Friday, April 27, 2007

Book: Islam, Sunnah and Apostasy


S.A. Rahman
(Rtd.) Chief Justice of Pakistan

Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi 2, India

No CopyRight

Chapter II
Apostasy and the Sunnah
Section I
Before taking up the specific ahadith (traditions) which are relied upon by the proponents of the death sentence for apostasy, it would be useful to clear the ground by a few observations concerning the relative positions of the Qur'an and the Hadith. Imam Shafi'i in his al‑Risalah [1] has clearly enunciated the principle that the commandments contained in the Qur'an can be ab­rogated only by another verse of the Our'an and not by any authority lower in status. He holds definitely that the Sunnah of the Prophet cannot perform any such Abrogating function vis‑a‑vis the Qur'an, for it is itself subject to the Book of God in respect of all clear and well‑defined Qur'anic texts (Nusus). Of course, he says, it can interpret, explain or expound, with subsi­diary details, the summary commandments included in the Qur'an. In support of‑his position, Shafi'i cites the verse of the Qur'an

And when Our Clear revelations are recited unto them, they who look for the meeting with Us, say: Bring a Qur'an other than this or change it. day (O Muhammad): it is not for me to change it of my own accord. I only follow that which is revealed to me. Lo! if I disobey my Lord, I fear the retribution of an awful day (Yunus, verse 15).

He also draws strength for his argument from verse 106 of Surat al‑Baqarah : "Whatever revelation We abrogate or cause to be forgotten We bring (in its place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not Allah is able to do all things?"

It is thus Allah alone Who can change what has emanated from Him and, considering the fundamental position of the Qur'an in Islam, this stands to reason.

Maulana Badr‑i‑`Alam Nadvi in his Tarjuman al-­Sunnah [2] says, on the authority of extracts from Imam Shatibi's al‑Muwafaqat, that the Sunnah occupies a place of secondary importance as compared with the Book of God and that generally it can be asserted firmly that the Sunnah cannot be placed on the same level with the Qur'an in point of regard and reverence. This is the reason why Taftazani in his Talwih [3] lays it down as a guiding principle that in case of conflict with the text of the Qur'an, Khabar al‑Wahid (a tradition related by one person from another individual or by one person from a group or by a group from one person, so long as the number of narrators is less than those in the case of Hadith Mash-hur [reputed tradition]) will be rejected. Such a hadith is said to be only Mufid‑i‑Zann (as raising only a presumption).

In the fourth chapter of Hujjat‑Allah al‑Balighah, [4] Part I, Shah Wali Ullah has categorised the extant compilations of traditions in their order of reliability and importance. He thinks that only al‑Muwatta' of Imam Malik, Sahih Bukhai and Sahih Muslim deserve to be placed in the first category. The compilations like those of Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Nasa'i, which are generally included among the Sihah Sittah (the Six Accurate Books) and Musnad of Imam Ahmad, he assigns to the second category. He adds that the Muhaddithin (Experts in Tradition) consider these two categories only to be worthy of reliance and not the books falling in the third and fourth categories such as Musnad of Abi 'Ali, Musannaf of `Abd‑ur‑Razzaq, Musannaf of Abi Bakr b. Abi Shaibah, Musnad of `Abd b. Hamid, Musnad of Tayalisi, and books by Baihaqi, Tahavi, Tabarani, Ibn Habban, Ibn `Adi, Khatib, Abi Nu'aim, Ibn al‑‘Asakir, Khwarazmi, Ibn Najjar, Dailami, and others. There are also fabricated ahadith, collected and criticised by Mulla 'Ali Qari and Ibn al Jauzi among others. Traditions themselves are differentiated inter se in order of authenti­city and reliability. In point of priority they are desig­nated as Mutawatir (continuous) Mustafid (narrated in several ways and accepted), Mash‑hur (reputed), Sahih (accepted as correct) and Hasan (approved), and the lowest tier in this hierarchy is that of Khabar Ahad. The number and reliability of the chain of narrators, its continuity or otherwise, evidence of implementation or rejection, conformity with the Qur'anic letter or spirit as well as with known historical or rational facts, are some of the factors which determine this order of priority. The human factor of lapse of memory or of failure to comprehend fully the circumstances surround­ing a tradition is also a pertinent consideration. The classical instance of Hadrat `A'yeshah, [5] the Prophet's wife, correcting Ibn `Umar (or according to one version, Hadrat `Umar, the Second Caliph, himself) in respect of his opinion that the lamentations of a deceased person's relatives entail torture in the after‑life for the dead person is very apt in this context. Hadrat `A'yeshah's comment was that the hadith had not been properly understood or recollected. She explained that in fact the Prophet had passed by a Jewish woman who had died, and had seen her relatives lamenting, when he observed: "They are crying and she is being subjected to torture." It was wrongly assumed that there was a casual nexus between the two sentences uttered by the Prophet, and she cited the Qur'an : "No bearer of burden can bear the burden of another" (al‑An'am, verse 164).

She evidently invoked the principle that a hadith could not possibly contradict a clear text of the Qur'an and interpreted the reported tradition in its light. Shah Wali Allah too in his `Iqd al jid lays down the principle that Sunnah only explains the Qur'an and can never contra­dict it. [6]

Section II

(1) The principal hadith on which the case for the death sentence for apostasy is built up is the one narrat­ed by Ibn 'Abbas in the words: "Whosoever changes his religion, slay him." This is the version given by Bukhari in his Sahih‑"Kitab al Jihad fi Istitabat al‑Murtaddin". To it is annexed the story of Hadrat 'Ali burning to death a number of Zanadiqah (heretics), and Ibn 'Abbas, on being informed of the incident, is stated to have re­marked that he would not have burnt them but merely killed them, for the Prophet had forbidden the burning of human beings. He then recited this hadith.

The same hadith is also traced [7] to Hadrat `Ayeshah by al‑Tabarani in his Mu`jamat al‑Wast. According to another narrator, Mu'awiyah b. Hidah, as recorded in al‑Tabarani's Mu`jamat al‑Kabir, the full hadith should read: "Whosoever changes his faith, slay him. Verily Allah does not accept repentance from His servant who has adopted disbelief after having accepted Islam." The latter part of this version apparently contradicts the Qur'anic texts, which we have already noticed, and is unreliable.

AI‑Samaia'I [8] reproduces this hadith from Sunan al­-Nasa'i (Sharh al‑Suyuti) and observes that many juris­consults have accepted its authority, but there is a good deal of difference between them as to its meaning. Imam Shafi'i and Ibn Hazm are reported to have expressed the view that the words of the hadith being general, it would apply even to a disbeliever who changes his faith. On the contrary, the majority of the jurisconsults and Imam Malik held the opinion that it is confined to Muslims who become renegades from Islam. It is pointed out that the logical result of the first view would lead to the absurd proposition that even a disbeliever who adopts Islam ought to be killed for his change of faith. Consequently the hadith, according to better opinion, cannot be interpreted in its literal sense and is susceptible of an obvious limitation to Muslims. It is also argued in favour of the second group that, according to another hadith, all disbelievers, whatever variety of faiths they may profess, constitute a single community (Millat al­Wahidah) and consequently change from one form of disbelief to another would not alter their position vis‑a‑vis Islam and could not be regarded as a change of faith, in the real sense.

None of these sources, however, indicates the circum­stances which provided the occasion for this qauli (verbal) hadith. On the face of it, the hadith is mujmal‑a summary statement‑and calls for futher elucidation.

Difference of opinion prevails among Doctors of Law as to whether it applies to a woman apostate or not. Al‑Samara'i mentions that Imam Malik, al‑Auza`i, Imam al‑Shafi'i and al‑Laith b. Sa'd accepted this hadith as sufficient authority for killing a Muslim woman who leaves the fold of Islam, having regard to the general nature of the expressions used therein. However, al­-Thauri, Imam Abu Hanifah and his followers, Ibn Shabramah, Ibn `Aliyyah, 'Ata' and al‑Hasan excluded women from its scope. Their argument was that Ibn 'Abbas, the principal narrator of the hadith, had himself declared that a female apostate should not be killed, [10] as the Prophet had forbidden the slaying of women in wars. The Shafi`is, the Hanbalis, the Zaidis and the Malikis place men and women on the same footing, in this respect, but the Hanafis and the Imamiyyah Shi`ahs say that the woman will be imprisoned till she repents. Sarakhsi, among the Ahnaf, apparently took the view that a woman who was possessed of sound judgment and capacity to give orders can also be condemned to death for apostasy, though, normally, she would be immune from that sentence. Al‑Samara'i has dealt with the question at length, in Ahkam al‑Murtadd. Other authorities too have pointedly referred to this exemption. [11] The Maliki Ibn al‑Qudamah, in his al‑Mughni, says that a Muharibah woman is not to be killed but only imprisoned. [12]

There are other recognised exceptions that still fur­ther restrict the scope of this tradition. Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, in his Muslim Conduct of State, has sum­marised the position in these words: "In case an insane person, a delirious, a melancholy, a perplexed man, a minor, one intoxicated or who had declared his faith in Islam under coercion and a person whose faith in Islam has not been known or established, were to become apostate, they would not suffer the supreme penalty. So too, an apostate woman and a hermaphrodite, accord­ing to the Hanafi school of Law, would not be con­demned to death but imprisoned and even physically tortured. An old man from whom no offspring is expect­ed is also excepted." [13] In support of this statement he refers to Kasani, Bada'i`, VII, 134; Sarakhsi, Mabsut, X, 123 ; Ibn `Abidin, Radd al‑Muhtar, III, 246 and 326‑71; Abu Yusuf, Kharaj, p. 111 ; Sarakhsi, Sharh al‑Usul, Chapter "al Juz' Yalhaqat al‑Takdhib." These exemp­tions also find mention in various chapters of Ahkam al­-Murtadd by al‑Samarra'i. The Fath al‑Bari too adverts to two exceptions, viz. of a hypocrite and one forced to the faith. [14]

If then the accepted position be that the hadith is not to be taken literally and is subject to several qualifications and the circumstances in which the relevant words were uttered by the Prophet are not precisely known, would it be too much to take the next step and suggest that there is also underlying the hadith a tacit assumption that the person concerned must be guilty of Muharabah (active hostility) ? This would have the merit of bringing the purport of the hadith into conformity with verse 34 of Surat al‑Maidah: "The only reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land, is that they may be slain or crucified ...."

That this suggestion is not a novel one would be borne out by what several Doctors of Law have already indicated as the basis for the death penalty in their writings. In the Hidayah, Marghinani, while discussing the question whether it is necessary to allow time for repentance to an apostate or not [15] says: "And for us there is the word of God, `Kill the polytheists ...' with­out restriction as to time for repentance and so also is the saying of the Prophet (on him be peace): 'Whoso­ever changes his faith, slay him,' and that is because he is a Kafir harbi (a disbeliever and active rebel) whom the call has reached. He would, therefore, be killed instantly without time being allowed for repentance ...." It is clear that Marghinani's analysis establishes the effective cause of the supreme penalty to be active hostility or rebellion. This opinion is further elaborated and con­firmed in the Mabsat, [16] the Bahr al‑Ra'iq, [17] the Fath al­-Qadir and by the commentaries of Chalpi and Babarti. [18] It is explained in these books that the exemption in favour of a woman is grounded on the fact that she is incapable of bearing arms, normally. Further, it is said that disbelief intrinsically does not justify condemnation to death and that is the genesis of the rule that the blind and the very old will not be killed. A woman apostate may, however, be slain, if she possesses independent judgment and has a following. Zaila'i in his commentary on the Kanz al‑Daqziq [19] says explicitly: "The reference in the hadith is to one who fights against us . . . ." Marghi­nani too observes in the Hidayah [20], that the punishments are postponed to the, Hereafter, as their acceleration (and implementation in this world) would interfere with the significance of trial and testing (in this life). This view will be reinforced when we consider the various versions of the next tradition to be discussed.

Among other reasons given by him for doubting the authenticity of the hadith under discussion, Nawab A'zam Yar Jang [21] (Maulvi Charagh 'Ali) mentions that there is a gap between `Ikramah and Ibn 'Abbas and again between the latter and the Prophet, in the chain of narrators. This may not perhaps appeal to many as a solid ground for rejection of the hadith which figures in several well‑known compilations. But an alternative approach has been to interpret the word uqtaluhu (kill him) occurring in the hadith, not literally, but figurative­ ly, and precedents are cited in support of this suggestion. When the Bani Isra'il had taken to the worship of the calf, according to the well‑known narrative in the Qur'an (Surat al‑Baqarah), Moses advised them "to turn to their Maker" and added "faqtula anfusakum" which may mean, if taken literally, "kill yourselves," but has been interpreted by some commentators as an admonition to kill, their evil passions. Reference may be made in this connection, inter alia, to Bahr al‑Muhit. [22] Again, on the Prophet's death on the day of Thaqifah, when there was a gathering of the Ansar, at which the chief of the Khazraj named Sa'd set himself up as a candidate for the Caliphate, Hadrat `Umar is said to have called out " Uqtala as‑Sa'd, aqtalaha Allah." In this sentence the word uqtala which literally means "kill" has been construed as meaning "treat him as if he is dead and do not advert to what he says," in the Aqrab al‑Mawarid and the Nihayah of Ibn al‑Kathir. The same authorities assign a similar meaning to the word uqtala occurring in the hadith : "If two Caliphs have obtained allegiance (from the people), treat one of them as if he is dead (uqtalii), and ignore his claim." One of the meanings assigned to the expression qatl al‑nafs in the Mufradat by Imam Raghib Isfahani is "killing the base passions".

