Islam and Apostasy
Apostasy (ارتداد, irtidād and ridda) i.e. the rejection of faith, is a serious offense in Islam. The punishment for apostasy as prescribed by Prophet Muhammad is death. A murtad (مرتد apostate) who hides his apostasy is referred to as a munāfiq (منافق hypocrite).
In Islam, the rejection in part (of any of the pillars, or individual principles of Islam), or discarding the faith as a whole, amounts to apostasy. The punishment for apostasy in the Islamic faith is death. Though it may be argued that this is not clear through the Qur'an alone, scholars have found justification for the penalty from within its pages, and there are also numerous Sahih (authentic) hadiths confirming this punishment as attested by Prophet Muhammad. In Sahih Bukhari, we see it as “Allah's Apostle said, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him'”, and it was also one of only three reasons given by him where killing a Muslim is permitted.
An evaluation of Islam's attitude to apostasy would not be complete without expounding on the political make up of the religion. Islam is essentially a tribal system that once was the social composition of Arabia in the north. Society, in its absolute sense, had never been in existence in the north prior to Islam. All that existed there were certain assemblages that never flourished or evolved into a fully fledged society for several reasons; one being, that most at that time were nomads wandering throughout the desert. Religion was not a personal but communal affair in pre-Islamic Arabia. Deserting religion thus amounted to treason and so was punishable by death. The death penalty being incorporated into Islam for apostasy is better understood when viewed through this tribal prism. Muhammad once belonged to this way of life, but reshuffled society and he did so by organizing certain tribes under one roof without sacrificing much of the already existing norms. Muhammad was successful, thus, did not venture to get rid of all pre-existing tribal prescripts. Instead, he assimilated many of them into his new religion. The prescribed punishment for apostasy was one such practice which Muhammad annexed.
We do not know of any apostates being killed during the lifetime of Muhammad for the specific crime of apostasy. This is largely due to the lack of individuals apostatizing during Muhammad's life. However in one Sahih Bukhari hadith, Muhammad is seen deporting a Bedouin who desired to discard his religion. This incident alone does not indicate Muhammad viewing apostasy as anything less than treason or a crime worthy of death. This alleged incident occurred during the early stages of Islam in Medina where Muhammad’s Islam and its revelations were incomplete and a far cry from the all encompassing way of life it was to become by the time of his death. After the death of Muhammad and under the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, many apostates had been killed during the lengthy “Riddah (apostasy) wars”. This attests to the fact that apostasy had already become a serious crime within Islam and was not some later innovation. In fact, it was a Qur’anic verse which prompted Abu Bakr to fight against the people who refused to pay tithe. These people were not rejecting Islam as a whole but only refusing to abide by one of its five pillars (Zakat). As historians will testify, Abu Bakr took up arms against them in a bloody war which lasted for over a year (632–633 CE). The Caliph did not put down his arms until all rejectors were either killed or had reverted back into the fold of Islam. There are also many narrations which record Muhammad's command being followed by his companions, with atheists, Christians, and Jews being put to death for leaving Islam.
Islamic jurisdiction on Apostasy is derived from the words of Muhammad and the aforementioned actions of the Caliph and other companions. If rejecting one of the pillars of Islam is considered to be a crime warranting war against such people, it is only logical for the prescribed punishment for apostasy in Islam to be death. Imam Abu Hanifa’s prescript as seen in Al-Shybani's Kitab al-Siyar grants the apostate a stipulated period (no more than a couple of days) to revert back to Islam or face the death penalty. All four schools of Islamic jurisprudence are in agreement with this ruling, with only slight variations on whether to allow the grace period. The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence believe female apostates are an exception to the rule and are not to be killed, but beaten and put under confinement until death or repentance, while the remaining Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools all agree the verdict for the female apostate is the same as for the male.
For almost 1,400 years, the punishment for apostasy has been death. Only recently has this been challenged, mainly by a few Islamic apologists from among the tiny 3% of the world's Muslims living in "more-developed regions". A Pew poll released on December 2, 2010, found that even today “The majority of Muslims would favor changing current laws in their countries to “allow stoning as punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft, and death for those who convert from Islam as their religion”.
To give you an idea of the kind of figures we are dealing with, we will use Pakistan as an example; the 2010 poll found that 76% of Pakistanis agree apostates are to be killed. In a country with a population of 172,800,000 (96% of whom are Muslim) that would be 126,074,880 individuals in a single country. Conversely only a mere 13% of Muslims opposed killing apostates. If we are to assume the position that, Muslims who espouse such views are extremists who misunderstand the teachings of Islam, then we must also concede the fact that the majority of Muslims in the world are extremists. They are not simply a fringe group.
