Answered by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan
What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam? One set of scholars say apostates should be put to death, and others say only apostates who commit treason/blasphemy should be put to death.
Which is correct?
In the Quran, Allah says, “There’s no compulsion in Religion.” [Quran, 2:256]
In that case, can we compel someone to be in Islam when they can’t be true to it? We don’t put non-Muslims to death for not accepting Islam. So how can we punish those who have left Islam? Please, clarify.
Thank you for your question.
The Schools of Jurisprudence
Abdullah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whoever changes their religion, kill them.” [Bukhari]
The above narration and others form the basis for the ruling agreed upon by all four schools of jurisprudence that the apostate must be killed. However, they agree that such an order may only be passed by an Islamic ruler or a representative of his court. In addition, three of the four schools require that the apostate be given an opportunity to repent after having been declared as such in court. The Hanafi school considers the giving of this opportunity to be recommended and not required. It also takes the view that a female apostate may not be killed. [al-Mawsu‘a al-Fiqhiyya]
The fact that the execution of apostates is only permitted in an Islamic country where the ruler or his representative passes the judgment is of utmost importance. No human being, no matter how serious his crime, can ever be killed without the process of a valid Islamic court. This effectively means that the death penalty will not be passed on an apostate in 99 percent of countries around the globe.
In the early Muslim communities, apostasy was often associated with revolt. A revolt meant that the rule of Islam might be eradicated, spreading injustice and oppression.
There is enough evidence to establish that Islamic conquests spread peace, harmony, and understanding throughout the lands. This was clearly expressed in the words of Ribiy ibn Amir when he said addressing the Persian general, Rustam, “Allah has sent us to deliver you from the worship of creation to the worship of the Creator of creation; and to deliver you from the constriction of this world to the vastness of the afterlife, and from the oppression of the religions to the justice of Islam.” [Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya]
There Is No Compulsion in Religion
As for the verse, “There’s no compulsion in Religion.” [Quran, 2:256], the scholars advise that it refers specifically to compelling a non-Muslim to embrace Islam.
Non-Muslims always had a place in Muslim communities and countries. They had rights and were dealt with fairly. The incident where a Jew made a claim against the Caliph of the time, our master ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, and the court passed judgment in his favor serves as ample proof to establish this point.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdurragmaan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.