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['Aalim Network QR] Apostacy (Irtidăd) in Islăm

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|       In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful       |\
|  Greeting of Allah be upon Muhammad and the pure members of his House |\
Salaamun 'Alaykum

The 'Aalim Network simultaneously received two questions regarding the 
subject of apostacy in Islăm. I would like to thank Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi 
for his comprehensive response on the issue.

Fee Amaanillah,

Akil Karim
Moderator - 'Aalim Network

---------- Forwarded Message ----------


What are the positions of various mujtahids and Islamic scholars and 'alims 
on capital punishment for those who convert out of Islam?

Is death penalty the required punishment, or does that depend on certain 
factors?  If possible could you refer to Sachedina's Human Rights on this 
subject and critique it as well?


I have been told  recently that any Muslim who converts away from Islam 
(i.e. was a Muslim, then converts to another religion) must be killed.

However I am finding this extremely hard to believe, that Islam can use such 
forceful tactics to in a sense, keep Muslims from converting to other 

Can I please request some sort of elaboration on this matter?  Is it true 
that converts away from Islam must be killed?  If yes, I humbly request a 
detailed explanation on the logic of this rule, that will help put my mind 
and the mind of many others to rest.  Please don't only quote me a 
reference, or hadith, as I wish to understand the logic and reasoning behind 
such a law and hence would appreciate your explanation.


In the name of Allăh, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
May Allăh send His blessings upon Muhammad & his progeny.


In the question forwarded to me by the 'Aalim Network about the punishment 
given to an apostate, I could sense the plea for understanding the law of 
Islam and the rationale behind that law. The issue of apostacy in Islam is a 
very complex and sensitive issue; and, therefore, I intend, with the tawfiq 
of Allăh, subhănahu wa ta'ăla, to answer in detail using the notes I have 
from a talk I gave in Toronto in May 1990.

First we shall explain our view about faith in God and whether or not Islam 
can be forcefully imposed on others; then comes the Islamic view on the 
choices a person has after he has willingly joined the Islamic faith; and, 
finally, we shall discuss the issue of apostacy.

1. Faith in God: A Force or a Choice?

According to Islam, every child is born with the built-in ability to know 
and believe in his Creator; he has the cognition that has been placed by 
Allăh in his nature (fitra). Allăh describes the human soul in a very 
beautiful way. After swearing by the most majestic signs of His creation, 
Allăh says: "...and by the soul and He who perfected it! Then He inspired to 
it [the ability to understand] what is good for it and what is evil for it. 
Successful is he who purifies it, and failure is he who corrupts it." (91:1-10)

Allăh has made our souls such that we are able to distinguish what is good 
and what is evil. But for a human soul to function on its fitra, there is a 
condition-it must be kept pure, it must be immunized against spiritual 
corruption. The soul is like a bulb which can give light, provided it itself 
is not surrounded with a thick cover or dust; every human being has that 
light in his soul; however, those who keep it pure can enlighten their path 
with it, while those who allow the 'spiritual dirt' to accumulate on it 
cannot see their path towards Allăh. (Incidentally, kufr literally means a 
cover.) The Prophet of Islam emphasized the same thing when he said, "Every 
child is born with the believing nature (al-fitra), it is his parents who 
make him into a Jew or a Christian."

Besides this fitra, Allăh has also provided us with various means to know 
Him and believe in Him; He sent prophets and messengers, He sent books, and 
above all He created thousands of signs in nature which remind us of Him. 
"Soon We shall show them Our signs on the horizon (ăfăq) and in themselves 
(anfus), until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth." (41:53)
2. Can Islam be Imposed Forcefully on Others?

Having accepted that from the Islamic point of view, faith in God is 
ingrained in human nature, and that it is only the parents and the society 
that corrupt the soul and divert it from the Right Path, the question comes: 
Can Islam be imposed forcefully on non-Muslims? Or we may even ask: Is jihăd 
a means of imposing the faith of Islam on non-Muslims?

