100+ Notable Islamic Voices affirming the Freedom of Faith
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
Upper Iowa University
April 2, 2007
[Compilation in Progress; firstname.lastname@example.org]
Freedom of faith is essential to Islam. Prophets and Messengers of Allah along with their communities had to struggle for their freedom of faith. That Islam is by choice is unambiguously stated in the Qur'an and reflected in the Prophetic legacy. However, throughout history, the issue has been clouded due to mixing the issue of apostasy with treason. Now one of the biggest tools of anti-Islam/anti-Muslim propaganda is based on the issue of apostasy, claiming that Islam does not uphold the freedom of faith. Even our own children are getting confused and many are quietly disavowing our wishy-washy position on as fundamental an issue as freedom of faith/religion.
Undeniably, the traditional position of Muslim scholars and jurists has been that apostasy [riddah] is punishable by death. The longstanding problem of the traditional position, as held by Classical jurists or scholars, can be explained and excused as not being able to see apostasy, an issue of pure freedom of faith and conscience, separate from treason against the community or the state. However, the accumulated experience over the history in terms of abuse of this position about apostasy even against Muslims as well as the changed context of a globally-connected, pluralistic society should help us appreciate the contemporary challenges in light of the Qur'anic norms and the Prophetic legacy. In this context, while the classical misunderstanding about this issue of apostasy is excusable, the position of some of the well-known contemporary scholars is not.
Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (commonly known as Maulana Maududi), the late founder and leader of Jamaat-e-Islami and a leading independent, revivalist Islamic personality of 20th century, is frequently referred to for his ardent argument for capital punishment for apostasy. He argued that there is a broad agreement of the leading jurists on this issue. He claims:
"To copy the consecutive writings of all the lawyers from the first to the fourteenth century A.H. would make our discussion very long. Yet we cannot avoid mentioning that however much the four Schools of Law may differ among themselves regarding the various aspects of this problem, in any case all four Schools without doubt agree on the point that the punishment of the apostate is execution." [The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law]
Such a sweeping claim is misplaced because the alleged agreement is about apostasy-cum-treason, not about solely apostasy. Furthermore, any claim of consensus (ijma) on almost anything should be taken with a great deal of circumspection. [see The Doctrine of Ijma: Is there a consensus?]
Another well-known Muslim scholar and jurist of our time, whom I also generally hold in high regard, is Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He asserts: "The duty of the Muslim community — in order to preserve its identity — is to combat apostasy in all its forms and wherefrom it comes, giving it no chance to pervade in the Muslim world." Similar to Maulana Maududi, he also claims ijma on this: "That is why the Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished. ... apostasy is a criminal act." [Apostasy: Major and Minor]
Dr. Al-Qaradawi also fails to separate apostasy from treason. It is unfortunate that such scholars of high repute have shown such serious lapse in recognizing that, as Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan, a scholar and Qur'anic exegete, argues: "Freedom of faith and religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one's faith."
Then, also there are scholars, even in the USA, who are either wishy-washy or ambivalent in regard to their positions. Some are too much beholden to the traditional views held in the past, right or wrong. Views and positions of scholars and leaders, such as Maududi and al-Qaradawi, not only provide powerful ammunition for propaganda against Islam and Muslims, but also confound the mind of our own community, including our youth, whose discerning mind sees through the double-standard or self-contradiction quite transparently.
While many contemporary Muslim scholars have expressed their views affirming the freedom of faith, the collective voice of Muslims is still feeble and little known. In this write-up we have collated opinions and positions of various Muslim scholars, academics, intellectuals, imams, professionals, community leaders and others on this issue. Even young students are voicing against the double-standard that contradicts the Islamic values and principles.
These voices, representing a broad spectrum of Muslim community/ummah, are tipping the scale of the discourse on this issue in favor of affirming and upholding the pristine Islamic principle about freedom of faith. It also debunks the claim of unanimity (ijma), which was not quite true in the past, and it is even less true in the present.
Some additional explanatory notes: (a) Views of some of the early scholars might not be categorical or without variant reports. However, the excerpts included can be basis for identifying them as the precursors of the contemporary views on this issue. (b) There are (or have been) many scholars, early and contemporary, who hold that in case of apostasy capital punishment is not warranted, but have sanctioned or kept open the possibility of other punishments. Their views have not been included here. (c) There are also scholars who believe that punishment of apostasy is not hadd (mandatory, specified punishment based on the Qur'an or sunnah), but it is subject to ta'zir [discretionary punishment, determined by the proper Islamic judicial system]. In this collection, their views have not been included either.
Before the views and opinions of a broad spectrum of Islamic voices are presented below, two brief statements about apostasy in the Qur'an and in hadith are in order.
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Punishment of Apostasy in the Qur'an
As presented in excerpts from numerous sources below, and links to works available online, there is no worldly punishment solely for apostasy [i.e., changing of one's faith/religion] mentioned in the Qur'an.
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Punishment of Apostasy in Hadith
Readers are invited/urged to explore a vast amount of resources/links presented at this blog, where scholars authoritatively have shown that none of the hadiths about apostasy is without problem or weakness. Also, there is no hadith confirming punishment or retribution solely for apostasy. In every single case, where punishment has been meted out, riddah involved treason or rebellion. The following is an example of how the Prophet dealt with solely apostasy.
A bedouin gave the Pledge of allegiance to Allah's Apostle for Islam. Then the bedouin got fever at Medina, came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Cancel my Pledge," But Allah's Apostle refused. Then he came to him (again) and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Cancel my Pledge." But the Prophet refused Then he came to him (again) and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Cancel my Pledge." But the Prophet refused. The bedouin finally went out (of Medina) whereupon Allah's Apostle said, "Medina is like a pair of bellows (furnace): It expels its impurities and brightens and clears its good. [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 9, #318]
Notably, as Dr. M. E. Subhani explained in his book:
“This was an open case of apostasy. But the Prophet neither punished the Bedouin nor asked anyone to do it. He allowed him to leave Madina. Nobody harmed him.” [Apostasy in Islam (New Delhi, India: Global Media Publications, 2005), pp. 23-24.]
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Below we present a unique compilation of 100+ notable Islamic voices, who have expressed their views on punishment of Islam. As mentioned earlier, opinions of those scholars, who have vehemently rejected or repudiated capital punishment of apostasy but have left room for punishment - discretionary or otherwise - of apostasy, also have not been included here.
We will continue to update this collection. If you know of anyone whose publicly articulated position is missing from this compilation, please let us know [with relevant citation].
- Hadrat Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz [d. 97 AH/720 AD]
[popularly known as Umar II and regarded as part of the Khulafa-i-Rashidoon]
Some people accepted Islam during the period of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, who is called the fifth rightful caliph of Islam. All these people renounced Islam sometimes later. Maimoon bin Mahran the governor of the area wrote to the caliph about these people. In reply Umar bin Abdul Aziz ordered him to release those people and asked him to re-impose jizya on them. [Musannaf Abdur Razzaq, pp. 171-10, cited in M. E. Subhani,Apostasy in Islam (New Delhi, India: Global Media Publications, 2005), pp. 23-24. Abdur Razzaq ibn Humama (d. 211 AH). This is the earliest musannaf (a hadith collection arranged in topical chapters) work in existence.]
- Ibrahim al-Nakha'i [d. 95 AH]
[a leading jurist and traditionist among the generation succeeding the Companions]
According to al-Nakha'i, apostate should be re-invited to Islam, but should never be condemned to death. [He] maintained the view that the invitation should continue for as long as there is hope that the apostate might change his mind and repent. [referred to in Chapter: Freedom of Religion in Mohammad Hashim Kamali’s Freedom of Expression in Islam Islamic Text Society, 1997]
- Sufyan al-Thawri [d. 161 AH]
[known as 'the prince of the believers concerning Hadith' (amir al-mu'minin fi'l-Hadith) and is the author of two important compilations of Hadith, namely al-Jami' al-Kabir, and al-Jami' al- Saghir]
According to al-Thawri, apostate should be re-invited to Islam, but should never be condemned to death. [He] maintained the view that the invitation should continue for as long as there is hope that the apostate might change his mind and repent. [cited in Kamali, as above]
- Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi [d. 389 AH]
[An eminent Hanafi jurist and author of al-Mabsut]
"The prescribed penalties (Hudud) are generally not suspended because of repentance, especially when they are reported and become known to the head of state (imam). The punishment of highway robbery, for instance, is not suspended because of repentance; it is suspended only by the return of property to the owner prior to arrest. ... Renunciation of the faith and conversion to disbelief is admittedly the greatest of offenses, yet it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is postponed to the day of judgment (fa'l-jaza' 'alayha mu'akhkhar ila dar al-jaza'). Punishments that are enforced in this life are those which protect the people's interests, such as just retaliation, which is designed to protect life." [al-Mabsut, X, p. 110, quoted in Kamali cited above.]
