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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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Punishment for Apostasy

In earlier chapters we have given numerous references from the Holy Quran and the history of Islam to expose the fallacy that Islam prescribes any corporal punishment for those who renounce Islam as their faith. We examined at length the most common arguments presented by the advocates of death for apostasy, namely the report of Ikramah and the incident of zakat in Hazrat Abu Bakr’s time. Some other arguments are examined in this chapter.

It is difficult to assess whether the concept of coercion in Islam had its birth on Islamic soil or was the child of the orientalists’ imagination and was later on transferred to the lap of Islam. Having examined this in the light of Islamic history, I honestly believe that the idea first took root in the Islamic world itself and that it is wrong of us to blame the orientalists for having initiated it. They picked it up from the Muslims: before the orientalists were even born, the idea seems to have been present in medieval Islamic thought. It originated in the late Umayyad dynasty. Throughout the Abbaside period, the idea continued to flourish and was further strengthened because the Abbaside sovereigns wanted to use force not only against the enemies of Islam but also against their own people. A license for this was not infrequently sought from Muslim scholars under their influence. The concept has therefore arisen from the conduct and policies of the post-Khalifat-i-Rashida1 Muslim governments of Baghdad.

Looking on from the outside, Western scholars believed that this was an Islamic teaching, but the fact was that it was not Islamic at all. It was the basis of the behavior of some Muslim governments. We should remember that the idea had its birth in an age when all over the world the use of force for the spread of influence and ideology was a common feature and no exception was taken to this.

It is clear that the allegation that Islam advocates the use of force for the spread of its ideology does not originate from a study of the sources of Islamic teachings but from a study of the conduct of some Muslim states. Now that a new era has dawned in which all the Islamic literature and traditions are available to us and the Holy Quran has been translated into so many languages—when Western scholars have direct access to the sources of Islamic teachings—their persistence in making the allegation is unjustified. They should go to the sources and study the teachings of the Holy Quran, the traditions and the conduct of the Holy Prophet, Muhammadsa, himself.

This work is an attempt to examine the whole issue, not in the light of how Muslims of a certain era behaved, but in the light of the fundamental teachings of the Holy Quran and the exposition of those teachings by the words of the Holy Prophetssa and by his conduct.

The tendency to judge teachings by the conduct of their followers has often misled people about the original teachings. It is universally observed that after a while all religions lose their influence on the conduct of their adherents. For illustrations of this, study the behavior of the Buddhists of today or of earlier eras, study the behavior of the Hindu governments, and so on and so forth; it often has no relationship whatsoever with the original teachings. In particular, politics must not be confused with religion; political behavior of a nation should not be treated as a mirror reflecting the teachings of the religion which its people are supposed to follow.

It is against this background that we examine the arguments presented by the advocates of death as a Punishment for Apostasy.

Definition of an Apostate

The Holy Quran states:

They will not stop fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can. The works of those from among you who turn back from their faith and die in a state of disbelief shall be vain in this world and the next. These are the inmates of the fire, therin shall they abide. (2. 218)

This means that whoever, out of fear of the sword (or the pain of punishment), decides to abjure Islam has a fundamental right to do so but no one else has the right to declare him to be an apostate. The right to declare himself to bean apostate lies only with him. Nowhere in the Holy Quran has this right been granted to others. That is to say, one is free to renounce one’s own religion but has no right to impose renunciation of religion on others. According to Islamic teachings, an apostate, therefore, cannot be manufactured by religious scholars or the clergy or any non-tolerant individual or government.

The Holy Quran also states: ‘Surely, those who have turned away after guidance has been made manifest to them have been deceived by Satan who has beguiled them with false hopes.’ (47.26)

Other Verses from the Holy Quran on Apostasy

The Holy Quran says:

O ye who believe, whoso from among you turns back from his religion let him remember that in place of such a person, Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him, who will be kind and considerate towards the believers and firm and unyielding towards the disbelievers. They will strive hard in the cause of Allah and will not at all take to heart the reproaches of fault finders. That is Allah’s grace; He bestows it upon whosoever He pleases. Allah is the Lord of vast bounty, All-Knowing. (5.55)

Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed, excepting the case of one who is forced to make a declaration of disbelief while his heart rests securely in faith, but one who opens his mind wide to disbelief; on him is Allah’s wrath and he shall have a grievous punishment. (16.107)

Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them, nor guide them to any way of deliverance. (4.138)

Muhammad is but a Messenger; of a surety, all Messengers before him have passed away. If then, he dies or be slain, will you turn back on your heels? He who turns back on his heels shall not harm Allah a whit. Allah will certainly reward the grateful. (3.145)

No corporal punishment can be understood to have been mentioned by any stretch of imagination in the foregoing passages from the Holy Quran.

Surah Al-Tauba

In a desperate search for at least one verse in the Holy Quran which might lend support for death as a Punishment for Apostasy, recourse has been made to verses 12 and 13 of Chapter 9 (Surah AI-Tauba). We quote below verses 3–14 of that chapter. These speak for themselves and defy all attempts on the part of anyone who would have them understood differently:

3. This is a public proclamation on the pan of Allah and His Messenger on the day of the Great Pilgrimage, that Allah is free of all obligation to the idolaters, and so is His Messenger. So now, having witnessed this Sign, if you will repent and make peace, it wilt be better for you; but if you hum away, then know that you cannot frustrate Allah’s design. Warn the disbelievers of a painful chastisement.