But this line of reasoning may not be apt, if a variant of this hadith as given by Imam Malik in his Muwatta' (Chapter headed "al‑Qada' fi man Artadda `an al‑Islam") is read with it. [23] The wording therein given is: Man ghayyara dinaha fadribu unuqahu" ‑ "Whosoever changes his faith, smite his neck." These words are not equivocal and would not leave room for any metaphorical con­struction. But Imam Malik adds the comment after giving the hadith that if a Muslim adopts another creed but conceals his disbelief and professes Islam out‑wardly, then, on proof of his guilt, he shall be slain, without opportunity for repentance being conceded to him, on the ground that such people cannot be trusted. The opportunity to repent, according to him, would be valid only in the case of one who openly adopts another faith, after having accepted Islam. This opinion, with all respect for the high status, piety and learning of Imam Malik, one may venture to suggest, would apparently be inconsistent with the treatment meted out to known hypocrites during the Prophet's time and to the hadith according to which the Prophet had chided Usamah b. Zaid on his admission that he had killed a man of the Juhainah tribe in combat, even after he had recited the Kalimah (Declaration of Faith). Usamah pleaded that the man had done so merely to save his life and the Prophet queried: "Did you dissect his heart and look into it?" The tradition is included in Sahih al‑Bukhay [24] as well as in Sahih al‑Muslim and Mishkat al‑Masabih [25] of Shaikh Wali al‑Din Muhammad b. `Abdullah Khatib `Umri, with slight variations.

The fact that this hadath exists in a verbally different version, though carrying the same sense, may perhaps justify the criticism that narrators may have retained what they understood to be the purport of the tradition and may have failed to recollect the exact words and the full circumstances surrounding the origin of the saying. This consideration may be allowed to fortify the attempt at its reconciliation with the Qur'anic text by evocation of its ‑underlying assumption that the person involved must have joined those warring against the Muslims. This indeed is the approach of Maulana Thana' Ullah to this hadith and the hadith to be considered next, in Islam auy Masihiyyat. [26] He observes that Islam as a polity had to fight for its existence and these two tradi­tions pertain to a situation where a Muslim forsakes Islam and the Muslim community and he would then be presumed to have connections with the enemies of Muslims. In order words, he says, he himself assumes the position of an enemy and the rule laid down in these reports amounts to a law of war.

Section III

The next tradition to be considered has several verbal variants and, in some of them, the additional words are very significant. The formulation by 'Abdullah b. Mas'ud runs in these terms

(1) The Prophet (on him be blessings and peace of God) said: It is not lawful to shed the blood of a person professing Islam, who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, except in three cases: life for a life, or a married person guilty of adultery or a person who separates from his faith and deserts his community. (Bukhari, "Kitab al‑Diyat," "Bab al‑Nafs bi al‑Nafs"). [27] A similar version exists in Tirmidhi's Sunan.

(2) In the same "Kitab al‑Diyat," "Bab al‑Qasamah," Bukhari records another version narrated by Abu Qulabah : "The Messenger did not put to death anyone by way of Hadd (prescribed punishment) except for one of three antecedents: a person who commits murder of his own free will shall be killed, (so also) a person who commits fornication after marriage or a person who fights Allah and His Messenger and becomes an apostate from Islam." [28]

(3) A summary version is attributed to Hadrat A'yeshah in Sunan al‑Nasa'i, in which the relevant words
for the third category of persons are "one who com­mits apostasy, after accepting Islam". A full version is, however, also contained in Nasa'i's Sunan, which brings out the element of hostility to the community on the part of the apostate. [29] An alternative detailed version is assigned to Hadrat `A'yeshah by Abu Dawud ("Kitab al‑Hudud," "Bab al‑Hukm fi man Artadda)." [30] Therein the third category is defined as comprising of a person "Muhariban bi'Ilah wa Rasulahu fa innahu yuqtal au yuslab au yunfa," i.e. "who fights Allah and His Messenger and he will be killed or crucified or banished from the land"­ words reminiscent of verse 35 of Surat al‑Ma'idah.

(4) Two versions are traced to Hadrat `Uthman, the Third Caliph. One says: "I heard the Messenger of God (on him be peace and blessings of God) say: It is not lawful to shed the blood of a Muslim except in one out of three cases: a person who apostatizes after accepting Islam or who fornicates after marriage or one who kills a person without retaliation for murder of another (Nasa'i, Sunan: "Bab Dhikr ma yuhillu bihi dam al‑Muslim"). In the second version attributed to Hadrat Uthman, also in the same Bab in Nasa'i, the relevant words are: "Or one who commits apostasy after having believed." It is said that Hadrat `Uthman had proclaimed this tradition to the crowd that had surrounded his house in order to assassinate him.

(5) Somewhat akin to the theme of this hadith is the one given by Abu Dawud on the authority of Jam: "When a servant of God runs away to polytheism, shed­ding of his blood becomes lawful." In the Zamindar of 8 October 1924, M. Siraj Ahmad mentions a version in­cluded in the Sunan of Nasa'i in which the relevant words are: "One who leaves the community and cuts it asunder." There are some lesser compilations of hadith which mention similar versions, but they need not be noticed.

Al‑Samara'i has discussed the tradition traced to Hadrat `Uthman in his Ahkam al‑Murtadd. [31] He quotes the. opinion of Shaukani from his Nail al‑Autar (Vol. VII, p. 7), with reference to Ibn Mas'ud's version of the hadith that the words “al‑Mafariq li'l Jama'ah" occurring there­in mean "one who separates from the Islamic commu­nity," and that, according to him, is only possible with Kufr (disbelief) and not merely by committing an offence or resorting to an innovation, etc. He adds further that this forsaking of the community "must be for joining the disbelievers' community". He also gives an extract from San'ani's al‑`Addah `ala al‑Ahkam al‑Ahkam endors­ing this view. San'ani further observes that there is difference of opinion between the Doctors of Law as to whether a woman should be killed for apostasy or not. The view receives some reinforcement from the comment of Ibn Majah in his Sunan, "Bab al‑Murtadd," to the effect that no action is to be accepted from a person who has become a polytheist after accepting Islam, until he leaves the Mushrikin (polytheists) to rejoin the Muslim community. [32]

In view of the variations in different versions of the hadith it may be legitimate to infer that some of the narrators merely recollected its general sense without preserving the verbal integrity of the hadith. As Imam Shafi'i has remarked in his al‑Risalah [33] concerning differences in reports from the Prophet, "Sometimes he (the Prophet) was questioned about something and he used to give a reply in accordance with the question; sometimes the narrator conveyed fully what he had heard and sometimes summarised, so that, on occasions, the full purport was conveyed and, on occasions, this did not happen. Sometimes, a person merely reported that part of the hadith which the Prophet had uttered as his reply, because he was himself not present when the ques­tion was asked and which occasioned the answer." With such possibilities open, an attempt to read together all these variant versions so as to get the full picture would be a process which would carry us nearer to the truth. It follows that the delinquents contemplated in the hadith are those who were not merely renegades from the faith but also in active opposition to the Muslims, having join­ed the warring disbelievers' camp. Their case would thus fall within the purview of verse 33 of Surat al‑Ma'idah and their condemnation would be in harmony with the letter as well as the spirit of the Qur'anic text. The pre­sent writer finds that this view receives corroboration from the opinion of Maulana Abu'l‑Wafa' Thana' Ullah, as has, been mentioned at the end of Section II.

Section IV

Bukhari in his Sahih has included a tradition from the mouth of Abu Musa Ash`ari. [34] It is related therein that the Prophet sent Abu Musa Ash'ari to Yemen as his Governor and, soon after, Mu'adh b. Jabal was also de­puted to go there. Abu Musa welcomed him and invited him to sit down. At that time, a Jew had been brought there, under arrest, who had at first become a Muslim but had later reverted to Judaism. Mu'adh is reported to have declined to sit down unless the apostate Jew was first killed, "in accordance with the judgment of God and His Messenger". His behest was complied with: the Jew was put to death.

Here again we are in the realm of conjecture as to the actual circumstances surrounding apostasy. It is just probable that the Jew had joined the rebel group of Aswad `Ansi in Yemen and that he was not punished for defection from the faith alone. Aswad `Ansi had set up claim to prophethood and had become an apostate in the Prophet's lifetime. The Christians of Najran had joined him and they had ousted the Prophet's two appointees to the area, `Umar b. Hazm and Khalid b. Said b. al­`As. Aswad had himself occupied San'a'. [35] This sugges­tion gains some strength from the consideration that Mu'adh had cited the authority of Allah and His Mesenger both, in support of his demand for the extreme penalty to be inflicted on the Jew. In the Qur'an, as we have seen, there is no mention of any such punishment for an apostate, but death is to be the portion of a muharib Allah (one who fights God, i.e. the Muslim com­munity). In the absence of the exact words of the Qur'an or of the Prophet that Mu'adh had in mind, the position remains equivocal and in any event this would be a very weak precedent. If it was a decision based on the per­sonal Ijtihad (opinion arrived at after considering analogous provisions of the Qur'an or the Sunnah, of Mu'adh b. Jabal, it would not be of binding value. Shah Wali Ullah in his Hujjat Allah al‑Balighah, [36] cites the opinion of `Abdullah b. 'Abbas, 'Ala', Mujahid and Imam Malik to the effect that, however eminent a personality may be, if certain statements of his are accepted, there may be some other statements attributed to him, which it would be necessary to reject. For there is no man except the Prophet whose every saying would be capable of cita­tion as a conclusive argument. Earlier [37] he expresses the categorical view that the basis of some statements ascrib­ed to Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) is merely "forgetfulness or error". In the Mukhtasar of Sayyid al­Sharif al jurjani it is said: "Whatever is related from a Sahabi, either in the form of a saying or in the shape of action, whether narrated by a continuous chain of narra­tors or not, is not a binding instance.” [38] In the Qamar al­-Aqmar Sharh Nur al‑Anwar [39] it is laid down on the authority of Maulana` Abdal‑`Ali Bahr al‑`Ulum, that the mere possibility that a Sahabi (Companion) might have based himself on what he might have heard from the Prophet does not make it obligatory to follow his opinion.There is also the well‑known observation of Imam Shafi.`i regarding the Sahabah : "They were men and so are we.' [40] It is interesting to recall that Maulana Charagh 'Ali (Nawab A'zam Yar Jang) criticises the decision of Mu'adh as one in conflict with the Qur'anic text. [41]

What happened exactly on the occasion to which the report relates is also open to some doubt. `Aini in his ' Umdat al‑Qari gives varying versions as to whether the Jew was simply put to death or also burnt. [42]

Section V

There are two traditions concerning a woman who is said to have been killed for apostasy, by order of the Prophet. One is traced to Hadrat ` A'yeshah which places the incident on the day of Uhud and the other to Jabir b. `Abdullah, by Daraqutni and Baihaqi. In the chain of narrators pertaining to the tradition from Hadrat' `A'yeshah, there occurs the name of Muhammad b. `Abd­ul‑Malik, as the ultimate transmitter. In respect of him, al‑Zaila'i, the author of Nasb al‑Rayah li Ahadith al­Hidayah comments that Ahmad and others had described him as a fabricator of traditions. [43] The same learned writer criticizes Jabir b. Abdullah's tradition in the words [44] And `Abdullah b. Uzniyyah's testimony (he was one of the chain of narrators) has been invalidated by Ibn Habban. He says: It is not permissible to base an argument on him in this situation, and in al‑Mutalif wal‑Mukhtalif, Dara­qutni has characterised him as "one rejected". Ibn Adi has related this hadith in his al‑Kamil and commented " Abdullah b. `Atarid b. Uzniyyah is not acknowledged in respect of Hadith and I have not seen our predecessors say anything against this." Both these traditions, there­fore, are of doubtful authenticity. In any event, they are vague and indefinite formulations, furnishing no details of the woman involved. It is pertinent to advert to the fact that al‑Zaila'i [45] has also cited two other ahadith, in one of which the words ascribed to the Pro­phet are: "Do not kill the woman, if she commits apos­tasy." This too has been included in Daraqutni's com­pilation of Traditions. However, the compiler describes the principal narrator, `Abdullah b. `Isa al Jazri, as a liar. The other hadith is from al‑Kamil of Ibn `Adi, traced from Abu Hurairah, and says that a woman who became an apostate was not killed by the Prophet. This is also attacked as of weak authority. Apparently on this point, conflicting but weak traditions are not scarce.

There is one other tradition having a bearing on this subject, in which the woman has been named as Umm Marwan. She was said to have been put to death under orders of the Prophet. It is included in Daraqutni's "Collection," being traced to Jabir. The last transmitter in the chain of narrators is Ma`mar b. Bakkar who is said to be of imaginative type by `Uqaili, according to the author of Nasb al‑Rayah. [46] But even if this tradition is accepted as authentic, there is evidence available which differentiates the case from that of a mere apostate. She was actively hostile to the Muslims. Sarakhsi, in his Mabsut, [47] informs us that she partook in actual fighting against Muslims and exhorted others to join the warring group and that she had a following. It was, therefore, for her conduct as a Muharibah (an active oppositionist) that she was put to death, rather than for her change of faith. Some authorities from the school of thought which exempts female apostates from being killed have already been noticed earlier and they would serve to strengthen. the inference open on the above discussion that there is no clear warrant for holding that the Prophet had ordered the killing of a woman for apostasy simpliciter. Instances of the Prophet forbidding slaughter of women even in battle would be found summarised in al‑Samara'i's Ahkam al‑Murtadd; where the prohibition is stated to be grounded on lack of capacity of females for fighting. [48]

Section VI

The instance of `Abdullah b. Abi Sarh is also men­tioned by one Pakistani scholar [49] as lending support to his thesis that the punishment of apostasy is death. The instance, when considered in all its bearings, seems to negate that proposition. Two versions are extracted from the Sunan of Abu Dawud, "Kitab‑al‑Hudud," Bab "al‑Hukm fi man Artadda". In the first version it is said that this man took shelter with Hadrat `Uthman, on whose intercession the Prophet pardoned him. According to the second version, Hadrat `Uthman requested the Prophet three times, repeatedly, to accept his allegiance and the Prophet apparently reluctantly acceded to the request, for he later turned to his Companions and said "Was there no rightly‑guided person among you who could have risen to kill this man, seeing that I was with­holding my hand from his allegiance?" The Companions are reported to have said that they could not know what was in the mind of the Prophet unless he had himself given them an indication by a wink of his eye. The Pro­phet told them that it was not becoming a Prophet to have made such a stealthy sign with his eye.

