Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Scholarly Article On Apostasy

A very interesting Article was published in April 2006 by Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, a professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and entitled: Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam? The article is well written and follows a solid scientific and objective methodology. Dr. Badawi introduces his study as follows:

Apostasy, or "riddah" in Arabic, literally means defection or backsliding. As an Islamic legal term, it means denouncing Islam as one's religion by a Muslim. There has been a wide variety of opinions by Muslim scholars throughout nearly fourteen centuries concerning punishment for apostasy with the majority of the opinion that apostasy is a capital crime as it threatens the integrity and stability of the Muslim community and state. This paper aims at critically evaluating these views in the light of the Qur'an and Hadith.

Later on under the title
"Evidence from the Qur'an," he writes:

There is no single verse in the Qur'an that prescribes an earthly punishment for apostasy. Verses about apostasy in the Qur'an speak only about God's punishment of the apostate in the Hereafter. The following Qur'anic verses illustrate two examples:

[Your enemies will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his/her faith and die as a denier [of the truth]--these it is whose works will bear no fruit in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.] (Al-Baqarah 2:217)

[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 truth--God will not forgive them, nor will guide them in any way.] (An-Nisaa' 4:137)

In his conclusion he writes:

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.

References to early capital punishment for apostasy were not due to apostasy itself, but rather other capital crimes that were coupled with it.

In the context of the besieged early Muslim community, apostasy was a major threat to the nascent Muslim community. Taking a passive attitude towards it would have jeopardized the very emergence of the Muslim community. This may be one reason why the consensus of scholars is that apostasy is an offense (in the context of an Islamic society) is an offense. However, there are wide divergence of views about its suitable punishment. Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh argues that "we can conclude that the issue of the penalty prescribed for apostasy is dependent on the public interest of the nation. Therefore, there is no harm in ignoring the apostasy of an individual as long as he or she does not harm the nation. On the other hand, if a group of apostates endangers the security and interests of the Muslim community, then the Muslim ruler should consider them to be a danger and threat to society.

As religious opinions (fatwas) change with the changing time, place, custom, and circumstances, this issue should be reexamined within the basic boundaries of Islamic jurisprudence and not simply of pressures of others. No Muslim is required to change the indisputable stable and fixed aspects of Shari`ah for the sake of pleasing others or earning the title "moderate" or "open minded." In the meantime, jurisprudent rulings and interpretations in the non-fixed area need not be permanent either.

For the full article, please
click here. Also, for another article by Gamal el-Banna on the question of apostasy, reaching the same conclusions as Dr. Badawi, published in Arabic, please click here.


  1. Allah'u'Abha!

    Un bonjour de France!
    Bonne continuation :)

  2. Another scholarly opinion on the issue is by the respected theological thinker Gamal Al-Banna "No Punishment for Apostasy ... Freedom of Religion is a Pillar of Islam [Islamic belief]"
    contemporary/2002/02/article2c.shtml) .. (unfortunately only in Arabic).

    He too had reached similar conclusions to those of Dr. Badawi.

    I hope someday these theologian thinkers would get together (maybe with their Al-Azhar friends … and their Shiite friends in Najaf, Karbala and Qum), and have a friendly consultation that leads to a unified and final conclusion about the Muslim stance on apostasy. - Faisal

  3. Dear Faisal,

    Thank you again for this link. Keep them coming!

    Agree, It would be great for all these scholars as well as religious leaders to do what you have suggested. There is, too, an obvious need to address several other critical issues. Then, religious unity and harmony could be realized, ultimately contributing to the unity of humanity.

    BTW, your blog is great....

  4. Your kind words of encouragement are much appreciated.


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