4. Excepting those of them with whom you have a pact and who have not defaulted in any respect, nor supported anyone against you. Carry out the obligations you have assumed towards them till the end of their terms. Surely, Allah loves those who are mindful of their obligations.

5. When the period of four months during which hostilities are suspended expires, without the idolaters having settled the terms of peace with you, resume fighting with them and kill them wherever you find them and make them prisoners and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. Then if they repent and observe prayers and pay the zakat, leave them alone. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful.

6. If any one of the idolaters seeks asylum with thee, grant him asylum so that he may hear the Word of Allah; then convey him to a place of security for him, for they are a people who lack knowledge.

7. How could there be a guarantee for the idolaters on the part of Allah and His Messenger, except in favor of those with whom you entered into an express treaty at the Sacred Mosque? So long as they carry out their obligations the reunder, you must carry out your obligations. Surely, Allah loves those who are mindful of their obligations.

8. How can there be a guarantee for the others who, if they were to prevail against you, would have no regard for any tie of kinship or pact in respect of you. They seek to please you with words, while their hearts repudiate them; most of them are perfidious.

9. They have bartered the Sign of Allah for small gains and hindered people from His way. Evil indeed is that which they have done.

10. They show no regard for any tie of kinship or any pact in respect of a believer. It is they who are the transgressors.

11. If they repent and observe prayer and pay the zakat, then they are your brethren in faith. We expound our commandments for a people who know.

12. But if they break faith after pledging it and ridicule your religion, then fight these leaders of disbelief that they may desist, for they have no regard for their pledged word.

13. Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths, who plotted to turn out the Messenger from his home, and who were the first to start hostilities against you? Do you fear them? It is Allah Who is Most Worthy that you should fear Him, if you are believers.

14. Fight them: Allah will punish them at your hands, and will humiliate them, and will help you to overcome them, and will relieve the minds of the believers of fear and distress.

Those who deduce from verses 12 and 13 that the Punishment for Apostasy is death offer no explanation of the contradiction this creates with numerous other verses. These verses relate to the period after the migration from Mecca to Medina (see verse 3) when the Quraish of Mecca had embarked upon hostilities to wipe out Islam by force.

The advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy should remember that these verses refer to idolaters who have broken their pledges and ridicule religion; there is no mention of people renouncing their faith. They have broken their pledge after their firm commitment to it. Those who have become hostile to your religion are the first to initiate hostilities against you. The permission for you to fight them is restricted to their leaders whose covenants are worthless and false. The permission is given in order to stop them from entering into hostile acts against you.

This is the true meaning of these verses which have been misconstrued by the advocates of capital punishment. There is not even the remotest reference to people who renounce their faith being forced to become Muslims. The same people are discussed in another part of the Holy Quran:

It may be that Allah will bring about amity between you and those with whom you are at enmity. Allah has the power; Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. Allah does not forbid you to be kind and act equitably towards those who have not fought you because of your religion, and who have not driven you forth from your homes. Surely Allah loves those who are equitable. Allah only forbids you that you make friends with those who have fought against you because of your religion and have driven you out of your homes and have aided others in driving you out. Whoso makes friends with them, those are the transgressors. (60.8–10)

Temporary Disbelief

Another verse of the Holy Quran states:

A section of the people of the Book urge some from among themselves: why not affirm, in the early part of the day, belief in that which has been revealed unto the believers and repudiate it in the latter part of the day, perchance they may turn away from their faith. (3.73)

The people of the Book mentioned in this verse are the Jews of Medina. Theirs was a Jewish tactic to create doubt among the Muslims in the hope that some of them might thereby by beguiled into repudiating Islam. How could it be possible for the Jews to have enacted this plan if death was a penalty for apostasy? Had anyone been executed for commuting this crime, that would have been a deterrent for others who would not follow in their footsteps.

The advocates of the death penalty urge that this verse merely refers to a Jewish philosophy which was never put into practice by them. Even if it was merely a philosophy, this verses conclusive proof of there being no punishment in this world for apostasy because the Jews could never have conceived the idea had there been such a punishment. Moreover, it is wrong to say that the idea was a hypothetical case; the books of tradition mention that it was put into practice by twelve Jewish divines of Khaibar and Urainah.2(See also p.65)

All commentaries agree that this chapter of the Holy Quran was revealed between the victory of Mecca and the demise of the Holy Prophetsa. This conclusively proves that the Jews put it into practice after Islam became firmly established in Arabia. How could the Jews ever think of such a suicidal and insane strategy if death was prescribed as a Punishment for Apostasy? How could they encourage Muslims to follow their faith by affirming it during the day and repudiating it at the end of the day if they knew that the Muslims would be executed for changing their faith?


The advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy misconstrue out of all proportion the traditions narrated about the Holy Prophetsa. Traditions lend no support to their thesis. On the contrary, there are many traditions which clearly show that there is no Punishment for Apostasy in this life.

However, for the sake of completeness, we set out those traditions which are most often cited by advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy.

  1. Abu Qalabah reports on the authority of Anas that the Holy Prophetsa told the people of Akal or Uraynah to go and stay among his she-camels outside Medina. These people killed the keeper of the camels and ran away with the herd. Although it is true that these people had become apostates, their punishment was not a result of their apostasy but of their murder of the keeper of the she-camels. (See also page 34.)
  2. Whereas Ibn Khatal, who was without doubt one of the four executed on the fall of Mecca, was an apostate, he had also committed the crime of murdering his traveling companion. His execution was, therefore, obviously ordered as a result of his having been convicted as a murderer. (See also page 66.)
  3. Another incident is that of Maqees b. Sababah who killed an Ansar in revenge for Hisham, his brother, who was accidentally killed during the campaign of Zeeqard. Thereafter, Maqees became an apostate. He was executed on account of the murder of the Ansar. (See also page 67.) In each one of the above incidents, the executed person had committed murder. The three people had also happened to renounce their faith, but how can anyone shut their eyes to the murders and attribute their executions to their acts of apostasy?
  4. The advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy rely heavily on a tradition which mentions the execution of a woman for apostasy. This tradition is most unreliable, to say the least. The truth of the matter is that the Holy Prophetsa never ordered the execution of a woman on account of her apostasy. The well-known treatise of jurisprudence, Hedayah, sets out the following:

The Holy Prophetsa forbade the killing of women for apostasy, because the principle of punitive regulations is that in such cases the penalty should be left for the hereafter, as a penalty imposed in this life would contravene the purpose of apostasy, being a trial calling to account what pertains to God alone. This can be departed from only when the object in view is to restrain the person concerned from continuing hostilities (during times of war). As women, by their very nature, are not capable of fighting, a woman apostate cannot be punished in any case.

Strangely enough, scholars like Maududi, who might be supposed to be fully aware of serious flaws in the reliability of these traditions, still adhere to weak traditions which have been rejected by most eminent Muslim scholars.

e) The incident of Abdullah Bin Sad has already been quoted on page 66. Had there been any Quranic penalty for apostasy, how could the Holy Prophet’ssa words to the effect that no one is above the law would be a clear reminder of his strict observance of God’s laws. If death was the Punishment for Apostasy, how could the Holy Prophetsa disobey the commandments of God?


We have observed that neither the Holy Quran nor any reliable traditions of the Holy Prophetsa lend any support to those who advocate capital Punishment for Apostasy. But those advocates have some other tricks up their sleeves. It is necessary to examine their remaining arguments at greater length. Those arguments are based on the opinions of the Companions of the Holy Prophetsa, and not directly on his own personal judgement. Let it be known at the outset that observations or opinions of Companionsas can only be a commentary; they have no right to be treated with as much respect as an injunction of the Holy Quran. At best they can only be regarded as an opinion.

