The primary sources (Quran and Sunnah) clearly state that apostates should be killed. All of the statements about killing for apostasy seem to come from the hadith literature, and the Quran doesn’t quite indicate a punishment for apostasy. The sunnah paints a clear picture regarding killing apostates
There are various opinions about apostasy law in Islam.
- Apostates should be killed, even today, under an Islamic government or state
- Apostasy law was actually supposed to be for treason, so it no longer applies
- Apostasy law is no longer applicable today because it turns people away from Islam
My belief is that the first opinion is true, and I will demonstrate why from the primary texts and recent scholars. The punishment for leaving Islam is death. How is it that the true religion of God, which is upon the absolute haqq needs to murder people for leaving it? If every religion had such a rule, nobody could ever convert.
It is absolutely ridiculous and goes against freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
Leaving Islam in the west doesn’t usually get you killed (but you can be hurt in other ways – family violence, being kicked out of the home or shunned by the family, or other forms of emotional blackmail). Criticizing Islam is dangerous. Outside of the west it’s not just dangerous but deadly. Here are some recent attacks:
- Bangladeshi secularists and atheists and LGBT activists are always at risk.
- Asif Mohiuddin (stabbed but survived)
- Ahmed Rajib Haider (hacked to death)
- Sunnyur Rahaman (attacked by machetes but survived)
- Shafiul Islam (struck by weapons and died)
- Avijit Roy (a well-known Bangladeshi blogger, and his wife Bonya Ahmed were attacked in Dhaka by machete-wielding assailants. Roy died and his wife survived with wounds).
- Oyasiqur Rhaman killed by meat cleavers. Oyasiqur Rhaman was not a high-profile blogger, but “was targeted because open-minded and progressive bloggers are being targeted in general.
- Ananta Bijoy Das
Hacked to death by four masked men. He had authored three books on science, evolution, and revolution in the Soviet Union, and headed the Sylhet-based science and rationalist council.
- Niloy Chatterjee
It is reported that a gang of about six men armed with machetes attacked him at his home in the Goran neighborhood of Dhaka and hacked him to death
- Faisal Arefin Dipan
The publisher of a newspaper which published Avijit Roy’s The Virus of Faith was hacked to death in Dhaka
- Salman Taseer, a liberal politician in Pakistan
Assassinated for his opposition to blasphemy laws. Note he did not even commit blasphemy, he simply questioned the law. He was killed by his bodyguard. When his bodyguard was executed he received a huge funeral procession and was treated like a hero for what he did.
- Pakistan student Mashal Khan killed over ‘blasphemy’ on university campus
Criticizing Islam or Muhammad, being Ahmadiyya can lead to being murdered
- Three sisters kill man booked for blasphemy in Sialkot
Another example where women actually committed murder to defend Islam
- Raif Badawi: Atheist Saudi blogger faces further round of lashes, supporters say
In Saudi, atheism is a terrorist charge.
- Ahmadiyya shopkeeper murdered in UK for “disrespecting Islam”
I have received over 20 death threats/incitements to murder/saying i deserve to die or I should die or I would be killed. So whatever you think the Islamic law is, obviously many Muslims consider it to be a real ruling. Muslims in my community did not respond this way and I want to make that clear. But I always wonder in the back of my mind if someone will hurt me or my family.
Some people will argue that the original reason for this apostasy law is to deal with treason, because the state and religion were intertwined, but the problem is the majority of the hadith don’t mention treason.
Why did this ruling come about? Well the story goes that there was a bunch of Jews that became Muslim and then left Islam, in order to give Islam a bad name. The problem is, this ruling was never cancelled by the Prophet. This rule still applies to this day according to many Muslims and scholars…
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar that:‘Uthman said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah [SAW] say: ‘It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except in three cases: A man who commits adultery after having married; or one who kills intentionally, in which case he deserves retaliation; or one who apostatizes after having become Muslim, in which case he deserves to be killed.‘” [Emphasis mine] (Nasai 37:92)
- Nasai 37:83
- Nasai 37:93
- Nasai 37:54
- AbuDawud 40:3
- Abu Dawud 40:2
- Ibn Majah Hadith 2534
- Ibn Majah 2533
- Muslim 28:36
- Bulugh al-Maram 1242
- Bulugh al-Maram 1199
- Bulug al-Maram 1241
As well, Abu Bakr understood that anyone who abandoned even one of the pillars of Islam, (i.e. the zakah) should be fought.
