Apostasy and Islam

I had to update the blog by adding a link to Dr. Mohammad Farooq’s blog Apostasy and Islam.  For those that have been following my show “The American Muslim” you know that the good Dr. was on last Thursday and we had an awesome show.  He talked about the need for Muslims to enjoin peace even with non-Muslims.  He also has started an online petition to get Muslims and scholars to declare our willingness to enjoin peace with the world.  Check it out!

100 Muslim Academics/Scholars/Imams/Professionals
uphold the Freedom of Faith
and the Freedom to Change one’s Faith

Apostasy (riddah) is a major issue that affects the understanding of, and perception about, Islam. Historically, Muslim scholars haven’t factored in the distinction between apostasy (changing one’s faith, which is strictly a sin against God) and treason (strictly civil offense against an established public order) when it is stated that Islam mandates capital punishment for riddah. That unnuanced perspective about apostasy has fueled negative propaganda against Islam and a negative image of the Muslims .  In recent years in some notable and well known cases, fatwa (religious opinion) was issued against alleged apostates and, at times, even a bounty was announced on their head.

Many Muslim scholars and academics have argued against the stated historical position as inconsistent with the Qur’an and on the grounds that killing someone for making a considered choice negates the very Islamic value and principle of freedom of choice , affecting Islam’s position on universal human rights.

Freedom of choice in faith is essential to Islam. This has been exemplified in the Qur’anic narrative regarding the choice made by Satan in contrast with Adam and Eve, and the broad agreement of Muslim scholars that only faith freely adopted is sufficient for an individual’s salvation. Throughout history prophets and the communities of their believers have struggled to secure freedom of faith for themselves. Indeed it is a principle quintessential to both Islam and humanity.

Choosing a path in line with our beliefs about salvation has significant consequences in terms of our afterlife.  In this world that freedom is bestowed upon us by God, which, by implication, must include the possibility of changing one’s faith. Freedom of religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one’s religion. Denial of such reciprocal rights is also inconsistent with the principle of justice ( adl/qist), as clearly enunciated in the Qur’an [4/an-Nisa/135].

The Qur’an does not specify any worldly punishment or retribution for apostasy. Similarly, there is no clear prophetic judgment on apostasy, nor examples that such punishment was meted out (during the time of the Prophet or in the period of the Righteous Caliphate) to someone solely for abandoning Islam as a creed, in contrast with apostasy-cum-treason, involving taking up arms against the Muslim community or the state.

Islam upholds the fundamental principle pertaining to freedom of faith [“Let there be no compulsion in Deen2/al-Baqara/256; also see 39/al-Zumar/41].  Thus:


We the undersigned Muslims from diverse backgrounds affirm:
The freedom of faith and the freedom of changing one’s faith.

In light of the Qur’anic guidance and the Prophetic legacy,
the principle of freedom of faith does not lend itself
to impose in this world any punishment or retribution for apostasy
thus there ought not to be any punishment in the name of Islam or fatwa calling for the same .


In addiiton, we call upon:

  • our esteemed scholars (ulama) and jurists (fuqaha ), to address this inconsistency between Islamic principle of freedom of faith and the position mandating punishment for apostasy, and bring our legacy of Islamic jurisprudence and general Islamic discourse up-to-date for the times with reference to indisputable and categorical Islamic principles.
  • our fellow Muslims, to be informed of Islam’s position on apostasy and to uphold the principle of choice so that we can exercise tolerance towards those who have left the “straight path” and deal with their later later views and actions (even when they are against Islam) in the conext of human rights and civil liberties allowes by law.   
  • Imams and religious leaders, to educate and sensitize Muslim masses about notions of the fairness and justice inherent in Islam and respond to apostasy in a dignified, constructive and patient manner .
  • governments of Muslim-majority countries, to address this matter constitutionally as well as legally, and actively engage in a process that eventually discards any law entailing punishment for apostasy.
  • Islamic organizations, to uphold universal human rights (not inconsistent with Islam) and to defend the rights of ex-Muslims in regard to apostasy.

One Comment

  1. I’ve always been puzzled by those who claim that Islam supports punishment for apostasy. One of the most telling verses in the Quran is 4:137

    “Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them, nor guide them to any way of deliverance.”

    If there were a punishment for apostasy, then it should not have been possible for someone to believe again after disbelieving. Furthermore, there are no verses surrounding this verse that qualify it to say it was only referring to disbelief “in secret”. Nor are there any verses that speak of the human punishment that must be meted out. On the contrary, it states that Allah will cease to guide them. Now it would be a moot to make such a statement if its expected that the person will not be alive.


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