  1. The incident of the widespread apostasy in relation to the payment of zakat has been discussed (pages 69–72). The Abs and the Zubyan were the tribes which initiated hostilities by attacking Medina. Hazrat Abu Bakr fought them before the return of Osama from his expedition. The apostates were the aggressors. They not only refused to pay zakat, but also took up the sword against the Muslims. Thus they rebelled against the Islamic state, slaughtered the Muslims amongst them by burning some alive and mutilated those they had killed.3 Those who advocate execution for apostasy on the authority of this incident are either ignorant of the facts or deliberately seeking to mislead people by playing down the killing of innocent Muslims by the rebels.
  2. The advocates then pose the question that if there was no Punishment for Apostasy, why was Musailmah the imposter not left alone? The truth is that Musailmah aspired to political power. He had accompanied Abu Hanifa and offered to the Holy Prophetsa his submission subject to his being nominated as his successor. The Holy Prophet’s told Musailmah that he would not yield him even a twig of a date palm tree. Musailmah returned and claimed that half of Arabia belonged to him. He sent a letter to the Holy Prophetsa in which he claimed: ‘I have been appointed your partner in authority.’ The Holy Prophetsa responded by quoting to him verse 129 of chapter 7 of the Holy Quran.4 After Musailmah’s claim of prophethood, he captured Habeeb b. Zaid, a Companion of the Holy Prophetsa, dismembered him limb from limb, and then burned his remains. The advocates of capital punishment ignore this gruesome murder and claim that apostasy was the only crime attributable to Musailmah. Had he not committed murder, would he have been killed for the crime of apostasy alone? Was he not brought to justice for the murder and for the mayhem and disorder which he created in the land? There is not the slightest shred of evidence that having heard of Musailmah’s rejection of his prophethood, the Holy Prophetsa condemned Musailmah to death or exhorted any of his Companions to kill him. Having failed to find evidence of any specific condemnation by the Holy Prophetsa, Maulana Maududi had to seek recourse in a wish which the Holy Prophetsa is said to have expressed during his dying moments, that Musailmah should be done away with. Had there been such a wish, it is impossible for us to believe that the Holy Prophet’ssa first successor, Hazrat Abu Bakr, would have ignored it and not sent an expedition in compliance with the wish of the Holy Prophetsa. Why did Hazrat Abu Bakr wait until the time when Musailmah himself took the offensive and openly rebelled against the Muslims? We find that Musailmah mustered a force of 40,000 warriors of Banu Hanifa alone when he fought Khalid b. Walid. Musailmah initiated hostilities and moved against Medina. It was only then that Hazrat Abu Bakr gave orders to march against him on account of his rebellion and his gruesome murder of Habeeb bin Zaid.5
  3. Another incident cited is that of Tulaiha, another pretender to prophet hood. Again, he was not just a pretender but had murdered Ukasha b. Mohsin and Thabit b. Aqram Ansari. Before Khalid b. Walid commenced battle with him, he sent an emissary to Tulaiha to agree peace terms and avoid bloodshed. The advocates of capital punishment overlook the fact that if there had been capital Punishment for Apostasy, there was no point in sending an emissary offering forgiveness to Tulaiha.6
  4. A similar case is that of Aswad Anasi who raised the standard of rebellion with his apostasy. He killed the Muslim governor of Yemen, Shahr b. Bazan, forcibly married his widow and made himself ruler of Yemen. When the Holy Prophetsa learned of his rebellion, he sent a letter to Muaz b. Jabal and the Muslims to oppose Aswad Anasi, who was subsequently killed in a skirmish with the Muslims. (News of his death arrived one day after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa7
  5. Similarly, Laqbeet b. Malik Azdi became an apostate and claimed to be a prophet. He expelled Jafar and Abad who had been appointed as functionaries in Oman.8 He, like all these claimants to prophethood, had no concern with religion. He had his own political axe to grind. His search for political domination was through open rebellion against the Islamic state he lived in, so the question of apostasy is irrelevant here. Let us suppose for a moment that all these people had not recanted their faith but had merely rebelled against the Muslim state. The state would have had to take the step of quelling the rebellion; for the crime of creating disorder in the land, the Holy Quran prescribes capital punishment. That punishment is not for apostasy.
  6. The advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy cite also the case of Umm Qarfah, a woman who became an apostate during the time of Hazrat Abu Bakr. She had thirty sons whom she constantly exhorted to fight the Muslims. She paid the price for her treason and for her complicity in murder, not on account of her apostasy.9
  7. The case of Hazrat Ali fighting the Khawarij is often cited. The Khawarij created disorder in the land, killed Muslim men and women, the governor appointed by Hazrat Ali, his female slave, and also Ali’s emissary.10 (This incident has been discussed on p.70.)
  8. Reference needs to be made to the appointments of Muaz b. Jabal and Abu Musa Ashari, each as governor of a part of Yemen. As they were about to leave, the Holy Prophetsa instructed them: ‘Make things easy for people and do not put them into difficulty. Talk to them cheerfully and not in a manner that might repel them’ One day Muaz came to meet Abu Musa Ashari and noticed a person sitting there who had been secured with a rope. When Muaz enquired about this he was told that that person was a Jew who had become a Muslim and then became an apostate. The narrator adds that for the past two to three months the Muslims had reasoned with him in order to persuade him to become a Muslim but to no avail. Muaz declared that he would not dismount until the person had been executed and observed that this was the judgement of God and His Messenger. This last remark indicates no more than his personal opinion of what he understood to be the Will of God and His prophet. Such opinions carry no weight in law unless they are completely substantiated by references which verify the claim. (This principle is elaborated subsequently in this chapter.)

Now let us examine the reliability of this tradition. Muaz’s remark contradicts the instruction of the Holy Prophetsa to make things easy for people and not in amanner which might repel them. To place reliance on one tradition without investigating Muaz’s understanding of Islam on a key issue where human rights are involved is sheer absurdity.

Considerable doubt prevails regarding this tradition, the chain of narrators and their authenticity. Wherever such disputes arise, the tradition is rejected outright. It should be remembered that these traditions were compiled some three to four centuries after the advent of Islam and that, over a passage of time, memories are prone to error. According to one tradition, the Jew was beheaded upon Muaz’s instructions.11 In the second tradition, Muaz himself beheaded the Jew.12 When such fundamental differences occur in a key incident, how can anyone accept the authenticity of these traditions? People may forget what someone said, but if they were eye-witnesses they would at least remember what ultimately happened to the ‘apostate’ in question.

Next we turn to a tradition which has obtained much attention because it is strongly emphasized and relied upon by the school advocating capital Punishment for Apostasy. This has deliberately been deferred to the end of this chapter so that justice may be done to it without interfering with the general flow of the subject matter.

Before a detailed examination of this tradition, a few words concerning the application of certain principles accepted by Islamic scholars throughout the ages would not be out of place. These principles help to resolve controversies concerning the apparent contradiction between the Holy Quran and hadith (tradition) on the one hand and some traditions vis-à-vis other traditions.

