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Book: Murder in the Name of Allah
Murder in the
Name of Allah
Mirza Tahir Ahmad
Editor’s Foreword
Notes on This Translation
1. Religion Drips with Blood
2. The Preaching of Islam: Two Conflicting Views
3. A Rebuttal of Maududian Philosophy
4. Prophets and Troopers: A Study in Contrast
5. The Maududian Law of Apostasy
6. Recantation under Islam
7. Punishment for Apostasy
8. Mercy for the Universe
9. Islamic Terrorism?
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Recantation under Islam

Write down for me the name of everyone who calls himself a Muslim.


The concept of apostasy, as it existed in medieval Christianity and as expounded by Maulana Maududi, is alien to Islam. There is not even a word for it in the Arabic language. There is no doubt that some early Muslim scholars of law (fiqh) considered recantation from Islam to be a capital offence, but their definition of ‘Muslim’ was so broad that no one calling himself a Muslim could be called a recanter. The Prophetsa gave us two definitions of a Muslim. At the time of the first census of Medina, the Prophetsa said: ‘Write down for me the name of everyone who calls himself a Muslim.’1 On another occasion the Prophetsa said: ‘Whoever prays as we pray and turns to our Qiblah and eats what we ritually slaughter is a Muslim; he is dhimmat-Allah and dhimmat al-rasul. So do not put Allah in contravention of his dhimmah [responsibility].’2

But Maulana Maududi and the ulema, supporting dictatorships and autocracies in Muslim countries, have added various qualifications to the Prophet’ssa simple definition. In the words of Al-Ghazali (450–505 AH/AD 1058–1113) they have limited: ‘The vast Mercy of God to make paradise the preserve of a small clique of theologians.’ (3) The result of their effort has been summed up by the former chief justice of Pakistan, Muhammad Munir, who presided over the Court of Inquiry into the Punjab (Pakistan) Disturbances in 1953. He said:

Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulema, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental? If we attempt our own definition, as each learned divine has, and that definition differs from all others, we all leave Islam’s fold. If we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim, but kafirs according to everyone else’s definition.4

Justice Munir’s observation must be read with reference to the Prophet’ssa reprimand to Usama b. Zayd. In the raid of Ghalib b. Abdullah al-Kalbi, according to Ibn Ishaq, a man was killed by Usama b. Zayd and another person. Reporting this incident, Usama b. Zayd said:

When I and a man of Ansar overtook him and attacked him with our weapons he pronounced the Shahadah, but we did not stay our hands and killed him. When we came to the Prophetsa and told him what had happened, he said: ‘Who will absolve you, Usama, from ignoring the confession of faith?’ I told him that the man had pronounced the words merely to escape death, but he repeated his question and continued to do so until I wished that I had never been a Muslim before that day and that I had never killed the man. I asked him to forgive me and promised that I would never kill a man who pronounced the Shahadah. The Prophetsa said: ‘You will say it after me (after my death), Usama?’ and I said that I would.5

The Prophetsa knew that despite his concern for the lives of Shahadah-pronouncing Muslims, they would still be killed by misguided people under Islam’s name. According to the report in the Musnad Imam Ahmad Hanbal, the Prophetsa also asked Osama whether he had opened his victim’s heart to check the authenticity of his faith.’ And yet the power-hungry and politically orientated ulema continue to incite ignorant Muslims to kill their Muslim brothers—Muslims whose viewpoint differed slightly from their own—as if, on opening their hearts, they had discovered their faith was false.

Regarding recantation, the Quran uses the word irtadda, which means that no one has the right to declare any other Muslim murtadd. As Imam Raghib Isfahani7 explains, the word irtidad means to retrace one’s steps back to the point from where one came. The word is especially associated with recantation—returning to kufr (disbelief) from Islam, e.g. ‘Lo! Those who turn their backs after the guidance hath been manifested unto them’; (47.26) and ‘whoso of you becometh renegade from his religion’. (5.55)

Ridda is an intransitive verb and its root, rail, has no transitive form; a person can recant, but no one else can make him a recanter. It is a voluntary action and no outside agency can play any part in it. It is this aspect of free will which distinguishes irtidad from the Christian and Maududian concept of apostasy, which we discussed in the last chapter. Apostasy and its punishment requires an external authority, the church or state. It is like execution or, rather, murder. Irtidad is like suicide. One can execute or murder but no one can ‘suicide’ someone.

