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Irtidad [Haram]

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Quotations:

bullet "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Emphasis ours).
bullet "Let there be no compulsion in the religion: Surely the Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path." Al Baqarah, 2:256.
bullet "Those who blasphemed and back away from the ways of Allah and die as blasphemers, Allah shall not forgive them." Suratan Nisa', Ayah 48.
bullet "Those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve, and then increase in their disbelief - Allah will never forgive them nor guide them to the path." Surah An-Nisa', 4:137.
bullet "Kill whoever changes his religion," Hadith.
bullet "Kill those who believe in many gods" (Sura al-Tawba 9:5)
bullet "If a Muslim is found guilty of the crime of apostasy, either through words or through actions, he will be asked to repent during a three day period. If he has not repented within this time limit, he will be sentenced to death as an apostate and his property will be seized by the Revenue office. Every Muslim who refuses to pray will be asked to comply with the obligation to pray within the prescribed time limit. If he persists in his refusal, he will be punished by death." Article 306 of the Mauritanian Constitution
 

Definitions:

bullet Hadith: Collections of the sayings of Muhammad (pbuh). *
bullet Hudud: Punishments for spiritual or religious crimes.
bullet Irtidd: Literally: "turning back". The act of apostasy -- leaving Islam for another religion or for a secular lifestyle.
bullet Murtadd: Literally: "one who turns the back." An apostate.
bullet Murtad Fitri: Literally: apostate - natural. A person born of a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam.
bullet Murtad Milli: Literally: apostate - from the community. A person who converted to Islam and later rejected the religion.
bullet Shari'a: (aka Shariah) Islamic law.

* "pbuh" means "peace be upon him." It is one of the abbreviations used to indicate respect for Muhammad, viewed by Muslims as the final prophet of God. It is also used whenever the name of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is written. He is viewed by Muslims as the second last prophet.

Overview:

A person is an apostate if they leave a religion and either adopt another religion or assume a secular lifestyle. Historically, Islam, Christianity and other religions have taken a very dim view of apostates. The penalty was often execution. Today, the "apostasy in Islam is a very complex and sensitive issue"  There exists a range of beliefs among Muslims:

bullet "Some commentators have drawn the conclusion that ...the punishment for the mere renunciation of faith is death." 1 An adult apostate would typically be given three days to reconsider their decision before being executed. Some believe that this sentence is to be carried out "whether or not the apostasy occurred in an Islamic State or not." 2
bullet Others believe in complete freedom of religion, such as is stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief..." 3

Apostates have been rarely executed in the 21st century. However, Muslims feel "a powerful sense of rage...when one of their number forsakes the community." 4 They consider it a profound insult to Allah and to all Muslims.

Shari'a law: The death penalty or life imprisonment for apostates:

Islam teaches that a newborn has an innate ability to know and believe in his creator, and to understand good and evil. Muhammad (pbuh) stated: "Every child is born with the believing nature...it is his parents who make him into a Jew or a Christian." There is to be no force used to convert a non-believer to Islam. The Qur'n, quoted above, prohibits the use of compulsion to force a person or a society to accept Islam.

However, once a person freely "enters into the fold of Islam, the rules change." 4 The word "Islam" means "submission to the will of God." The Qur'n says that: "No believing man and no believing woman has a choice in their own affairs when Allh and His Messenger have decided on an issue." (33:36) On the issue of apostasy, "Islam clearly says: No! You cannot become an apostate." 4 Apostasy is viewed as a form of treason.

Assuming that the individual:

bullet Openly rejects Islam, and
bullet Has made this decision freely and without coercion, and
bullet Is aware of the nature of his/her statements, and
bullet The apostate is an adult, then

the penalty prescribed by Shari'a (Islamic) law is execution for men and life imprisonment for women. Drunkards and mentally ill persons are excluded from this punishment because they are considered to be not responsible for their statements.

There are many ways in which a person can be regarded as having rejected Islam:

bullet They may make an explicit declaration, such as, "I associate other gods alongside Allah" (usherek billah).
bullet They may make a claim that results in blasphemy, such as, "Allah has a material substance or a shape just like other substances or shapes" (kufr).
bullet They may make "an action that clearly resembles blasphemy, such as carelessly discarding a Qur'an, or parts of it..."
bullet They might burn the Qur'an out of contempt.
bullet They might soil the Qur'an, "(such as putting it in a holy place that has become dirty, or staining it with an unclean substance, such as turning its pages with fingers that have been licked)."
bullet A Muslim becomes an apostate if he or she "enters a church, worships an idol, or learns and practices magic..."
bullet They might state that the universe has always existed from eternity.
bullet They might believe that transmigration of souls or reincarnation happens at death.
bullet "...a Muslim becomes an apostate if he defames a prophet's character, morals, virtues, or religion, if he accuses angels of having bad qualities, or if he questions the efficacy of a prophet's asceticism." 10

A person born of a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam is called a "Murtad Fitri" (Apostate - natural). This is viewed a treason against God. They are given a second chance. If they repent of their decision, they will be released. A person who converted to Islam and later rejected the religion is a "Murtad Milli" (apostate - from the community.) This is viewed as treason against the community. Male apostates are executed even if they repent. Female apostates are released from imprisonment if they repent.