I do not intend to get into the issue of jihăd; but, briefly stated, the 
majority of Shi'a mujtahideen do not believe in initiating a jihăd without 
the clear permission of a ma'sűm Imam. Even those who allow the initiation 
of jihăd, do not believe that jihăd can be used to impose Islam on 
non-Muslims. At most, they say that jihăd can be initiated to remove tyranny 
and oppression from a non-Muslim society in order to remove the factors 
which prevent the Divine message from reaching to the masses. Jihăd cannot 
be used for imposing Islam on others; it is just for putting an end to the 
aggression on Muslims or for helping the oppressed non-Muslims. (The history 
of Muslims bears out this idea; an unbiased historian can clearly separate 
the spread of the Muslim rule over areas outside Arabia [by military might] 
and the spread of Islam [without force] in those same regions.)

The Qur'ăn clearly says that, "There is no compulsion in the religion." 
(2:256) What this verse actually means is that: "There is no compulsion in 
[accepting] the religion of Islam." Why? The verse continues, "Surely the 
Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path." So Muslims can always 
show the difference between the right and the wrong paths, but not force the 
non-Muslims to accept Islam.

3. What After Submission?

What we have said above was about accepting Islam, coming into the fold of 
Islam. We have made it very clear that no one can be forcefully brought into 
the fold of Islam; Islam cannot be imposed on any person or society. This 
was all about a person who is outside the fold of Islam.

Now we move on to the next step. If a person is raised in a society which 
protects his soul from the impurities of kufr and shirk, or if a person is 
shown the Right Path and accepts it willingly - can such a person reject the 
Islamic faith? Is he allowed to apostate (become murtad)? Can he declare 
that he does not believe in God, Prophet Muhammad and the Day of Judgement?

Once a person enters into the fold of Islam, the rules change. As soon as 
you become a Muslim by your own choice, you are expected to submit yourself 
to Allăh totally and completely. "O You who believe! Enter into submission, 
kăffatan!" (2:208) Kăffatan in the sense of "all" and "completely". Once a 
person becomes a believer, he surrenders the right of making decisions to 
Allăh and Messenger: "No believing man and no believing woman has a choice 
in their own affairs when Allăh and His Messenger have decided on an issue." 

Now even the question of apostacy, irtidăd or deserting of one's faith, for 
a Muslim, becomes a shar'í/religious issue-even in this issue he is governed 
by the laws of Islam. And Islam clearly says: No! You cannot become an 
apostate. After coming into the fold of Islam, rejection of the fundamentals 
is not tolerated. If there are doubts in your mind about the fundamental 
beliefs of Islam, then discuss, question, debate, study and solve them BUT 
you are not allowed to leave Islam, desert your own fitra! There are quite a 
few examples of such discussions by people like Ibn Abi 'l-'Awjă' (during 
the days of Imam Ja'far as-Sădiq) and Ishăq al-Kindi (during the days of 
Imam Hasan al-'Askari) who were attempting to write an answer to the Qur'ăn!

On the issue of openly rejecting Islam, Islam cannot just stand aside and 
see one of its followers going astray. It would allow discussions to 
understand and solve the problems, but not allow its followers to lower 
themselves from the sublime status of "surrendering to the will of 
Allah-Islam" to the status of those "who have hearts but do not understand, 
ears but do not hear, and eyes but do not see."

4. Apostacy is Equal to Treason

Why does Islam not allow apostacy? Apostacy or irtidăd in Islam is equal to 

The Western world limits treason to political and military terms. In the 
USA, treason consists "only in levying war against Americans, and in 
adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." However, sometimes 
even the Western world stretches the concept of political treason to include 
things which are not related to politics or military matters. For example, 
in England, treason includes violating the King's consort, or raping the 
monarch's eldest married daughter, as well as the sexual violation of the 
wife of the eldest son and heir. Even now, "polluting" the Royal bloodline 
or obscuring it is included in the definition of treason. (See Professor Ali 
Mazrui, The Satanic Verse or a Satanic Novel, p. 4-5, who probably is the 
first Muslim to have used the term treason in comparison with apostacy in 
the context of the Rushdie affair.)