Surah Al-Kafirun, revealed in the early period of the Prophet’ssa ministry, is a direct statement of policy on the subject of freedom of conscience. The Prophetsa was asked to tell unbelievers there was absolutely no meeting-point between their way of life and his. As they were in complete disagreement, not only with regard to the basic concepts of religion, but also with regard to its details and other aspects, there could not possibly be any compromise between them. Hence, ‘For you, your religion, for me, my religion’. (109.7)

The Prophetsa was also repeatedly told not to worry if unbelievers were not ready to accept his message. He was not their wakil (guardian). God says: ‘Thy people have rejected the message that We have sent through thee, though it is the truth. Say: “I am not appointed a wakil over you.”’8 This statement was made in the Meccan period, when the Prophetsa and his followers were persecuted. Yet on his arrival in Medina, the statement was exactly the same, even though he now had power. It was, in fact, made even more explicit.

The first Medinite surah in which the subject of freedom of conscience was discussed was Al-Baqarah. The 257th verse of the surah contains the clearest pronouncement on the subject:

There shall be no compulsion in religion. Surely guidance has become distinct from error, whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress and believes in Allah has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

This is the confident declaration of a prophet who has organized an umma in a town where his power is supreme. Lest the subject of jihad be misunderstood, Muslims are told that true virtue lies in good works and good faith (255–258) and the Majesty of God is called to mind in the Throne verse (256). The commandment of ‘no compulsion in religion’ comes immediately after the Throne verse. Readers of the Quran might have thought God wanted Muslims to spread Islam by force, because of its call to fight the umma’s enemies and to offer special sacrifices to Allah. So the verse tells Muslims in no uncertain terms not to resort to violence in the name of conversion. The importance of this verse can be gauged from a hadith quoted in Jami of Tirmidhi. He said that the peak of the Quran is Al-Baqarah and that Satan shall not enter the house of anyone who recites ten verses of this chapter (i.e. the first four verses, the Throne verse, the two verses which follow it—257–258—and the last three verses).

This principle of no compulsion was reiterated after the victory of Badr (3.21) and again in Al-Ma’idah, which is the last revealed surah. Now that Muhammad’ssa authority was fully established, not only in Medina but also in Mecca, it was vital to emphasize that the Prophet’ssa only role was to convey the word of Allah. ‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and be on your guard, but if you turn away, then remember that the duty of our Messenger is only to convey the message clearly.’ (5.93) And finally: ‘The Messenger’s duty is only to convey the message. And Allah knows what you reveal and what you hide.’ (5.100) Religious belief is a personal matter. It is God alone—not the state or the religious authorities—who knows what one reveals to God or what one hides.

This verse leads to the subject of munafiqun—the hypocrites. The term munafiqun describes those inhabitants of Medina who had outwardly accepted Islam, but whose belief was suspect for various reasons. There are many references to them in the Quran, but in four passages they are defined as murtadd (recanters). The first reference is in Surah Muhammad. This is a Medinite surah which briefly describes the aims of war according to Islam. It says that while believers welcome a revelation calling on them to fight for Allah, munafiqun feel as if they are being led to their slaughter. In this way, true believers are separated from those whose faith is shallow or false. It goes on to say:

Surely those who turn their backs [artaddu] after guidance has become manifest to them, Satan has seduced them, and holds out false hopes to them. That is because they said to those who hate what Allah has revealed, ‘We will obey you in some matters’ and Allah knows their secrets. (47:26–27)

The verses quoted above mention no punishment for these people.

The next reference to the munafiqun is in the Surah Al-Munafiqun, which was revealed towards the end of 6AH/AD628. The surah exposes the infidelity and dishonesty of the munafiqun and condemns their open profession of faith as false and treacherous. This was a public reprimand:

Allah bears witness that the munafiqun are liars. Their faith is a pretext so that they may turn people away from the way of Allah. Evil is that which they practice. That is because they believed and thereafter disbelieved; so a seal was set upon their hearts and they have no understanding… They are the enemy, so beware!… it is the same for them whether thou ask for forgiveness for them or not. Allah will never forgive them, surely Allah guides not a rebellious people. (63.2–7)

The last two references to the munafiqun are in one of the last revealed surahs, Al-Taubah: ‘Offer no excuse, you have certainly disbelieved after having believed. If We forgive a group of you, a group shall We punish, for they have been guilty.’ (9.66) Those to be forgiven are obviously munafiqun who repented and became sincere Muslims. As regards those who are to be punished, the subsequent verse says: ‘Allah promises the munafiqun—both men and women—and the disbelievers the fire of hell, wherein they shall abide. It will suffice them. And they shall have everlasting punishment.’ (9.68) And, finally:

They swear by Allah that they said nothing, but they did say the word of disbelief and did disbelieve after they had embraced Islam… So if they repent, it will be better for them, but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a grievous punishment in this world and the hereafter. And they shall have neither friend nor helper in the earth. (9.74)9

The Prophetsa knew that Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul was the leader of the munafiqun, but he took no action against him. On the contrary, the Prophetsa prayed for him when he died. Umar b. al-Khattab is reported to have said:

When the Prophetsa went and stood by the dead body of Abdullah b. Ubayy and was about to pray, I asked him: ‘Are you going to pray over God’s enemy ‘The Prophetsa smiled and said: ‘Get behind me, Umar. I have been given a choice and I have chosen. It was said to me: ‘Ask pardon for them or ask it not. If you ask pardon for them seventy times God will not pardon them. If I knew that by asking pardon more than seventy times he would be forgiven, I would do it.’ Then he prayed over him and walked with his dead body and stayed at his grave until he was buried.sa10

Freedom of conversion is the acid test of ‘no compulsion in religion’. It cannot be a one-way freedom—the freedom to enter Islam, but not to leave it. There are ten direct references to recantation in the Quran: one in the Meccan surah of AI-Nahl and the remaining nine in the Medinite surahs. In none of these verses is there the slightest hint of capital punishment for those who recant.

One of the Quran’s most explicit statements on recantation is the 143rd verse of Al-Baqarah. The Qiblah was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca in the second year of Hijrah. Ibn Ishaq reports:

And when the Qiblah was changed from Syria to the Kabah, Rifaa b. Qays, Qardam b.Amr, Kab b. al-Ashraf, Rafib Abu Rafi, al-Hajjaj b. Amr and an ally of Kab’s, al-Rabi b. al-Rabi b. Abul-Huqayq and Kinana b. al-Rabi b. Abut Huqayq came to the Prophetsa and asked: ‘Why have you turned your back on the Qiblah you used to face when you claimed to follow the religion of Abraham? If you returned to the Qiblah in Jerusalem we would follow you and declare you to be true.’ Their sole intention was to seduce him from his religion. So God said: ‘We appointed the Qiblah, which you formerly observed, only to distinquish between he who will follow the Messenger and those who will not—to test and fetch them out. In truth, it was a hard test except for those whom Allah guided.11

The Quran prescribes no punishment for these recanters. And history records the punishment of no one who recanted after the change of the Qiblah.

Surah Al-lmran, which was revealed after the victory of Badr, 2AH/ AD/624, contains the following two verses which mention the recantation of some of the Jews of Medina:

O People of the Scripture: why do you confound the truth with falsehood and knowingly conceal the truth? (3:72)

And a party of the People of the Scripture says: ‘Believe in that which has been revealed to those who believe at sunrise and disbelieve at sunset. In order that they may return.’ (3:73)

Ibn Ishaq has given the names of those who hatched this plot:

Abdullah b. Sayf and Adiy b. Zayd and Al-Harith b. Auf agreed to pretend to believe in the message of Muhammadsa and his Companions at one time, deny it another to confuse them. The object was to get them to follow their example and give up their religion.’12

None of these three Jews were punished.

Another reference is in Al-Nisa. It says: ‘Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase their disbelief will never be forgiven by Allah, nor will He guide them to the way.’(4.138) A recanter cannot enjoy the repeated luxury of believing and disbelieving if the punishment is death. A dead man has no further chance of again believing and disbelieving.

The sunnah, the divinely inspired behavior of the Holy Prophetsa, is the second source of the sharia And there is no penalty for conversion from Islam in the sunnah either. The names of those who were executed by the Prophetsa are preserved in the sirah and the hadith and the names of people who recanted and rejected Islam in his life are also preserved. A Bedouin Arab was converted to Islam by the Prophetsa and soon after suffered a fever while in Medina. He asked the Prophetsa to release him from his pledge. He made this request three times and was refused three times. He left Medina unmolested. The Prophetsa, on hearing of his departure, observed: ‘Medina is like a furnace which separates the dross from what is pure.’13

Ibn Ishaq reports that the Prophetsa had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca to fight only those who resisted them. The only exceptions were the following criminals who were to be killed even if they were found wrapped within the curtains of the Kabah.14