- Abu Al-Walid Al-Baji [d. 474 AH]
[a noted Maliki jurist; a contemporary of Imam Ibn Hazm]
... observed that apostasy is a sin which carries no prescribed penalty (hadd), and that such a sin may only be punished under the discretionary punishment of ta'zir ... [mentioned in Kamali cited above]
- Imam Abu 'Abdullah Al-Qurtubi [d. 1273 AD]
[Eminent Malike Scholar of hadith and fiqh]
"Al-Samara'i in his comment on this verse (an-Nahl:107) has quoted from Qurtubi's al-Jami the remark that the verse conveys an admonition that the wrath of Allah will be incurred by the apostate but there is no hint of any other punishment." [S. A. Rahman's Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, p. 47, referring to Nu'man 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Samara'i. Ahkam al-Murtadd fi al-Shari'at al-Islamiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Arabiyyahya lil-Taba'at wal Nashr wal-Tauzi, 1968]
- Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi [d. 1355 AD]
[Maliki scholar and author of Qur'anic commentary Bahrul Muhit]
"Ibn Hayyan, a well-known exegetist, has expressly mentioned a definite opinion that no apostate can be coerced into rejoining the Muslim community." [mentioned in S. A. Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, India, Kitab Bhaban, 1996, p. 55]
- Ibn al-Hammam al-Hanafi [14th century AD]
"There is no punishment for the act of apostay, for its punishment is greater than that, with God." [mentioned in S. A. Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, India, Kitab Bhaban, 1996, p. 45, citing Sharh Fath al-Qadir with commentary by Chalpi on Fath al-Qadir, Vol. IV, pp. 388-9]
- Shaikh Rashid Rida [1865-1935]
[Eminent Islamic scholar; disciple of Afghani/Abduh]
"This verse reaffirms the one which occurs in Surat al-Baqarah (II:256), and both proscribe compulsion in religion. Both of these passages proclaim and uphold that people are free to pursue religious beliefs of their own choosing. No one is to be compelled to abandon the religion he professes nor must anyone be exposed to punishment and torture for the sake of religion." [quoted in chapter Freedom of religion by Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali's Freedom of Expression in Islam, Islamic Text Society, 1997]
- Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar [1878-1931]
[Indian author, scholar and a leading figure of the Khilafat Movement]
"M. Muhammad Ali Jauhar had, it seems, sponsored the thesis that Islam did not sanction any punishment for apostasy." [mentioned in S. A. Rahman, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, India, Kitab Bhaban, 1996, p. 6]
- Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut [1893-1963]
[A prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar. He was the shaykh or grand imam, i.e. the leader, of Al-Azhar Islamic Institute in Egypt from 1958 to 1963]
"Mahmud Shaltut analyses the relevant evidence in the Qur'an and draws the conclusion that apostasy carries no temporal penalty, and that in reference to this particular sin, the Qur'an speaks only of punishment in the hereafter ..." [mentioned in chapter Freedom of religion by Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali's Freedom of Expression in Islam, Islamic Text Society, 1997., Shaltut, al-Islam ‘Aqidah wa-Shari’ah, pp. 292-93; al-Samara'i, Ahkam al-Murtadd fi al-Shari’ah al-Islamiyyah, p. 114 f]
- Subhi Mahmassani
[An outstanding Islamic scholar and jurist from Lebanon; author of The Philosophy of Jurisprudence in Islam, 1961]
Mahmassani has observed that the death penalty was meant to apply, not to simple acts of apostasy from Islam, but when apostasy was linked to an act of political betrayal of the community .The Prophet never killed anyone solely for apostasy. This being the case, the death penalty was not meant to apply to a simple change of faith but to punish acts such as treason, joining forces with the enemy and sedition. [Arkan Huquq al-Insan fi l-Islam (Bases of Human Rights in Islam), Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li-l-Malayin, 1979, cited in Kamali, as above]
- Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi
[Grand Imam of al-Azhar since 1996]
"Shaykh Tantawi's ruling on the subject of a Muslim apostasizing has certainly shed new light on this subject, while making the non-Muslims realise that Islam is a religion of moderation. To Shaykh Tantawi, a Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam. If the Muslims were forced to take action against the apostate, he said it should NOT be because he or she had given up the faith but because he or she had turned out to be an enemy or a threat to Islam. Shaykh Tantawi, in his views, shows clearly how simple and moderate Islam is, a religion that is tolerant and not coercive on anybody. Shaykh Tantawi repeatedly stresses the need for Muslims to acquire traditional Islamic knowledge as well as the modern ones so that they could add to the strength of the Muslim community to defend the religion." [Introduction of Grand Imams of Al-Azhar]
- Islamic Research Department, Al-Azhar University
"The Islamic Research Department of Al-Azhar University has called the penalty for apostasy as null and void and has said that the ways of repentance are open for the whole life. ... So an apostate can repent over his mistake anytime during his life and there would be no fixed period for it." [Al-Alamul Islami, the weekly organ of Rabita Alam al-Islami, 23rd August 2002, quoted in Dr. M. E. Subhani, Global Media Publications, 2005, p. 25]
- Dr. Jamal Badawi
[Professor Emeritus, St. Mary's University, Canada]
"The preponderance of evidence from both the Qur'an and Sunnah indicates that there is no firm ground for the claim that apostasy is in itself a mandatory fixed punishment (hadd), namely capital punishment." [Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam?"
"when a man in Madinah apostated from Islam, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) neither ordered his execution nor punished him in any other way, and when the man finally left Madinah, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never sent anyone to arrest him or punish him because of his apostasy." [Apostasy-Dialogue with Dr. Jamal Badawi]
- Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali
[Professor of law at the International Islamic University of Malaysia; author of Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 2003 and Freedom of Expression in Islam, 1994]
"The controversy been exacerbated further by reliance on the provision in the Sunnah which authorizes the death penalty for apostasy without due consideration of other evidence in the Sunnah to the effect that punishment by death was meant only for apostasy accompanied by hostility and treason. ... The Prophet did not treat apostasy as a proscribed offense (hadd), but, on the contrary, pardoned many individuals who had embraced Islam, then renounced it, and then embraced it again. ... [T]he Qur'an is consistent in its affirmation of the freedom of belief and it fully supports the conclusion that the objectives of the Shari ah cannot be properly fulfilled without granting people the freedom of belief, and the liberty to express it." [Chapter: Freedom of Religion in Mohammad Hashim Kamali’s Freedom of Expression in Islam Islamic Text Society, 1997]
- Dr. Tariq Ramadan
[Swiss Muslim Academic and Scholar]
"Q What about apostasy? What happens if you are born and educated a Muslim but then say: I have now decided that Islam is not for me. Would you accept that someone born into a Muslim family has a right to say that they no longer believe, and that families and communities must respect that?
A) I have been criticised about this in many countries. My view is the same as that of Sufyan Al-Thawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam, who argued that the Koran does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. Neither did the Prophet himself ever perform such an act. Many around the Prophet changed religions. But he never did anything against them. There was an early Muslim, Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who went with the first emigrants from Mecca to Abyssinia. He converted to Christianity and stayed, but remained close to Muslims. He divorced his wife, but he was not killed." [Interview: Tariq Ramadan]
- Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahari [d. 1979 AD]
[Prominent and influential Iranian scholar, cleric, academic, and political figure].
The late Ayatollah Mutahhari highlighted the incompatibility of coercion with the spirit of Islam, and the basic redundancy of punitive measures in the propagation of its message. He wrote that it is impossible to force anyone to acquire the kind of faith that is required by Islam, just as 'it is not possible to spank a child into solving an arithmetical problem. His mind and thought must be left free in order that he may solve it. The Islamic faith is something of this kind. ['Islam and the Freedom of Thought and Belief’, Al-Tawhid, p.154, cited in Kamali mentioned above]
- Dr. Hassan Turabi
[Sudanese Islamic leader and intellectual]
"Q) You believe that apostasy should not be punishable by death. There has been a recent case of an Afghan who was about to be killed for apostasy but was saved under the pretense of mental illness. The case was recognized internationally as Italy wants to grant him asylum.
A) There are too many Quranic verses to recite (regarding this). We are ordered to debate with Christians and Jews except those who are unjust. We believe in their prophets who are our prophets too. We believe in their books even if some distortion took place. We are ordered to treat them cordially." [Interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat]
"To be punishable [as a capital offence] apostasy has to be more than just intellectual apostasy. It would have to translate into not only sedition but actually insurrection against society.” [quoted in Globalization and the Muslim World: Sub-Saharan Africa in a Comparative Context]
- Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid
[former President of Indonesia and leader of Nahdatul Ulama]
"Muslim theologians must revise their understanding of Islamic law, and recognize that punishment for apostasy is merely the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to the early days of Islam. Such punishments run counter to the clear Koranic injunction "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).
People of goodwill of every faith and nation must unite to ensure the triumph of religious freedom and of the 'right' understanding of Islam, to avert global catastrophe and spare millions of others the fate of Sudan's great religious and political leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was executed on a false charge of apostasy." [Extremism Isn't Islamic Law]
- Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri
... a significant Shi'a religious authority, states that the above verses do not prescribe an earthly penalty for apostasy and adds that it is not improbable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam due to political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims and not only because of changing the belief or expressing it. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He does not hold that a reversion of belief because of investigation and research is punishable by death but prescribes capital punishment for a desertion of Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community. [Wikipedia: Apostasy in Islam; direct BBC Persian link]
- Dr. Muhammad Ma'ruf al-Dawalibi
[former Professor of Law in University of Damascus, Syria; member, Supreme International Council for Mosques, Makkah]
"... it has never been proved that the Messenger of God exacted punishment on apostates by killing them. This was also what the caliph Omar Ibn Abd al-Aziz did. ... Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut ... says that many scholars are of the opinions that hudud punishment cannot be proved by hadiths reported by single individuals. He also says that disbelief in itself is not justification for shedding blood. The real justification would be aggression against Muslims, fighting them ..." [quoted in Prof. Dr. Ala'Eddin Kharofa, Nationalism, Secularism, Apostasy and Usury in Islam, A.S. Noordeen, 1994, p. 13]
- Sheikh Gamal Al-Banna
[Egyptian Islamist thinker, author, and journalist]
In an article titled "No Punishment for Ridda [Muslims leaving Islam]; Freedom of Thought is the Backbone of Islam," Al-Banna quoted all the Koranic verses on the subject, and then said: "These verses are clear with regard to ridda in Islam; they make no mention of any torture or punishment for the murtadd in this world, like the punishments for thieves or murderers. The [only] dreadful and terrifying punishment is the rage of Allah. This is compatible with the policy and spirit of the Koran, and the many other texts included in it, that are based on belief in persuading the individual and his intent without coercion or pressure, and that state that his freedom is maximal... [Sheikh Gamal Al-Banna: Social and Religious Moderation Vs. Political Extremism]
- Dr. Abdul Aziz Sachedina
[Professor, Religious Studies, University of Virginia]
"The ethics of Islamic law allow for an interesting dilemma in regards to the issue of free speech because there is no clear understanding between civil and religious violations. There are certain acts, such as apostasy, that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the legal system and don’t have a defined penal punishment as outlined in the Qu’ran. 'There can be no particular punishment for apostasy from a legal point of view,' Sachedina said. 'From a religious point of view, only God has the power to punish you.' [Cultural Differences Explain Muslim Reaction to Danish Cartoons, Sachedina Says]
- Dr. Rachid Ghannouchi
[leading Islamic thinker and philosopher, and also a scholar on the European Council for Fatwa and Research]
"The first challenge was that of ar-ridda (the turning away or back, or apostasy, from Islam), which Ghannouchi views more as a military insurrection than an act of apostasy." [quoted in Dr. Azzam Tamimi's Democracy: The Religious and the Political in Contemporary Islamic Debate]
- Organization: Council of American-Islamic Relations [CAIR]
“Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion. Islam advocates both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, a position supported by verses in the Quran, Islam's revealed text … ‘Religious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion. Islam has no need to compel belief in its divine truth. As the Quran states: ‘Truth stands out clear from error. Therefore, whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks.’ (2:256)
‘We urge the government of Afghanistan to order the immediate release of Mr. Abdul Rahman.’Before issuing its statement, CAIR consulted with members of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars that interprets Muslim religious law.” [CAIR Calls For Release Of Afghan Christian]
- Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman
[Former Rector, International Islamic Univresity, Malaysia; former Chairman, International Institute of Islamic Thoughts]
"The conceptual confusion occurs in the early period of Islam, because this political conspiracy took the form of apostasy while the real goal was to destroy the Muslim community. The confusion lies in taking the act for what it appeared to be and not for what it was meant to be. They mistook political conspiracy for an exercise of the human right of freedom of belief and choice. The jurists seemed to exercise little analysis concerning the whole question. The word apostasy alone determined their position.