It was narrated that Anas bin Malik said:“When the Messenger of Allah died, the ‘Arabs apostatized, so ‘Umar said: ‘O Abu Bakr, how can you fight the ‘Arabs?’ Abu Bakr said: ‘The Messenger of Allah said: “I have been commanded to fight the people until they bear witness there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, and they establish Salah and pay Zakah.” By Allah, if they withhold from me a young goat that they used to give to the Messenger of Allah, I will fight them for it.’ ‘Umar said: ‘By Allah, as soon as I realized how certain Abu Bakr was, I knew that it was the truth.'” (Nasai 37:4)
Does this even matter?
What do scholars say?
“No compulsion to join Islam. But once a person becomes Muslim, then they are obliged to stick with it once they become Muslim. This should be a serious and definite decision that was made. This law was made to stop the Jews from confusing the Muslims who joined and left the religion. However the principle remains till the last day. People are obliged within the state to remain within the religion. If they want to leave, they have to leave the state altogether. Or those who gather people against Islam, and to fight against the state. Nobody is gonna come into the home and check if you are Muslim, unless it becomes something open. Even if they are openly caught, they are told to recant and take it back, and then they are not executed. Islam will execute people not just for stealing state secrets but something far more serious, rebellion against God, a far worse sin or crime than a crime against the state.”
Also this local Imam in Toronto said the same thing here:
Scholars such as Hamza Yusuf, Abdullah bin Bayah, Mufti Abu Layth have spoken AGAINST apostasy killings. They state that its because treason was the original reason, not apostasy per say. I personally disagree this is the case, but I appreciate their efforts at reform, even if they won’t call it that.
Actual Executions During Life of Prophet Muhammad
- Al-Harith bin Suwayd al-Ansari
Kill Al-Harith bin Suwayd because according to some Islamic traditions, Allah revealed Qur’an 3:86-8, which indicated that those who reject Islam after accepting it should be punished. Al-Harith bin Suwayd was a Muslim who fought in the Battle of Uhud and killed some Muslims, he then joined the Quraysh and left Islam. After being threatened with those verses, Al-Harith sent his brother to Muhammad to ask for his forgiveness.
- Abdullah ibn Ubayy
Kill Abdullah ibn Ubayy, who was accused by Muhammad of slandering his family by spreading false rumors about Aisha (his wife).His son offered to behead him
- Eight men from ‘Ukil
Kill 8 men who came to him and converted to Islam, but then apostatized, killed one Muslim and drove off with Muhammad’s camels
- Miqyas ibn Subabah
Miqyas killed a Muslim who accidentally killed his brother, and escaped to Mecca and became an apostate by embracing polytheism
Kill Sarah, because Muhammad claimed that she used to molest him while he was in Mecca. Conflicting reports: Ibn Ishaq reports that she embraced Islam but was killed later, during the time of Umar. Tabari reports she was killed
- Amr ibn Jihash (convert to Islam)
According to Ibn Kathir and Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad said to Yamin bim Umayr, about Amr ibn Jash “Have you seen the way your cousin has treated me and what he proposed to do?” Muhammad accused him of trying to assassinate him
- Abdullah ibn Sa‘ad
Kill Abdullah ibn Sa‘ad, because he became and apostate (left Islam) and fled to Mecca. He also claimed that he was the one who wrote the Qur’an and started to mock Muhammad, which made him angry
More references from scholars:
- Why is the apostate to be executed in Islam? (IslamQA – Salafi site)
- Why are apostates killed? (IslamQA.org – Hanafi site)
My post on the harms of apostasy law