  1. The Word of God stands supreme.
  2. This is followed by the actual practices of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa. This is known as sunnah.
  3. This is followed by hadith, the words reported to be those of the Holy Prophetsa
  1. If the authenticity of the words of the Holy Prophetsa is established unquestionably, the words concerned are words put into the mouth of the Holy Prophetssa by God Almighty. Where there is no apparent contradiction between the word of the Holy Prophetsa and the Quran, the tradition may be accepted as authentic.

  2. There are no two opinions regarding the accepted fact that whenever any so-called tradition attributed to the Holy Prophet of Islamsa contradicts any clear injunction of the Holy Quran, such a tradition is rejected as false and is not accepted as the word of the Holy Prophetsa.

  3. If such a tradition does not glaringly violate any injunction of the Holy Quran and there is room for compromise, then ideally an attempt should be made to search for a suitable compromise before the final rejection of the tradition.

  4. In attempting to reconcile a tradition attributed to the Holy Prophetsa with the Holy Quran, it must always be borne in mind that the clear teachings of the Holy Quran are not to be compromised for the sake of a so-called tradition, but a genuine attempt is to be made to find an explanation of the tradition. Therefore in all cases of doubt, the tradition is put to the anvil of the Holy Quran and judged accordingly.

  5. If there is no contradiction between the Holy Quran and hadith, then their mutual merit of credibility would be determined according to the reliability of the sources and the chain of narrators.

  6. Such a tradition will also be compared with other authentic and widely accepted traditions to make sure that the tradition does not conflict with other traditions.

  7. Lastly, another reliable method of investigating the credibility of a tradition is to study its internal evidence critically. If the contents of the tradition clash with the image of the Holy Prophet of Islam which has emerged from a study of his conduct and bearing throughout his life, then such a tradition would be rejected as a false attribution to the Holy Prophetsaor as being against the principles of logic and common sense.

In the light of the above principles, let us examine13 the tradition in question.


It is recorded that:

Ikramah relates that he heard that some Zindeeqs were presented before Hazrat Ali whereupon he directed the burning alive of these people. Ibn Abbas stated that had it been him, he would not have ordered this because the Holy Prophetsa had said that the torment of the fire may only be decreed by God but the Prophetsa had also said, ‘Slay whosoever changes his religion’14

This tradition, with some variation, may also be found in Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Al-Nisai and Ibn Majah’s compilations.

Contradiction with the Holy Quran

It is not possible for a fair-minded person to reconcile the following verses of the Holy Quran with this tradition:

  • 2.57, 100, 109, 218, 257, 273
  • 3.21, 73, 86–92, 145
  • 4.83, 138, 139, 146
  • 5.55, 62, 91–3, 99–100
  • 6.67, 105–8, 126
  • 7.124–9
  • 9.11–14
  • 10.100–9
  • 13.41
  • 15.10
  • 16.83, 105–7, 126
  • 17.55
  • 18.30
  • 19.47
  • 20.72–4
  • 22.40
  • 24.55
  • 25.42–4
  • 26.117
  • 28.57
  • 29.19
  • 39.30–42
  • 40.26, 27
  • 42.7, 8, 48, 49
  • 47.26
  • 50.46
  • 51.57
  • 64.9–13
  • 66.7
  • 88.22–3

Some of the verses listed have been quoted earlier. For the sake of further elucidation the following passage is set out:

Whoso seeks a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the losers. How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after having believed and who had borne witness that the Messenger is true and to him clear proofs had come? Allah guides not the wrongdoers. Of such the punishment is that on them shall be the curse of Allah and of angels and of men, all together, the reunder shall they abide. Their punishment shall not be lightened nor shall they be granted respite; except in the case of those who repent thereafter and amend. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. Those who disbelieve after having believed, and then continue to advance in disbelief, their repentance shall not be accepted. Those are they who have gone utterly astray. From anyone of those who have disbelieved, and die while they are disbelievers, there shall not be accepted even an earth full of gold, though he offer it in ransom. For those there shall be a grievous punishment, and they shall have no helper. (3.86–92)

It is obvious from these verses that no punishment is to be inflicted by one man on another for apostasy. The words ‘thereunder shall they abide’ clearly refer to the life hereafter. By no stretch of imagination can any sane person interpret the words ‘curse of Allah’ to be a license to murder anyone whom he considers to be an apostate. No capital punishment is mentioned. If it had, according to the strict requirements of the law, the punishment would have been clearly defined, as in the case of all other hodud (punishments specifically prescribed in the Holy Quran). On the contrary, the Holy Quran mentions the possibility of repentance by such persons and subsequent forgiveness by God. How can anyone repent and atone for his sins in this world if he has been killed?

The advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy need to consider how, if their tradition is presumed to be accurate, the clear contradiction between it and the Holy Quran is to be resolved. In particular, they should reconsider their stance in view of the verses quoted above and re-examine those with an impartial mind. How could anyone accredit greater weight to such a dubious tradition than to these manifestly clear dictates of the Holy Quran:

If thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely all those on the earth would have believed without exception. Will thou than take it upon thyself to force people to become believers? Except by Allah’s leave no one can believe and He will afflict with His wrath those who will not use their understanding. (10.100–1)

When God Himself does not force people to believe, who are we to raise the sword to force belief or to set Maududian mouse-traps? The problem with the advocates of capital Punishment for Apostasy is that they invariably accept literally traditions compiled hundreds of years after the Holy Prophetsa which obviously contradict the teachings contained in the Holy Quran.