This misunderstanding of the significance of the word apostasy in the Qur'an and the punishment to it in the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) destroyed in the classical jurisprudence the basis of the Islamic concept of tolerance and human responsibility.
The early Muslim position on apostasy ... was not directed against freedom of conscience and belief but towards enforcing the policy of Islamization of the warring Bedouin tribes and toward checking conspiracy." [The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic Methodology and Thought, IIIT, 1981, p. 104]
- S. A. Rahman
[former Chief Justice of Pakistan]
... the Qur'an is silent on the question of death as the punishment for apostasy, despite this subject occurring no less than twenty times in the Holy Book. Rahman then traces the chain of transmission of the Hadith which proclaims 'kill whoever changes his religion'. ...
As this is a solitary Hadith (ahad), Rahman finds some weakness in its transmission (isnad). Rahman's conclusion is also supported by other evidence, such as the fact that neither the Prophet himself nor any of his Companions ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of the faith. [cited in Kamali, mentioned above]
- Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
[Distinguished scholar and Professor of Law and Islamic Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, USA]
But while the Koran mentions ridda, it never calls for the execution of apostates. There is no record of the prophet killing an apostate himself. And executions of apostates have been rare in Islamic history. "The common argument is that it clearly contradicts the Koran, which says there should not be compulsion in religion," said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law expert and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. [In Kabul, a Test for Shariah]
- Dr. Fathi Osman
[Commenting on 2:256]
"This principle of freedom of faith is assured in many other Qur'anic verses. As examples, we read 10:99, 11:28, 88:21-22. Forcing any person to act in any way nullifies the moral and legal responsibility of that person in such an action, whether it is good or evil; consequently, he/she cannot be respectively rewarded or punished for that forced action. Accordingly, imposing Islam by force on any human being will never bring out God's accpetance and reward to the imposer or the one upon whom it was imposed. ...
Another report attributed the reason of revelation [of 2:256] to another incident, in which two sons of a Yathribi were persuaded to be Christians by some Syrian merchants whom they joined. Their parents wanted to get them back by force, but the Prophet stressed their right to make their own free decision, and the verse was revealed to support what the Prophet had said. Al-Zamakhshari, the distinguished linguist and commentator of the Qur'an, commented on the above verse: 'God has not conducted the matter of faith through compelling and forcing, but through enabling] the person to make his/her own decision] and willfully choosing.' " [Concepts of the Qur'an: A Topical Reading, 2nd Ed., Los Angeles, CA: MVI Publication, p. 808]
- Dr. Sheikh Mohammed Ali Al-Hanooti
[Mufti of Greater Washington]
"The issue of apostasy falls under the umbrella of man’s free will, freedom of expression and belief. The Holy Qur’an states unequivocally that nobody can be compelled to either become a Muslim or remain one. In Surah 4: 137, Allah says, “Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe and again deny the truth and thereafter, grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way.” This ayah very clearly shows that even after rejecting Islam twice, no punishment is prescribed for the apostates.
The punishment for apostasy mentioned in Islamic literature is derived from hadiths whose authenticity is not certain (as these hadiths are ahad -from one source, but not mutawatir- from a consensus of sources). Even among those scholars who accept them as authentic, there is vast difference of opinion on the interpretation and elaboration of the hadiths. Such hadiths have been traditionally cited as justification for executing apostates, but these were circumstantial rulings where legal authorities of that time deemed the punishment justified, as the act of apostasy in question, or in some cases, mass apostasy was comparable to treason or to an organized crime outfit, where the apostates would ally themselves with the opponents of the state.
Such hadiths, which have, in the past, been cited to justify punishment for apostasy, therefore, cannot stand against the Qur’an, which provides no textual evidence for such action. On the contrary, the Qur’an states in Surah 10: 99: “If it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, all the people of the world would have believed! Would you then compel them against their will to believe?”
In conclusion, the Qur’an is the definitive clear authority for protecting the rights of an individual in expressing himself in faith and supercedes any of the distorted interpretations of the hadiths in question. Executing a person because of conversion to another faith contradicts the Qur’an, the ultimate source of Shari’ah." [The Ruling on Apostasy]
- Dr. Mahmoud Ayuob
[Professor of Islamic Studies, Temple University]
Summary: After determining what constitutes apostasy (riddah), defined as 'an act of rejection of faith committed by a Muslim whose Islam had been affirmed without any coercion', the author looks at the understanding of riddah in the Qur'an and the Tradition. From this study he concludes that there is no real basis for the riddah law in either of these sources. ["Religious Freedom and the Law of Apostasy in Islam," Islamachristiana, Vol. 20, 1994, pp. 75-91]
- Islamic Center of Long Island, New York
"The Quran states categorically and unequivocally, there shall be no coercion in matters of faith. (2:256). This cornerstone tenet of Islamic faith is violated when an individual is put on trial for converting away from Islam. This verse, very clearly teaches that faith is a personal matter between the individual and God." [Islamic Center of Long Island’s Position Regarding Apostasy]
- Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer
[Director, Institute of Islamic Studies, India]
"No wonder than that Qur’an not only does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy it is against any such punishment. … In view of such clear exposition how can one maintain that one who becomes apostate (murtad) should be punished with death? Such a punishment goes completely against the principle of freedom of faith laid down in the Qur’an. Since according to the Qur’an human beings are responsible for their acts, they have been created free and only a free agent can be held responsible for ones acts, good or bad. This is quite clear from the story of Adam who was warned not to go near a tree in paradise but was left free to decide and he decided to test the fruit of the tree and as a result was expelled from it. This story itself is sufficient to establish principle of freedom of choice in the Qur’an. … Today human rights are of vital importance and modern scholars are also engaged in the project of showing these rights as quite compatible with Islam. And, if some ‘Ulama insist on death sentence for apostasy it is not only crime against freedom of conscience and democratic rights but also serious disservice against Islam." [Islam and Punishment for Apostasy]
- Dr. Abdullah Saeed
[Director, Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam, University of Melbourne, Australia]
"This book argues that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death in Islamic law is untenable in the modern period. Apostasy conflicts with a variety of foundation texts of Islam and with the current ethos of human rights, in particular the freedom to choose one's religion. Demonstrating the early development of the law of apostasy as largely a religio-political tool, the authors show the diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment, highlighting the substantial ambiguities about what constitutes apostasy, the problematic nature of some of the key textual evidence on which the punishment of apostasy is based, and the neglect of a vast amount of clear Qur'anic texts in favour of freedom of religion in the construction of the law of apostasy.
Examining the significant challenges the punishment of apostasy faces in the modern period inside and outside Muslim communities - exploring in particular how apostasy and its punishment is dealt with in a multi-religious Muslim majority country, Malaysia, and the challenges and difficulties it faces there - the authors discuss arguments by prominent Muslims today for an absolute freedom of religion and for discarding the punishment of apostasy." [Book Intro: Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam, Ashgate Publications, 2004]
- Dr. Mohamed Shahrour
[Islamic Thinker and Scholar, Syria]
“Let us consider how the history of Islamic jurisprudence has dealt with the issue of freedom and justice in relation to apostasy (al‑riddah). We have to distinguish between two types of apostasy: that of politics and that of creeds and beliefs. To rebel against the government and attempt to oust it and rule in its stead is political apostasy. … when we persuade or coerce people into believing or disbelieving, we are actually disregarding and belittling God’s Word. … I wish to emphasize that Islamic respect for freedom and Muslims’ awareness of its value cannot be established by force and coercion, for the enforcement of any democratic ideal would be no different from the ‘just tyrannical’ leadership.” [The Concept of Freedom in Islam]
- Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan
[A respected scholar of the Qur'an, president of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations and Chair of the Interreligious Engagement Project. He is also a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. He is the author of a new Qur'anic translation and commentary, Reflections on the Quran: Understanding Surahs Al-Fatihah & Al-Baqarah. Chicago, Illinois]
“[N]o one has any right to use pressure of any kind to make a person change or stop from changing his/her religion. An individual out of his/her own free will should himself or herself do entering into a religion or coming out of a religion.” [Freedom to Change Ones’ Religion]
- Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad
[President/Director, Minaret of Freedom Institute, Maryland, USA]
"Discussions of Islamic law by non-Muslims (and, all too often, by Muslims as well) suffer from confusion between the concepts of apostasy and treason. The majority view is that the death penalty applies only to treason during wartime, including providing aid and comfort to the enemy, rather than mere conversion. According to the Constitution [Article III, section 3], treason consists only 'in levying war against [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.' That Muhammad shared this view can be seen in the fact that he never executed apostates except when they made war or propaganda against the Muslims." [On the American Constitution from the Perspective of the Qur'an and the Madinah Covenant by Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad]
- Dr. Mohammed Fadel
[Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, Canada]
"It is certainly true that the vast majority of Islamic legal scholars in the middle ages prescribed the death penalty for apostates, after an appropriate period for the defendant to repent. This was not, however, a universal position, as an early (and quite respected and important authority, Ibrahim al-Nakha'i, argued that an apostate has the rest of his natural life to repent. More importantly, the origin of the crime of apostasy is political/military treason, not freedom of conscience. Early works of Islamic law make this clear. Almost inevitably, questions of apostasy are raised in the context of a Muslim 'defecting' and joining the ranks of the enemy.
This should not be too surprising given the religious nature of polities in that day and age. In today's world, polities are not religion-based, but based on citizenship, and accordingly, the original logic behind the rules of apostasy have lost their force. For that reason, many, but not all, contemporary Muslim thinkers reject the notion that apostasy should be a capital offense. Of course, that does not mean that, in times of crisis, demagogues cannot abuse obsolete rules to wreak havoc." [Interview]
- Shaikh Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alwani
[former Professor of Fiqh and Usul al Fiqh at Imam Muhammad b. Sa'ud University in Riyadh. Founding member, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the USA in 1981; founder-member of the Council of the Muslim World League in Makkah; , a member of the OIC Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jeddah since 1987; and President of the Fiqh Council of North America since 1988.]
