Another complication which is sought to be introduced into the discussion of this subject is that though there is no clear authority in the Holy Quran that apostacy is punishable as an offence, yet there is evidence in the hadees that it was so treated by the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and by his immediate successors. Any such affirmation amounts to an enormity. It is well understood that no action of the Holy Prophet or any of his immediate successors could possibly be in conflict with the Holy Quran. All that the Holy Prophet did or said was illustrative of some direction or injunction of the Holy Quran. He himself warned that if anything was attributed to him which was in conflict with the Holy Quran, it must be rejected as false.
It is well known that the integrity of the Holy Quran is guaranteed by God Almighty, as is said: Surely, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and We will, most certainly, safeguard it (15:10). The safeguarding of the Holy Quran which is here guaranteed is absolute and has many aspects. One of them is that the text of the Holy Quran would always be preserved intact. There is no such guarantee with regard to hadees. Whatever else may be said about hadees, it must be acknowledged that if a hadees is irreconcilable with the Holy Quran, it must be rejected altogether .
Therefore, in the face of the emphatic and repeated affirmations of the Holy Quran which we have cited, it is not necessary to pay any attention to the suggestion that any hadees is susceptible of the interpretation that someone was condemned to death on account of apostacy. Nevertheless, in view of the insistence of some of the divines who affirm that the punishment for apostacy is death, we might briefly examine the question on the basis of hadees also.
Bokhari relates, on the authority of Jabir bin Abdullah, that a desert Arab took the pledge of Islam at the hand of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and a little later he suffered from fever while he was still in Medina. He came to the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and said: Messenger of Allah, do release me from my pledge. But the Holy Prophet paid no attention to him. He came a second time and made the same request, and the Holy Prophet refused to comply with his request. He then departed from Medina, whereupon the Holy Prophet observed: Medina is like a furnace which destroys the dross and purifies the rest (Fathul Bari, Vol. XXIII, p.173).
This incident is most instructive. The man’s repeated request to the Holy Prophet that he might be released from his pledge is conclusive proof that apostacy was not a punishable offence. Had it been punishable, as is affirmed by some of the misguided divines, with death, this man would never have approached the Holy Prophet with the request that he might be released from his pledge. He would have slipped away from Medina secretly, lest he should be apprehended and put to death.
Again, if the penalty of apostacy had been death, why did the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, not warn him that as he had ceased to believe in Islam, he was liable to be executed?! As he persisted in his request to be released from his pledge, why was he not executed after his second request? Why did not the Companions of the Holy Prophet, who were present on each occasion, warn him that as he had ceased to believe in Islam, he had incurred the penalty of death?
Further, the Holy Prophet appears to have been pleased that the man had departed from Medina. The observation that the Holy Prophet made is an indication that the Holy Prophet considered the man’s departure from Medina a good riddance, as his continued presence in Medina would not have been desirable.