Conflicts with the Practice of the Holy Prophetsa

Our second source of law is the conduct and personal example of the Holy Prophetsa. We have already demonstrated the hollowness of the claim that anyone has ever been executed for the crime of apostasy.

After all, what was the stand of the Holy Prophetsa against the Meccans? It was that he should be allowed to profess and proclaim the message of God in peace. The Meccans did not grant him this freedom and punished those who began to believe in him. As far as the Meccans were concerned, those who believed in the message of Muhammadsa were the apostates, having recanted their faith of idol worship.

The Holy Prophetsa spent his entire life fighting in defense of the fundamental human rights that everybody should be free to choose his religion, no one should change another person’s religion by force, and everybody has a right to change his own religion, whatever that religion is.

In fact, this has been the true meaning of ‘Holy War’, waged by all messengers of God against their opponents throughout the history of religion. The Holy Quran has repeatedly mentioned this with reference to earlier prophets of God (see 2.5; 6.113; 21.42; 25.32; 36.8, 31; 43.8). To name but a few, these are Abrahamas (6.75–9; 19.47; 21.53, 59, 61, 69–70; 37.89–91, 98); Eliasas (37.126–7); Lotas (26.166–8; 27.57;15.71); Noahas (7.60; 10.72; 11.26–7; 26.117; 71.2–21); Mosesas (7.105–6, 1247; 10.76–9; 17.102–3; 20.44–5; 50–3; 26.19–34); and Jesusas (3.52–6; 5.118; 19.37; 43.65). What was their struggle about? It was simply a response to the claim of the opponents of the prophetsas that they had no right to change the faith of their contemporaries. In fact everybody has a right to choose his faith and as long as the message of peace and love is spread by peaceful means, no one has the right to prevent this by force. The obstinate response of the opponents to this most logical and humane stance was that they positively rejected the prophets’ position and stuck to their claim that the prophets had no right to change the faith of their people. If they did not desist from this course, the prophets were to be ready to accept the penalty for apostasy which was (in the opponents’ opinion) no other than death or exile.

The Holy Prophet’ssa struggle with his opponents was consistent with the practice of all prophets of the past. How can any sane person deny the lifetime mission of the Holy Prophetssa and challenge his firm stance on this fundamental principle? The Holy Quran, the practice of the Holy Prophetsa, and the other traditions provide ample contradiction to the tradition in question. One cannot over-emphasize the utter unreliability of this tradition.

Reliability of the Sources and Narrators

Prima facie, the tradition refuted here has been authenticated by the reputable compilers Burkhar, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, AI-Nisai and Ibn Majah; it is included in five out of the six generally accepted compilations of hadith. But there ends its claim to authenticity.

For a tradition to be declared authentic it is not enough for it to be found in an authentic compilation. There are other established measures which are applied to every tradition. The most important among these measures is the examination in depth and detail of the reputation and character of the narrators forming the links in the chain of narrators.

There are scholars who have devoted their whole lifetime to such studies and, thanks to their most painstaking and thorough investigations, we are today in a position to examine every link of the chain of narrators in any compilation. Let us turn our attention to the tradition under consideration. This hadith falls into the category of ahad gharib (i.e., a tradition in which there is only one chain of narrators connected to the same single source) because all the five books of hadith derive their chain of narrators from Ikramah as their ultimate source.

The late Maulana Abdul Hayy of Lucknow specifically refers to Ikramah, pointing out that merely because Bukhari had included him in his compilation, others followed suit without carrying out independent research.15

A tradition may be authentic and reliable even if it is quoted through a single chain of narrators. However, it cannot be regarded as being as reliable as traditions which have more than one chain of reliable narrators. Such traditions are not permitted to influence edicts regarding the rights, liabilities and penalties; in particular, extra caution is required in relation to hodud. Hodud is a term strictly applicable to punishments specifically prescribed in the Holy Quran. The exponents of death as the penalty for apostasy consider their view to be based on Quranic injunctions falling within the category of hodud. In fact, we have disproved this claim earlier.

It is important to bear in mind that the tradition under discussion is a tradition quoted by a single chain of narrators and has no jurisprudence even if it is considered to be correct by some. In this context, it is essential to learn more about Ikramah and his reputation.


Ikramah16 was a slave of Ibn Abbas, and also his pupil—a very indifferent pupil, for that matter, and a back-bencher of the first order. He confirms this himself by saying that Ibn Abbas was so infuriated with his lack of interest in his studies and by his truancy that he would bind his hand and foot to compel him to remain present during his sermons.17

He was an opponent of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, and was inclined towards the Khawarij in particular at the time when differences between Hazrat Ali and Ibn Abbas began to emerge. Later, during the Abbaside period, (the Abbasides, it should be borne in mind, were extremely antagonistic to all those who were in any way allied to Hazrat Ali’s progeny because of political apprehensions), Ikramah acquired great renown and respect as a versatile scholar, obviously because of his hostility towards Hazrat Ali and links with the Khawarij.18

Dhahbi states that because lkramah was a Kharijite, his traditions were unreliable and dubious. An expert on the Punishment for Apostasy, Imam Ali b. Al-Medaini, is of the same opinion. Yahya b. Bekir used to say that the Kharijites of Egypt, Algiers and Morocco were strongly allied to Ikramah.

