Apostasy in Islam
By Alhaj Dhul-Waqar Yaqub
We, as American citizens, have a patriotic duty to comprehend the dynamics that keep our democracy strong. We should be well informed and engage the world around us based on fact not fear. Since 9/11 religious and political elements, within the European and American Occident, have invigorated their engagement with Islam. This invigorated engagement is based on the same stratagems from the past i.e. fear and suspicion. Islam is seen, through a flawed prism of distortion and negative discrimination, as the threat to the West; Islam’s founding Prophet is scripted as a sex crazed pedophile who butchered people indiscriminately; the monopoly on religious extremism is Islam’s alone; and its adherents are terrorist fanatics lacking compassion and mercy.
Fortunately for the seekers of truth, reality goes against what has become the general media perception of Islam here in America. However, it was author and missionary Don Richardson’s book Secrets of the Koran and the chaos it has the potential to sow among non-Muslims, which prompted a concentration on an enormous misconception in Islam. Richardson’s declaration that, “Reverters are tagged as apostates, and the penalty for apostasy under Sharia law is death”[i] reinforces a longstanding conjecture that apostasy in Islam is a capital crime punishable with death.
The objective of this paper is to investigate and assess the subject of apostasy in Islam from Holy Qur'an. Ultimately this paper will show that the concept of apostasy (irtadda in Arabic)[ii], as it existed in medieval Christianity is alien to Islam and that the Sharia law of apostasy has nothing to do with Islam.
This investigation and assessment of apostasy in Islam requires clarification of the methodology, which will be used to deduce the facts from its primary source. This methodology has a standard and a fundamental rule, which is as follows:
For the purpose of this paper Islam’s primary source, which is the Holy Qur’an, will be used exclusively. The standard and fundamental rule pertaining to the correct interpretation of the Qur’an is explained by the Qur’an itself. Allah says, “He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning – they are the basis of the Book – and there are others that are susceptible to different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking wrong (of their own choice) interpretation of it. And no one knows its right (true) interpretation except Allah and those who are grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ And none heed except those gifted with understanding.” [iii]
According to the above verse, the Qur’an has two types of verses. Verses that are “decisive in meaning” (muhkam); Verses that are “susceptible to different interpretations” (mutashabih). The right way to interpret “mutashabih” verses is that their interpretation must agree with the verses that are “muhkam”. If the interpretation of verses, that are “susceptible to different interpretation”, does not agree with the verses that are “decisive in meaning”, they are to be dismissed as incorrect.[iv]
Holy Qur'an: Freedom of Conscience and Belief
Holy Qur'an: Freedom of Conscience and Belief
Freedom of conscience and freedom of belief are basic principles of Islam. The verse where Allah says, “There should be no compulsion in religion: Surely, right has become distinct from wrong…” [v] gives the commandment that in no case is force to be resorted to for the purpose of converting non-Muslims to Islam. It makes no difference whether non-belief was before or after one’s acceptance of Islam, compelling a person through coercion to accept religion or to punish a person for leaving a religion is clearly forbidden. The nonbeliever and the apostate are entitled to the freedom to accept or reject religion without force or the punishment of a capital crime.[vi]
The above mention verse not only gives the commandment that force should not be used for the purpose of converting non-Muslims to Islam, it also gives the reason why force conversion is not a viable option to accepting truth freely. Islam proposes that “right has become distinct from wrong” and anyone who has sincerity of the heart or mind may access truth easily.
By the same token, if a person “turns back from his religion” the same principle will apply. Islam is manifest truth. Anyone who sincerely desires to see this truth can easily see it; but if a person does not desire to see it, no force or punishment can make him see it. A person who has become a Muslim has the option of renouncing Islam after having declared his faith in it.
Islam’s concept of freedom of conscience and belief is perfectly compatible with one of the most important documents of our time i.e. the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. Article 18 of the UDHR declares the following:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Islam’s compatibility with Article 18 of the UDHR follows from “There shall be no compulsion in religion: Surely, right has become distinct from wrong…” [vii] and “…whoever rejects the faith, his work has doubtless come to naught, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.” [viii] The words, “rejects the faith” means “turns apostate.” Apostasy, by itself, however condemnable is a spiritual offense to be settled in the “Hereafter” not in the temporal world.