  1. Abdullah b. Sad b. Abi Sarah.
  2. 3, 4. Abdullah b. Khatal of B. Tayam b. Ghalib and his two dancing girls, who used to sing satirical songs about Islam. One of them was Fartana, the name of the other is not given by Ibn Ishaq.
  3. AI-Huwayritb b. Nuqaydh b. Wahb b. Abd b. Qusayy.
  4. Miqyas b. Subabah.
  5. Sarah, freed slave of one of the B. Abdul Muttalib.
  6. lkrama b. Abu Jahl.15

Abdullah b. Sad was one of the Prophet’ssa scribes in Medina. He recanted and defected to the Meccan unbelievers. Since he wrote down the revelation, dictated by the Prophet, and enjoyed a position of trust, his defection was bound to create confusion among the Quraish of Mecca about the authenticity of the revelation itself. After peace returned to Mecca, his foster brother, Uthman b. Affan, interceded with the Prophet’sa on his behalf and he was pardoned.16 Had there been a Quranic penalty for recantation, the Prophetsa could not have done so. The Prophet’ssa policy on intercession in respect of hadd punishment is well illustrated by the incident of the Makhzumi woman who was found guilty of theft. When Usamah b. Zayd pleaded for her, the Prophetsa rebuked him and said: ‘Do you intercede in respect of a punishment prescribed by Allah? Witness this: that if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, were ever guilty of theft, I would certainly cut off her hand.’

Abdullah b. Khatal was sent by the Prophetsa to collect zakat, accompanied by an Ansar who served him. When they stopped, he ordered his companion to kill a goat for him and prepare some food before going to sleep. When he awoke the man had done nothing, so he killed him in anger and then recanted and defected to the Meccan Quraish.17 He was executed for the murder of an Ansari Muslim by Said b. Hurayth al-Makhzumi and Abu Barzh al-Aslami.18

One of Ibn Khatal’s two singing girls was killed for creating unrest by singing satirical songs; the other was pardoned.19

Al-Huwayrith b. Nuqaydh was in the party of Habbarb. al-Aswad b. al-Muttalib b. Asad who overtook the Prophet’ssa daughter, Zaynab, when she was traveling from Mecca to Medina. Al-Huwayrith goaded Zaynab’s camel. Zaynab was pregnant and had a miscarriage because of the attack and had to return to Mecca. The Prophetsa sent a number of people with orders that if they found Habbar b. al-Aswad or Al-Huwayrith they should kill them,20 but Al-Huwayrith escaped. In another report, Hisham says that Al-Abbas b. Abd al-Muttalib put Fatima and Umm Kulthum, the two daughters of the Prophetsa on a camel to take them from Mecca to Medina. Al-Huwayrith goaded the beast so it threw the two women.21 Finally, Ali killed him in Mecca.22

Maqees b. Subabah came to Medina from Mecca and said: ‘I come to you as a Muslim seeking recompense for my brother, who was wrongly killed.’ The Prophetsa ordered that he should be paid for his brother Hisham. Having received recompense, Maqees stayed with the Prophetsa for a while. But, as soon as he got an opportunity he killed his brother’s slayer, recanted and defected to Mecca.23 Maqees was executed by Numaylah b. Abdullah for killing an Ansar, on whose behalf the payment for killing his brother had already been paid.24

Sarah, who was accused of creating disorder, was not killed during the Prophet’ ssa lifetime.

Ikrama b. Abu Jahl fled to the Yemen. His wife, Umm Hakim, became a Muslim and asked immunity for him and this was granted by the Prophetsa.25

There appears to be no evidence to show that the Prophetsa punished anyone for recantation from Islam.

The death of the Prophet’sa in 11 AH/AD632 confronted the young Muslim administration with a major crisis. Disorder broke out in parts of the peninsula and many tribes detached themselves from Medina by refusing to pay zakat. This movement is known as Al-Riddah. The main task of the Prophet’ssa successor, Abu Bakr, was to put down this unrest. His first job, however, was to send the expedition the Holy Prophetsa had ordered before his death. So an army under the command of Usamah b. Zayd b. Harith was sent to the Syrian border on the second day after the proclamation of his caliphate.

After Usamah and his army had departed, most of the tribes fell away from Medina. Only Mecca, Medina and their surroundings remained loyal to the central administration. Muslim agents appointed to the rebel tribes by the Prophetsa just before his death were forced to flee their posts and to return to Medina. It was a full-fledged revolt.

