Abdullah bin Abi Sarah was one of the scribes of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, in Medina. He became an apostate and went and joined the Meccans and identified himself with them. On the fall of Mecca, he was among those few persons who were condemned to death by the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, on account of their misdeeds. He was a foster brother of Hazrat Usman bin Affan, who gave him shelter in his house where he remained hidden for some days. When order was restored in Mecca, Hazrat Usman interceded with the Holy Prophet on his behalf, who remained silent for a while and then signified his forgiveness of Abdullah. This incident is mentioned both in the Tafseer Kabeer of Imam Razi (Vol. V, p.527), and in the commentary Ruhul Maani (Vol. IV, p.484).
This incident also furnishes clear proof that there was no penalty for apostacy in Islam. Abdullah bin Abi Sarah had been condemned on account of his political offences and not on account of his apostacy. Had the punishment for apostacy been death, Hazrat Usman would never have given him shelter, and the Holy Prophet would never have accepted Hazrat Usman’s intercession on his behalf.
It is well known that the Holy Prophet never accepted any intercession in respect of the prescribed punishment for an offence. If anyone attempted intercession in such a case, the Holy Prophet rejected it and was gravely displeased with the intercessor . This is well illustrated by the case of a woman of the Makhzoom who had been found guilty of theft. Bokhari has related on the authority of Aisha: The Quraish were much disturbed on account of a Makhzoomi woman who had committed theft. They consulted together and wondered who could approach the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, on her behalf, except Usamah bin Zaid, whom the Holy Prophet held dear. They persuaded Usamah to approach the Holy Prophet, and intercede on behalf of the woman. When he did so, the Holy Prophet rebuked him: Do you intercede in respect of a penalty prescribed by Allah? Then he stood up and, addressing his companions, said: Many people before you went astray because they overlooked the offence of a person belonging to a good family and imposed the prescribed penalty upon a common thief. I call God to witness that if Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, were to be guilty of theft, I would certainly cut off her hand (Bokhari, Indian edition, p.1003).
Thus it can be seen what was the attitude of the Holy Prophet in respect of prescribed penalties. Had Abdullah bin Abi Sarah been liable to the penalty of death on account of his apostacy, the Holy Prophet would never have accepted Hazrat Usman’s intercession on his behalf and would have responded to Hazrat Usman in the same way as he had responded to Usamah.