Why has England included such non-political and non-military matters in 
treason? Because the Royal family and the purity of its bloodline is one of 
the most significant part of the British society and culture. In Islam, the 
concept of treason is not limited to political and military affairs, it also 
has a spiritual and cultural dimension to it. In the Islamic order of 
sacredness, Allăh, then the Prophet and then the Qur'ăn occupy the highest 
positions. Tawhid, nubuwwa, and qiyăma form the constitution of Islam. Just 
as upholding and protecting the constitution of a country is sign of 
patriotism, and undermining it is a form of treason-in the same way open 
rejection of the fundamental beliefs of Islam by a Muslim is an act of 
treason. Apostacy, i.e., the public declaration of rejecting the 
fundamentals of Islam, has also negative influence on the Muslim society; it 
is indeed a major fitna.

And that is why Islam has prescribed harsh punishment for irtidăd. It must 
be emphasized that irtidăd which we are discussing here involves open 
rejection, without any force and with the realization of what one's 
statements or actions imply. The punishment prescribed by the shari'a for 
apostacy is death.

Even the terms used by the shari'a for apostates give the idea of treason to 
this whole phenomenon. "Murtad" means apostate. Murtad can be of two types: 
fitri and milli. (1) Murtad Fitri means a person born of a Muslim parent and 
then he rejects Islam. Fitri means nature or natural. The term "murtad 
fitri" implies that the person has apostated from his nature, the nature of 
believing in God. (2) "Murtad Milli" means a person who converted to Islam 
and then later on he rejects Islam. Milli is from millat which means a 
community. The term "murtad milli" implies that the person has apostated 
from his community.

In the first case, the apostacy is like treason against God; whereas in the 
second case, the apostacy is like treason against the Muslim community. 
Probably, that is why there is also a difference in dealing with these two 
kinds of murtads:

A former kăfir who became a Muslim and then apostates (Murtad milli) is 
given a second chance; if he repents, then he is not to be killed.

But one who is born as a Muslim and then apostates (Murtad Fitri) he is to 
be killed even if he repents. His repentance might be accepted by Allăh but 
he still has to go through the punishment prescribed for his treason in this 

This punishment is only applicable in case of apostacy by men; in case of 
women, the punishment is not death but life imprisonment. And if such a 
woman repents, then her repentance is accepted and the punishment is suspended.

In the writings of some of the mujtahideen, I have sensed that the 
punishment of a murtad is to be implemented only in dăru 'l-Islăm (i.e., the 
Muslim world) and not if the murtad flees to dăru 'l-kufr (i.e., the abode 
of kufr).

What are the sources for these laws? The sources on which these punishments 
have been outlined in the sharí'a are the authentic and reliable ahădíth 
from the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). Those who know Arabic and have the 
aptitude to handle the fiqh istidlăli text may refer to the late Ayatullăh 
al-Khu'i's Takmilatu Minhăju 's-Salihiyn, vol. 1, pp. 324-337 for the 
ahădith used by our jurists.

This is not a new issue or a controversial one among the Shi'a jurists. Even 
the scholars of the past centuries had the same views; for example, Shaykh 
at-Tusi (d. 460 AH) in an-Nihăya; Ibn Idris (d. 598 A.H.) in as-Sară'ir; Ibn 
Hamza at-Tusi in al-Wasila, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (d. 676 A.H.) in Sharăya'u 
'l-Islăm, al-'Allăma al-Hilli (d. 726 A.H.) in Qawă'idu 'l-Ahkăm, and the 
First Martyr (d. 786 A.H.) and the Second Martyr in Sharhu 'l-Lum'ati 
'd-Dimishqiyya. Those who might suspect a division on this issue between the 
"usuli" and the "akhbări" schools, they should know that even the 
muhaddithin have chapters in their collections of hadith on "the punishment 
for murtad" citing the ahădíth on this subject. See, for example, Shaykh 
Hurr al-'Ămili, who has seven pages of ahădíth under the title "abwăb haddi 
'l-murtad - sections on the punishment for murtad" in volume 18 of his 
Wasă'ilu 'sh-Shí'a.

Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi 

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