Having decided to fight the rebels, Abu Bakr sent messengers to some loyal tribes calling them to come to his aid. While Abu Bakr was waiting for reinforcements, Kharjah b. Hism, led by Unaynah b. Hism al-Fazari and Al-Aqra b. Habis al-Tamimi, staged a surprise attack on the Muslims. The Muslims fled in confusion, but they re-assembled and counter-attacked Kharjah’s men, who were defeated.

Before the skirmish at Dhu al-Qassa, a delegation of Arab tribes went to Medina to negotiate with Abu Bakr over the question of zakat, but Abu Bakr refused. Some early and prominent muhajirun disagreed with Abu Bakr’s decision to fight those who withheld the zakat. That these tribes were anxious to negotiate showed they had not recanted, and did not want to sever their relations with Medina, yet were not prepared to accept Medina’s control over them. The issue was not belief in Allah and His Prophet, but the zakat (tax). A group of well-known friends led by Umar objected to Abu Bakr’s decision to fight the rebels. Umar is reported to have said to Abu Bakr: ‘What right do you have to fight these people? The Prophetsa has said, “I was ordered to fight people until they say there is no God but Allah. If they say this, they safeguard themselves and their property from me.”‘26

After the departure of the delegation from Medina, Abu Bakr gathered the Muslims of Medina and addressed them as follows:

‘The delegation has observed just how few of you there are in Medina. You do not know whether they will attack you by day or night. Their vanguard is only a stone’s throw from Medina. They wanted us to accept their proposals and make an agreement with them, but we have rejected their request. So make ready for their attack.’ Within three days they attacked Medina.27

The war of Riddah caused a great deal of bloodshed. It was inexplicable to the subsequent historians of the Arabian state that after the death of Muhammadsa so many wars were necessary on Arabian soil; they accounted for this fact by a Ridda,28 a religious movement against Islam. The jurists, who had failed to find Quranic or sunnah authority for the execution of Muslims accused of kufr, or war, against opposing Muslim political powers, accepted the assumption without more ado.

Discussing the legality of Abu Bakr’s war against Muslim rebels, Imam Al-Shafi’i says: ‘Riddah is falling back from a previously adopted religion into disbelief and refusing to fulfil previously accepted responsibility.’29 Recantation is not enough. It must be aggravated by allegations of the breach of an agreement. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, a scholar of a very different school, in his commentary of the Nahj al-Balaghah, clarified the matter when he said: ‘The tribes which refused to pay zakat were not recanters, they were called so, metaphorically, by the Companions of the Prophetsa.’30

According to Wellhausen, Riddah was a break with the leadership in Medina and not with Islam itself. Most of the tribes wanted to continue worshipping Allah, but without paying tax. Caetani agrees with Wellhausen and says the Riddah was not a movement of recantation and that these wars were purely about politics. Becker, following Wellhausen and Caetani, concludes:

The sudden death of Mahomet gave new support to the centrifugal tendencies. The character of the whole movement, as it forces itself on the notice of the historian, was of course hidden from contemporaries. Arabia would have sunk into particularism if the necessity caused by the secession of Al-Riddah had not developed in the State of Medina an energy which carried all before it. The fight against the Ridda was not a fight against apostates, the objection was not to Islam, per se, but to the tribute which had to be paid to Medina; the fight was for political supremacy over Arabia.31

Bernard Lewis makes it quite clear that Riddah ‘represents a distortion of the real significance of events by the theologically colored outlook of later historians.’ He goes on to say:

The refusal of the tribes to recognize the succession of Abu Bakr was, in effect, not a relapse by converted Muslims to their previous paganism, but the simple and automatic termination of a political contract by the death of one of the parties. The tribes nearest to Medina had in fact been converted and their interests were so closely identified with those of the umma that their separate history has not been recorded. For the rest, the death of Muhammad automatically severed their bonds with Medina, and the parties resumed their liberty of action. They felt in no way bound by the election of Abu Bakr in which they had taken no part, and at once suspended both tribute and treaty relations. In order to re-establish the hegemony of Medina, Abu Bakr had to make new treaties.32

Ali was assassinated in 661. With him went the concept of a Muslim ruler who combined the functions of head of state and of religion. The dynastic reign of the Ummayyads (661–750), the political rulers of Islam, began with Muawiyah. They had none of the religious outlook of the pious caliphs and were regarded more or less as secular kings. As guardians of the sharia the ulema came to occupy a position comparable in many ways to that of the clergy after the conversion of Constantine. Like the clergy in medieval Europe, they were respected for learning and piety and their support was sought to legalize the political power of a despot or unpopular ruler. They also acted as the leaders of the opposition and tried to influence political power rather than assume it themselves.