The facts of the case are given by Tabari [50] and Ibn al‑Athir [51] in their Histories and they are also mentioned by Razi [52] in his Tafsir al‑Kabir and by Muhammad Husain Haikal in his "Life of the Prophet". [53] After accepting Islam, he used to act as one of the scribes for taking down the Qur'anic verses revealed to the Prophet from time to time. He became a renegade and joined the polytheist Quraish before whom he boasted that he used to write what was dictated to him by the Prophet as and where he liked: He was one of those under sentence of death by order of the Prophet, at the time of the Conquest of Mecca. `Abdullah was a foster‑brother of Hadrat `Uthman and that is why he gave him shelter and interceded success­fully on his behalf with the Prophet. He was under the sentence apparently for his political crime in making common cause with the enemies of the Muslims and not for mere apostasy. For if he was liable to hadd‑i‑Shara'i for that offence, it is unlikely that Hadrat `Uthman should have given him protection. The fact that he re­ceived such protection strongly suggests that his pro­claimed punishment was not with reference to his apostasy but to his association with and encouragement of polytheist belligerents.

There were actually ten or twelve persons in all who were under the sentence of death, if captured, for their oppositionist role, at that time. They were, besides Ibn Abi Sarh, `Abdullah b. Khatal,` Ikrimah b. Abi Jahl, Huwairith b. Naqid, Muqais b. Sababah, Hibar b. al­ Aswad, Ka'b b. Zuhair, Hindah bint `Utbah (wife of Abu Sufyan, who had mutilated the dead body of the Prophet's uncle Hamzah, in the Battle of Uhud), Wahshi b. Harab, Safwan b. Umayyah and `Abdullah b. Zab'ari Sahmi. They were all persons who had either persecuted the Muslims or fought against them. Wahshi had killed Hamzah by hurling his weapon at him from a distance. Ibn Khatal had become a Muslim but had run away after killing a Sahabi or, according to one version, a Muslim slave. He used to revile the Prophet in verses that were sung by his two slave‑girls ‑these girls, accord­ing to Ibn Athir, were among those under sentence of death, in absentia. Ka'b and Huwairith were also charged with similar abusive and vilifying roles. Hibar had attacked the camel carrying Hadrat Zainab, daughter of the Prophet, in collaboration with Huwairith, and the latter also attacked the camel on which two other daugh­ters of the Prophet, Hadrat Fatimah and Hadrat Umm Kulthum, were travelling and, in both cases, the riders had fallen off their mounts and received injuries. Muqais b. Sababah had become a renegade, but he was not immediately interfered with. He was killed during the Conquest of Mecca by Ghilah b. ` Abdullah Kalbi. Muqais had earlier killed an Ansari Muslim who had killed a brother of Muqais, under a misapprehension ‑khata'an­and he then had run away and defected from the Muslim community. [54] Zarqani in his Sharh Mawahib al‑Ladun­niyyah has also given their histories. [55] Some details about these persons are also furnished by Ibn Hisham in his Sirat. [56] However, only four of these persons were even­tually killed, the rest receiving pardon from the Prophet, including Wahshi, the killer of Hamzah. Their offences lay in the political rather than the religious field. It can­not be maintained, in consequence, that the case of Ibn Abi Sarh is, in any sense, an apt illustration of the liability of an apostate to the supreme penalty.

The attempt by some writers to draw strength for their contention that death is the prescribed punishment for apostasy, from the incident relating to `Ukl or `Urainah people, must also founder on the rock of differ­entiating facts. The relevant hadith is set out in Sahih Bukhai [57] Sahih Muslim. [58] It is traced from Anas. The circumstances in which these persons from `Ukl were killed have already been (referred to, while com­menting on verse 35 of Surat al‑Ma'idah, and they are detailed in several commentaries of the Qur'an, e.g. Alusi's Ruh al‑Ma'ani, Suyuti's Lubab al‑Nuqul fi Asbab al‑Nuzul, Razi's Tafsir al‑Kabir and others. They were guilty of brutal murder combined with robbery, and they were dealt with on that basis and not for apostasy alone.

Another reported hadith ascribes instructions issued by the Prophet to Mu'adh b. Jabal when he was leaving for Yemen that both male and female apostates were to be killed unless they repented. In his marginal comment on this hadith, Muhammad Hasan Sunbali, [59] in his edition of the Hidayah, has criticised this hadith as rest­ing on weak authority as its narrators are questionable.

It is claimed that a woman who was abusing the Prophet was killed by a Sahabi and the Prophet remitted her Qisas (punishment for murder). The tradition is included in the Sunan of Abu Dawud and is said to have been narrated by Ikrimah and Sha'bi. Doubt has been cast on its authenticity by criticism of Nasa'i, among others, of `Uthman al‑Shaham, one of the narrators, as a weak link. Sha'bi's version is also not accepted as authentic as, according to Hakim, he had not heard a single tradition from Hadrat 'Ali whom he had claimed as the source of information for this hadith. Apart from this aspect of the matter, however, the death of the woman was caused under circumstances of grave provo­cation offered by her to Muslims, and if the Prophet, as Head of the State, remitted the punishment, the instance cannot be put forward to buttress the conten­tion that apostasy had to be punished with death. In this connection, it would be pertinent to refer to another hadith included in Salaih Bukhayi. It is reported that a Jew, while passing by the Prophet, had said: "As‑sam‑u­`alaikum" (death on you). The Prophet merely retorted back: "Wa `alaik" (and on you). When the people around asked for permission of the Prophet to kill him, he forbade them from doing so. [60] So apparently such kind of provo­cative conduct was also to be ignored.

Section VII

As we have seen, none of the ahadith, normally relied on by the protagonists of the penalty, unequivocally support that judgment. That they should not be so construed is a suggestion that has much to commend it­self in view of what follows.

A hadith is related from Jabir b. `Abdullah in Sahih al‑Bukhari [61] by three different chains of narrators, to the effect that a Bedouin Arab accepted Islam and took the oath of fealty on the Prophet's hand. Soon after, he contracted high fever and came back to the Prophet to demand cancellation of his allegiance. He repeated this demand three times, but each time it was refused. He then went away‑apparently unmolested. The Prophet merely remarked that Medina is like a furnace which separates the dross from what is pure. If apostasy had to be visited with the death sentence, he should not have been allowed to depart with immunity. There is also discussion of this hadith in the Fath al‑Bari. [62]

Interesting light is thrown on the question we are considering by clauses (4) and (5) of the Hudaibiyyah Peace Pact, concluded between the Muslims acting through the Prophet and the polytheist Quraish of Mecca through their plenipotentiary, Suhail b. `Umar. These clauses are reproduced below: [63]

(4) If a Meccan becomes a Muslim, without the per­mission of his family chief and migrates to Medina, it will be obligatory for Muhammad to return him to Mecca.

(5) In the reverse case, if someone from Medina defects from Islam and seeks protection in Mecca the Quraish would not return him.

If the apostate Muslim was liable to the death sen­tence, it is extremely unlikely that such a provision should have been agreed to, in derogation of a Com­mandment of the Shari'ah.

Again, in the document of Aman (protection) granted to the Hadas branch of the Lakhm tribe by the Prophet [64] and scribed by `Abdullah b. Zaid, it is provided that in respect of members of the tribe who accept Islam, keep up prayer, pay the Zakat and the Prophet's share and give up friendly relations with the polytheists, the responsibility to protect their lives, their property and their honour will rest on Allah and His Messenger (i.e. on the Muslims). "But if any one of them, after becoming a Muslim, commits apostasy, then the responsibility of Allah and His Messenger will cease with regard to him, and a person who authenticates his Islam by his actions will have his faith certified by the Prophet." Nothing was said to indicate that apostasy would invite the capital sentence‑only he would lose his protective cover.

It is also possible to gain some guidance on the point in question from the dialogue that took place between Abu Sufyan (who was then a non‑Muslim) and the Ceasar of Byzantium, whom the Arabs give the name of "Herqal" (Heracles). Abu Sufyan was accompanied by his Quraish companions and one of the questions put by the King to Abu Sufyan was whether any of the followers of the Prophet was known to have become a renegade from his faith. The answer was in the negative. Here was an occasion for Abu Sufyan to have assigned this steadfast­ness to the threat of the extreme penalty for apostasy if such had been the case‑he was no friendly emissary who could suppress such a fact. The absence of such a charge is significant. [65]

When "Qiblah" for prayers was changed, by Divine Command, from Bait al‑Muqaddas to the Ka'bah at Mecca, the decision came as a shock to the Jews and even to some Muslims. The incident is referred to in the opening verses of Part II of the Qur'an and it is explained in verse 144 of Surat al‑Baqarah that the change was effected so that Allah "might know him who follows the Messenger from him who turns upon his heels". Ibn Jarir Tabari in his commentary Jami` al‑Bayan mentions that some of the Muslims had actually defected from Islam on this occasion. [66] He quotes the comment of Ibn Juraij that these apostates said: "Once it is here and another time it is here" ‑ objecting to the change of "Qiblah". There is no indication given, however, that these apos­tates were punished for their defection, nor do the relevant Qur'anic verses point to any such dispensation.

There is apparently some difference of opinion between scholars as to whether Isra' (which is mentioned in Surah Bani Isra'il) and Mi'raj (to which reference exists in Surat al‑Najm) are two separate phenomena or they both represent one single experience of the Prophet. Isra' means the night‑journey which the Prophet is said to have performed from Mecca to Jerusalem and back in one night and Mi'raj is the ascension to the Heavens and the experiences related to it. Both Ibn Hisham [67] and Ibn Athir [68] have given the Prophet's account of his experi­ences in this regard and some of the people who heard of this claim made by the Prophet turned apostates. Ibn Hisham has cited the opinion of Hasan in this context that the Qur'anic verse: "And We appointed the vision which We showed thee as an ordeal for mankind and (likewise) the Accursed Tree in the Qur'an" (Bani Isra'il, verse 61), was revealed in respect of those who became apostates on this occasion. None of the historians, how­ever, has mentioned any attempt being made to bring the offenders to book by . any pressure or punishment. Al‑Samara'i has also referred to this incident in his Ahkam al‑Murtadd [69] in an extract from the Musnad of Ahmad who mentions that these apostates were killed along with Abu Jahl (in the Battle of Badr) but evidently not sentenced to death after adjudication.

The treatment of hypocrites by the Prophet, in spite of their identity being known, has already received attention earlier during the discussion on the position of apostates under the Qur'an. A, signal instance in this connection is that of Jalas b. Suwaid b. Samit. As related by Ibn Hisham, he had lagged behind when the Prophet had proceeded with his Companions for the Expedition to Tabuk. Not only that but he gave out that "if this person (meaning the Prophet) had been right, we should have been worse than asses." This was conveyed to the Prophet, but jalas, when questioned, swore falsely that he had said nothing. [70] On this the ayah was revealed

"They swear by Allah that they said nothing (wrong), yet they did say the word of disbelief, and did disbelieve after their surrender (to Allah). And they purposed that which they could not attain, and they sought revenge only that Allah by His Messenger should enrich them of His bounty. If they repent, it will be better for then, and if they turn away Allah will afflict them with a painful doom in this world and the Hereafter, and they have no protecting friend or helper in the earth" (al­-Taubah, verse 74). He, too, in spite of his proclaimed disbelief in the word of God, was apparently not frilled for his apostasy. Indeed Ibn Ishaq is reported to have said that he, later on, repented and became a good Muslim.

Shah Wali Ullah in his Hujjat Allah al‑Balighah [71] has referred to the strange case of a person who became a Murtadd in the Prophet's time. He died and, when buried, the earth "did not accept him but threw out his dead body". Probably he had in mind a hadith included in Bukhari's al‑Sahih and traced to Anas [72] It is related there­in that a Christian became a Muslim, learnt the Surahs al‑Baqarah and Al‑i‑Imran from the Prophet and be­came one of the scribes of the revelations. He later reverted to his original faith and bragged that the Prophet knew only as much as he had written out for him. Sometime after, he died (evidently a natural death) and was buried. His dead body was seen to have been cast out of his grave the day after his burial. This time he was buried even deeper into the ground but the same strange phenomenon occurred again. The deceased's re­latives suspected that the Prophet's followers had a hand in this mysterious incident. He was again buried and this time at a much greater depth under ground. Lo! and behold! his body was found thrown out again and people were now convinced that this was not due to human action. The point of this hadith is that the man was not put to death for his apostasy which was even accompanied by grave provocation to the Muslims.

In the sixth year of the Hijrah, according to Ibn Athir, Muja'ah b. Murarah who had come as a member of a delegation from Hauzah b. `Ali, King of Yamamah, became a Muslim. He, however, went back, defected from the faith and even brought up a false accusation against the Prophet that the latter had taken Musailimah Kadhdhab as his partner. There is, however, no mention of any attempt being made to punish him. [73]

Professor Heffening, in his article on "Murtadd" in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1932 Edition), says there are traditions according to which even the Prophet forgave apostates, and he cites Nasa'i ("Tahrim al‑Dam," Bab 14, 15), Abu Dawud ("Hudud," Bab 1), Ibn Hanbal (Vol. I, p. 247) and Tafsir Tabari (Vol. III, p. 223), in support of this view. This remark and the other positive instances of absence of action against apostates, adduced above, negate the contention of those who urge that the Prophet had determined the punishment for apostasy to be death, as a part of the religious dispensation, stricto sensu.

It has been seen that even the strongest bulwark of the orthodox view, viz. the Sunnah, when subjected to critical examination in the light of history, does not fortify the stand of those who seek to establish that a Muslim who commits apostasy must be condemned to death for his change of belief alone. In instances in which apparently such a punishment was inflicted, other factors have been found to co‑exist, which would have justified action in the interest of collective security. As against them, some positive instances of tolerance of defections from the Faith, with impunity for the rene­gades, suggest that the Prophet acted strictly in con­formity with the letter and the spirit of the Qur'an, and mere change of faith, if peaceful, cannot be visited with any punishment. The sayings of the Prophet, on which the whole edifice of orthodox reasoning is raised, in the absence of a knowledge of the surrounding circumstances, must be construed in a sense which would make them consistent with the Book of God, for it is unimaginable that the Prophet could have gone against any Qur'anic text. There is no doubt a section of `Ulama' who make the Sunnah the final arbiter in every case of seeming or real conflict with the Qur'an‑their claim is: "Al‑Sunnah qadiyah `ala'l‑Kitab" ‑ The Sunnah is the judge over the Book. This is not accepted by some of the best minds among the Muslim scholars, past or present, and such a doctrine would indeed strike an unconscionable blow at the integrity and pristine purity of the Qur'an

[1] Urdu translation by M. Amjad `Ali, pp. 97 et seq.