Additional factors:

bullet If either spouse apostatize from Islam, a divorce is automatic.
bullet If both apostatize they are generally allowed to stay married.
bullet An under-aged male is imprisoned, and only executed if he remains an apostate when he becomes of age.
bullet A male apostate's will is not valid.
bullet A female apostate's will remains valid.
bullet In the rare instances when an apostate is executed, it is traditionally done by severing his neck with a sword.
bullet Among Malikites, Shafi'ites, and Hanbalites, adult women receive the same penalty as men: execution.
bullet The Shi'ite schools of law allow for Islamic law towards apostates to be applied in non-Muslim countries. The majority "Sunnites do not believe in extraterritorial jurisdiction." 4

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Freedom to convert to or from Islam:

This is an alternate belief heard within Islam: that religious freedom and the absence of compulsion in religion requires that individuals be allowed adopt a religion or to convert to another religion without legal penalty. One group promoting this belief is Sisters in Islam (SIS), "a group of Muslim professional women committed to promoting the rights of women within the framework of Islam." 5 They claim that the death penalty is not an appropriate response to apostasy:

bullet The former Chief Justice of Pakistan, SA Rahman, has written that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an. 6
bullet The quotation from Surah An-Nisa', 4:137, shown above, seems to imply that multiple, sequential apostasies are possible. That would not be possible if the person were executed after the first apostasy.
bullet Muslims who support the death penalty for apostasy use as their foundation a hadith (a saying attributed to Muhammad [pbuh]) in which he said: "Kill whoever changes his religion." But this is a weak foundation because:
bullet This hadith was only transmitted from Muhammad (pbuh) by one individual. It was not confirmed by a second person. According to Islamic law, this is insufficient confirmation to impose the death penalty.
bullet The hadith is so generally worded that it would require the death penalty for a Christian or Jew who converted to Islam. This is obviously not the prophet's intent. The hadith is in need of further specification, which has not been documented.
bullet Many scholars interpret this passage as referring onlt to instances of high treason. (e.g. declaring war on Islam, Muhammad (pbuh), God, etc.)
bullet There is no historical record which indicates that Muhammad (pbuh) or any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.
bullet A number of Islamic scholars from past centuries, Ibrahim al-Naka'I, Sufyan al-Thawri, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, Abul Walid al-Baji and Ibn Taymiyyah, have all held that apostasy is a serious sin, but not one that requires the death penalty. In modern times, Mahmud Shaltut, Sheikh of al-Azhar, and Dr Mohammed Sayed Tantawi have concurred.

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Examples of apostasy in Egypt and North America:

bullet 1995 - Egypt: Nasr Abu Zeid, an Arabic literature professor, wrote on the topic of what he felt were needed reforms within Islam. Charges of apostasy were brought against him. The court agreed that Abu Zeid was no longer a Muslim, and ordered him to divorce his wife. He and his wife left Egypt, fearing physical attack. Abu Zeid later appealed his case and won. But he remained abroad. 7
bullet 1999? - North America: James A. Beverly, professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, ON, Canada writes a monthly column in Faith Today magazine. He said that he met with a former Muslim, who is now a Christian, at some time before 2000-JAN. That individual left Islam, remains living somewhere in North America and has become the target of death threats because of his apostasy. He feels that he has required police protection. 8
bullet 2001-Egypt: Lawyer Nabih el-Wahsh had brought a charge of apostasy against the prominent feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi, aged 70. The charges were based on her comments during a newspaper interview in 2001-MAR. According to Al-Midan weekly, she said that the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca) was "a vestige of a pagan practice," and that Islamic inheritance law should be abolished. It gives female heirs only half what men receive. 8
 
Under Islamic law, an apostate cannot be married to a Muslim. Thus, her marriage was at risk of being dissolved by the court. Judge Hassanein el-Wakil dismissed the case against her. He ruled that only Egypt's prosecutor general could file an apostasy case. El-Wahsh lacked the legal status. She told the Associated Press: "I and my husband feel that we have survived this ordeal through our resistance, firmness and refusal to yield to the mentality of the dark ages." 7

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