So with all points considered, we can rightly conclude from religious texts, history and even modern Muslim opinion, that the ruling of Islam is to put apostates to death if they refuse to revert back to their Islamic faith. This ruling remains true even among the Shi'ite sect, whom together with the Sunnis constitute almost the entirety of the world's Muslim population.
The following are summaries of pages discussing Islam, in relation to Apostasy:
Islamic Writing and Apostasy
This page simply quotes authoritative Islamic sources, i.e. the Qur'an, hadith, and both classical and modern scholars, to provide you with an accurate picture of what Islam teaches in regards to apostasy.
Apostasy and Human Rights
The full text taken from a paper that was presented by Ibn Warraq at a panel discussion on "Apostasy, Human Rights, Religion and Belief" held at the the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva, 18th April 2005.
Apostasy Laws and Their Impact on the Real World
Former Muslims are often persecuted, abused and killed by Muslims. This treatment of apostates is not simply down to the issue of state-enforced religion as some may suggest. The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives, not from government authorities, but from family members and individuals from the Islamic communities themselves, who operate very often with impunity from the government. This point is further emphasized by the persecution and murder of former Muslims which has now become evident in many non-Muslim societies. For example, in 2007 the daughter of a British Imam was taken under police protection after receiving death threats from her father (a leader of a mosque in Lancashire) for converting to Christianity.
Notable Former Muslims
Whilst apostatizing from the Islamic faith is a dangerous thing to do, in addition to movie stars and rappers, many outspoken Muslim preachers, mullahs, imams, scholars, missionaries and even terrorists have apostatized and become atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindu's etc. In doing so, many (including Ibn Warraq and Mark Gabriel) have taken it upon themselves to oppose the Islamic ideology and have become celebrities in their own right.
Muslims Leaving Islam by the Millions
Muslims often (sometimes falsely) advertise news of non-Muslims converting to Islam, but they do not tell the other side of the story, where Muslims are also leaving Islam. There are more Muslims leaving Islam today than there are new converts joining it. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 6 million Muslims are leaving Islam each and every year. Once the majority faith of the continent, they are now the minority with Christianity being the majority. The sheer volume of recent apostates is unprecedented in the history of Islam. Here at WikiIslam, we document this news and host hundreds of written testimonies.
Apostasy Discussed in Arabic/Islamic Media
This hub page contains English translations of various Arabic/Islamic media discussing apostasy.
The apostate is the legally competent one who voluntarily withdraws from Islam, whether he openly declares his infidelity, or utters something which makes him an infidel, or does something which makes him an infidel. In this case, this man has uttered something which makes him an infidel! For he insulted the religion, or in other words mocked, ridiculed, and belittled it. We take this from Islam -- (agreed).
The ruling on the apostate is for him to seek forgiveness within three days, and if not he is killed, according to the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): "The blood of a Muslim man is not permissible except under one of three conditions: 1) he commits adultery, 2) he takes an innocent life, or 3) he abandons his religion and separates himself from the community" (narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Ibn Mas'ud).Let us beware, servants of Almighty Allah, to not be careless or reckless in our words and deeds, and to fear Almighty Allah in that which we say. For it is a great disaster for insults to the religion and the like to be found on our tongues, rather than remembrance and thanks for Almighty Allah.
Islamic Fatwa Council of Jerusalem, February 10, 2009
Muslim Pledge for Religious Freedom
The Muslim Pledge for Religious Freedom and Safety from Harm for Former Muslims was created by Former Muslims United (FMU), a civil rights organization formed in September 2009 by a group of American apostates from Islam. It asks American Muslim leaders and Muslims in a position of responsibility in federal, state or local government to honor the religious freedom and safety of former Muslims by rejecting Islamic laws pertaining to physically harming or killing those who leave Islam.
The Freedom Pledge, along with a covering letter, was sent to 125 leaders of Muslim organizations on September 25, 2009, and again to 234 Muslims in positions of responsibility in government and private organizations on July 4, 2012. To date, only two Muslims have signed the pledge: Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and Dr. Ali Alyami of the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Prominent individuals such as Dalia Mogahed have been criticized for not showing support for the pledge.
Helpful Hints for Ex-Muslims
Even in free and secular societies, life for the Islamic apostate is often a difficult and dangerous one, as a recent poll in the United Kingdom found out (1 out of 3 British Muslims aged 16 to 24 believe that Muslim apostates should be executed). This article offers practical advice for new apostates.
Help Others to Leave Islam
An article that focuses on convincing others to leave Islam. By examining important issues and questions, it can serve as a starting point for further research and discussion. We should always remember to respect the individual Muslim, but be critical of Islam.