[2] Vol. I, pp. 118 et seq.

[3] pp. 229‑31.

[4] Urdu translation by M. 'Abdur Rahim, Vol. I, pp. 219‑28.

[5] Ibid., Vol. I, p. 655, and M. Sher 'Ali, Qatl‑i‑Murtadd our Islam, pp. 100‑1.

[6] Quoted in Fikr‑o‑Nazar, September 1971, p. 195.

[7] Al‑Zaila'i, Nasb al‑Rayah li‑Ahadith al‑Hidayah, Vol. III, Chapter "Ahkam al‑Murtaddin".

[8] Ahkam al‑Murtadd, pp. 36‑8, 211‑22.

[9] Ibid.,

[10] Ibid.,

[11] Al‑'Aini, 'Umdat al‑Qari, Vol. XIII, p. 232; al‑'Asqalani, Fath al‑Bari, Vol. II, p. 23, Vol. XIII, pp. 220‑8; and Hidayah ma' al‑Kifayah, Vol. 11, pp. 200 et seq.

[12] 3rd edn., Vol. VIII, p. 33.

[13] 5th edn., pp. 172 et seq.

[14] Vol. Il, p. 23; Vol. XII, pp. 220‑8.

[15] Vol. II, Bab "Ahkam al‑Murtaddin," pp. 200 et seq.

[16] Sarakhsi, al‑Mabsut, Vol. X, pp. 98‑124.

[17] Ibn Nujaim al‑Misri, Bahr al‑Ra'iq, Vol. V, p. 139.

[18] Fath al‑Qadir, 'al'a al‑Hidayah with 'Inayah of al‑Babarti, and marginal comments of al-Chalpi, Vol, IV, pp. 288‑9.

[19] Sharh al‑Zaila'i 'ala Kanz al‑Daqa'iq, Vol. III p. 285.

[20] See note 18.

[21] Proposed Political, Legal and Social Reforms under Muslim Rule‑A'zan al‑Kalam fi Irtiqa' al‑Islam: Urdu translation by 114. 'Abdul Haqq, pp. 86 at ssq.

[22] Ibn Hayyin, Bahr al‑Muhit, Vol. I, p. 209.

[23] Imam Malik b. Anas al‑Asbahi, Muwatta' (Egypt, 1339 n.), Part II, p. 165.

[24] Sahih al‑Bukhari, Urdu translation (with Arabic text) by S. Na'ib Husain Naqwi and M. Muhammad 'Ali, Vol. III, p. 579.

[25] Mishkat al‑Masabih, Urdu translation (with Arabic text) by S. Na'ib Husain Naqwi and M. Muhammad 'Ali, Vol. II, p. 10.

[26] pp. 202‑4.

[27] Sahih al‑Bukhari (Ashah al‑Matba'ah, Karachi), Vol. II, p.1016. ,

[28] Ibid., p. 1019.

[29] Sunan al‑Nasa'i (Mlaktabah Salafiyyah, Lahore, 1376 s.), Vol. II, pp. 161, 236.

[30] Sunan Abu Dawud (Matba'ah Mustafa Muharmmad, Cairo 1950), Vol. IV, p. 180.

[31] pp. 40‑2.

[32] Ibn Majah, Sunan, "Bab al‑Murtadd" (Matba'ah Mujtaba'i, Delhi), p. 182.

[33] Urdu translation by M. Amjad 'Ali, p. 150.

[34] Sahih al‑Bukh'ari, Bab "Hukm al‑Murtadd wa'l‑Murtaddat wa Istita­bathum" (Ashah al‑Matba'ah, Karachi), Vol. II, p. 1023.

[35] Dr M. Hamidullah, Siyasi Wathiqah‑jat (Urdu translation by M. Yahya Imam Khan Nowshehrwi, pp. 188‑9) (with reference to Tabari's History"); Da'irah‑i‑Ma`arif‑i‑Islamiyah (Urdu), Punjab University, Lahore, 1971, Vol. II, p. 768.

[36] Urdu translation by 'M. `Abdur Rahim, Vol. I, p. 677.

[37] Ibid., p. 655.

[38] As quoted by M. Sher 'Ali, in his Qatl‑i‑Murtadd aur Islam pp. 142‑3.

[39] Ibid.,

[40] Ibid.

[41] Nawab A'zam Yar Jang (M. Charagh ' Ali), Proposed Political, Legal and Social Reforms under Muslim Rule, Urdu translation: A'sam al‑Kalam fi Irtiqa' al‑Islam, by M. 'Abdul Haqq, pp. 86 et seq.

[42] Vol. XI & XII, p. 235.

[43] See Part III, Bab "Ahkam al‑Murtaddin".

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Vol. x, pp.108‑10.

[48] Pp. 219‑20.

[49] M. Abu'l‑A'la Maududi, Murtadd Ki Saza Islam'i Qanun Men, pp. 16‑8.

[50] Urdu translation by S. Muhammad Ibrahim Nadvi, Vol. I; pp. 400 et seq.

[51] Urdu translation by M. Maqsud 'Ali Khairabadi, Vol. II, pp. 407 et seq.

[52] Vol . V, p. 527.

[53] Hayat‑i‑Muhammad (Urdu translation : Sirat al‑Rasul by Muhammad Warith K'amil), p. 526.

[54] Zarqani, Mawahib al‑Ladunniyyah, Vol. II, p. 321.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Vol. II, pp. 69‑78.

[57] Urdu translation (with Arabic text) by S. Na'ib Naqwi and Muhammad 'Ali. Vol. III, p. 587.

[58] Part I, Vol. II, Bab Hukm al‑Muharibin wa'l‑Murtaddin, p. 93.

[59] Quoted in M. Sher 'Ali, op cit., p. 172.

[60] Urdu translation (with Arabic text) by S. Na'ib Naqwi and Muammad `Ali, Vol. III, p. 598.

[61] Ibid., Vol. III, pp. 689‑91.

[62] Ibn Hajar al‑'Asqalani, Fath al‑B'ari, Vol. XIII, p. 173.

[63] Dr M. Hamidullah, op. cit., Urdu translation by M. Abu Yahya lmam Khan Nowshehrawi, p. 53.

[64] Ibid., pp. 65‑6.

[65] Ibn al‑Atbir, al‑Kamil, Urdu translation by Maqs'ud 'Ali Khairabadi, p. 344.

[66] Vol. II, p. 8.

[67] Sirat, Urdu translation by Qutb‑ud‑Din Ahmad Mahmudi, Vol. II, pp. 7 at seq.

[68] Al‑Kamil, Urdu translation by Maqsud 'Ali Khairabadi, Vol. II, pp. 64‑72.

[69] p. 35.

[70] Sirat, Urdu translation, op. cit., pp 203‑5.

[71] Urdu translation, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 822.

[72] Ra'is Ahmad Ja'fri, Talkhis al‑Bukhari (Arabic‑Urdu), p. 359.

[73] Ibn Athir, al‑Kamil, Urdu translation, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 350.

Book: Islam, Quran and Apostasy


S.A. Rahman
(Rtd.) Chief Justice of Pakistan

Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi 2, India
No CopyRight

Chapter I

Apostasy and the Qur’an
Section I‑The Spirit of the Qur'an

The Arabic equivalent for apostasy is riddah or irtidad from the root radd which, among other con­notations, has the meaning "to retreat, to retire, to withdraw from or fall back from". In the context of Muslim Fiqh (jurisprudence) it is equated with renun­ciation or abandonment of Islam by one who professes the Islamic faith. The apostate is called Murtadd. Ac­cording to Muslim jurists, apostasy may be committed with reference to belief, word or deed, or even by failure to observe certain obligatory practices. The person concerned must have attained majority, should be in full possession of his senses and should have acted voluntarily, if he is to be condemned as an apostate. An elaborate discussion of the antecedents of apostasy would be beyond the scope of our subject. An adequate summary of the jurists' views on this subject would be found in the second and third fusul (sections) of the first chapter (bab al‑awwal) of al­Samarra’is Ahkam al‑Murtadd. [1]

In the Introduction to his book, al‑Samarra'i observes as follows

In the Book [the Qur'an] I found sometimes "al‑riddah" mentioned expressly and sometimes by import. I followed up the verses in the various commentaries and I arrived at the conclusion that the punishment of the apostate (and that is death) is not to be found in the Book but finds mention in the Sunnah only. [2]

This view is fairly representative of the opinions of scholars who have written on the subject. There is absolutely no mention in the Qur'an of any punishment for apostasy to be inflicted in this world. In the article headed "Murtadd" in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leyden, 1932), [3] Professor Heffening has acknowledged this fact expressly.

Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, in his Muslim Conduct of State, has referred to some "indirect verses of the Qur'an" as bearing on the point of punishment for apostasy, viz. al‑Ma'idah, verse 54, and al‑Ahzab, verse 57, but it is difficult to agree with him that these verses can be pressed into service for sustaining the capital sentence for apostasy. For his main thesis, M. Abu'l‑A'la Maududi has relied on the Qur'anic verses "Fain tabu wa aqam‑us‑salata wa atawuz‑zakata, fa ikhwa­nukum fid‑din; wa nufassil‑ul‑ayati li qaumin ya’lamun. Wa in nakathu aimanahum min ba'di `ahdihim wa ta'anu fi dinikum faqatilu a'immat al‑kufri, innahum la aimana lahum la'allahum yantahun" (Taubah, verses 11‑12).

He has interpreted these verses in a sense, which is at variance with their generally accepted connota­tion. According to him, they should be rendered as: "Then if they repent (of their disbelief) and observe prayer and pay the `Zakat,' they are your brethren in faith. We explain Our injunctions for a people who have knowledge. But if they break their oaths, after their covenant (i.e. their covenant to accept Islam) and make your Din' the target of their taunts, then fight these leaders of disbelief; for their oaths cannot be depended upon‑maybe that they shall thus desist.' [4] He construes the word `ahd as meaning a "covenant to accept Islam". This construction, generally speak­ing, is not borne out by any of the well‑known com­mentaries, published in the Indo‑Pak subcontinent or abroad. Maulana Shah 'Abdul Qadir, [5] Maulana Ashraf 'Ali Thanawi, [6] Maulana Mahmud al‑Hasan Deobandi, [7] Maulana Shabbir Ahmad `Uthmani, [7] Maulana Shah Muhammad Ahmad Rida' Khan Barelvi, [8] Sayyid Muhammad Na`im‑ud‑Din Muradabadi, [8] Maulana Abu'l­ Kalam Azad, [9] M. Muhammad `Ali, [10] Mr `Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali, [11] Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan, [12] take the term `ahd as equivalent to a political pact and, in their comments on these verses, give the history of the agreements between the Muslims and the disbeliev­ing Quraish, starting from the Peace of Hudaibiyyah, as the background for their revelation. The standard exegetical works of Baidawi, [13] Zamakhshari, [14] al‑Jassas, [15] Fakhr‑ud‑Din al‑Razi, [16] and al‑Alusi, [16] too, take an identical view so far as the word `ahd is concerned. But while interpreting these verses and the next, all except Jassas refer to the lesser‑known alternative reading of aimanahum (their oaths) as imanahum (their faiths) and indicate that the suggested alternative would require the rendering to be: "And if they break what they have said. in the oath of allegiance as part of their faith or as part of their promise to fulfil cove­nants." Razi and Alusi, however, give distinct prefer­ence to the construction based on political covenants, for, as Razi observes, "the verse was revealed in respect of those who broke their covenants" and he rejects the alternative reading of imanahum as not in con­formity with the context. Zamakhshari, it may be noted, also translates the identical words "nakathu aimanahum" occurring in the following verse as referring to their political agreement. Baidawi adopts the reading "iman" for "aiman" only in the expression "innahum la aimana lahum" and he too equates the words "nakathu aimanahum" in the next verse with the breach of faith in respect of covenants with the Prophet and the Muslims. The Tafsir al‑Manar [18] in its exposition of these verses records that they clearly relate to the mushrikin (polytheists) of Arabia who had entered into covenants with the faithful but had deliberately broken them and adds that the gene­rality of the injunction embodied in them would com­prehend all those whose relations with the Muslims can be assimilated to those with the mushrikin. Maulana Maududi, therefore, does not have the sanction of any clear‑cut authority behind his interpretation which is also inconsistent with the theme of Surah Taubah. The object of the fighting against infidels specified at the end of the verse is to make them "desist" (from their actions). This object accords with the preferred construction. If the persons concerned were to be killed for apostasy, there should have been no question of an attempt to making them "desist" from their course. The subsequent verses establish that the disbelievers had repeatedly broken their covenants and had taken the initiative in the fighting. The directive given is to fight them to ensure peace and order and not to slay them, par excellence, as Baidawi explicitly clarifies.

The position that emerges, then, is that it is not possible to spell out the death penalty for apostasy from a study of the Qur'an alone, and this fact was acknowledged by some writers in the Zamindar. Indeed, if dispassionate consideration is given to the Qur'anic text, without preconceived notions, it will be found that the punishment of the apostate is postponed to the Hereafter. In matters concerning the individual conscience, the Qur'an places no fetters on free choice. The appeal of the Qur'an is to history, observation and reason, in support of its invitation to the path of faith and rectitude. Even to contestants of the truth, it issues a challenge to adduce evidence to sustain their assertions. "Qul hatu burhanakum in kuntum sadiqjn" (al‑Baqarah, verse 111) : "Say: Bring forth your proof, if you are truthful." This rational approach runs like a golden thread throughout the fabric of the Qur'anic teachings. To emphasise the importance of the deliberative function, the Qur'an declares in ringing terms of admonition: "And be not like those who say `We hear,' but they hear not. ,Surely the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb, who have no sense" (al‑Anfal, verses 21‑22).