It has generally been observed that the traditions of capital Punishment for Apostasy emanate mainly from incidents in Basra, Kula and Yemen. The people of the Hejaz (Mecca and Medina) were totally unfamiliar with them. One cannot shut one’s eyes to the fact that the tradition from Ikramah under discussion is known as an Iraqi tradition. Let us recall the famous Meccan Imam, Taus b. Kaisan, who used to say that Iraqi traditions were generally doubtful.19

That is not all. A great scholar, Yahya b. Saeed Al-Ansari, has strongly censured Ikramah for his unreliability in general and has gone to the extent of calling him a kadhab,20 that is to say an extreme liar of the first water.

Abdullah b. Al-Harith quotes a very interesting incident which he witnessed himself when he visited Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas. He was deeply shocked and dismayed to find Ikramah bound to a post outside the door of Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas. He expresseed his shock at this cruelty by asking Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas if he had no fear of God in him. What he obviously meant was that Ikramah, with all his renown of piety and so on, did not deserve such abase and cruel treatment at the hands of his late master’s own son. In response to this, Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas justified his act by pointing out that Ikramah had the audacity to attribute false things to his late father, Ibn Abbas. (21) What better judge of the character of Ikramah could there be than Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas? No wonder, therefore, that Imam Malik b. Anas (95–179 AH), the pioneer compiler of hadith and an Imam of jurisprudence held in the highest repute throughout the Muslim world, held that the traditions narrated by Ikramah were unreliable.22

The following scholars of great repute have declared that Ikramah had a strong disposition towards exaggeration: Imam Yayha b. Saeed AlAnsari, Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas and Ara b. Abi Rabae.23

This, then, is the man who we are dealing with and on whose sole authority the matter of the lives of all those people who change their faith is left hanging till the end of time.

Ibn Abbas

Whenever the name of Ibn Abbas24 appears at the head of a chain of narrators, the vast majority of Muslim scholars is overawed. They forget the fact that because of his name and reputation concocters of false traditions tended to trace their fabricated chain of narrators back to him. Therefore, all traditions beginning with the name of Ibn Abbas must be properly judged and examined.

Moreover, even if Ibn Abbas is honestly reported by a narrator, the possibility of human error on Ikramah’s part regarding what Ibn Abbas might have said cannot be ruled out. The following would be a good illustration of the case in point:

Ibn Abbas says that Umar used to say that the Holy Prophetsa said that crying over the dead brought chastisement to the dead. Ibn Abbas further said that after Umar died, he related this tradition to Ayesha who said, ‘God forgive Umar!’ By God, the Holy Prophetsa said nothing of the kind. He only said that if the descendants of a disbeliever cried over his dead body, their action tended to augment his punishment, and by way of argument, Ayesha also said, ‘Sufficient for us is the saying of the Quran: “Verily no soul can bear the burden of another.” ‘25

If a man of Hazrat Umar’s stature and integrity can misunderstand the Holy Prophetsa, however rarely it might have happened, how much more is there danger of ordinary narrators misunderstanding the reports of Ibn Abbas?

With such wide possibilities for the miscarriage of the message of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa, how can a sane person rely entirely on the evidence of this hadith and draw conclusions of far-reaching import regarding matters of life and death and fundamental human rights?

It is likely that Ikramah concocted this tradition, attributing it to Ibn Abbas, as it was his wont to do, according to Ali b. Ibn Abbas.

Other Internal Criteria

When we examine the subject matter of the tradition under consideration, we find the contents to be erroneous in several ways.

  1. A person of Hazrat Ali’s stature is presumed to be unaware of the fact that Islam categorically prohibits a person to be punished by fire.
  2. The words ‘slay whosoever changes his faith’ are so general that they can be interpreted in many ways. They can apply to men, women and children, whereas according to Imam Abu Hanifa and some other schools of jurisprudence, an apostate woman can never be slain.
  3. The Arabic word deen (religion) used in this tradition is a general word meaning any religion, not Islam specifically. Even the faith of idolaters is referred to as deen. (Sura Al-Kafiroon)

In the light of the general nature of the language used, how can one restrict the application of this tradition to a Muslim who renounces his faith? In strict legal terms, according to this tradition anyone who changes his religion, whatever that religion is, would have to be put to death. It would mean slaying the Jew who became a Christian, slaying the Christian who became a Muslim, and slaying the pagan who adopted any new faith. ‘Whosoever’ also transcends the geographical boundaries of Muslim states, implying that anywhere in the world, anyone who changes his faith—be he an aborigine of Australia, a pygmy of Africa or an Indian of South America—must be slain forthwith the moment he renounces his previous faith and accepts another one.