"Apostasy is not a simple act. It has several parts. We cannot simply say that someone left the religion. We must look at the reasons and actions that come before leaving the religion. Suppose one becomes an expatriate and fights against the U.S, (for example). This person would be tried and convicted of treason and usually killed. But if one leaves a religion without causing harm to others or engages in treason, then there is no punishment. The Qur'an is blatant about the fact that there is no compulsion in religion. Some people at the time of the Prophet would convert in the morning and leave Islam at night. The Prophet then announced that those joining in Islam in good faith are welcome, but those who join only to then leave and discredit Islam and then encourage others to fight Islam, that is considered treason and treated as a crime in the same way as U.S. law." [Interveiew]
- Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
[Associate Professor of Economics and Finance, Upper Iowa University]
"Indeed the Qur’an specifies no worldly punishment for apostasy. Hadith refers to only those cases that involved political treason, not apostasy. Also, these hadiths are not mutawatir and thus do not yield certainty of knowledge. In addition, there is no ijma or consensus on this. On the contrary, even some Classical jurists have rejected such punishment.
Of greater importance is the fact that the Qur’an is explicit and insistent about the freedom of faith for all. If Islam upholds the freedom of choice in faith and if “Let there be no compulsion in deen” means anything, then orthodox position on apostasy is unacceptable and unislamic. There is no ambiguity about it. In this world we make precious choices. Muslims should propagate their faith to the best of their ability: Islam in its essence represents the ultimate truth. Nonetheless we are also to respect each other’s right to choose in this world. Muslims’ responsibility is sincere and capable propagation. And most assuredly there is no provision for compulsion of faith in Islam – before embracing the faith or after." [Apostasy, Freedom and Da’wah: Full Disclosure in a Business-like Manner]
- Dr. Louay Safi
[Executive Director of ISNA Leadership Development Center; Ex-President, Association of Muslim Social Scientists]
“Traditionalist scholars have long embraced classical positions on apostasy that consider the rejection of Islam as a capital crime, punished by death. This uncritical embrace is at the heart of the drama that was played in the case of the Afghan convert to Christianity, and which would likely be repeated until the debate about shari’ah reform and its relevance to state and civil law is examined and elaborated by authentic Muslim voices. … Indeed, one cannot find in the Qur’an any support for the apostasy (ridda) penalty. … I am inclined to the increasingly popular view among contemporary scholars, that ridda does not involve a moral act of conversion, but a military act of rebellion, whose calming justifies the use of force and the return of fire. … A Christian or a Jew who converts to Islam is no more a Christian or a Jew, but a Muslim and must be respected as such. By the same taken a Muslim who convert to Christianity is no more a Muslim, but a Christian and must be respected as such.” [Apostasy and Religious Freedom]
- Dr. Ingrid Mattson
[President, Islamic Society of North America; Professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut]
"Given the importance to her of individual choice, Mattson is well aware of the major questions Westerners have about religious freedom in Muslim countries - and whether Muslims have the right to convert to other faiths. A few converts have had their children taken away or have been persecuted as a result. A specialist in Islamic law, Mattson says this is an area that is now being widely examined and contested.
'Many scholars have convincingly argued that apostasy is not a crime, while treason is, based on cases from the early days of Islam, where people who left the community for other religions were not punished, while those who left the political community and betrayed it were.'
What happened historically in some Muslim societies, she says, was that no distinction was made between community affiliation and religious affiliation. But today's world makes other demands, and she supports the case being made for separation of the two." [Muslim convert takes on leadership role]
- Dr. Zaki Badawi
[Principal of the Muslim College; Chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council UK;, Chairman of the Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK;, Vice-Chairman of the World Congress of Faiths;, and a Director and Trustee of UNICEF UK]
... forcing people to believe things just makes them hypocrites. The Koran has no compulsion, no punishment for going away. ... [Inter-faith meeting March 2005]
- Organization: Muslim Public Affairs Council
“... [T]he Quran mandates that religious freedom be respected. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad himself never sentenced an apostate to death. 'While apostasy may be a sin in the eyes of God, it is not considered to be criminal behavior,' Dr. Maher Hathout writes in his recent book 'In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam' (available through Amazon.com).
'We strongly oppose the state's use of coercion in regulating Islamic belief in such a manner, since faith is a matter of individual choice on which only God can adjudicate.'" [MPAC Joins Calls for Release of Afghan Christian]
- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
[Founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA Society) and Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in New York City]
On page 31 of What's Right With Islam, Imam Rauf maintains that: “What is right about any religion or societal structure is therefore the extent to which individuals and societies fully manifest the principles of the Abrahamic ethic”. Just prior to this conclusion, he lists a number of failings of the Muslim community in this respect after the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) passed away – namely, the disappearance of the rule of law applied by an independent judiciary; the judgment that apostasy is the equivalent of treason; continuation of the practice of slavery despite the many Quranic verses that sought to eliminate that institution; and, the on-going oppression of women. [What's Right With Islamby Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf -A Critical Commentary]
- Dr. Saif Ad-Deen 'Abdul-Fattah
[Professor of political theory at Cairo University, known for his remarkable contribution to the branch of jurisprudence that deals with al-maqasid (the objectives of Shari`ah)]
"I think that the rule that governs the issue here is Allah's saying [There is no compulsion in religion] (Al-Baqarah 2:256). Religion cannot by any means be compared to a trap; whoever is trapped in it can never get out. Muslims are in no need of new hypocrites. From this point, I can assure that those who apostatize are always to be asked to repent. The incidents of apparent apostasy in our history are those of collective apostasy. This kind of collective apostasy is considered as cases of state security and national security, in which the penalty for apostasy is applied to protect the whole state." [Freedom and the Cartoon Crisis: From the Incident to the Approach]
- Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni
[President, International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University]
“A Muslim's conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law, contrary to the claims in the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan.While there is long-established doctrine that apostasy is punishable by death, that has also long been questioned by Islamic criminal justice scholars, including this writer.” [Leaving Islam Is Not a Capital Crime]
- Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Al-Shinqiti
[Director of the Islamic Center of South Plains, Lubbock, Texas]
"What I understand from different hadiths on the issue is that apostasy has two different aspects: one, as an intellectual position, i.e. a Muslim who is no longer convinced of the truth of Islam. The second apostasy is in the meaning of political treason and military rebellion against Muslims. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the person that changed his religion joined the pagan army and fought against Muslims, and that is, in my view, what meant by: 'one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.' Therefore, apostasy as purely an intellectual position has no prescribed punishment in the Islamic law, but if a Muslim committed treason against the Muslim Ummah and joined the enemy fighting against Muslims, then he would deserved the death punishment, especially at times of war. Even in secular laws in some countries the penalty for treason is capital punishment.
This does not mean that apostasy is not a great sin – indeed it is the worst of all sins, and Allah says that He will punish those who committed such a heinous act. But not every sin that is punishable on the Day of Judgment has punishment in this world." [Islamonline Live Fatwa Session]
- Dr. Asma Afsaruddin
[Associate Professor of The Classics/Middle East Studies, University of Notre Dame]
"Asma Afsaruddin, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, said that Islam 'threatens punishment in the next world, but that is God's prerogative. The Qur'an has no penalty prescribed for apostasy.' [Afghan Christian averts death for apostasy as Italy grants asylum]
- Organization: Muslim American Society [MAS]
"We at MAS Freedom oppose the possible execution of Mr. Abdul Rahman on both humanitarian and religious grounds. To purse such an action would not only be a flagrant violation of the standards of human rights which the Karzai regime claims to embrace, but it also runs contrary to the Holy Quran, which forbids compulsion in religion." [MAS Freedom Foundation Responds to The Issue of Apostasy in Afghanistan]
- Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
[A Malaysian political scientist; President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)]
"The Noble Qur'an itself views those who leave Islam --- the murtadd( apostate)-with utmost displeasure. It says, " Those who believe, and then disbelieve, and then( again) disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them to the (right) way ( Surah 4:137). But the Qur'an does not prescribe capital punishment or any other form of punishment for the apostate. Neither does the Sunnah. It was only when apostasy was coterminous with rebellion against the nascent state that the Prophet( may peace be upon him) had established in Medina, that the death penalty was imposed. The Righteous Caliphs followed the Prophet's example. The jurists who came after them adopted a different approach. They felt no necessity to differentiate between mere peaceful change of faith and violent rebellions. Consequently, their rulings evolved into mainstream jurisprudence which is what the ulama of today have inherited." [From Fiqh to Qur'an: Resolving Apostasy]
- Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa
[M.D.; author and scholar; Beliefnet columnist]
“This entire “what to do with apostates” debate has raised an extremely important question in my mind. Despite the overwhelming evidence in the Qur’an against the death penalty for those who choose to leave the fold of Islam, despite the fact that the hadith, when understood correctly, does not contradict the Qur’anic position, it is amazing that some people still cling on to the opinions of scholars on this issue. People continue to retort to me, “All of the 4 imams have upheld death for apostates.” [Are The Scholars The Same As God Himself?]
- Dr. Maher Hathout
[MPAC's Senior Advisor; Charter Member of the Pacific Council on International Policy; member, Board of Directors of the Interfaith Alliance; retired physician]
“The problem with the argument for punishment for apostasy is that it cannot be applied in any Islamic state without giving rise to the potential for abuse by the state itself. Erroneously equating moral with political power in the determination of law has led to the political repression that we see in Islamic countries today.” [In Pursuit of Justice, p. 157, quoted in Statement on Afghan Christian Convert]
- Dr. Riffat Hassan
[Chair, Religious Studies, University of Louisville]
“In the context of the human right to religious freedom, it is necessary to mention that, according to traditional Islam, the punishment for apostasy is death. In other words, a person who is born a Muslim or who becomes a Muslim is to be put to death if he or she later chooses to renounce Islam. There is nothing in the Qur’an which suggests any punishment at all, let alone the punishment of death, for a Muslim who renounces Islam. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the Qur’anic dictum, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256), which modern Muslims apply with such magnanimity to non-Muslims does not or should not apply to Muslims also. (I believe that the death penalty was not meant to be a punishment for apostasy alone but for apostasy accompanied by “acts of war” against the Muslims.” [On Human Rights and the Qur’anic Perspective]
- Dr. M.E. Asad Subhani
[Head of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the College of Education in Zanzibar, Tanzania]
... argues that the dominant Muslim position on apostasy as deserving death is, in fact, not sanctioned in the primary sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Hadith, the traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad ... [Book review: Apostasy in Islam]
- Imam Ziad Hamdan
[Islamic Society of Milwaukee]
Speaking at the main Friday prayer service, Imam Ziad Hamdan said that conversion is a personal decision and is not subject to the intervention of the state. In doing so, he drew upon his own understanding of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, and echoed the opinions of many North American Islamic scholars and of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. ... Hamdan said in an interview Friday that clerics have an obligation to enter into a discussion with the man to point out his errors, but that judgment and punishment are up to God. [Conversion is personal, area Islamic leaders says]
- Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah
[Religious Director, Milwaukee Islamic Society; member of Fiqh Council of North America; former President, Islamic Circle of North America; CEO, Universal Heritage Foundation]
That view [of Imam Ziad Hamdan] was reinforced by Zulfiqar Ali Shah, the Milwaukee Islamic society's religious director. He also is a prominent scholar and a member of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars that interprets Muslim religious law. Shah said in an interview that the council and most other scholars in North America hold that an individual has the freedom to choose a faith, or to leave a faith, without earthly punishment.