To attribute an intention to the Divine Scheme, of compelling renegades from the true faith to resume their allegiance to God and the Prophet on pain of being killed, would apparently run counter to the letter and spirit of the various directives and admoni­tions included in the Qur'an, pertinent to this question. The call to the Way of the Lord is to be made with wisdom and fair exhortation and people are to be reasoned with, "in the better way" (Surat al‑Nahl. verse 127). Even the false gods of the opponents of the faith are to be immune from abusive references. Says the Qur'an : "Revile not those unto whom they pray besides Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every people‑have We made their doings seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do" (al‑An'am, verse 108). If war (only defensive wars are permitted) is to be resorted to, its objective must be the. establishment of the fundamental human right of liberty of conscience. In Surat al-Baqarah, it is solemnly declared: "Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely Allah loves not the transgressors. And slay them wherever you find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them near the Sacred Mosque until they first attack you there, but if they fight you, then slay them. Such is the requital for disbelievers. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong­doers" (verses 192‑195)

Condign punishment in this world is only reserved for those who are out to fight the faithful and disrupt the social order. Their case is dealt with in Surat al‑Ma'idah (verses 34‑35) in the following words: "The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land, will be that they will be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled from the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom, save those who repent before you overpower them. For know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

Duress or coercion in matters of belief does not enter into the composition of the social system envi­saged by the Qur'an. Clear guidance in a truly humani­tarian spirit of tolerance is given to the Muslims in this field in several verses which recognize the existence of a pluralistic milieu, though of course a categorical distinction is drawn between those who follow the Straight Path and those who are misguided and have become impervious to the signs of God. The latter are warned of the punishment awaiting them in the Hereafter. The realistic and humanistic stance of the Qur'an is amply illustrated by the following, among other commandments

(1) Lo! those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabeans‑whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does right‑surely their reward is with their Lord and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve" (al‑Baqarah, verse 62).

(2) Lo! those who disbelieve and die while they are disbelievers, on them shall be the curse of Allah and of angels and men combined (al‑Baqarah, verse 161)

(3) There is no compulsion in religion. Surely the right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handle-hold which will never break. And Allah is Hearer, Knower (al‑Baqarah, verse 256).

This (verse 256) is one of the most important verses of the Qur'an, containing a charter of freedom of con­science unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind and deserves detailed discussion. It is with regret mingl­ed with perturbation that one notices attempts made by Muslim scholars themselves to whittle down its broad humanistic meaning by imposing limitations on its scope, dictated by exigencies of theological contro­versies that arose in the course of our history. By this means it was intended to corelate the word of God with what was understood to be the Prophet's Sunnah or to reconcile it with inferences drawn from historical prece­dents whose full background was seldom explored.

Some of the exegetes of the Qur'an [19] cite the opinion that this verse had been abrogated by other verses such as: "O Prophet, strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them" (al‑Taubah, verse 73); "O ye who believe! fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness (hard­ness) in you" (al‑Taubah, verse 123); and "Say unto the wandering Arabs who were left behind: `You will be called against a folk of mighty prowess, to fight them until they surrender' " (al‑Fath, verse 16). But the majority of the commentators prefer the reports which suggest that the verse under examination was revealed with reference to the case of an Ansar woman who had vowed that if her son survived, .she would make him a Jew. The son had joined the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir in Medina, but when this tribe was banished there-from, for their perfidy, the Ansar tried to detain the boy and to convert him to Islam. This was not allowed to be done because of this revelation. An alternative version connects it with the case of an Ansar named Hasin whose two sons were Christian. Hasin consulted the Prophet (peace be upon him) who forbade him from his intention to force them into the Islamic fold. Still another version links the verse with the case of a slave from the Ahl al‑Kitab (People of the Scripture) whose adherence to his own faith was respected under this injunction. Finally it was given out as the opinion of some that it was meant to cover the case of those People of the Book who had submitted to the Muslims and had agreed to pay jizyah (poll‑tax). [20]

The wording of the verse is perfectly general and the versions about its shan‑i‑nuzul (occasion for revela­tion) cannot detract from the full effect of the eternal p'rinciples of human polity, laid down therein. It would be pertinent to consider, in this connection, the acute observations of Shah Wali Ullah, in his al‑Fauz al‑Kabir fi Usul al‑Tafsir. [21] In Chapter III, headed "Asbab‑i­Nuzul," he says: "Knotty problems arise in connection with the question of asbab‑i‑nuzul (grounds of revela­tion). This is due to differences in technical expressions used by earlier and later exponents. From the state­ments of the Companions and those who followed them, the conclusion can be drawn that when these venerable persons say that an ayah was revealed in the context of such and such incident, then it is not intended to confine its application to that incident which might have occur­red during the Prophet's time and occasioned the reve­lation. These venerable persons were in the habit of mentioning incidents or situations in the Prophet's lifetime or thereafter which, according to their view, were linked with a verse. This did not necessarily lead to the inference that the verse in question would wholly and exclusively pertain to such incident or situation. On the contrary, the verse should be held to convey the commandment contained therein, generally."

Some extraordinary observations are, however, to be met with in the interpretation of this important verse in learned commentaries of exegetes whose erudition, piety and scholarship are universally acknowledged and above question. For instance, no less a personality than Shah Wali Ullah, in his Persian translation of the Qur'an; the Fath al‑Rahman, while giving the generally accepted rendering of the verse in the main context, adds a marginal gloss which reads: "That is to say, the reasoned guidance of Islam has become manifest. Thereafter, so to speak, there is no compulsion, although, in sum, there may be coercion." [22] In other words, coercion is justified by a good cause and, in such a case, what appears to be compulsion is no compulsion at all. With the highest reverence for the great savant, it would take a lot of persuasion to accept this kind of sophisti­cation as consistent with the clarity and forthrightness of the Kitab al‑Mubin (the Explicit Book). There is no indication in the text that the words are to be under­stood in a restricted or qualified sense, nor would the shan‑i‑nuzul reports justify that course. Such an inter­pretation can perhaps be attributed to the unconscious pressure of orthodox tradition.

Kindred comments are included in the Fath al‑Bayan of Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan. [23] According to one view, mentioned therein, one should not say of a person converted to Islam under the shadow of the sword, that he was compelled to the Faith for "there is no compulsion in Religion". Another construction cited therein (also noticed by Alusi in Ruh al‑Ma`ani [24] and by Ibn Hayyan in Bahr al‑Muhit) [25] confines the verse to the People of the Scriptures, who submitted to the Muslims and agreed to pay jizyah (poll‑tax) but excludes the idolaters from its scope. In the case of the latter, only two alternatives are said to be open‑Islam or the sword‑on the authority of al‑Sha'bi, al‑ Hasan, Qatadah and al‑Dahhak. Siddiq Hasan Khan recognizes the accepted principle of exegesis that regard will be had to the generality of the words and not to the particular circumstances that occasioned the revelation but claims that the general is here particularized by other verses which sanctioned the use of force against ahl al‑harb (fighters) among disbelievers. He has not specified the verses he had in mind but, in any event, the argument is specious. For those who fight the Muslims fall in a different category from those who differ from the faithful, without being aggressive.

Ibn al‑`Arabi in his Ahkam al‑Qur 'an [26] much more categorical in his assertions. He declares dogmatically that to compel to the truth is part of the Faith, on the authority of a hadith: "I have been commanded to fight people till they, recite the declaration of faith (La ilaha ill‑Allah: there is no god but Allah)," which he considers to have been derived from the Qur'anic verse "And fight them until persecution is no more and re­ligion is for Allah alone" (al‑Anfal, verse 39; al‑Baqarah, verse 193). Issue may be fairly joined with the learned commentator on the point of this verse supplying the authority for the reported hadith, for the verse clearly and explicitly enjoins fighting to end religious persecu­tion and lends no support to the theory of justification of force even in the interest of truth. Ibn al‑Arabi puts forward the specious argument that "the Prophet was charged with the mission to invite people to the Straight Path and to establish Hujjat Allah and that, after a time, God changed his condition from one of a victim of persecution to that of security and from weakness to strength and provided him with strong helpers and com­manded him to resort to the sword for the fulfillment of his mission." This view would imply that the injunction against use of force in the matter of religion was limited to the initial period of weakness of the Muslims and its non‑observance would be permissible from a position of strength and prosperity. There is no warrant for such a conclusion to be found in any Qur'anic verse and indeed the ethical plane of such argumentation is too obvious to require comment. Clearly when the Banu Nadir were being banished from Medina, the Ansar woman's son, who was with them, could have been very easily detained by the Muslims, for the Banu Nadir would have been in no position to resist. But God's infinite Wisdom had prescribed otherwise and the Mus­lims submitted to the Divine Ordinance. The circum­stances surrounding the saying ascribed to the Prophet are not brought out in the Ahkam al‑Qur'an and, for all we know, it may have relevance to the case of active enemies of Islam.

There is good authority for the opposite view. While discussing the contributions of Imam Ibn Taimiyyah to Fiqh, Professor Abu Zahrah of Egypt, in his book Imam Ibn Taimiyyah, [27] summarises the Imam's opinion in the following terms:

On the first question as to whether it is permissible to fight the disbelievers on the ground of their disbelief or on that of their tyranny and transgression, the Imam refers to two schools of thought among the ‘Ulama'. The first school holds that, according to Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, Imam Abu Hanifah and others, and the majority of `Ulama' and A'immah, fighting with disbelievers is allowed only if they are bent upon oppression and tyranny. From this opinion it follows that war with infidels is not permissible in any other circumstances. Consequently fighting can be resorted to as a defensive measure or in response to aggression, even if it turns out to be a case of emergency. But in such a fight only the active combatants or their inciters will be killed, and women, anchorites and disabled or old people, who neither partici­pate in the fighting nor exhort others to do so, will not be slain. In brief, the disbeliever who does not take up arms, does not urge others to fight and is not guilty of any hostile act in connection with the war shall not be put to death.

The second school is of the opinion that war with the dis­believers is grounded on their disbelief. That means that fighting is obligatory with them simply because they are infidels and not because they are inclined towards tyranny. This is the creed of Imam Shafi'i. Therefore, under this principle, every disbeliever who has attained majority and discretion would be deserving of capital punishment, irrespective of whether he is capable of fight­ing or not, whether he is himself on the war path or not and whether he is actively assisting his comrades (the disbelievers) to pursue the fight or not.

In this regard, Imam Ibn Taimiyyah considers the first opinion, viz. the opinion of the majority, to be correct and, in support of his position, cites authorities from the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The authorities referred to by the Imam include the very verse under discussion (la ikraha fi'd‑din), which, he says, is neither abrogated nor circumscribed in scope by any incident or other consideration. He also cites the verses: "Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities" (al‑Baqarah, verse 190) and "Fight with them until presecution is no more and religion is only for Allah" (al‑Baqarah, verse 193). Reliance is also placed by him on Traditions showing that the Prophet had forbidden the slaying of women because of their lack of capacity to fight and had never forced any war captives to adopt Islam. He points out that all wars of the Prophet were defensive in character‑‑a subject he expounds in his Risalat al‑Qital.

Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut, in his Tafsir al‑Qur'an al-­Hakim, [28] also clearly endorses the view of Imam Ibn Taimiyyah by saying that disbelief alone cannot make it lawful to kill a disbeliever, but there must be an element of aggression and hostile transgression with it to justify action.

In the Bahr al‑Muhit the view of Imam Malik and Kalbi that this ayah is not confined to the ahl al‑qital but embraces within its pale all disbelievers, who may have elected to pay jizyah, also finds a place. What is highly significant and important is that Ibn Hayyan gives prominence to the more logically consistent inter­pretation (which is in conformity with the letter and spirit of the Qur'an) that even a person who renounces Islam for another religion cannot be compelled to revert to his former faith. Then follows the opinion attributed to Abu Muslim and al‑Qifal that the meaning of the verse is that God has not based matters of iman (faith) on compulsion and force but on voluntary and free choice, for the arguments in favour of Tauhid (Divine Unity) have become manifest by full exposition. After that, there is no excuse left for disbelief so that one may say that the disbeliever should be obliged to adopt the faith and be bound to it. But that is not permissible in this world of trial and tribulation, for coercion and constraint for the faith negatives the reality of trial and testing. This reasoning is also adverted to by al‑Zamakhshari in al‑Kashshaf and by Alusi in his Ruh al‑Ma'ani. The former cites the Qur'anic verse: "If thy Lord had willed (enforced His Will), all who are in the earth would have believed together; wouldst thou compel men until they are believers?" (Yunus, verse 99) as authority sanctioning this opinion.

Ibn Kathir [29] apparently takes a broad view of this verse and remarks that it would serve no useful purpose for a person blind of heart and whose hearing and seeing faculties are sealed by Providence, to enter the fold of Islam, under coercion. He then mentions the shan‑i‑nuzul to be the case of the Ansar woman who wanted to retrieve her son from the Jews but adds that the injunction con­tained in the verse is general in character.

The Tafsir al‑Manar [30] describes the commandment contained in this verse as one of the greatest principles of the Islamic faith and one of the majestic pillars of Islamic polity (siyasah). The compiler formulates the principle in these terms: "It is not permissible to subject anyone to coercion to make him accept Islam, nor will anyone be heard to say that a member of his household was compelled to go out from it," and cites the verse "And if thy Lord had willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together" in corroboration of this position.

It has also been suggested [31] that, though no one can be forced to adopt Islam against his will, yet if he once joins the Islamic community voluntarily, he will not be allowed to leave the sacred fold but will be compelled to recant if he commits apostasy. To the charge of inconsistency of this view with the verse under discussion and other verses of similar import, the reply is made that the inconsistency would vanish if the proselyte is forewarned that once he voluntarily enters the fortress of Islam, he will not be permitted to leave it alive. In the humble opinion of the present writer, no semantic strait jacket can possibly yield such an implication from the text of this verse.

(4) And if they argue with thee (O Muhammad), say I have surrendered myself completely to Allah and (so have) those who follow me. And say to those who have received the Scripture and those that are unlettered: Have you (also) surrendered? If they surrender, then truly they are rightly guided, and if they turn away, then it is thy duty to convey the message (unto them). And Allah is watchful of (His) bondmen (Ali-Imran, verse 20).

(5) Say: O people of the Scripture! come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him and that none of us shall take others for lords besides Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him (Ali‑`Imran, verse 64).

(6) He who turns back on his heels, shall do no hurt to Allah at all and Allah will reward the thankful (AI­i‑Imran, verse 144).

(7) Whoso obeys the Messenger obeys Allah and whoso turns away, (then) We have not sent thee as a warder over them (al‑Nisa', verse 80).

