 (2016): 280-2.
40 P. Smoor, “al-Maʿarrī,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs, eds. Consulted online on 29 April 2017. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0599; First published online: 2012. In one poem, al-Maʿarrī wrote:
I marvel at Chosroes and his followers Who wash their faces with cows’ urine; And the Jews who speak of a God, Who loves the splatter of blood and the smell of burnt offerings; And at the Christians’ belief in a God who is humiliated, persecuted cruelly, but does not retaliate; And at a people who journey from the ends of the earth, To cast pebbles and kiss the Stone (i.e., the black stone in the Kaaba). How startling are their beliefs! Are all men, then, unable to see the truth? See Majid Fakhry, A Short Introduction to Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997), 36.
41 Amalia Levanoni, “Takfīr in Egypt and Syria during the Mamlūk Period,” in Accusations of Unbelief in Islam, ed. Camilla Adang, Hassan Ansari, Maribel Fierro and Sabine Schmidtke (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 156, 163-65, 170.
42 Syed Ameer Ali, Mahommedan Law, 4th ed. (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1917), 2:32.
43 See Asaf A.A. Fyzee, Outlines of Muhammadan Law, 4th ed. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 98; Taha Jabir Alalwani, Apostasy in Islam (Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2011), 25-41; Maḥmūd Shaltūt, al-Islām ʿaqīda wa sharīʿa, 18th ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq, 2001), 281; Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār 10, n. 4 (1907): 298; 23, n. 3 (1922): 187-89; Muʿtazz al-Khaṭīb, al-Ḥurriyya fī al-fikr al-ʿarabī al-muʿāṣir (Doha: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2015).
44 Musnad Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (Maymaniyya print, 1:282); Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb istitābat al-murtaddīn wa’l-muʿānidīn wa qitālihim, bāb ḥukm al-murtadd wa’l-murtadda.
45 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb aḥādīth al-anbiyā’, bāb wa’adhkur fī kitāb Maryam…; and the Musnad of Ibn Ḥanbal, 2:528 for examples of this.
46 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-diyāt, bāb qawl Allāh taʿālā inna al-nafs bi’l-nafs…; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-qasāma wa’l-muḥāribīn…, bāb mā yubāḥu bihi dam al-muslim.
47 In the case of this second narration, found in Sahih al-Bukhari, it is the Successor Abū Qilāba stating that the Prophet ﷺ did not kill anyone except for these three reasons, in effect interpreting ‘forsaking the community’ as ‘making war on God and His Messenger.’ See Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-tafsīr, bāb sūrat al-mā’ida – innamā jazā’ alladhīna yuḥāribūna Allāh…; kitāb al-diyāt, bāb al-qasāma; Sunan of Abū Dāwūd: kitāb al-ḥudūd, bāb al-ḥukm fī-man irtadda. Al-Tirmidhī has one version that just has the wording al-tārik li-dīnihi, but that is just his own summary of the Hadith at the end of a discussion. The main narrations of this Hadith in the Ṣaḥīḥayn and other books all have the wording al-tārik li-dīnihi al-mufāriq li/il-jamāʿa or al-mufāriq li-dīnihi al-tārik al-jamāʿa. Some narrations of this Hadith that are both less reliable and less common instead contain the wording “for unbelief after Islam” and “for apostasy after Islam.” The narrations with these wordings are found in the Sunan of Abū Dāwūd: kitāb al-diyāt, bāb al-imām ya’muru bi’l-ʿafw fī al-dam; Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī: kitāb al-fitan, bāb mā jā’a lā yaḥillu dam imri’ illā bi-iḥdā thalāth.
48 Muwaṭṭa’: kitāb al-aqḍiya, kitāb al-qaḍā’ fī-man irtadda ʿan al-Islām.
49 Maḥmūd Shaltūt, al-Islām ʿaqīda wa sharīʿa (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq), 281.
50 See al-Qaraḍāwī, al-Ḥurriyya al-dīniyya, 36-37, 46-53.
51 Al-Qaraḍāwī, ibid.
52 Randy E. Barnett, “The Proper Scope of the Police Power,” 79 Notre Dame Law Revue 485 (2004).
53 See http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Freedom_religion_ENG.pdf, in particular the cases Larissis and Others v. Greece 1998 and Kosteski v. “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” 2006. For even more visible applications of the margin of appreciation, see the issue of hate speech at http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Hate_speech_ENG.pdf. For more on the margin of appreciation, see this resource from the Council of Europe, especially on how the European Court of Human Rights decided that measures taken by the governments of Turkey and Switzerland to restrict the wearing of headscarves were legitimate because they fell under “protecting the rights and freedoms of others, and in the case of Sahin, maintaining public order.” The report states, “In both cases, the Court applied a broad margin of appreciation because there was little or no consensus within the community as to whether to wear a veil was included in the protection afforded by Article 9. Applying the proportionality test on different factors, the Court reached the same conclusion: the lack of a core European consensus on how to treat the wearing of religious symbols justifies the actions of the State authorities, they being granted with a wide margin of appreciation.” In the U.S., freedom of religion cases have shown that what matters is not whether a specific practice is recognized as part of a religion by some religious authority but whether the person in question feels it is religiously compelling.
54 Mohd. Al Adib Samuri and Muzammil Quraishi, “Negotiating Apostasy: Applying to ‘Leave Islam’ in Malaysia,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 25, n. 4 (2014): 513-14.