Political and social revolts were now justified in religious terms and dynastic struggles over political power soon hardened into deep rifts in religious doctrine. Kharijism and Shiism, the two main movements that split off from the main body after the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman (644), originated during a struggle for succession. Kharijites were the first Muslims to suggest that a grave sinner no longer remained Muslim. They were also the first to proclaim jihad against Muslims who, according to them, were not true believers, and originally belonged to Ali’s party; they left him, however, over a disagreement about arbitration between him and Muawiyah, intended to settle their differences arising out of Uthman’s murder. They said: ‘judgement belongs to Allah alone’ and not to human tribunals. Kharijites were key figures in the development of dogma. They were particular about a Muslim’s qualifications and his attitude towards his fellow men, Muslim or non-Muslim. This group was the first distinct sect to appear in Islam, and was also the first to reject the principle of justification by faith. They maintained that a grave sinner no longer remained a Muslim and could not re-enter the faith; instead, he should be killed with his family. They considered all non-Kharijites to be outlaws and non-Muslim. As we saw earlier, the Prophetsa knew the munafiqun of Medina and their leader, Abdullah b. Ubayy, and yet he took no action against him. He did not judge the quality of a Muslim’s faith.

The Kharijites conflicted directly with the teaching of the Quran and the sunnah of the Prophetsa. Their declaration that ‘judgement belongs to Allah alone’ (la hukma illa lillah)33 was in total contradiction to the sunnah. The Prophetsa appointed Sad b. Muadh as hakam to decide the fate of the Jewish tribe of B. Qurayzah and his sentence was carried out (34). Commenting on the Sahih Muslim report of Sad’s judgement, Al-Nawawi (d. 676AH/AD 127) said: ‘In their disputes Muslims are allowed to resort to tahkim’ (35).In fact, if two Muslim groups are at war, it is the duty of other Muslims to make peace between them. The Quran says: ‘All believers are brothers, and be mindful of your duty to Allah that you may be shown mercy.’ (49.11) Declaring Muslims to be ‘disbelievers’ and then punishing them just because their standards are different from the standards of a certain religious authority—takfir—is alien to Islam. The Prophetsa himself defined a Muslim as one who declares faith in the Unity of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammadsa.36 This is the only definition by which a Muslim can be judged. Discussing the subject of takfir, Bernard Lewis says:

Even open rebellion did not automatically involve takfir. In 923 the chief Qadi ibn Buhal refused to denounce the Carmathian rebels as unbelievers since they began their letters with invocations to God and the Prophet and were therefore, on the face of it, Muslims. The Shafi’i law insists that the sectarian, even in revolt, is entitled to be treated as a Muslim; that is to say, his family and property are respected, and that he cannot be summarily dispatched or sold into slavery once he becomes a prisoner.37

Takfir38 was, however, founded by jurists. As we saw earlier, it was a Kharijite excuse for denouncing Ali. But having adopted this Kharijite innovation, the jurists could not arrive at an agreed definition of a Muslim.

To comb 1300 years of Islamic history to find the number of Muslims executed because of their conversion from Islam would prove futile. There were unsuccessful attempts to execute Maimonides in Cairo,39 the Maronite Amir Yunis in Lebanon,40 and to persecute Rashid-ud-Din in Tabriz,41 but such instances were very rare. In Mughal India, there is only one recorded case. A Portuguese friar had embraced Islam and then reverted to his former faith. He was executed at Aurangabad.42 The reasons for his execution were political, not religious. The friar was under strong suspicion of spying for the Portuguese under the cover of Islam.

Jadd ibn Dirham was put to death on the orders of Hisham b. Abd al Malik in Kura or Wasit in 124 or 125AH/AD746 or 747. He was accused of having advanced the Mutazili doctrines of the created Quran and of freewill. In 167 or 168AH/AD788 the Iraqi poet Bashir b. Burd was accused of zandaqah, beaten and thrown into a swamp in Batiha. AI-Husain b. Mansur al-Hallaj was executed in 309AH/AD930 for blasphemy because he claimed to have substantial union with God (hulul). Shihab-ul-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi was put to death on the orders of Al-Mahk al-Zahir (578AH/AD1199). His crime was to regard all that lives, moves or has its being as truth and he even based his proof of God upon the symbol of light.