(8) And whoso opposeth the Messenger after the guidance (of Allah) has become manifest to him and follows other than the believers' way, We appoint for him that to which he has himself turned and cast him into Hell‑a hapless journey's end (al‑Nisa', verse 115).

(9) And if you disbelieve, lo! to Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth and Allah is Self‑Sufficient, Owner of Praise (al‑Nisa', verse 131).

(10) For each of you, We have prescribed a Divine Law and a traced‑out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community but (He wishes) to try you by that which He has given you. So vie with one another in good works (al‑Ma'idah, verse 48)

(11) Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware! But if you turn away; then know that the duty of Our Messenger is only plain conveyance (of the message) (al‑Ma'idah, verse 92).

(12) The duty of the Messenger is only to convey (the message). Allah knows what you proclaim and what you hide (al‑Ma'idah, verse 99).

(13) O you who believe! you have charge of your own souls. He who goes astray cannot injure you if you are rightly guided. To Allah you will all return; and then He will inform you of what you used to do (al‑Ma'idah, verse 105).

(14) And if their aversion is grievous unto thee, then if thou canst, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder unto heaven that thou mayest bring unto them a portent (to convince them all)! If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance‑‑so be not thou among the foolish ones (al‑An'am, verse 35).

(15) We send not the messengers save as bearers of good news and as warners. So those who believe and do right, no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve (al‑An'am, verse 48).

(16) Thy people (O Muhammad) have denied it, though it is the truth. Say: I am not put in charge of you (al‑An'am, verse 66).

(17) Proofs have come unto you from your Lord, so whoso sees, it is for his own good and whoso is blind is blind to his own hurt. And I am not a keeper over you (al‑An'am, verse 104).

(18) Had Allah willed, they would not have set up gods with Him. We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor are thou responsible for them (al‑An'am, 107).

(19) Thus have We appointed unto every Prophet an adversary‑devils of mankind and Jinn, who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile. If thy Lord willed, they would not do so: so leave them alone with their devising (al‑An'am, verse 112).

(20) Say: For Allah's is the final argument‑had He willed, He could have guided all of you (al‑An`am, verse 149) .

(21) And fight them until persecution is no more and religion is all for Allah. But if they desist, Allah is seer of what they do (al‑Anfal, verse 39).

(22) And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it and trust in Allah. Lo! He is the Hearer, the Knower (al‑Anfal, verse 61).

(23) And if any one of the idolaters seeks thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the word of Allah and afterwards convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not (al‑Taubah, verse 6).

(24) Know they not that whoso opposes Allah and His Messenger, his portion verily is Hell, to abide therein. That is the extreme abasement (al‑Taubah, verse 63).

(25) And if they deny thee, say: Unto me my work and unto you your work. You are innocent of what I do and I am innocent of what you do (Yunus, verse 41).

(26) And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? (Yunus, verse 99-100).

(27) Say: O mankind! now has the truth come to you from your Lord. So whosoever is guided only for (the good of) his soul and whosoever errs, errs only against it. And I am not a warder over you (Yunus, verse 108).

(28) And if thy Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation but they would not cease to differ, save him on whom thy Lord has mercy and for that He did create them (Had, verses 118‑119).

(29) And most men will not believe even though thou ardently desire (it) (Yusuf, verse 103).

(30) Do not those who believe know that, had Allah willed He could have guided all mankind (al‑Ra'd, verse 31).

(31) And Allah's is the direction of way and some (roads) go not straight (al‑Nahl, verse 9).

(32) Whosoever follows the right way, follows it only for the good of his own soul and whosoever errs, errs only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another's load. We never punish until We have sent a messenger (Bani Isra'il, verse 16).

(33) Say: (It is) the truth from your Lord. Then who­soever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. Verily We have prepared for the wrongdoers fire whose (flaming) canopy shall enclose them (al‑Kahf, verse 29).

(34) Say: Obey Allah and obey the Messenger. But if you turn away, he is responsible for what he is charged with and you are responsible for what you are charged with. If you obey him, you will go aright. And the Messenger has no other charge than to convey (the message) plainly (al‑Nur, verse 54).

(35) Nor canst thou lead the blind out of their error. Thou canst make none to hear, save those who believe Our revelations, so they submit (al‑Naml, verse 81).

(36) And whoso goes right, goes right only for (the good) of his own soul; and as for him who goes astray ­say: I am only a warner (al‑Naml, verse 92).

(37) Surely thou canst not guide whomsoever thou lovest; but Allah guides whomsoever He pleases; and He is best aware of those who walk aright (al‑Qasas, verse 56).

(38) For verily thou (Muhammad) canst not make the dead to hear, nor canst thou make the dead to hear the call, when they retreat, turning their backs; nor canst thou guide the blind out of their error. Thou canst make none to hear save those who believe in Our revelations so that they submit (to Him) (al‑Rum, verses 52‑53).

(39) And as for him who disbelieves, let not his dis­belief grieve thee; unto Us is their return and We shall tell them what they did. Lo! Allah is aware of what is in the breasts (of men) (Luqman, verse 23).

(40) Is he, the evil of whose deeds is made far‑seeing unto him so that he deemeth it good (like one who believes and does good deeds) ? Verily Allah lets go astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul expire in sighings for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do! (al‑Fatir, verse 8).

(41) Verily We have revealed to thee the Book for mankind with truth. Then whoever follows guidance, it is for his own soul and whoever goes astray, strays only to its hurt. And thou art not a warder over them (al­-Zumar, verse 41).

(42) Lo! those who disbelieve and hinder (man) from the Way of Allah and oppose the Messenger after guidance has become manifest to them, they hurt Allah not a jot, and He will make their actions fruitless (Muham­mad, verse 32).

(43) We are best aware of what they say and thou art in no wise a compeller over them. But warn by the Qur'an him who fears My warning (Qaf, verse 45).

(44) Obey Allah and obey His Messenger; but if you turn away, then the duty of Our Messenger is only to convey (the message) plainly (al‑Taghabun, verse 12).

(45) (My responsibility is) only conveyance (of the truth) from Allah and His Messages, and whoso disobeys Allah and His Messenger, surely for him is the fire of Hell wherein he shall abide (al Jinn, verse 23).

(46) Remind them, for thou art but a remembrancer; thou art not at all a warder over them (al‑Ghashiyah, verses 21‑22). [“Remind them: you are surely a reminder” –Ahmed Ali’s translation]

(47) Unto you your religion and unto me my religion (al‑Kafirun, verse 6).

These Divine ordinances provide the keynote for the conduct of Muslims in war and peace. The climate of tolerance and human liberty which they signalize would form an illuminating background for a true understanding of the Our'anic injunctions which bear directly or indirectly on the fate of those for whom the truth is obscured by the workings of their erring minds and who decide to give up their allegiance to Islam for an­other creed. It is manifest that the Divine Scheme envis­aged by the Qur'an gives ample scope for the evolution of the human personality during its earthly existence, in an empirically oriented atmosphere. The Qur'an declares expressly: "And verily We shall try you till We know those of you who strive hard (for the cause of Allah) and the steadfast and till We test your record. And We will make known the (true) facts about you" (Muhammad, verse 31). Guidance for the good life is furnished but not at the cost of suppression of human dignity. Vistas of a future life in which the fruits of action in the present life are to be harvested are also held up before the think­ing individual, but the existential choice is left to the individual himself. No reward can be earned by action motivated by coercion‑the mind and hand of man must be in harmony if best results of his activity are to be ensured. Islam to be Islam must be accepted abso­lutely voluntarily by a free person. [32] The Qur'an talks of "the nature (framed) of Allah in which He has created man" (al‑Rum, verse 30). The "nature of Allah" is Divine Unity which carries within its concept, by implication, the unity of mankind. This nature, in other words, is Islam and to it the Prophet in a well‑known saying referred when he said: "Every child is born according to the Fitrah (Nature), and then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian" (Bukhari). The religion to which unsullied human nature conforms and instinc­tively reacts is Islam, but it is his environment and the training he receives under the tutelage of his parents that subsequently fashion his beliefs. After distinguishing the true from the false, God's Book leaves the individual sensibility free choice of direction in the spiritual realm.

Section II‑Verses Bearing on Apostasy

The verses in the Qur'an which refer to apostasy and its effects are dispersed throughout the Word of God. We will consider them in the order in which they appear in the Qur'an.

(1) And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso from among you turns back from his Faith and dies while he is a disbelieves : such are they whose works shall be vain in this world and in the Hereafter. These are the inmates of the Fire and therein they shall abide (al‑Baqarah, verse 217).

The verse clearly envisages the natural death of the renegade after apostasy. The word used in the Arabic text fa yamut is significant. At another place, the Qur'an itself distinguishes between natural death and death by being slain, in the verse: "And Muhammad is but a messenger; messengers (the like of him) have passed away before him. If then he dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels?" (Ali‑`Imran, verse 144). The two words in the original are mata and qutila. The implication of the verse is unmistakable that the Qur'anic Scheme visualizes an apostate dying a natural death and there is no hint here that he can be killed for his de­fection. That the verse is addressed to Muslims is borne out by the expression minkum (from among you) and the reference is thus to a Muslim who becomes a rene­gade. Shaikh Isma'il Haqqi, in his Ruh al‑Bayan [33] says in respect of this verse: "This contains a warning against apostasy and in it is inducement to revert to Islam, after apostasy, till the time of death." This commenta­tor, therefore, clearly contemplates the period of repent­ance to be coterminous with the death of the renegade. Zamakhshari also interprets the verse [34] in the sense that it imports the death of the renegade in a state of apostasy. The consequences of such apostasy are declared in the verse to be "his deprivation of the fruits of Islam enjoyed by Muslims in this world and falling away of the reward in the Hereafter, due to his continuing in a state of apostasy till death," in the words of Zamakhshari. This view is also shared by Alusi Baghdadi [35] and other commentators like al‑Qasimi [36] and al‑Nishapuri. [37]

There is difference of opinion among commentators as to whether death in the condition of apostasy is necessary to wash away his good deeds, performed when he was a Muslim, or whether the incidence of apostasy simpliciter would have that effect, and authorities of Imam Shafi'i, Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik are cited in support of opposing views. A further difference of opinion exists on the question whether the thawab (reward) of his good deeds reverts to him on his return to the true faith subsequently or not. Opinions of Fakhr al‑Din Razi, al‑Qurtubi, al‑Tabarasi and al‑Alusi are discussed in this context by al‑Samarra'i. [38] Tabarasi goes to the length of saying that apostasy has the effect of wiping out all .actions of the renegade and it is as if those actions had never been, initially. However, Nisha­puri commits himself to the view that, among other disadvantages incurred by the renegade, he is to be fought against, till overpowered and then killed. For this extreme view apparently no authority is cited. It is pertinent to observe, however, that fighting with an apostate (who is inclined to fight) is quite different from adjudging an apostate liable to the capital sen­tence, as soon as apostasy occurs. An anonymous writer in the Daily Zamindar of Lahore, dated 15 October 1924, advanced the wholly unacceptable suggestion that the words habitat a'malahum f'i‑dunya (their actions in this world become null and void) could be equated on the authority of Tafsir Khazan with "they (the apostates) are to be wiped off the surface of the earth." The attempt to shift the consequences of apostasy from actions of the apostate to his person, by a linguistic tour de force, must rank as one of the curiosities of polemical literature. The Tafsir Khazan, apparently, only categorizes the generally accepted consequences of apostasy, according to orthodox tradition, included among them being the penalty of death, in the comment under the word habita, without suggesting an etymological connection between the word and the penalty. Another brave suggestion emanated from an anonymous writer in the Zamindar dated 20 March 1925 that the word fayamut (and he dies) is not inconsistent with other punishments like death being inflicted on him. This must be passed over without comment. Samuel M. Zwemer, in The Law of Apostasy in Islam, [40] categorically asserts that al-Tha'alibi and Razi in their commentaries on the Qur'an uphold the view that this verse, "whatever its grammati­cal construction may be, demands the death of the apostate." I regret I could not have access to al­-ha'alibi's exegesis but I have studied the comments of Razi in his Tafsir al‑Kabir under this verse and find no war­rant for the above conclusion. I suspect that Tha'alibi's comments may also have been misunderstood. Change of faith on the part of a Muslim might entail changes in his civil status as to rights of property or marital status, etc., but these incidents follow from other nusas (texts), and additionally from the fact that this ayah declares all his actions to be null and void. A discussion of those incidents would lead us beyond the confines of our theme and must be reserved for another occasion. But the suggestion that this verse can be stretched to support the death penalty for apostasy is extremely farfetched.

(2) How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their belief and who had borne witness that the Messenger is true and to whom clear proofs had come. And Allah guides not the wrongdoing people. As for such, their guerdon is that on them rests the curse of Allah and of angels and of men combined. They shall abide there under. Their doom shall not be lightened nor shall they be reprieved; Save those who afterwards repent and do right. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Surely those who disbelieve after their (profession of) belief and then increase in disbelief : their repentance will not be accepted. These are they who have gone astray. As for those who have disbelieved and die while they are disbelievers, the (whole) earth full of gold would not be accepted from any one of them, if it were offered as a ransom (for his soul). Theirs will be a painful doom and they will have no helpers (Ali‑`Imran, verses 86‑91).

Commentators have given varying versions as to the occasion on which these verses were revealed. Ibn Jarir Tabari narrates several such reports in his Tafsir Jami` al‑Bayan. [41] It is said

(i) Verse 86 was revealed in connection with the case of Harth b. Sawaid Ansari (or his companion) who had apostatized from Islam but later wanted to revert to the true faith. (This version is also mentioned by Qurtubi in his al Jami, vide al‑Samarra'i's Ahkam al‑Muxtadd [42] where the authority of Ibn 'Abbas is cited for it.)

(ii) It was revealed to cover the cases of twelve persons, including Abu `Amir the anchorite and the above‑mentioned Harth, who became apostates and wanted to return to the fold of Islam.

(iii) This verse and verse 90 have reference to those People of the Scripture who had believed in Prophets like Moses, Jesus and others, but although they had read the prophesies about the Prophet Muhammad in the Torah and the Bible, they refused to acknowledge him as a true Prophet.

(iv) It may also refer to those Muslims. who had become renegades from Islam.