Islam lays a great deal of emphasis on proselytizing, so that it is binding upon every Muslim to become a preacher in the path of Allah. How ironical it is therefore that many renowned Muslim scholars today negate the very spirit of Islamic jihad by audaciously sticking to the narrow-minded view that Islam dictates that whosoever changes his faith, meaning in this context Islam, must be put to death forthwith. What about those of other faiths? Islam declares it to be an obligation upon Muslims to stand committed to the noble goal of constantly endeavoring to change the faith of all non-Muslims around them by peaceful means. This task is so important and demanding that every Muslim is instructed to stick to the endeavor till his last breath

The Holy Quran states:

Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation. and reason with them on the basis of that which is best. Thy Lord knows best those who have strayed away from His way; and He knows best those who are rightly guided. (16.126)

The advocates of the bigoted inhumane doctrine of death upon apostasy never visualize its effect on international and inter religious human relationships. Why can they not see that according to their view of Islam, adherents of all religions have a fundamental right to change their faith but not so the Muslims, and that Islam has the prerogative of converting others but all adherents of different faiths are deprived of any right to convert Muslims to their faith? What a sorry picture of Islamic justice this presents!

To conclude, apostasy is the clear repudiation of a faith by a person who formerly held it. Doctrinal differences, however grave, cannot be deemed to be apostasy. The Punishment for Apostasy lies in the hand of God Almighty, against whom the offence has been committed. Apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable in this world. This is the teaching of God. This was the teaching of the Holy Prophetsa. This is the view confirmed by Hanafi jurists,26 Fateh al-Kadeer27 Chalpi,28 Hafiz ibn Qayyim, Ibrahim Nakhai, Sufyan Thauri and many others. The Maududian claim of consensus, concerning the tradition they hold to be true, is a mere fiction.


  1. The term used for the first four caliphs (successors) after the death of the Holy Prophets sa , namely Hazrat Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali.(Their rule lasted from AD632 to 661).
  2. Commentary: Bahral Muheet , vol. 11, 493.
  3. Tabari , vol. IV, 1873; Ibn Kbaldun, vol. II, 65; Khamees, vol. II, 237, etc.
  4. Tabari , vol. IV, 1849.
  5. Khamees , vol. 11, 641.
  6. Ibn Hijr AI-Asqalani, Al-Isaba fi Tamyiz-is-Suhaba (Beirut: Darul Yitab AlArabi), vol. 2, 448; A1 Imam-Allama Ibn ul-Athir, Usudul Ghaba fi Marifatui Sahaba (Beirut: Dar Ahyaultarath Al-Arabi), vol. 4, 3.
  7. Ibn Al-Athir Al-Jazri, Alkamil fil Tarikh (Beirut: Dual Kutb Al-Almiya), vol. 2, 201–5.
  8. Tabari , vol. IV, 1977.
  9. Masboot , vol. x, 110.
  10. Fateh Al-Bari , vol. XII, 267; Imam Razi, Tafsir Kabir , vol.1I1, 614; Sheikh Ibn Taimiyyah, Minhajus Sunnah, vol. 11, 61–2; Tarikh-al Kamil, vol. III, 148.
  11. Bukhari, Kitab al-Mustadeen wal Muanadeen wa Qitalihin , Bab Hukumul Murtad wal Murtadda.
  12. Abu Daud.
  13. The Holy Quran urges: ‘When you heard of it, why did not the believing men and the believing women think well of their own people, and say: This is a manifest lie…’ (24.13)

    The Holy Prophet said: ‘It is evidence enough of the untruthfulness of a person that he should relate, without examining, whatever he hears.’ (Muslim, vol. 1, chapter headed ‘Don’ts about Tradition’)
  14. Bukhari Mishkat (Egypt), 9–10; Bukhari and Finch AI-Bari, Hadith, no. 6922 (Egypt), vol. 12, 267.
  15. Abdul Hayy, Al-Raf a wal Takmeel .
  16. Not to be confused with Ikramah b. Abu Jahl.
  17. Ibn Saad, Al Tabqa Al-Kabir , vol. 2, 386.
  18. Mizan Al-Aitadal , vo1.2, 208.
  19. Abu Daud , vol. II, 35.
  20. Abu Jafar Muhammed b. Arm b. Musa b. Hamad Al-Aqbli Al-Mulki, Kitab al-Soafa Al-Kabir (Lebanon: Darul Kutb Al-Almiyya). A1 Safr III, 1983, 373.
  21. Abu Jafar Muhammad b. Amr b. Musa b. Hamad Al-Aqbli Al-Mulki, op.cit .
  22. Mizan AI-Aitadal , vol. 2, 209.
  23. Fateh Al-Bari .
  24. The son of Abbas, an uncle of the Holy Prophets’. Ibn Abbas was no more than a child during the Holy Prophet’s time.
  25. Bukhari, Kitab al-Janaiz , chapter headed ‘Wailing Over the Dead’.
  26. Hedayah .
  27. Finch al-Kadeer , vol IV, 389; vol II, 580.
  28. Chalpi, Commentary on Fateh al-Kadeer , 388; Inayah, 390.
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