Does Islam really condemn converts to death?

Abed Awad Esq.

Abed Awad Esq.

By Abed Awad, who is an attorney, a national Islamic law expert and an adjunct law professor at Rutgers Law School and Pace Law School. 

(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.

But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.

Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.

But is it really?

The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.

The Quran is Muslims’ holy scripture, believed to be revealed by God to the Prophet Mohammed. Because Muslims believe the Quran contains God’s will, it is the most authoritative source of the law – the final word.

The Sunna is the example of Mohammed, embodied in stories about his sayings and conduct.

Two centuries after the death of Mohammed, Muslim scholars collected and sifted through hundreds of thousands of narratives (called hadith) attributed to him, accepting a few thousand as likely to be authentic.

Together, the Sunna forms the second most important source of legal guidance – but their application to modern life isn’t always clear, and at times, one lesson from Mohammed seems to contradict another.

What does the Quran say about apostasy?

The Quran warns apostates, except those who later repent, that a severe and painful punishment awaits them in the afterlife.

They shall forever be the companions of hellfire, the holy book says.

But nowhere in the Quran does God command earthly authorities to execute anyone who has converted from Islam.

That omission is key, because the Quran says, “The Lord neglects nothing, nor does he forget.”

In other words, if God wanted apostates killed, he would have said so.

Instead, the Quran’s message is: The apostate is accountable to Allah in the hereafter, not to judges on Earth.

As one passage says, “It is God who judges.”

What did Mohammed say about apostasy?

Unlike the Quran, there are conflicting stories and opinions about the prophet’s stance on apostasy.

According to several sayings attributed to him in the Sunna, Mohammed did call for apostates to be killed. “He who changes his religion, kill him,” the prophet said, according to one hadith, or story about his life.

But other stories contradict that teaching.

In the seventh century, for example, Mohammed, as leader of the growing Muslim community, brokered a truce with the Qurayshites, a competing religious tribe.

In the Truce of Hudaybiyyah, Mohammed agreed that if any Qurayshite came to join the Muslim community, he would not accept them.

On the other hand, Muslims were permitted to join the Qurayshites, no questions asked, no executions threatened.

Moreover, lots of Muslim coverts abandoned Islam during the prophet’s life, and he never sentenced one to death.

The Sahih al-Bukhari, one of the most famous collections of Sunna, contains an illustrative example.

A Bedouin man pledged allegiance to God and the prophet, only to later inform Mohammed that he wanted to cancel his pledge.

After the prophet refused three times to accept his cancellation, the Bedouin simply moved to another town.

The prophet did not order his execution despite such clear and undisputed apostasy. And there are many other examples like this in the Muslim historical literature.

The conflicting stories and lessons from Mohammed’s life is one reason why the Sunna is not considered as authoritative a source of Islamic law as the Quran.

So, why is apostasy a capital crime in countries like Sudan?

Read further in CNN

Categories: Africa, Americas, Apostasy, ISLAM

2 replies

  1. In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious Ever Merciful
    The Holy Quran is the Revealed Book of Allah and Allah has given the Promise only to His own revealed Book, “Innaa nazzalnazzikra-wa-innaa lahoo-la-hafizoon” Verily We have Revealed this Book and it is upon us to safeguard This Book. This promise has not been given even to Hadiths, that is why Ummul-Muomineen Hazrat Aysha rejected a Hadith in her life time whose authority she could not find in the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran itself says, ” fayy-e-Hadithin ba’adallh-e-wa -kitab-hee yuominun” Leaving aside Allah and His Book Holy Quran in what Hadith they will believe in. So the touchstone for a commandment is only the Holy Quran, if we do not find authority in the Holy Quran, that most probably is not Islamic view point.
    The Holy Quran categorically reject the apostasy law that is why it is un-Islamic. The Holy Quran Times and again announces the freedom of conscience, saying, “laa-iqraha-fiddeen, Afalaa ta’aq-e-loon, …” no compulsion in the matter of Religion as light has been manifested from dark… and why they do not pounder…like vise there are so many more verses on the same subject.
    More so apostasy law is inhuman and illogical and holt on rational thinking How can it be from Allah who is wiser than all, how He could command some thing which is foolish, more so it makes the Religion of Islam which is the most powerful Religion as the most venerable and week Religion which can exist only on the external force, so it does not enhance the grace of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) rather it degrade him, so it is not at all Islamic Law.
    The Apostasy law could only be implemented in the time of war when apostate would be a threat to the very existence of the State only the treason against the State has been liable to death even in any State or Government and it is no exception to the Islamic State.
    Zarif Ahmad

  2. It is the beauty of Islam that it allows complete freedom of faith. The Hadith:“He who changes his religion, kill him,” cannot be from the prophet s.a.w.s. It is an incomplete sentence anyhow and a bad sentence. The prophet s.a.w.s. never talked like that.
    Does it mean to kill any one who changed his religion? If any one changed his religion from Christian to Muslim must also be killed.
    Death is a capital punishment and cannot be applied only on the basis of Hadith (and that also a single Hadith, i.e. of ahaad.) Proof of serious matters, life and death, Haraam and Halaal must come from the Quran.

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