The seventeenth-century martyr was Muhammad Said Sarmad. Bom of Jewish parents at Kashan, Sarmad was a rabbi before embracing Islam. A great Persian poet, he was a monist and denied the existence of matter. He was executed in the reign of Aurangzib (reigned 1658–1707). His mazar (tomb) which is opposite the Jami Masjid in Delhi, attracts daily hundreds of Muslims, offering flowers and Fatihah.

In Afghanistan, two Ahmadis were executed for accepting the claim of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as of Qadian to be the Promised Messiah: Sahibzadah Abdul Latif, who performed the coronation ceremony of Amir Habib Ullah Khan, was stoned to death in 1903 and Maulwi Nimat Ullah in 1924. Both were given the chance of renouncing the claims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, but they refused.

Muhammad Mahmud Taha was executed in the Sudan in 1985. He believed the Medinite part of the Quranic law was no longer applicable.

Significantly, the Ottoman sultan, though the head of a religious empire and caliph of all Muslims, did not order the execution of Baha Ullah (1817–92) for irtidad. Baha Ullah declared himself to be the Promised One, foretold by Bab,43 and founded Bahaism as a religion. Bahaism was and is totally different from Islam. It declares that the arrival of Baha Ullah makes the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad—may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him—out of date. Baha Ullah was jailed in Akka (Acre) near Haifa, then in Palestine, now Israel. But when Sabbatai Zevi (1627–76), a Jewish mystic, proclaimed himself the Messiah in 1648, the Shaykh-ul-Islam of the Ottoman Empire ordered his execution. He was arrested, recanted from his claim simply to escape death, and embraced Islam. Baha Ullah claimed to be a new manifestation of God and left Islam, but was not executed despite his apostasy because he was not a danger to law and order in the Ottoman Empire.

As we have already seen, the concept of apostasy is alien to Islam and there is no punishment in this world for recanting. But the ulema who appeared before the Court of Inquiry, constituted under the Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953, asserted that ‘apostasy in an Islamic state is punishable by death’. They were:

Maulana Abut Hasanat Sayyad Muhammad Ahmad Qadri, President, Jamiat-ul-Ulamai-Pakistan, Punjab; Maulana Ahmad Ali, SadrJamiatul-Ulama-e-Islam, West Pakistan; Maulana-Abul Ala Maudum, founder and ex-Amir-i-Jamani Islami, Pakistan; Mufti Muhammad Idris, Jami Ashrafia, Lahore, and member, Jamiat-ul-Ulamai-Pakistan; Maulana Daud Ghaznavi, President, Jamaati Ahl-i-Hadith, Maghribi Pakistan; Maulana Abdul Haleem Qasimi, Jamiat-ul-Ulamai-Islam, Punjab; and Mr Ibrahim Ali Chishti.44

Commenting on this assertion, the Court of Inquiry observed:

According to this doctrine, Chaudhri Zafrullah Khan must be executed if he has not inherited his present religious beliefs, but has elected of his own free will to be an Abmadi. And the same fate should befall Deobandis and Wahabis, (including Maulana Muhammad Shafi Deobandi, member, Board of Talimat-i-Islami attached to the Constituent Assem bly of Pakistan, and Maulana Daud Ghaznavi) if any one of the ulema (shown perched on every leaf of a beautiful tree in the fatwa (Ex. D.E. 14) were the head of such an Islamic state. And if Maulana Muhammad Shaft Deobandi were the head of the state, he would exclude those who have been pronounced Deobandis to be kafirs from Islam. He would then execute them, if they came within the definition of murtadd, namely, if they had changed and not inherited their religious views.

The genuineness of the fatwa (Ex. D.E. 13) by the Deobandis, which says that Ithnashri Shias are kafirs and murtadds) was questioned in the course of our inquiry. But Maulana Muhammad Shafi examined the subject from Deoband and received from the records of that institution the copy of a fatwa signed by all the teachers of the Dural Ulloom, including Maulana Muhammad Shafi himself. The records say, in effect, that those who do not believe in the sahabiyyat of Hazrat Siddiq Akbar and who are qazif of Hazrat Aisha Siddiqa and have been guilty of tehrif of the Quran, are kafirs. This opinion is also shared by Mr Ibrahim Ali Ghishti who knows and has studied this subject. He thinks the Shias are kafirs because they believe that Hazrat Ali shared the prophethood with our Holy Prophetsa. He refused to answer the question of whether a Sunni who changed his views and agrees with the Shias is guilty of irtidad, thus deserving death. According to the Shias, all Sunnis are kafirs and Ahl-i-Quran—persons who consider hadith unreliable and therefore not binding—are also kafirs. So are all independent thinkers. The net result is that neither Shias nor Sunnis nor Deobandis nor Ahl-i-hadith nor Brelvis are Muslims. And that, if the government of the state is run by a party which considers the other party to be kafirs, then any change from one view to another must result in the death penalty.

