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<< Back to Table of Contents Punishment of Apostacy in Islam

APOSTACY AND REBELLION

The advocates of apostacy being treated as a capital offence, or at least a serious offence, have recourse to all sorts of arguments which merely emphasize their helplessness and frustration. For instance, they argue that even simple apostacy amounts to rebellion and is thus a capital offence. But they fail to explain against whom is apostacy a rebellion. Is it rebellion against the state within whose jurisdiction the apostate resides, or is it rebellion against God? If it is rebellion against God, He would deal with it at His own time and in His own way. No one else has the authority to deal with such a case. If it is rebellion against the state in which the apostate resides, then how would it be dealt with if that state should not be a Muslim state? Is it meant that Islam prescribes a penalty for simple apostacy in the case of an unfortunate one who resides within the jurisdiction of a Muslim state, but does not prescribe any penalty for apostacy in a case where the apostate resides within the jurisdiction of a non-Muslim state? The absurdity of the argument is patent. In any case, what is the authority for affirming that simple apostacy from Islam is rebellion, or is any other punishable offence?

Punishment of Apostacy: Hadees

Another complication which is sought to be introduced into the discussion of this subject is that though there is no clear authority in the Holy Quran that apostacy is punishable as an offence, yet there is evidence in the hadees that it was so treated by the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and by his immediate successors. Any such affirmation amounts to an enormity. It is well understood that no action of the Holy Prophet or any of his immediate successors could possibly be in conflict with the Holy Quran. All that the Holy Prophet did or said was illustrative of some direction or injunction of the Holy Quran. He himself warned that if anything was attributed to him which was in conflict with the Holy Quran, it must be rejected as false.

It is well known that the integrity of the Holy Quran is guaranteed by God Almighty, as is said: Surely, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and We will, most certainly, safeguard it ( 15: 10). The safeguarding of the Holy Quran which is here guaranteed is absolute and has many aspects. One of them is that the text of the Holy Quran would always be preserved intact~ There is no such guarantee with regard to hadees. Whatever else may be said about hadees, it must be acknowledged that if a hadees is irreconcilable with the Holy Quran, it must be rejected altogether .

Therefore, in the face of the emphatic and repeated affirmations of the Holy Quran which we have cited, it is not necessary to pay any attention to the suggestion that any hadees is susceptible of the interpretation that someone was condemned to death on account of apostacy. Nevertheless, in view of the insistence of some of the divines who affirm that the punishment for apostacy is death, we might briefly examine the question on the basis of hadees also.

Bokhari relates, on the authority of Jabir bin Abdullah, that a desert Arab took the pledge of Islam at the hand of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and a little later he suffered from fever while he was still in Medina. He came to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and said: Messenger of Allah, do release me from my pledge. But the Holy Prophet paid no attention to him. He came a second time and made the same request, and the Holy Prophet refused to comply with his request. He then departed from Mediga., whereupon the Holy Prophet observed: Medina is like a furnace which destroys the dross and purifies the rest (Fathul Bari, Vol. XXIII, p.173).

This incident is most instructive. The man's repeated request to the Holy Prophet that he might be released from his pledge is conclusive proof that apostacy was not a punishable offence. Had it been punishable, as is affirmed by some of the misguided divines, with death, this man would never have approached the

Holy Prophet with the request that he might be released from his pledge. He would have slipped away from Medina secretly, lest he should be apprehended and put to death.

Again, if the penalty of apostacy had been death, why did the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, not warn him that as he had ceased to believe in Islam, he was liable to be executed'! As he persisted in his request to be released from his pledge, why was he not executed after his second request? Why did not the Companions of the Holy Prophet, who were present on each occasion, warn him that as he had ceased to believe in Islam, he had incurred the penalty of death?

Further, the Holy Prophet appears to have been pleased that the man had departed from Medina. The observation that the Holy Prophet made is an indication that the Holy Prophet considered the man 's departure from Medina a good riddance, as his continued presence in Medina would not have been desirable.

TREATY OF HADAIBIYYAH

Bokhari has related, on the authority of Braa bin Aazib, that in the treaty of Hudaibiyyah, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, agreed with the pagans of Mecca that if anyone of them became a Muslim and came to Medina, he would be returned to the Meccans, but that if a Muslim departed from Medina and joined the Meccans, they would not be under obligation to return him to the Holy Prophet (Bokhari, Egyptians edition, Vol. II, p. 76).

The obligation undertaken by the Holy Prophet in the treaty that a Muslim who departed from Medina and joined the Meccans, which means that if he repudiated Islam and went and identified himself with the Meccans, he would not be restored to the Holy Prophet, also establishes that apostacy was not punishable as an offence. Had it been punishable as an offence, the Holy Prophet would not have accepted this term of the treaty. He would have told the Meccan envoy, who represented the Meccans at Hudaibiyyah, that he could not agree to a term which was contrary to the divine command that an apostate was punishable with death. Nor did any of the Companions of the Holy Prophet protest against this term of the treaty that it was inconsistent with a Divine commandment.

TESTIMONY OF ABU SUFYAN

The dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Hirrclius and Abu Sufyan took place after the treaty of Hudaibiyyah. Abu Sufyan has related: When the Emperor summoned me to his presence, he placed my companions behind me and told them that he was about to question me concerning the person who claimed to be a prophet in our country , and that if in my answers I said anything which was not true, they should immediately contradict me. Therefore, had I not been afraid that if I said anything that was untrue my companions would contradict me and I would be humiliated before the Emperor, I would have had recourse to falsehood in my replies. I tried hard to add something to my replies that might go against the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, but I found no opportunity of doing so, except in one respect, and that was when the Emperor asked me: How does he carry out his covenants? I replied: So far, he has not contravened any of his covenants with us. We have just entered into a new treaty with him and we shall see how he behaves in respect of it, whether he carries it out or not. This was all that I was able to introduce into my replies that could raise a doubt with regard to the truth of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him.

One of the questions that the Emperor had put to Abu Sufyan was: Has any of those who have accepted him, repudiated him? To which Abu Sufyan replied in the negative. Had Islam imposed the penalty of death upon an apostate, Abu Sufyan would certainly have taken advantage of it and told the Emperor that none of the followers of the Holy Prophet resiled from his faith because if he did so, he would be put to death. This also is strong evidence that Islam had not imposed any penalty for apostacy.


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