Apostasy in Islam
Freedom of conscience and of belief, are inalienable rights of every human so much that those born and raised in western democracies take them for granted. For millions of Muslims that is only a dream.
For those born to Muslim parents, leaving Islam is not a choice. Apostasy is a crime in Islam punishable by death. This ruling is based on several authentic saying of the Prophet Muhammad, such as, “The blood of a Muslim cannot be shed except in three cases: Life for life (in cases of intentional murder); adultery; and the one who turns renegade from Islam (apostate) [[i]] [[ii]] [[iii]]
This ruling leaves no room for interpretation. Although some moderate Muslim scholars argue that an apostate should be given three days to recant, the majority are of the opinion that apostasy is a grave crime, worse than murder and that the repentance of an apostates cannot be accepted.
In regards to apostasy the Islamic site Islamqa.com says. “The consensus among the Muslim jurists is that whoever reviles Islam is a kafir. Al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baz (the late grand mufti of Saudi Arabia) said: Reviling the religion is one of the worst of the major sins and the greatest of evils. The same applies to reviling Allah. These are two of the gravest things that nullify Islam and are means of apostatizing from Islam. He should be asked to repent; otherwise he should be executed on the orders of the authorities via the sharia court. Some of the scholars said: he should not be asked to repent; rather he should be executed because his crime is so great.” [[iv]] The authority of this ruling is based on the Quran 9:65.”
The same site, while responding to the question, why apostates should be killed, writes, “If a Muslim apostatizes and meets the conditions of apostasy – i.e., he is of sound mind, an adult and does that of his own free will – then his blood may be shed with impunity. He is to be executed by the Muslim ruler or by his deputy – such as the qaadi or judge. The evidence that the apostate is to be executed is the words of the Prophet (pbuh): “Whoever changes his religion, execute him.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2794). What is meant by religion here is Islam (i.e., whoever changes from Islam to another religion).” [[v]]
The Quran states: “If they [Muslims] turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them.”[[vi]] This command to kill or slay is in all mainstream translations.
Virtually all Muslim scholars, including the moderates agree that if one make his apostasy public and/or speak against Islam he should be killed. [[vii]] [[viii]] [[ix]] The only exception is when an apostate keeps his beliefs to himself and does not make his disbelief public.
Some examples of persecution of apostates have been given by the Christian organization Barnabas Fund: “The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related “crimes” is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honor. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place”. [[x]]
Similar views are expressed by the ‘non-religious’ International Humanist and Ethical Union. [[xi]]
In the Islamic world, there is a broad consensus, both popular and scholarly, that apostates deserve to be killed. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found relatively widespread popular support for death penalty as a punishment for apostasy in Egypt (84% of respondents in favor of death penalty), Jordan (86% in favor), Indonesia (30% in favor), Pakistan (76% favor) and Nigeria (51% in favor). [[xii]] A rich theological and intellectual tradition, stretching as far back as Muhammad and his companions, supports this position. A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed that 31% of British Muslims believed that leaving the Muslim religion should be punishable by death.[[xiii]]
Ali Khan, a law professor at Washburn University in Kansas, in an issue of the Cumberland Law Review, suggested that Islam can be seen as a form of intellectual property, and Muslims as “trustees” who have vowed to protect their faith’s “knowledge-based assets.” He then contends, If Islam is understood as intellectual property, the faith should enjoy “the right to integrity”—that is, its trustees should be able to safeguard “the protected knowledge from innovations, repudiation, internal disrespect, and external assaults. Thus, apostasy should be punished because it is aimed at dishonoring the protected knowledge of Islam. The murtad (apostate) is akin to a corporate insider who discloses the secrets he has undertaken to protect; he is akin to a state official who turns traitor and joins the ranks of the enemy; he is akin to a custodian who destroys the very monument he was safeguarding on behalf of the community. All legal systems punish insiders who breach their trusts; Islam punishes murtaddun [apostasy] too, sometimes severely.”[[xiv]]
A similar view is expressed by Syed Mumtaz Ali, the president of the Canadian Society of Muslims. The Indian-born Mumtaz Ali was the first South Asian lawyer in Ontario when he set up practice more than 40 years ago, and has been the intellectual force behind the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, a group dedicated to applying shari’a (Islamic law) to certain civil disputes in the province. Ontario’s Arbitration Act, passed in 1991, paved the way for this campaign—and for Mumtaz Ali’s emergence as a respected public figure—by granting religious authorities the power to arbitrate in family and property matters so long as the parties involved gave their consent (and with the proviso that the decisions can be appealed to Canadian courts).
For Mumtaz Ali, this first, modest concession to the claims of Islam has been just the beginning. As he declared in defending the shari’a tribunal, “freedom of religion as guaranteed under Canada’s constitution means not only freedom to practice and propagate religion but also to be able to be governed by one’s religious laws in all aspects of one’s life—spiritual as well as temporal.”
What Mumtaz Ali meant by this portentous remark is made clear in an astonishing essay under his name that can be found on the website of the Canadian Society of Muslims.[[xv]] Not only does he affirm there the traditional proposition that apostates must “choose between Islam and the sword,” but he argues that, if Canada is to be true to its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it must allow the country’s Muslim community to punish those of its members who renounce or traduce their faith.[[xvi]]
Apostasy is punishable by death in Afghanistan, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. It is also illegal in Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, and Qatar. All of these countries either have explicit anti-apostasy laws or decree capital punishment for the broader offense of blasphemy. However, the greatest threat to apostates in the Muslim world derives not from the state, but from private individuals who take punishment into their own hands. [[xvii]]
The execution of the apostates is often performed by the relatives of the apostate. They are under tremendous pressure to kill their apostate, and thus to cleanse their name and restore their honor. If they fail, they can be accused of sheltering an apostate and they too can become targeted by the mob.
[vi] Qur’an 4:89
[vii] Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (1996). Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Syracuse University Press. p. 183.
[viii] Kecia Ali and Oliver Leaman (2008). Islam: the key concepts. Routledge. p. 10
[ix] John L. Esposito (2004). The Oxford dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 22
[x] “The Application of the Apostasy Law in the World Today”. Barnabas Fund. 3 July 2007
[xi] Kamguian, Azam (21 June 2005). “The Fate of Infidels and Apostates under Islam”. International Humanist and Ethical Union.
[xii] Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah. Pewglobal.org. 2010-12-02.
[xiii] “Living Apart Together”. Policy Exchange. Policy Exchange. 2007
[xiv] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=936291 Islam as Intellectual Property