Websites, Blogs and Resources for Former Muslims
There are a number of websites and blogs created by former Muslims. We offer links and a brief summary to many of them (). We also offer a resource page aimed at former Mulsims that links to some websites and forums for interfaith discussions and exploration, networking and support. Views expressed on these websites are not necessarily endorsed by WikiIslam.
An Apostate Outside of the Muslim World
While the persecution of people who decide to apostatize from Islam in the West has been acknowledged by some, no case has been more publicized than that of teenager Fathima Rifqa Bary. As a Sri Lankan immigrant to the U.S. Rifqa secretly converted to Christianity aged thirteen. In June 2009, Rifqa's religious beliefs were discovered by a member of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center. This article tells her story.
Before Converting to Islam
Many converts to Islam are Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists etc., who claim to have seen the light and believe that Islam is the one and only true religion. Muslims welcome these new converts and encourage them to share their stories on the Internet, magazines, and television. They are often featured on various Muslim media outlets to demonstrate that Islam's appeal reaches further than simply those who are born into the faith. To Muslims these new converts are proof that Islam is the truth.
However, most individuals who convert rarely choose to study Islam objectively before making such an important decision. Instead they choose to be taken in by the propaganda, only to discover that they have made one of the biggest mistakes of their lives. This is confirmed with research carried out by the respected Pakistani-born American Muslim Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus (1932 - 2007), who found that 75% of new Muslim converts in the US leave Islam within a few years. This article aims to help non-Muslims avoid the same fate suffered by millions of apostates around the globe.
Videos Documenting Persecution of Ex-Muslims
- UK - Persecution of 3000 Muslim Converts to Christianity
- Turkey - Muslim converts to Christianity face upto 3 year jail
- Germany - Persecution of Muslim Converts to Christianity
- Egypt - Persecution of Muslim Converts to Christianity
- Malaysia - Persecution of Muslim Converts to Christianity
- A version of this page is also available in the following languages: French. For additional languages, see the sidebar on the left.
Other Core Articles
Core articles contain an overview of other articles related to a specific issue, and serve as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn about Islam:
- Islam and Homosexuality
- Islam and Miracles
- Islam and Pedophilia
- Islam and Propaganda
- Islam and Science
- Islam and Scripture
- Islam and the People of the Book
- Islam and Violence
- Islam and Women
- Apostasy - Answering Islam
- Accusing Muslim Intellectuals of Apostasy - Aluma Dankowitz, MEMRI: Inquiry and Analysis No. 208, February, 18,2005
- Apostasy in Islam - Ibn Kammuna
- Throwing Apostates to the Wolves - Nonie Darwish
- Questions about Apostasy (Blasphemy) - Al Sunna.org
- M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84 - Dealing with Apostates, Number 57 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
- M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 83 - Blood Money (Ad-Diyat), Number 17 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
- "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." - Qur'an 9:5
- Abul Ala Maududi - The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law - Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, 1963
- M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84 - Dealing with Apostates, Number 58 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
- 'Abdurrahmani'l-Djaziri - The Penalties for Apostasy in Islam According to the Four Schools of Islamic Law - "The Case of the Female Apostate" (Pg. 19)
- "As of 2010, about three-quarters of the world’s Muslims (74.1%) live in the 49 countries in which Muslims make up a majority of the population. More than a fifth of all Muslims (23.3%) live in non-Muslim-majority countries in the developing world. About 3% of the world’s Muslims live in more-developed regions, such as Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan." - The Future of the Global Muslim Population, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, January 27, 2011
- Devonia Smith - Pew Poll: Most Muslims favor law to allow Islam stoning , amputation & death - Examiner, December 8, 2010
- Survey Reports - Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah - Pew Research Center, December 2, 2010
- 2008 World Population Data Sheet - Population Reference Bureau
- Population By Religion - Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan
- A Shiite Opinion on Apostasy - Originally from Kayhan International, March 1986
- Comparison of Sunni and Shia Islam - ReligionFacts, accessed October 4, 2011
- Tracy Miller - Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population - Pew Research Center, October 2009
- Imam's daughter in hiding after her conversion to Christianity sparked death threats - London Evening Standard, December 6, 2007
- 6 Million Muslims LEAVE Islam every year! Shiekh Ahmed Katani, speaking with Maher Abdallah
- Stephen Bates - More young Muslims back sharia, says poll - The Guardian, January 29, 2007
- Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, State University of New York at Cortland
- Faraz Rabbani, Former SunniPath Instructor - Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus – Pioneer MSA and ISNA Activist & Leader Passes Away - SunniPath, October 5, 2007
- Listen to the clip detailing this research (listen on Youtube)