"Islam does not allow coercing anybody into the Islamic religion," Shah said. "And even if it comes to apostasy, 'Irtidad,' the word which means apostasy in the Qur'an appears 14 times, and all the 14 times the Qur'an does mention that there is punishment in the life hereafter, but it says nothing about this worldly life whatsoever." [Conversion is personal, area Islamic leaders say]
- Maulana Inayatullah Asad Subhani
[Scholar; author of many thought-provoking books on Islam; India]
And there is no bigger misconception-strengthened with misinterpretation of Islamic thoughts over the years-other than the belief that Islam doesn't tolerate apostasy. Ulama have tried to strengthen it through their emphasis and several leading Muslim reformists have failed to tackle the issue. This misconception has also presented Islam as a medieval and killer religion. Islam baiters have time and again tried to carry the point by pointing out that Islam orders the killing of a person if he reverts to other religion from Islam.
And there was none who could answer this widely held belief as well as put forth a convincing argument about the misinterpretation of Qur'anic teachings by ulama.
Inayatullah Subhani says that neither Islam forces any person to embrace Islam nor it forces him to remain within its fold. He writes 'apostasy has been mentioned several times in Qur'an. It also describes the bad treatment that will be meted out for committing apostasy, but it never talks of punishment for the crime in this world.' Maulana mentions three ayaat (verses) from Qur'an on apostasy (Al-Baqara 217, Muhammad 25-27 and Al-Maida 54 )and then says that none of these ayaat prescribes any punishment for that though these ayaat pass strictures on the people who commit it. He mentions several other ayaat on the same issue and then concludes that none of these ayat prescribes either death penalty or any other punishment for apostasy in this world. He then adds that had there been some punishment in Islam for apostasy there was no reason as to why the issue was mentioned repeatedly in Qur'an but no punishment was prescribed.
He emphasizes that people who were awarded death penalty for reverting to other religions from Islam during either the time of the Prophet (SAW) or during the reign of his caliphs were not given the punishment for the crime of apostasy but for the fact that they were at war with Muslims and Islamic government. [Book Review: Apostasy doesn't carry death penalty in Islam]
- Organization: Islamic Center of Southern California
We believe this trial, as well as apostasy laws in Afghanistan and other so-called Muslim states mandating the killing of apostates, violates two fundamental tenets of Islam.
a. Freedom of religion – The Quran states categorically and unequivocally, “there shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2:256). This cornerstone tenet of Islamic faith is violated when an Islamic nation puts on trial individuals for converting away from Islam. Based on this verse, we see that faith is an intimate matter between a person and God. There is no room for a nation, or a pseudo religious clergy, to take on a role that God has reserved for Himself in judging the relationship between a person and the Almighty.
b. Sanctity of human life - one of the paramount goals of Islamic law (Sharia) is the protection of human life. [Statement on Afghan Christian Convert]
- Dr. Abidullah Ghazi
[Executive Director, IQRA International Educational Foundation, Skokie, IL; USA]
"The instances of mutual respect and cooperation afforded those Muslims living in North America are too numerous, while incidents of impudence and intolerance, seemingly inspired by the Shari’ah code, have displayed the exact opposite in several Muslim-majority lands. ...
There has also existed historically a long tradition of acceptance diversity of culture and faith in Islamic civilization, a fact that has to be remembered by those wishing to jettison this value in favor of insularity and narrow-mindedness.The question nowadays for the Muslim community in the West is how we want this very same culture of freedom and choice that we enjoy as minorities reflected in Muslim-majority societies. In the globalized reality of today, Western Muslims have a special duty to promote similar attitudes of respect for human rights, tolerance and mutuality in Muslim-majority societies. ...
While much has been made of the official radd penalty in the Western media these days, the fact is that historically this penalty has been rarely enforced, and usually when it was, it was due to some unmitigated political upheaval caused by the said apostasy. ...
As a believing and practicing Muslim who is deeply involved in inter-religious dialogue and understanding, I call on all Muslim judicial systems and legislatures worldwide (where the radd law exists) to contemplate the decorum for this modern age in which we live and bring our age-old and well-tested values in line with universal values. It is high time that Muslims learn to respond to all such challenges intellectually and academically, not through passionate or repellent reaction." [An Issue of Conversion]
- Dr. Ziauddin Sardar
[A cultural critic, Muslim scholar, most prolific author, and editor of Futures: The Journal of Planning, Policy, and Futures Studies]
"Most Muslims consider the Shari'ah, commonly translated as ‘Islamic law’, to be divine. Yet, there is nothing divine about the Shari`ah. The only thing that can legitimately be described as divine in Islam is the Qur’an. The Shari`ah is a human construction; an attempt to understand the divine will in a particular context. This is why the bulk of the Shari`ah actually consists of fiqh or jurisprudence, which is nothing more than legal opinion of classical jurists. The very term fiqh was not in vogue before the Abbasid period when it was actually formulated and codified. But when fiqh assumed its systematic legal form, it incorporated three vital aspects of Muslim society of the Abbasid period. At that juncture, Muslim history was in its expansionist phase, and fiqh incorporated the logic of Muslim imperialism of that time. The fiqh rulings on apostasy, for example, derive not from the Qur'an but from this logic." [Rethinking Islam]
- Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim
[Professor of Law at Emory University School; the director of the Religion and Human Rights Program at Emory; formerly the Executive Director of the African bureau of Human Rights Watch.]
"To Muslims, Shari‘a is the 'Whole Duty of Mankind,' moral and pastoral theology and ethics, high spiritual aspiration, and detailed ritualistic and formal observance; it encompasses all aspects of public and private law, hygiene, and even courtesy and good manners. To attribute inadequacy to any part of Shari‘a is regarded as heresy by the majority of Muslims, who believe that the whole of Shari‘a is divine. This widespread view creates a formidable psychological barrier, which is reinforced by the threat of criminal prosecution for the capital offense of apostasy (ridda), a real threat today in countries such as the Sudan." [Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Toward Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse Uni. Press 1996), p. 11].
" ... although ridda (apostasy) is condemned by the Qur'an in the strongest terms, the Qur'an does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy in this life. Nevertheless, the majority of Muslim jurists have classified apostasy as a hadd punishable by death as prescribed in the Sunna. Such classification violates the fundamental right of freedom of religion, sanctioned by the Qur'an in numerous verses. Relying on the higher authority of the Qur'an for freedom of conscience, and arguing that the available Sunna imposing the death penalty can be explained by the special circumstances of the cases in question, some modern Muslim writers have mainteained that apostasy is not a hadd. This approach, however, does not address the other negative consequences of apostasy under Shari'a, under the discretionary power of ta'zir. To remove all constitutional and human rights objections, the legal concept of apostasy and all its civil and criminal consequences must be abolished. Whatever Sunna authority may exist for penal and other legal conseuences of apostasy should be taken as transitional and no longer applicable in accordance with the evolutionary principle explaned in Chapter 3." [p. 109]
- Dr. Jeffrey Lang
[Professor of Mathematics, University of Kansas, USA; author of three thought-provoking, must-reading books]
"The command, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clear from error' (2:256), would seem to argue against a penalty for apostasy ouside of a manifest act of political treason. The majority trend of those traditions of the Prophet related to incidents of apostasy also point to this conclusion. In the first place, there are authenticated traditions in which no action was taken against apostates. ... Secondly, there are the group of traditions that associate apostasy with high treason. ... While the death penalty for apostasy still has important implications for Muslims in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Pakistan, it is of little immediate consequence to Muslims now living in western countries, where the idea of killing someone for having second thoughts about one's faith is highly repugnant. The evidence resorted to in classical texts to justify execution for a mere change of faith might better suggest limiting such a punishment only to cases of aiding and abetting an enemy of the state." [Struggling to Surrender, Amana Publications, 1994, pp. 210-211]
- Dr. Abdul Hakim Winter
[Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, U.K]
"The issue of the punishment for apostasy is a fascinating example of debates unfolding in Islamic law. Islam has four orthodox schools of law, and traditionally the majority view in all four of them held that apostasy carries the death penalty. In recent years, however, many Muslim scholars have pointed out that even among the medieval writers there are leading figures who, on the basis of the Muslim scriptures, have contested this. An example, from the Hanafi school, would be al-Sarakhsi; and from the Malikis, al-Baji. The reason for the difference of opinion (hardly an uncommon phenomenon in Islamic law!), is that the Qur'an nowhere lays down a penalty for apostasy, and the Hadith texts have been interpreted in very contrasting ways.
For this reason, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, the highest religious authority in Egypt during the 1960s, issues an opinion to the effect that apostasy was not a criminal offence in Islamic law. This view has been followed widely in the Muslim world." [Online Dialogue: The Future of Muslims in the West]
- Dr. Amir Hussain
[Department of Theological Studies; Loyola Marymount University; California, USA]
Unfortunately, many Muslims and non-Muslims alike are unaware of the historical contexts that shaped the development of Islamic law. The harsh measures that some Muslims impose on those who leave the faith must be understood in light of Islam's beginnings as a persecuted tradition. Muslims were threatened by the polytheists in Mecca, and a series of battles occurred between Muhammad's community in Medina and the polytheists of Mecca. In that context the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy was not so much a matter of religious affiliation as a matter of political identity. By reverting back to polytheism after having converted to Islam, one would actively be siding with the polytheists of Mecca and would therefore undermine the Muslim community. In effect, apostasy was comparable to treason, an offence which still carries the death penalty in several jurisdictions in the United States, though no longer in Canada
.In the modern period, extremist Muslims seem almost to take delight in applying those early precedents to apostates today. The classical jurists of Islamic law, however, were hesitant to rule on cases of apostasy, however, precisely because of the capital nature of the offence. They preferred to let God decide the matter on the day of judgment. Indeed, the Qur'an is clear that ultimate judgment belongs to God alone: "Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth belongs to God; God forgives whom God pleases and chastises whom God pleases; and God is Forgiving, Merciful" (3:129). This recourse to God's judgment is applied differently throughout the Muslim world; today some pacifist Muslims take it so far as to renounce not only the death penalty but all violence in the defense of the faith. When Muslims take upon themselves God's role as judge of a person's faith, they flout the Qur'anic injunction given to the Prophet Muhammad himself, that he was to warn people but not force them to obey: "So therefore remind, for you [Muhammad] are one to remind, but you are not a warden over them. But whoever turns back and disbelieves, God will punish him with a mighty punishment. For to Us [God] is their return, and it will be for Us to call them to account" (88:21 - 26). It is therefore God who will inflict punishment when human beings return to God at the end of this life.