It does not take much imagination to judge the consequences of this doctrine when it is remembered that no two ulerm have ever agreed before us on the correct definition of a Muslim. Indeed, if all their definitions are taken in total, the grounds on which someone may be indicted for apostasy would be too numerous even to count.45


  1. 1 Sahih al-Bukhari, Bab Kitabat al-Iman al-Nas .
  2. Ibid., Kitab al-Salat, Bab Fadl Istaqbal al-Qiblah .
  3. Al-Ghazali, Faysal al-Tafriqah bayn al-Islam wa’ l Zandaqah (Cairo, 1901), 68; see Bernard Lewis, Islam in History: Ideas, Men and Events in the Middle East (London,1973),232.
  4. Munir Commission Report (Lahore, 1954), 28.
  5. Abdul Malik Ibn Hisham, Shat Rasul Allah ed. F. Wustenfeld, 2 vols. (Gottingen, 1856–60), 984; trans. A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 667.
  6. Musnand Imam Ahnuid Hanbal , vol. V, 260.
  7. Mufradat al-Quran .
  8. Quran , 6.67. See also 6.108, 10.109, 17.55, 39.42 and 42.7. The word wakil has been explained by Imam Fakhr ud-Din Razi in Tafsir Kabir (Cairo, 1308 AH), vol. IV, 62–3 and also Muhammad Abdub in Tafsir al-Quran al-Shahir bi Tafsir al-Manar , ed. Muhammad Rashid Rida (Beirut, 1337 AH), vol. VII, 501–3,662–3.
  9. Emphasis added.
  10. Abdul Malik Bur Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah , op.cit ., 927.
  11. Ibid., 381.
  12. Ibid., 384.
  13. Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo, n.d.), vol. 1, book 3, 28.
  14. Ibn Hisham, op.cit ., 818.
  15. Ibid., 819.
  16. Ibid., 818–19.
  17. Ibid., 819.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid., 820.
  20. Ibid., 468–9.
  21. Ibid., 819.
  22. Ibid. Al-Zurqani, Sharah al-Mawahib al-Laduniyah (Cairo 1325 All), vol. II, 315; see Shair Ali, Qatli-Murtadd our Islam (Amritsar, 1925), 119.
  23. Ibn Hisham, op.cit ., 728.
  24. Ibid., 819.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Muhammad Idris al Shafii, Kitab al-Umm, ed. Muhammad Zahri al Nadjjar (Cairo, n.d.), vol. VIII, 256.
  27. Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rasul wa al-Muluk , ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1964), vol. IV, 1874.
  28. C.H. Becker, ‘The expansion of the Saracens’, The Cambridge Medieval History (New York: Macmillan, 1913), vol. II, 335.
  29. Muhammad Idris al-Shafii, op.cit ., 255–6.
  30. Abd al-Hamid Hibet-u-Allah ibn al-Hadid, Sharah Nahj al-Balaghah , ed. Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (Cairo, 1956–64), vol. XIII, 187.
  31. C.H. Becker, op.cit ., 335.
  32. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History (London, 1958), 51–2.
  33. Ashari, Maqalat , vol 1, 191.
  34. Ibn Hisbam, op.cit ., 688–9.
  35. Sahih Muslim with Sharah al-Nawawi (Lahore: 1958, 62), vol. 11, 112–13.
  36. For various reports with slightly different wording see Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, ‘Kitab al-Iman’ .
  37. Bernard Lewis, Islam in History , op.cit ., 233.
  38. See Bernard Lewis’s detailed analysis of the genesis and evolution of this institution in Islamic history in Islam in History, op.cit ., 217–36 and also The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 53–4.
  39. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam , op.cit , 100.
  40. Ignaz Goldziher, Mohammed andlstam , trans. Kate Chambers Seelye (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917), 74, note 3.
  41. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam , op.cit ., 101.
  42. Sir Judanath Sarkar, Short History of Aurangzib (Calcutta, 1954), 105–6.
  43. But Bab (Door of the Spirit) Mirza Ali Muhammad, who proclaimed his prophethood, was executed at Tabriz on 9 July 1850.
  44. Munir Commission Report , 218, 219.
  45. Ibid., 219.
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