(v) Verse 90 in particular has reference to Jews who knew about the Prophet Muhammad's advent from their own religious Books but denied him, nevertheless.

Razi in his Tafsir al‑Kabir has written compre­hensively on the subject of its shan‑i‑nuzul. According to the various glosses mentioned by him the following possibilities are open

(a) The reference to increase in disbelief in verse 90 is intended to convey the idea that the persons con­cerned persisted and firmly adhered to their denial of the Prophet with vehement insistence.

(b) Over their first disbelief was superadded another disbelief. Under this head there are also variant tradi­tions. One version is that the People of the Book had known of the Prophet's advent, denied him, and then increased ire their disbelief, by active opposition to him and by intriguing against him. Another version confines it to Jews who believed in Moses but declined to accept Jesus and his mission, thus becoming disbelievers. They increased their disbelief by rejecting the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad.

(c) This was revealed to cover the case of those Muslims who became apostates and shifted to Mecca. During their stay in Mecca this disbelief was enhanced by their declaration that they would wait for misfortunes to befall the Prophet.

(d) This is intended to refer to persons who had joined the Islamic community as hypocrites and their hypocrisy was described as kufr (disbelief) by Allah.

The fact is that the words of the verses are general and would cover the case of Muslims who renounce Islam and then, by insistence on their disbelief, intensify it. As Qurtubi [44] remarks in his al jami`, various opinions have been given about the subject of these verses but "we conclude from the general nature of the expressions used therein that they are applicable to those Muslims who had defected from Islam and, by insistence on their disbelief, intensified it."

The important thing to note about the contents of these verses is: firstly, that they hold out a promise of God's Grace, if there is genuine repentance on the part of the renegade and that repentance is not limited to any point of time, except that a death‑bed repentance would not be acceptable as is expressly declared by the Qur'an elsewhere (see al‑Nisa', verse 18); secondly, it is signifi­cant that the last of these verses contemplates the natural death of the apostates and there will be awaiting them a painful doom in the Hereafter. There is no suggestion, veiled or otherwise, conveyed by any of these verses that the apostate is to be punished for his disbelief here, during his earthly existence.

(3) On the day when (some) faces will be whitened and (some) faces will be blackened; and as for those whose faces will be black, it will be said unto them Did you disbelieve of after believing? Taste then the punish­ment because of your disbelief (Ali‑`Imran, verse 106).

This clearly implies the negation of punishment till the Day of Reckoning in the Hereafter. Qatadah [45] was of the opinion that this verse applies to apostates, on the authority of a tradition narrated by Abu Hurairah. Qurtubi also mentions this in his al jami`.

(4) Those who purchase disbelief, at the price of faith, harm Allah not at all but theirs will be a painful doom (Ali‑`Imran, verse 177).

Qurtubi has commented on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that this applies to those who forsake Islam for disbelief. [46] But no mention is made anywhere of any punishment being inflicted on an apostate, by a mundane tribunal, on the authority of this verse. Indeed the next verse talks of a Divine Plan to allow respite to such people who will increase in disbelief and deserve their doom. That would be a process spread over an undefined period of time.

(5) Those who believe, then disbelieve, and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them nor will He guide them to the (right) way (al‑Nisa', verse 137).

This is a striking pronouncement and almost conclu­sive against the thesis that an apostate must lose his head immediately after his defection from the faith. The verse visualizes repeated apostasies and reversions to the faith, without mention of any punishment for any of these defections on this earth. The act of apostasy must, therefore, be a sin and not a crime, If he had to be kill­ed for his very first defection, he could not possibly have a history of conversions. This interpretation also found favour with Maulana Abu'l‑Wafa' Thana' Ullah of Amrit­sar, a well‑known Ahl‑i‑Hadith scholar, vide his Islam auy Masahiyyat. [47] The learned author has discussed this verse therein, in conjunction with the relevant Ahadith.

Al‑Samarra'i [48] quotes from Qurtubi the opinion based on the authority of Nihayah that this verse relates, among others, to Murtaddin (apostates). It is also, inci­dentally, inconsistent with the theory of repentance being admissible for a fixed period of three days or more (which we will discuss later op.) for the words azdadu kufran (increase in disbelief) introduce an element of indefiniteness as regards any such temporal limitations on the chance to reform. The author of Ruh al‑Ma`ani [49] traces an opinion to Hasan al‑Basri that this verse pertains to a group of people from the Ahl al‑Kitab (People of the Book) who decided to create doubts about the religion in the minds of the Companions of the Prophet, by professing faith in their presence, then saying that a doubt had afflicted them, again professing faith, and then again proclaiming that another doubt had arisen in their minds and finally persisting in their dis­belief till death. History does not record the slaying of any such person for his disbelief, at any stage. Hasan thought this episode was also reflected in the verse "And a party of the People of the Scripture say: Believe in that which has been revealed unto the believers, at the opening of the day and disbelieve at the end thereof, in order that they may return" (Ali‑`Imran, verse 72).

(6) The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified or have their hands and feet, on alternative sides, cut off or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the land and in the Hereafter; theirs will be an awful doom, save those who repent before you overpower them. For know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (al‑Ma'idah, verses 33‑34).

According to Ibn `Abbas, [50] this verse has relevance to the tribe of Hilal b. Uwaimar, who were polytheists and who had killed and looted members of the Bani Kananah when the latter had declared their intention to migrate and accept Islam. He explained that the various punishments mentioned in the verse could be inflicted alternatively to suit the nature of the crime ­if it was a case of murder unaccompanied by any other crime, the punishment would be death; if in addition there was robbery or dacoity, the delinquents would be crucified, and if it was a case of deprivation of property alone, the cutting off of the right hand and the left foot would be appropriate. In a simple case of intimidation without more, if captured immediately after the crime, the culprits could be imprisoned. If, however, before they are overpowered, the criminals repent, then God Almighty would be Forgiving and Merciful.

Suyuti in the Lubab al‑Nuqul fi Asbab al‑Nuzul [51] and Tabari in the Jami` al‑Bayan [52] mention a report from Anas and another from 'Abdur Razzaq who traces it from Abu Hurairah, that this verse was revealed with reference to the people of `Urinah, who, when ailing, were sent to live with the flock of camels of the Prophet, under the charge of his grazier. They became renegades, brutally killed the grazier and drove away the camels. They were brought back and subjected to the same treatment as they had meted out to the grazier. M. Muhammad Shafi`, of the Dar al‑Ulum, Deoband, writ­ing in the Daily Zamandar (Lahore) dated 23 and 24 October 1924, roundly suggested that the verse pertained to persons who became apostates in the Prophet's time and were killed on that account. This is not quite accurate for they had committed the crime of murder with torture and dacoity or robbery as rebels, besides leaving the fold of Islam and the presumption that they were killed for apostasy alone is not consistent with the facts. This incident is also related with all its details in Sahih al‑Bukhari, [53] Fath al‑Bari, [54] `Umdat al‑Qari [55] and by the author of Ruh al‑Ma'ani, [56] but the latter prefers the authoritative report (which is endorsed by al‑Tabarasi and on which practically all Fuqaha' are agreed, accord­ing to him) that the revelation came to cover the case of highwaymen, robbers and dacoits. He points out that the expression "who make war on Allah and His Mes­senger" is meant to refer to "people who make war against the Muslims," i.e. against the community. He also notices differing opinions as to whether the words Yunfau min al‑ard, occurring in the verse, mean "they will be imprisoned" or "they will be banished from the land". Both variants are etymologically possible. He reasons that in the verse it is said that the opportunity for repentance would be gone after they have been over­powered but in the case of Murtaddin, Taubah (repent­ance) is always possible irrespective of whether they are in the power of the Muslims or not, and consequently he favours the highwaymen version. Hadd (prescribed punishment), he says, once incurred in Islam, does not lapse. He significantly adds that the ground of revelation does not control the meaning of the verse, for the inter­pretation, as has been acknowledged, is made in accord­ance with the generality of the expression used and does not rest on the specific occasion for the revelation. [57] This principle is referred to with approval by Razi in Tafsir al‑Kabir [58] Zamakhshari [59] and Baidawi [60] also fall into line with others in accepting the application of the verse to highwaymen, free‑booters, etc., i.e. active rebels. Razi in Tafsir al‑Kabir [61] has recounted all variant opinions under this verse, including those detailed above.

What constitutes Muharibah (making war), as men­tioned in this verse, is also a question on which there exists some controversy. It is noteworthy that in the Qur'an itself, the person who inspired the idea of "Masjid‑i‑Darar," for creating differences and dissensions among the Muslims (he is said to be one, Abu 'Amir Rahib) is referred to, as one who warred against Allah and His Messenger. [62] The identification of this warring opponent with Abu `Amir is mentioned in al‑Durr al‑Manthur of al‑Suyuti, [63] on the authority of Mujahid. The sinister part played by Abu `Amir in this episode is described in the Bahr al‑Muhit [64] and it is emphasized therein that he was an active enemy of the Muslims, who had promised to bring soldiers from Rome to fight them. In another part of the same book [65] the dicta of Ibn `Abbas that Muharibah is Shirk (polytheism) and that of `Urwah that it is equated with Irtidad (apostasy) are contested and characterized as ghair sahib 'ind al jamhur ‑ not correct according to the majority of the doctors. The above­ mentioned writer in the Zamindar has relied upon a saying of Said b. Jabir that Muharibah means disbelief and has further cited the opinion of Ibn Batal from Fath al‑Bari [66] (which is a commentary on the Sahih al-­Bukhari) in its support. 'Aini [57] too ascribes an opinion to Bukhari that by Yuharibun Allah is meant disbelievers. 'Aini himself apparently, while commenting on the dic­tum in the Hidayah that an apostate is a Harbi (fighter) [68] says that this classification is correct as he is neither a Dhimmi nor a Musta'min. This process of elimina­tion ignores the fact that there can be a third category of disbelievers‑Mu'ahids‑people with whom there is a pact of mutual defense. But Baidawi and Alusi give the root meaning of hayb as as‑salab or as as‑salab wa'l‑akhz, i.e. forcible deprivation or seizure of property. Etymo­logically, therefore, the equation of Muharibah with dis­belief or apostasy has not much to commend itself. Its identification with these two phenomena probably has its genesis in an insufficient appreciation of relevant historical facts. In this context it may be useful to remember the Divine injunction: "Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind" (al‑Ma'idah, verse 32).

Muslim scholars in recent times have expressly declared that disbelief by itself does not justify killing of the disbeliever but that there must be superadded thereto an element of either war against Muslims or enmity against them or creation of circumstances which make their profession of the faith a trial for them, to justify such action. Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut has forcefully expressed himself on this point in his book al­-Islam, `Aqidah wa Shari'ah. [69] He has also reiterated his opinion in connection with the interpretation of the verse: "And end not the life that Allah has made sacred, save in the course of justice" (al‑An'am, verse 152), in his Tafsir. [70] Al‑Samarra'i [71] has marshalled other authorities in support of this position‑notably those of Ibn Daqiq cited from his Ahkam al‑Ahkam Sharh `Umdat al‑Ahkam and San'ani (quoted from his Fi al‑`Iddah `ala al‑Ahkam al‑Ahkam).

The Ahnaf and the Imamiyyah, in contrast with other schools of thought, further differentiate between male and female apostates and hold that female apostates are not to be killed but only imprisoned, on the ground that they are not capable of fighting actively. The sub­ject will be found discussed adequately by al‑Samarra'i [72] in Ahkam al‑Murtadd, wherein the relevant authorities are cited. Reference in this connection may also be made to al‑Mughni [73] by Ibn Oudamah, Muqaddamah [74] by Ibn Rushd, Fath al‑Bari, [75] Umdat al‑Qari, [76] Fath al‑Qadir, [77] Hidayah, [78] and `Inayah, [79] wherein instances of the Prophet forbidding the killing of women for their lack of fighting capacity, are mentioned and the view is upheld that the slaying of a person is grounded on hirab (fighting or active enmity) and not merely on change of faith. In the early years of Islam, the fact that persons who defected from the religion also joined the enemy groups may have obscured the distinction between peaceful renegades and apostates who actively opposed the faithful. Chalpi [80] in his comments on Fath al‑Qadir cites Ibn al‑Hammam's opinion that "there is no punishment for the act of apostasy, for its punishment is greater than that, with God." This is an extremely significant comment, in harmony with the letter and spirit of the Qur'anic text.

(7) O ye who believe! whoso of you becomes a renegade from his religion, (know that in his stead) Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him, humble towards believers, stern towards disbeliev­ers, striving in the way of Allah, and fearing not the blame of any blamer. Such is the grace of Allah, which He gives unto whom He will. Allah is All‑Embracing, All‑Knowing (al‑Ma'idah, verse 54).

Al‑Samarra'i [81] has collected opinions of exegetes like al‑Tabari, al‑Nisbapuri, al‑Qurtubi, al‑Zamakhshari, al­-Razi, and al‑Tabarasi, on the interpretation of this verse. Their opinions may be summed up by saying that the verse embodies a warning and a prophecy. The warning conveyed was that apostasy would not affect Divine purposes in the least. The prophecy foreshadowed the apostasy of several tribes on the death of the Prophet and gave the glad tidings that they would be replaced by God‑loving and God‑loved, true Muslims. The main inference derivable from the verse is that there is no punishment for apostasy to be enforced in this world, for such human aberrations cannot frustrate God's pur­poses.

(8) Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed ‑ save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with faith‑but such as open their breasts to disbelief: on them is wrath from Allah. Theirs will be an awful doom (al‑Nahl, verse 106).

The only punishment mentioned for apostasy in this verse is postponed to the Hereafter. Al‑Samarra'i [82] in his comment on this verse has quoted from Qurtubi's al jami` the remark that the verse conveys an admonition that the wrath of Allah will be incurred by the apostate but there is no hint of any other punishment. Dr Samuel M. Zewmer's [83] conjecture that commentators derive justi­fication for the death penalty from this verse read with verse 217 al‑Baqarah, is fanciful. The mere fact that in the Tafsir Khazan, the various disabilities (including the death sentence) to which an apostate is subject, according to the orthodox view, are categorised under verse 217 of al‑Baqarah, cannot support this view, as Dr Zwemer seems to imagine.