Of course, Muslims believe that human beings still need law, or else there would be chaos. Even those of us who value human freedom agree that certain conventions such as traffic signals should be obeyed. The difficult issue is the intersection of human justice in this world with God's justice in the world to come. ["Apostasy: turning away from Islam," in Oil and Water: Two Faiths, One God (Kelowna: Copper House, 2006), pp. 178-180]
- Organization: Muslim Women's League [MWL]
The Muslim Women's League ... [calls] for the release of the Afghan Christian convert recently on trial for apostasy. We follow the Qur'anic mandate that "there is no compulsion in religion" and hope that this case will be resolved justly, as required by Islam. [Calling for Release of the Afghan Christian]
- Imam Yahya Hendi
[Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University; Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick; a member and the spokesperson of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America; adjunct faculty with Evergreen Society of John Hopkins University’s School of Professional Development, MD.]
"I call on the government of Afghanistan to release Abdul Rahman, a man facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. According to my understanding of Islamic law (Shari’ah), belief is a personal matter not subject to the intervention of the state. Shari’ah Law safeguards the right of every human being to choose his/her own faith and tradition. Shari’ah law should not and must not be used by politicians to justify inhumane and cruel treatment of converts and religious minorities living in so-called Muslim Lands.
What the Islamic Shari’ah terms Hadd ul-Riddah must be distinguished from the right to convert out of Islam. Hadd ul-Riddah refers to the original rulings of early Islamic scholars on apostasy, which were similar to rulings concerning treason found in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion. ...
Let it be known by all humanity, both Muslims and non-Muslims that religious belief should be a matter of personal choice, not a cause for government intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but rather coercion." [Imam Yahya Hendi calls for the release of Afghan Christian]
- Dr. Azizah al-Hibri
["Azizah Y. al-Hibri is a professor at the T. C. Williams School of Law, University of Richmond; founder and president of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.]
"The whole punishment for Muslims who leave their people is not about change of religion at all, whether Christianity or even lack of belief in God, because God guaranteed for Muslims freedom of faith and freedom of conscience. The whole idea was, if they were in a state of war and this person left and joined the enemy who is fighting them, then he becomes the enemy, and then you fight him like you fight the enemy. That's what needs to be understood." [CNN Interview]
- Dr. Radwan Masmoudi
[Founder, member of the Board, and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)]
"Freedom of religion is the only way to build a strong, moral society," says Radwan Masmoudi, "where people can deal with each other with dignity, respect, trust, and fairness." Progressive thinkers such as Masmoudi advocate "liberal Islam," which considers freedom of conscience a sacred right as well as a central democratic doctrine. They argue that Muslims must recover the Koranic teaching that human beings are created free, and that violations of basic liberties--including freedom of worship--contradict human nature and the will of God. [The Unmentionable Freedom]
- Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
[British Muslim author and educator; authors of many books on Islam]
"As regards the common misconception about issuing the death penalty for leaving the faith (apostasy), or vilifying Allah (blasphemy), or speaking abusively about Allah or his Messenger (pbuh), this was never the case. The Prophet (pbuh) himself was frequently abused and hurt and jeered at, but exhorted his followers going through equal or greater suffering than himself to stand firm and accept the unpleasantness with patience, hating the evil, but never hating the people who had been overtaken by evil. The death penalty could be issued legally in cases of treason or murder, the treason being the cases of those who had once accepted the rule of Islam in an Islamic country, but had then not merely turned against it (which anyone might do - and be pitied for this tragedy rather than attacked; their actual judgment rested with Allah in the life to Come), but also actively led physical attacks upon it and coerced others into doing so." [On the Hijacking of Islam]
- Dr. A. Rashied Omar
[Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding, Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame]
“Contemporary Muslim jurists are uncritically transporting medieval juristic positions that were negotiated in radically different historical circumstances to present day realities. … number of modern Muslim scholars have argued for more lenient and humane positions on apostasy, marshalling strong support for their views. … Notwithstanding these and other tolerant Islamic positions on religious conversion, Muslims engaged in interreligious dialogue need to be more honest and forthcoming about the enormous challenge they face in reforming the hegemonic traditional Muslim position on apostasy.” [The Right to Religious Conversion: Between Apostasy and Proselytization]
- Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab
[Imam, Islamic Center of Greater Toledo]
“A person cannot be forced into being a Muslim, and neither should someone be punished for peacefully abandoning the faith,” according to Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab.
"The penalty is up to God in the hereafter, but there is no penalty on this Earth for apostasy," Imam Farooq said yesterday. He called the Afghan government's charges against Abdul Rahman "a kind of nonsense, a misinterpretation of Islam." [No earthly penalty for converts, local imam says]
- Imam Sadullah Khan
[Executive Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Irvine, California.]
“There is not a single instance that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did treat apostasy as a prescribed offence under hudud (capital punishment) only for leaving Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) never put anyone to death for apostasy alone rather he let such person go unharmed.” [Freedom, Tolerance and the Shari’ah]
- Dr. Najah Kadhim
[Executive Director of the International Forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID) and a senior university lecturer, London, United Kingdom]
“… why should we feel so insecure about the destiny of Islam and lose our self-confidence when dealing with other people to the extent of imposing Islamic ideas and beliefs by force? … We have not heeded the Qur’anic plea when it has appealed to our senses, asking us to reflect, to seek to understand the causes of phenomena, and therefore to be able to construct a great civilization. What we now have is social retardation, far removed from the civilization envisaged by the Qur’an. In our efforts to find solutions to the problems that continue to arise day after day, we retreat into the past to seek readymade answers. The execution of the apostate reflects our distrust in the intellect and our blind adherence to the use of violence, which are the result of our yielding to inferior animal instincts and our imitating the shameful attitudes of other nations.” [Has the Time Come for a Serious Reflective Reassessment of the Fiqh of the Killing of an Apostate (and many other issues)?]
- Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
Pakistani Islamic scholar, exegete, and educationist; director of Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences; member of Council of Islamic Ideology since 2006]
"Instead of interpreting the Hadith in the light of the relationship between the Qur’an and Hadith, they [the jurists]have interpreted it in the absolute sense, totally against the context of the Qur’an. Consequently, in their opinion the verdict pronounced in the Hadith has a general and an unconditional application. They have thereby incorporated in the Islamic Penal Code a punishment which has no basis in the Shari‘ah." [Islamic Punishments: Some Misconceptions]
- Dr. Reza Aslan
[Research Associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy; author of "No God But God]
"It's important, first of all, to understand that the Koran says nothing about apostasy at all. There is no punishment in apostasy. This idea of death as a punishment for apostasy actually arose at a time in which Islam and the state were one. So, apostasy and treason were considered the same thing. And, therefore, the punishment of death was for all of it.
Not all Islamic law -- schools of Islamic law actually agree upon this, just the very conservative ones. And there are few more conservative schools of law than in Afghanistan." [Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees: Death to Christian Converts?]
- Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
[Distinguished Mathematician and currently, professor, Department of Decision Sciences and MIS, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. A noted scholar in his own profession, Shafaat also specialized in Comparative Religon and has authored many books and pamphlets about Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.]
“It is a significant fact that the Book of God does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy. Many Muslims would immediately say, The Qur`an does not tell us everything. We need to go to the Hadith to find guidance on matters not touched by the Qur`an. But … The punishment for apostasy is not a detail that we can expect God to leave for ahadith, especially if that punishment is death, since taking the life of a person, if done without a just cause, is regarded by the Qur`an as tantamount to killing all human beings (5:32).” [The Punishment of Apostasy in Islam]
- Shaikh Dr. Ahmad Kutty
[Scholar, Islamic Institute of Toronto]
“Even though the penalty for treason was the death penalty (as was the case in the Law of Moses as well), there was no targeting of people who simply chose to leave Islam without any implication of treason. To simply kill anyone who chooses to follow a religion other than Islam is against the fundamental teachings of the Qur’an. Freedom of conscience is a fundamental principle of the Qur’an that is clearly stated in many Qur'anic verses.” [On Apostasy]
- Organization: Islamic Center of San Deigo
The position of ICSD on the apostasy case in Afghanistan is the position taken by CAIR and MAS Freedom Foundation, namely that ICSD:
“oppose(s) the possible execution of Mr. Abdul Rahman on both humanitarian and religious grounds. To pursue such an action would not only be a flagrant violation of the standards of human rights which the Karzai regime claims to embrace, but it also runs contrary to the Holy Quran, which forbids compulsion in religion.” [ICSD Response to Apostasy Case In Afghanistan]
- Dr. Shahid Athar
[Islamic activist and author; Indianapolis, IN, USA]
"There is no death penalty in the Qur’an for apostasy. The Qur’an says “Let there be no compulsion in religion, truth stands out from falsehood. Whosoever rejects falsehood and believes in one God has grasped the most trustworthy hand that never breaks, and God hears and knows all things.” (2:26). In order to be a true Muslim, the faith has to accepted in the heart of the person. A court cannot force him to become Muslim." [Reflections on God’s Grace, Salvation, Heaven & Hell]
- Zainah Anwar
[Executive Director, Sisters in Islam, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]
... even though apostasy is a great sin it is not a capital offence in Islam. Therefore a personal change of faith merits no punishment. Yet in its attempt to introduce the hudud law in the 21st century, the Islamic party in power in Terengganu chose the most extremist juristic opinion to codify into law. It is a well-known fact that the Qur'an is explicit in its recognition of freedom of religion and there exists as well within the Islamic juristic heritage a position that supports freedom of religion. [Islamisation and its Impact on Democractic Governance and Women's Rights in Islam]
- Dr. Muqtedar Khan
[Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware]
"... religious minorities in some Islamic states, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban, suffer institutionalized discrimination because of these states’ legalist orientation and their obsession with the Islamic jurisprudence. Some of the legalist positions in Islamic states are so strict that non-Muslim minorities find it a challenge to live normal lives. Blasphemy laws and apostasy laws are well known for the problems they cause minorities." [Islamic State and Religious Minorities]
- Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed
[President of the Islamic Research Foundation International, Louisville, Kentucky]
“And there is no bigger misconception-strengthened with misunderstanding of Islamic beliefs over the years-other than the belief that Islam doesn't tolerate apostasy. The Christian missionaries and the Western world are cashing in on it. Ulama have tried to strengthen their point of view and several leading Muslim reformists have failed to tackle the issue. This misconception has also presented Islam as a medieval and killer religion. Islam bashers have time and again tried to carry the point by pointing out that Islam orders the killing of a person if he or she reverts to another religion from Islam.No body is forthcoming to challenge this widely held belief as well as put forth a convincing argument about the misinterpretation of Qur'anic teachings by Ulama.The Qur’an is completely silent on any worldly punishment for apostasy and the sole Tradition that forms the basis of rulings is open to many interpretations.” [Is Killing An Apostate in the Islamic Law?]