The essence of freedom of conscience, belief and the freedom to change one’s religion, without any legislative underpinning of punishment by death, is clearly stated in the aforementioned Qur’anic verses. However, author and missionary Don Richardson, attempted to dismiss the verse that says, “There shall be no compulsion in religion: Surely, right has become distinct from wrong…” (Qur’an 2:257) by alleging that “…it has been abrogated (i.e. annulled, cancelled, replaced)…” [ix] In reality there is absolutely no verse in the Qur’an which is abrogated. The Qur’an itself testifies to its own purity and integrity. The well-known verse: “Verily, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation and most surely We will be its guardian” (Qur’an 15:10) leads to no other conclusion. If the abrogation of any part of the Qur’an be conceded, the promise about its protection becomes null and void, for in that case it would be impossible to distinguish the abrogated portions from the rest of the Book. [x]
Christian critics focus on verses of the Qur’an, which gave the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and the young Muslim nation the authority to defend themselves from aggressors. These critics are shameless as they take verses out of context to support their points of view. In the Qur’an Allah says, “And if they break their oaths after their covenant, and attack your religion, then fight these leaders of disbelief, surely, they have no regard for their oaths that they may desist” (Qur’an 9:12). The context of this verse is that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and the Muslims were subjects of aggression for the purpose of annihilating Islam by force. These aggressors acted treacherously and resorted to all sorts of foul means to annihilate Islam. It was only such men that Muslims has been commanded to fight.
Those who rejected Islam after having believed in it and took up aggression for the purpose of annihilating Islam would be fought against, not because of their apostasy, but because of their aggression toward Islam. This seems to be the real issue that Christian critics have to face. There is no death penalty associated with apostasy. However, within the context of war, those who took up treason, rebellion or hostility against Islam were fought against as enemies of the Islamic State.
Our Christian critics have unfairly charged Islam as a religion of war and view Muslims as terrorist thugs. No doubt there are Muslim rogues who have hijacked Islam and use Islamic phraseology in carrying out their insanity, but to judge the entire religion based on the acts of a few is shameful. Can we, as Muslims, assess the worth of Christianity based on the rogue behavior of the Ku Klux Klan and be fair-minded? The answer is no. We may go even further by encouraging Christian critics of Islam to compare the wars of Islam with the wars of the great Old Testament Law-giver, Moses (as). Here, Moses (as) made war against a people who had never taken up arms against him and “…save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them…” (Deut. 20:16, 17).[xi]
Apostasy is the renunciation of Islam by a Muslim. Every Muslim has an option to renounce Islam but no one has the right to declare another apostate. An organization, government agency, Imam or Sharia court cannot declare another an apostate. Apostasy by itself, which is not aggravated by rebellion, treason or aggression against the State, does not incur any penalty or punishment in this life.
[i] Don Richardson, Secrets of the Koran, (Ventura, California, USA, Regal Books/Gospel Light, 2003), p. 24
[ii] Abdul Mannan Omar, The Dictionary of The Holy Qur’an, (Hockessin, DE: Noor Foundation – International Inc., 2003), p. 207
[iii] Published under the auspices of Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud, Second Successor of the Promised Messiah, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 1, Part II, (Oriental and Religious Publishing Corporation Ltd., Rabwah, West Pakistan, 1965), 3:8, p.365
[iv] ibid, commentary 299, p. 365-368
[v] Published under the auspices of Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud, Second Successor of the Promised Messiah, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 1, Part I, (Oriental and Religious Publishing Corporation Ltd., Rabwah, West Pakistan, 1964), 2:257, p.325
[vi] ibid, commentary 263, p. 325, 326
[vii] ibid, 2:257, p.325
[viii] Published under the auspices of Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud, Second Successor of the Promised Messiah, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 1, Part II, (Oriental and Religious Publishing Corporation Ltd., Rabwah, West Pakistan, 1965), 5:6, p.605
[ix] Don Richardson, Secrets of the Koran, (Ventura, California, USA, Regal Books/Gaspel Light, 2003), p. 58
[x] Published under the auspices of Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud, Second Successor of the Promised Messiah, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 1, Part I, (Oriental and Religious Publishing Corporation Ltd., Rabwah, West Pakistan, 1964), 2:107, commentary 113, p.162-164
[xi] The British & Foreign Bible Society, The Bible, Revised Standard Edition, (Great Britain: Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 1967), Deut. 20: 16, 17, p. 146