Some comment may be offered on the ahadees that are set forth in support of their position by those who contend that apostacy is punishable with death. Abi Qalabah reports on the authority of Anas: Some people of Akal or Urainah came to Medina and found that its climate disagreed with them. The Holy Prophet told them to go and stay among his she-camels outside Medina and drink their milk. They followed his instructions, and when they were fully restored they killed the Holy Prophet’s keeper of the camels and drove away the camels. When the Holy Prophet was informed of this incident, he sent some men after them who caught them and brought them to the Holy Prophet. He directed that they should be tortured in the same way as they had tortured his keeper of the camels.
Now, it is true that those people had become apostates, but it is quite clear that the penalty imposed upon them was not in respect of their apostacy, but on account of the offences which they had committed on the person of the Holy Prophet’s keeper of his camels. This hadees, therefore, does not in any manner lend support to the thesis that apostacy is punishable with death.
Another instance that is cited in support of the thesis that apostacy is punishable with death is the case of Ibn Khatal who was one of the four people who were executed on the occasion of the fall of Mecca. It is true that he was an apostate, but it is not a fact that he was executed on account of his apostacy. His case is set out in Mawahibal Ludunniyyah where it is stated: The Holy Prophet directed the execution of Ibn Khatal. He had been a Muslim and the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had sent him to collect the zakat. He was accompanied by an Ansari and a freed man of his who served him and who was a Muslim. They arrived at a place where they were to spend the night and he directed the freed man to slaughter a goat and to prepare dinner. Having given this direction, he went to sleep and when he woke up, he found that the freed man had done nothing for the preparation of dinner. He was intensely annoyed and set upon the freed man and despatched him. He then repudiated Islam and reverted to paganism, and went to Mecca and settled down there.
This recital makes it quite clear tha Ibn Khatal was not executed as a punishment for his apostacy, but on account of his murder of the Muslim freed man. Our thesis is not that no apostate has ever been punished. We concede that there are several instances of the execution of apostates, but in each case the execution was for some offence committed by the apostate and not on account of his apostacy. We repeat that there has not been a single case in which the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, directed the execution of an apostate whose only default was that he had repudiated Islam and who had not been guilty of any offence attracting the penalty of death.
The third case which is cited in support of the advocates of the penalty of death for apostacy is that of Maqees bin Sababah who was also executed on the occasion of the fall of Mecca. Concerning him Zarqani has recorded in his commentary on Mawahibal Ludunniyyah: Maqees bin Sababah had become a Muslim and thereafter he killed an Ansari who had killed his brother Hisham during the campaign of Zeeqard, mistakenly thinking that he was one of the enemy. After that incident Maqees had accepted blood money in respect of his brother from the Ansari, and yet, he killed the Ansari. He then repudiated Islam and went to Mecca and joined the Quraish. This again is a case where an apostate was executed on account of a treacherous murder that he had committed.
Having met nothing but frustration in their search for a genuine case of execution on account of simple apostacy, those who differ with us on this question have been driven to rely upon two utterly unreliable ahadees, each of which mentions the execution of a woman on account of her apostacy. These two ahadees are false on the face of them as there is good authority affirming that the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, never directed the execution of a woman for apostacy.
In certain ahadees it is merely mentioned as a hypothesis that an apostate deserves to be executed, but in every one of those ahadees, a qualification is added which requires that the apostate should have fought the Muslims or should have committed some other offence. It is not necessary, therefore, to examine those ahadees in detail.