- Dr. Hasan Zillur Rahim
[Former editor of IQRA, South Bay Islamic Association; Physicist]
"Many Muslims have already pointed out the absurdity, illegality and immorality of apostasy-killing as the hapless Rahman's impending fate filtered out of Afghanistan. The most powerful indictment comes, of course, from the Quran: Let there be no compulsion in religion (2:256). ...
Hopefully, killing for apostasy and stoning to death (only women need apply) for adultery will soon be a thing of the past as absolutist clerics realize that their hold over Muslim minds and hearts is rapidly dissipating. ...
Even in conservative societies, Muslims are beginning to realize that faith is a matter of personal responsibility and not a consequence of authoritarian decree. The days of religious leaders thundering: 'I am right, you are dead' will soon, let us pray, be over once and for all." [Lessons from the case of the Afghan apostate]
- Dr. Shehzad Saleem
[Director, Al-Mawrid, Institute of Islamic Sciences; Editor, Renaissance, a monthly Islamic journal; Pakistan]
"It is shown on the basis of the above mentioned feature that the following directives of Islam are specific to the age of the last Rasul and his companions and cannot be related to later Muslims: 1. Apostasy ..." [Understanding the Qur’an: A Fundamental Premise]
- Shah Abdul Hannan
[Chairman, Islamic Economic Research Bureau; former Chairman, Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd., former deputy governor, Bangladesh Bank; Author/Scholar; Bangladesh]
"On this issue of punisment of apostasy I hold the same view as that of Dr. Jamal Badawi, Dr. Hashim Kamali, Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman and such scholars ... who hold that apostasy has no punishment unless in conjunction with rebellion or violence. This is my view." [comment sent directly by email]
- Adil Salahi
[Journalist and author of many books, including Muhammad: Man and Prophet]
"Many are the Qur’anic verses that make clear that all people are free to choose the faith they want. There can be no compulsion with regard to faith. Indeed, over the fourteen centuries since Islam began, compulsion was never a policy of any Islamic government anywhere in the world. On the contrary, followers of other faiths, including those who worship idols, lived freely among Muslim communities. Today, you find Christian and Jewish communities, as well as followers of other faiths, in the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries. This testifies to the fact that Islam operates a policy of freedom of faith and worship. The Hadith you have mentioned is often quoted in support of the death penalty for apostasy. Many scholars mention that this penalty is mandatory, which means that it is prescribed and cannot be changed. However, a fair number of profoundly perceptive scholars are of the view that this punishment is discretionary, which means that it can be reduced or even waived. This is the view that seems to be better supported by Qur’anic and Hadith texts.
... It is 'deserting the community', which means that the person concerned did not merely choose to follow a religion other than Islam, but also he deserted his community and stood in opposition to it. Scholars make clear that the Arabic statement implies rebellion. They cite cases of people who changed their faith after adopting Islam during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his two immediate successors, Abu Bakr and Umar, and none of them was executed. It is to that early period of Islam that we look for practical guidance in understanding Islamic rules. Had the death penalty for apostasy been mandatory, none of them would have refrained from enforcing it." [What Is the Punishment for Apostasy?]
- Dr. Bashir Ahmad
[Wildwood, Missouri; USA]
"Islam emphatically affirms full freedom of conscience and belief. Simple apostasy, which is not aggravated by rebellion, treason or grave disorderliness, is not punishable in any manner." [No Punishment for Apostasy in Islam]
- Organization: Islamic Networks Groups
[Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, ING, an entreprenurial, educational outreach organization with affiliates and partners in 20 states, Canada and the United Kingdom. ING promotes interfaith dialogue and education]
"No where in the Qur’an does it mention punishment for apostasy, although the subject of disbelief is mentioned repeatedly, and the last verse mentioned above specifically describes a person who disbelieves repeatedly without any mention of punishment. ... according to numerous Islamic scholars, the death penalty was meant, not for simple acts of apostasy, but for political betrayal of the community, or treason, which is punishable in numerous societies. ... ING calls on all Muslims to re-examine universal Islamic principals that uphold the rights of all people to freedom of religion." [Apostasy in Islam]
- Mustafa Akyol
[a Turkish Muslim writer]
"In the early Muslim state, apostasy became regarded as a crime because it was seen as a rebellion against the state. In other words, the real consideration was political and, by time, this turned into a religious rule as well. This is, of course, a deviation we Muslims should rid ourselves today." [Symposium: Convert or Die]
- Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
[Youngest national mufti, Malaysia]
Islamic leaders must squarely address the questions of apostates and other challenges, and not further damage the Muslim community by their own failure to live up to religious values. ...
Asked to comment on tensions raised by the issue of apostasy, Asri said religious leaders were culpable because they divert focus from the reasons that lead Muslims to apostasise. Instead, they issued threats of punitive measures against apostates and non-Muslim supporters. [Malaysia: Nation's youngest mufti speaks out on apostasy]
- Ibrahim Hooper
[National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations]
"Islam advocates both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. That position is supported by the Quran, Islam's revealed text, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and the opinions of Islamic scholars both past and present. ... Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion. ... Freedom from coercion also implies freedom to practice another faith. ... Religious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief. [Islam and religious freedom]
- Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman
[Researcher with the Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia (IKIM) and a Pro-temp Committee Member of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).]
- Mirza A. Beg
[Geologist and columnist; US]
“The Quran has many references to apostasy. It does not call for a temporal punishment; it specifically reserves the judgment for God. On the contrary there are many verses that clearly prohibit compulsion in religion … It is important and valid to oppose all the encroachments by others on the Muslim lands and Islam, but it is suicidal to use it as an excuse to cover the festering wound intolerance. The more grievous fault is lies within.” [Apostasy Laws – An Injury To Islam By Muslims]
- Iman al-Qahtani
[Saudi journalist. She is also an author and activist in Saudi Arabia]
"There is no basis for executing an apostate in Islam. It is nothing more than an invention by narrow-minded men who accuse everyone in disagreement with them of apostasy." [I don't believe it]
- Dr. Sohirin Solihin
[Pofessor of Qur'ranic studies, International Islamic University, Malaysia]
... The Koran forbids Muslims to abandon their faith, but it doesn't specify the penalties ... [Losing Faith in Malaysia]
- Imam Kamara AbdilHaqq Muhammad
[Isaamic Teacher and Associate Imam at ADAMS Center of Northern Va., USA]
"Of the many things we try to remember, we must remember this clear fact: Allah is not in need of anyone or anything in His creation.' Therefore it is neither a loss to Him nor a strain to Him if any of the Children of 'Aadam turn away from His established agenda of Al-Islaam. 'Laa 'ikraha fid Diin' means exactly what it says: 'No compulsion in the Diin (religion). Allah has not made it compulsory that we must worship and pray to Him, rather He has allowed us to make that choice with our free wills that He so kindly gave us. I have found that the less educated people are in the Qur'aan and social life, the harder they are on others. "The Prophet never punished those around him who sometimes said shahaadah in the morning and change to something else in the evening.
When any among the Children of 'Aadam choose in their own heart to submit their will to Allah it is their gain and blessing, likewise when any among the Children of 'Aadam elect to reject to submit their will to Allah it is their own loss and their loss only. Be patient in all matters and we get the best outcome." [comments sent directly by email, while endorsing the Statement presented in this Blog]
- Asim Siddiqui
[Chairman of the City Circle, a network body of mainly young Muslim professionals; UK]
"To argue for capital punishment for apostasy goes against the very principles of Islam." [Freedom of conscience in Islam]
- Sherazad Hamit
[Student, Macalester College]
“ … the sentencing to death of apostates goes against Qur’anic decrees on apostasy, and is therefore un-Islamic, given the context of the apostate in question. …” [Apostasy and the Notion of Religious Freedom in Islam]
- Organization: Sisters In Islam
[Sisters in Islam (SIS) is an independent non-governmental organisation, formed in 1988, which believes in an Islam that upholds the principles of equality, justice, freedom and dignity]
“Based on these three reasons and the Qur'anic principle of freedom of religion, prominent ulama from the seventh to the twentieth centuries have come out with the position that there can be no death penalty for apostasy. According to Professor Hashim Kamali in his award-winning book, Freedom of Expression in Islam, two leading jurists of the generation succeeding the Companions, Ibrahim al-Naka'I and Sufyan al-Thawri, both held that the apostate should be re-invited to Islam, but should never be condemned to death. The renowned Hanafi jurist, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi wrote that even though renunciation of faith is the greatest of offences, it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is postponed to the Day of Judgement. The Maliki jurist Abul Walid al-Baji and the renowned Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah have both held that apostasy is a sin which carries no hadd punishment. …Those in the vanguard of the Islamic movement that wants to turn this country into an Islamic state must ask themselves, why would Malaysians support the concept of an Islamic state which assert different rights for Muslim men, Muslim women and non-Muslims and minorities, rather than equal rights for all? Why would those whose equal status and rights are recognised by a democratic system support the creation of such an Islamic state? If an Islamic state means a dictatorial theocratic political system that condemns those who question or challenge its authority as apostates or deviants, and then impose the death penalty on them, then why would those whose fundamental liberties are protected by a democratic state support such an intolerant concept of an Islamic state?” [Islam, Apostasy and PAS]
- Dr. Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil
[Lecturer at the Centre for Islamic Thought and Understanding at Mara University of Technology; Bachelor of Shari’a, University of Malaya; PhD, University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies].
"The notion of the right to freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Islam. ... However, most of the classical Muslim jurists’ writings, apparently, did not articulate the subject. ... The subject of the rights of the individual especially in relation to the right to freedom of religion seems lacking in most Islamic fiqh books. Indeed, the majority of classical Muslim jurists think that the right to freedom of religion is not applicable to Muslims. Muslims who leave the Islamic faith or who have apostatised should be condemned and put to death. In reality, punishment of apostasy has not been prescribed by the Qur’ān and had never been practised by the Prophet (S.A.W.). The Muslim jurists have been confused with such punishment, considering that all apostates must be put to death after they refused to repent. The fact was that the Prophet (S.A.W.) had proclaimed a death penalty upon apostates because their acts were contemptuous and hostile towards Islam. Muslims who merely renounced the Islamic religion were only required to undergo a process of tauba (repentance)." [Abstract: Punishment for Apostasy: Conflict between criminal sentence and the right to freedom of religion, p. 32]
- Mike Mohamed Ghouse
[Founder, World Muslim Congress; Founder, Foundation for Pluralism; Dallas, Texas]
"We, the Muslims request you to honor the life given by Allah toAbdul Rahmanand grant him his freedom to practice his faith. Lakum Dinukum Waliya deen.To him his faith is dear, as our faith is to us." [American Muslims' Plea to Afghan Judges In the case of Apostate Abdul Rahman]
- Haris Aziz
[PhD candidate and professional journalist at Warwick University]
“The Quran talks about apostasy at least twenty times but does not mention any worldly punishment. The only warning given is about the consequence in the life here after. Moreover there is a good possibility that the referred ahadith have a specific context of hirabah [high treason], breaking away from the authority, breaking a treaty, defying the direct commands of a living prophet in violent times and incitement to wage war against Muslims when the very survival of a small Muslim community was in danger. Many celebrated jurists have alluded to this kind of takhsis [specification] to conclude that an apostate should be re-invited to Islam but not condemned to death. It is critical that the Ulema [scholars] address this issue. Moreover if some Muslim country does not allow non-Muslims to observe their religion freely, it is totally against Islamic principles of justice and fair play and should be tackled.” [Affirmation of Freedom of Expression and Belief in the Quran]
- Shah Abdul Halim
[Chairman of Islamic Information Bureau, Bangladesh]
“In fact there is not a single instance that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did treat apostasy as a prescribed offence under hudud (capital punishment) only for leaving Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) never put anyone to death for apostasy alone rather he let such person go unharmed. No one was sentenced to death solely for renunciation of faith unless accompanied by hostility and treason or was linked to an act of political betrayal of the community. As a matter of fact the Quran is completely silent on the question of death as a punishment for apostasy. Apostasy does not qualify for temporal punishment.” [Islam & Pluralism: A Contemporary Approach]
- Imam Ahmad Sa'd
[Ex-Imam of Calgary Muslim Community, Alberta, Canada and now Imam in Ar-Rahma Mosque, Egypt.]
"A close study of the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), which serves as an example for all Muslims to learn how to practice Islam and carry out its injunctions, will show us that he never killed people who changed their religion or left Islam, for the reason of their leaving Islam.
In incidents when the Prophet commended the killing of some people, it was because they had committed an offense to the Muslim community, threatening its safety, or because they had killed someone and were killed themselves in retaliation. Therefore, killing them had nothing to do with their apostasy.
In fact, many Islamic scholars support the view that there is no prescribed punishment (hadd) for apostasy. In doing this, they use both reason and strong evidence from Qur'an and Sunnah." [Should an Apostate Be Killed?]
- Kashif Ahmed Shehzada
[Researcher on the Qur'an and comparative religion; Karachi, Pakistan]
"The question of forcing someone to believe does not arise at all, because the Qur'an identifies 'Iman' i.e. belief as something not just professed by the lips, but something which has entered one's heart deeply, and that is possible only if a person analyses the message through his reason and accepts it willingly. ... The Qur'an proclaims that man hasthe freedom of choice to accept or reject the permanent values of God. He CANNOT be forced to accept those values, but has the free will to accept them, ... Had the punishment for Apostasy been prescribed as 'Death' then the above verse (3:89) would not have accommodated the room for amending one's conduct and repentence, but with the inclusion of a condition ofrepentance and amending one's conduct, the Qur'an confirms that forApostates the punishment is not death." [Can People be Forced to Accept Islam? A Qur’anic Perspective]
- Muhammad Ridzwan Rahmat
"Islam is a religion that has never been forced upon. The very idea that a conversion into Islam is one way street in which one can never turn from is a much dissipated myth. The Quran prohibits Muslims to force Islam onto an individual. Muslims past and present have largely converted into Islam out of their own free will. ... Again, no authority has been granted to Muslims to specifically kill the apostates of Islam should they mean no harm. Apostates are to be treated fairly as non-Muslims. Compulsion will not make sense in Islam." [Why Do Muslims Kill Apostates? A Muslim Explains]
- Professor Shahul Hameed
[Consultant of the Discover Islam Section, Islamonline.net; former Head of the Department of English, Farook College, Calicut University, India; President of Kerala Islamic Mission, Jama'at-e- Islami, Hind, Kerala Zone) Calicut, Indi]
"the Noble Qur'an does not prescribe death penalty for deserters of Islam, but rather states that they would be in Hell in the hereafter (2:217) ... the ruling was with reference to certain specific cases of miscreants who wished to undermine Islam, by joining Islam first and then deserting it. ... the killing of apostates would undermine the freedom of will Allah has bestowed on each human, as is made clear in the verses ..." [Apostasy, Polygamy, and Adultery]
- Riaz Hasan
[former director of Outreach for the Tracy Islamic Center, California, USA]
"Muslims have direct relationship with God. It is required that you inform others about your way of life (your faith); not pus(, not force. What a person does with the information is between the person and God. He or she will be answerable to God. It is not our job to judge, just to provide information and share with others what good we have." [Perceiving the Afghan Christian role]
- Ibrahim Abusharif
[Editor, Starlatch Press]
“It's important to note that apostasy rulings have rarely been used in the heyday of Islamic civilization, a ranging world conglomerate stretching from the western frontiers of China, [to] the Indian subcontinent, to North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and the western shores of Spain. There's absolutely nothing in the élan or sacred paradigms of Islam that makes a religious choice an anathema to Muslims. Not one reference in the Qur’an that refers to people leaving the realm of faith suggests the penalty of death.” [The Legal Tradition of Islamic Apostasy]
- Anwaar Hussain
“In a screaming instance of a heart rending paradox in the Muslim world, an Afghan convert to Christianity is to be tried in a Kabul court for apostasy, a 'crime' that is punishable by death in that country. Despite clear injunctions in the Quran that "there is no compulsion in religion" and "to you your own religion and to me, mine", an innocent man may be executed while we stand by and watch this gruesome charade in the name of God. … Fortunately, some highly distinguished contemporary Islamic scholars based on renewed ijtihad, hold absolutely differing views on the subject of apostasy. … The historic fact remains that the Prophet (PBUH) never put anyone to death for apostasy alone. No one was sentenced to death solely for repudiation of faith unless accompanied by certain other crimes. Those other crimes would have been punishable by death in any contemporary state of the time. As a matter of fact the Quran is completely silent on the question of death as a punishment for apostasy. Apostasy simply does not qualify for temporal punishment.” [In the Name of God]
- Organization: The Iraqi Women Leaders Conference
[A joint-project of the American Islamic Congress, the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies and the Independent Women’s Forum]
"It is important to note that wine-drinking (shrub) and apostasy (riddah) are not
hudud crimes and the Qur’an specifies no punishment for these two offences. Yet, Fiqh manuals have, erroneously, included shrub and riddah in the category of hudud." [Building and Planning]
- Inayat Bunglawala
[Media secretary at the Muslim Council of Britain. He is also a co-presenter of the weekly 'Politics and Media Show' on the Islam Channel (SKY 813)]
"To force someone to remain in a faith they do not believe seems rather absurd as it negates the whole basis of sincere belief and seems closer to officially endorsing hypocrisy.
There is a famous remark attributed to the 19th century Egyptian Muslim activist and scholar Muhammad Abduh who visited various European countries and said 'I have been to many Muslim countries and found many Muslims there, but little Islam. I have also been to some European countries and found few Muslims there, but a lot of Islam'." [Apostasy and Islam]
- Dr. Taj Hashmi
[Professor, Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii]
" ... the Islamic scripture or the Quran spells out: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" [2:256] and does not prescribe any death penalty for apostasy either: "Surely (as for) those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the (right) path" [4:137].
The Quran sanctions death penalty for murder and other horrendous crimes, not apostasy." [Death for apostasy and Shariah]
- Ahmed Bedier
[an expert on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and the mideast; Tampa, FL, USA]
"A couple of days ago I joined CAIR and others calling for his release. Alhamdulilla the Afghan authorities did the right thing by dropping this case, that should never have been one in the first place. For over a week now news outlets reported that Abdul Rahman is facing the death penalty under Islamic Law for leaving Islam, however they failed to point out that this is not a unanimous opinion among all Muslim scholars. Also that there is not a single verse in the Quran that commands the killing of an apostate (a person leaving his faith)." [Afghan Court Drops Case Against Christian Convert]
- Dr. S. M. Ghazanfar
[Ph.D. in Economics, 1968 (Wash. State University), University of Idaho faculty, 1968-2002]
"Arguments favoring death penalty for apostasy being a pre-modern Islamic law, based on dubious interpretations and weak hadith references, the subject has made international headlines recently. And such issues further feed the prevailing Western Islamophobia hysteria. Freedom of religion is fundamental to Islam, mentioned in several verses of the Holy Qur'an ("Unto your religion, and unto me my religion," "Whosoever will, let him believe," "There is no compulsion in religion," etc.), clearly, the law of apostasy violates that fundamental principle (which, of course, accords with UN Universal Human Rights). It is about time the Islamic world formulates a fresh school of thought that reconciles Islam with the contemporary, modern world. Islamic intellectuals, indeed, facilitated European exit out of Dark Ages, and sometimes it appears the Islamic world is now reverting in that direction." [comments sent directly to this site]
One of the manifestations of personal liberty is the freedom of the individual to profess the religion of his or her choice without compulsion. ... Freedom of religion under Islam would therefore imply that non-Muslims are not compelled to convert to Islam, nor are they hindered from practicing their own religious rites. However, many tend to forget or take for grant that this also applies to Muslims, in that they are not to be compelled or be put under undue influence so as to become apostates. In other words, both Muslims and non-Muslims are entitled to propagate the religion of their following, as well as to defend it against attacks or seditious provocation, regardless of whether such an action is launched by their co-religionists or by others." [Malaysian Laws on Apostasy Inadequate]
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As a Muslim, do you believe in the freedom of faith, i.e., Islam is by choice?
To add your voice to this affirmation/statement, please send an email to email@example.com with your name, affiliation/occupation, highest degree/field, and country of residence.
Does the Imam or the leader of your community believe in the freedom of faith?
Ask him and encourage him to let the world know that Islam is by choice, not by coercion, by being a signatory to the Statement.