(9) And among mankind is he who worships Allah on a narrow marge. Then if good befalls him, he is content therewith, but if a trial befalls him, he returns to his (former) way. He loses both this world and the Hereafter. That is a manifest loss (al‑Hajj, verse 12).

Qurtubi, [84] in his al Jami`, records that according to some exegetes this verse was, revealed with reference to some Arabs who had accepted Islam and adhered to the faith as long as they enjoyed ease and comfort, but as soon as they encountered hardship, they became renegades. Another report links it with the case of al‑Nadr b. al‑Harith and still another connects it with that of Shibah b. Rabi'ah who apostatized in circum­stances similar to those mentioned above. There is no historical evidence forthcoming that any such person or persons were executed for their defection from the faith.

(10) Those who disbelieve and hinder (men) from the way of Allah and oppose the Messenger, after the guidance has become manifest to them, hurt Allah not a jot, and He will make their actions fruitless (Muhammad, verse 32).

Al‑Samarra'i [85] observes that this verse may possibly be in respect of disbelievers or may concern apostates as the context shows that both possibilities are open. This verse too never appears to have been invoked in support of the death penalty for apostasy. The Surah "Muhammad" starts with a declaration that Allah renders the actions of disbelievers and of those who oppose Allah vain. In the 5th verse of the Surah, Muslims are enjoined to fight the disbelievers vigorously when they meet them in regular battle, till such time as "the war lays down its burdens". This means that war is permitted only to ensure peace and not for aggression.

(11) O Prophet! strive hard against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be stern with them. Their resort is Hell, a hapless journey's end (al‑Tahrim, verse 9).

These words are identical with those of Surah "Taubah" (verse 73). This text by no means justifies the killing of a Murtadd (apostate) or a Munafiq (hypocrite), wantonly, unless there is resort to war on their part. The word Jahid occurring in these two verses does not neces­sarily mean "taking up arms". An earnest effort would be as much within the scope of its connotations as war. In the Fath al‑Bayan [86]we have the following comment on these words

Tabari has said: The opinion to be given preference, according to me, is that contained in the statement of Ibn Mas'ud that Jihad means the exercise of vigorous effort. The ayah implies that Jihad against the hypocrites is sanctioned but there is no specification of its nature in the verse. It is, therefore, necessary to resort to other guidance. Detailed reasoning has established that Jihad against disbelievers is to be with the sword and against the hypocrites by adducing of arguments against them at one time, abandoning kindness towards them at another time and sacrifice on another occasion, and this is what Ibn Mas'ud says.

The treatment of hypocrites constitutes a very in­structive chapter of Islamic polity. That the character of their professed belief and their identity was known is patent from several verses of the Qur'an. A study of the following, among others, would be rewarding, in this context

(a) And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not (al-Baqarah, verse 8).

(b) And when they fall in with those who believe, they say: We believe, but when they go apart with their devils (ringleaders) they declare: Lo! we are with you; verily we did but mock. Allah Himself doth mock them, leaving them to wander blindly on, in their contumacy (al‑Baqarah, verses 14‑16).

(c) And when they fall in with those who believe,. they say: We believe. But when they meet one another in private, they say: Prate ye to them of that which Allah hath disclosed to you that they may contend with you before your Lord concerning it. Have ye then no sense? Are they then unaware that Allah knoweth that which they keep hidden and that which they proclaim? (al‑Baqarah, verses 76‑77).

(d) And a party of the People of the Scripture say: Declare your belief (outwardly) in that which has been revealed to the believers in the early part of the day and disbelieve in the latter part thereof; perchance they may return (Ali‑`Imran, verse 72).

The persons described in this verse were well known, according to several commentators of the Qur'an. Refer­ence in this connection may be made to Bahral‑Muhit [87] Ruh al‑Ma'ani, [88] Durr al‑Manthur, [89] and Fath al‑Bayan, [90] among others. The first two cite reports that the verse has relevance to twelve leaders of the Jews of Khaibar and of `Urwah or that it related to Ka'b b. Ashraf, the Jew, and his companions. The Bahr al‑Muhit also gives an alternative version [91] that the Jews resented the change of Qiblah (the direction in which Muslims face during prayer) from Bait al‑Muqaddas to the Ka'bah, and Ka'b b. Ashraf and his companions said: Pray in the same direction as they do in the morning and revert to the direction of the Dome of the Rock in the latter part of the day. This verse was then revealed. In either case the identity of the people in question was not in doubt and we have it from the author of Bahr al‑Muhit that this conspiracy was actually acted upon. As has been noticed earlier, Hasan al‑Basri has also talked of a similar hypocritical group in the context of al‑Nisa' (verse 137 – I imagine it is this verse rather than 138). The existence of these hypocrites continued to be tolerated within the body politic of Islam without physical interference with them.

(e) What aileth you that you are become two parties regarding the hypocrites? And Allah has cast them. back (to disbelief) because of what they earned? Seek ye to guide him whom Allah hath sent astray? He whom Allah sendeth astray, for him thou (O Muhammad) canst not find a road. They long that you should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that you may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they emigrate in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them; Except those who seek refuge with a people between whom and you there is a covenant, or (those who) come unto you because their hearts forbid them to make war on you or make war on their own folk. Had Allah willed He could have given them power over you so that assuredly they would have fought you. So if they hold aloof from you and wage not war against you and offer you peace, Allah allows you no war against them. You will find others who desire that they should have security from you and security from their own folk. So often as they are returned to hostility they fall headlong into it. If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever you find them. Against these We have given you clear authority (al‑Nisa', verses 88‑91).

It is plain that even these verses do not permit aggression against hypocrites. If they are peaceful, no action can be taken against them. It is only if they adopt open hostility that they are to be engaged in combat and killed. Only an unfair critic, like Dr Zwemer, could have suggested, as he does, by quoting only a part of the verse that they furnish proof of lack of toleration and absence of personal liberty in Muslim Law. [92] Apparently Majid Khadduri [93] sees in this verse authority for the death penalty in a case of apostasy‑an impos­sible position in the whole context.

(f) Lo! Allah will gather hypocrites and disbelievers, all together into Hell (al‑Nisa', verse 140).

(g) Lo! the hypocrites (will be) in the lowest deep of the fire and thou shalt find no helper. for them (al‑Nisa', verse 145) .

These two verses place the hypocrites on a lower level than unbelievers or at least equate them in respect of tortures in the Hereafter. It is not, therefore, that for the hypocrites there is a soft corner in the Our'anic scheme and, because of it, their peaceful aberrations are to be ignored. The guiding principle is clearly the neces­sity of a free choice in matters of conscience. Because of their hypocrisy, however, the Prophet is directed to tell them that they will not be permitted to participate in jihad, in the company of Muslims (al‑Taubah, verse 83). In ayah 54 of Surat ‘al‑Taubah" they are described as those "who disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger." In verse 56 of that Surah, it is clarified that, despite their oaths to the contrary, "they are not of you" and, in verse 84, the Prophet is forbidden to pray for any one of them if he dies, or to stand by his grave, "for they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were disobedient." So they are to be denied the blessings of the Prophet's prayer for them, but otherwise they are left to die their natural deaths. Their delin­quency is such that the Prophet is told (verse 80) that even if forgiveness is asked for them seventy time, they will not be pardoned by Allah as they were dis­believers. That their position is not different from that of Murtaddin is borne out by verse 74 of that Surah­ "They swear by Allah that they said nothing (wrong), vet they did utter the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their (acceptance of) Islam and they purposed that which they could not attain and they cherished enmity (against believers) only that Allah by His Messenger should enrich them of His bounty." Ibn Hisham [94] records in his "Life of the Prophet" that this verse was revealed in respect of Jalas b. Suwaid b. Samit who did not accompany the Prophet for the expedition to Tabuk, and made a disparaging remark about the Prophet. When taxed with it, he denied on oath that he had said anything. Apparently no punishment was awarded to him. Other hypocrites are specifically named by Ibn Hisham and he even links their cases with certain verses of the Qur'an. They all remained free from punishment. In verse 66 also, it is proclaimed that they disbelieved after having believed. The opening verses of the Surat al‑Munafiqin declare that the hypocrites' proclamation of faith is false and "they have made their oaths a cloak, thus to hinder (men) from the path of Allah." In the fourth verse of that Surah, it is clearly stated that they first believed and then disbelieved But no one smote their necks on that account.

Indirect support is also provided for freedom of conscience in the Divine Scheme by the various recitals in the Qur'an to the effect that it was the disbelievers in the communities to which various Prophets were sent, who threatened to banish the Messenger of God from their lands, unless they reverted to their faith. Instances in point are of the people of Shu'aib (al‑A'raf, verse 88) and of the Pharaoh threatening sorcerers with torture for daring to believe in "the Lord of Moses and Aaron," without asking for his permission (al‑Shu`ara', verse 49). It is stated generally in verse 13 of Surah "Ibrahim" "And those who disbelieved said to their Messengers We will surely expel you from our land, unless you return to our religion. Then their Lord sent unto them the revelation: We will surely destroy the wrongdoers." Such coercion or persecution could not be, therefore, commendable in the eye of God. The chief of the hypo­crites in the Prophet's own time was `Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul, and history has recorded that he was not killed despite permission to do so being asked of the Prophet by no less a person than `Abdullah's own son, who was a good Muslim. [95] He had by his perfidious conduct given offence to Muslims on several occasions, but his life was spared.

The position that emerges, after a survey of the relevant verses of the Qur'an, may be summed up by saying that not only is there no punishment for apostasy provided in the Book but that the Word of God clearly envisages the natural death of the apostate. He will be punished only in the Hereafter. The Our'an also visualizes the possibility of repeated apostasies by a person, thus negating the justification or necessity of enforcing the punishment of death on a person who declines to revert to Islam within a limited time, on his very first lapse.

Ibn Hayyan, a well‑known exegetes, has expressly men­tioned a definite opinion that no apostate can be coerced into rejoining the Muslim community. In fact, apostasy is treated as a sin and not as a crime by the Our'an, albeit a very grave sin, but the time for repentance is extended, in God's infinite Mercy, to a lifetime short of the actual death agony. For God's purposes cannot be defeated by defections from the Faith of puny mortals, and so the Prophet is enjoined not to worry his soul out, in grief, for those who turn away. He is forbidden to force them to the straight path, for this would interfere with the Divine Scheme of life here being a trial for the human soul. It is repeatedly emphasized that his function is to convey the Message fully and leave the rest to God. The Din is to be established by goodly exhortation and not by threat of force. The Qur'an itself places hypocrites on a par with apostates but, in their case, history bars out a most humane and liberal policy of tolerance on the part of the Prophet. Violence is permitted to Muslims only against those who fight them or persecute them or spread disorder in the land and mere change of faith, pro­vided the conversion is peaceful, is not actionable at all, in this phenomenal world. An essential element for force being permitted against a person is active hostility on his part and that is why some schools of thought among Muslims exempt women (who from their very nature are presumed to be incapable of bearing arms) and others who may be regarded as disabled, from the punishment for apostasy. The Qur'an includes a unique charter of liberty‑ of conscience for mankind.

[1]. Al‑Samarra'i, Ahkam al‑Murtadd, pp. 77‑137.

[2]. Ibid., p. 12.

[3]. Vol. III, Part Z, p. 737.

[4]. S. Abu'l‑A'la Maududi, Murtadd Ki saza Islami Qanun Men, pp. 11‑2.

[5]. Shah 'Abdul Qadir, Tafsir Maudah al‑Qur'an, p. 172.

[6]. M. Ashraf 'Ali Thanawii, Mu'jiz Numa' Hama'il Sharif (with Urdu translation), pp. 299‑300; also his Bay'an Qur'an (Urdu commentry), Vols. IV, V & VI, pp. 92‑3, 98‑99.

[7]. Qur'an Majid Mutarjam wa Muhashshah, Urdu translation by M. Mah­mud al‑Hasan, and marginal commentary by M. Shabbir Ahmud 'Uthmani, pp. 242‑3.

[8]. Al‑Qur'an al‑Hakim, with Urdu translation by Mufti Shah Muhammad Ahmad Rida' Khan‑marginal commentary by Sayyid M. Na'im‑ud‑Din, pp. 271‑2.

[9]. Abu'l‑Kalam Azad, Tarjum'an al‑Qur'an, Vol. II, p. 77.

[10]. M. Muhammad Ali. English translation and commentary of the Holy Qur'an, with Arabic text, 3rd edn. (1935), pp. 398‑9.

[11]. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, English translation with commentary of the Holy Qur'an, Vol. I, pp. 436‑7, 441.

[12]. Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan, Fath al‑Bayan, Vol. IV, p. 86.

[13]. Tafsir Baidawi with Tafsir Jalalain of al‑Suyuti, and al‑Muhalla on margin, Vol. I, p. 340.

[14]. Zamakhshari, al‑Kashshaf. Vol. II, pp. 251 of seq.

[15]. Al‑Jassas, Ahkam al‑Qur'an, Vol. III, p. 105.

[16]. Razi, Tafsir al‑Kabir, Vol. IV, p. 416.

[17]. Alusi, Ruh‑al‑Ma'dani, Vol. X, pp 42, 57, 58.

[18]. Rashid Rida', Tafsir al‑Manar, Vol. X, pp. 187‑91.

[19]. Siddiq Hasan Khan, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 426; Abi Bakr Ibn al‑'Arabi, Ahkam al‑Qur’an, Part I, p. 232; Ibn Hayyan, Bahr al‑Muhit, Vol. II, p. 281; Alusi; op. cit, Vol. III, pp. 12-3; Zamakhshari, op. cit, Vol. I, pp. 303 and 387.

[20]. Ibn 'Abbas, Tafsir, with al‑Suyuti's Lubab al‑Nuqul, p. 114; al‑Suyuti, al‑Durr al‑Manthur, Vol. I, pp. 329‑30; Ibn Hayy'an, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 426 et seq.; Alusi, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 12‑3; Zamakhshari, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 303 and 387 et seq.

[21]. Urdu translation by Muhammad Salim 'Abdullah, pp. 96‑7.

[22]. Shah Wali Ullah, Fath al‑Rahman (1301 H), p. 57.

[23]. p. 177.

[24]. Vol. III, pp. 12‑3.

[25]. Vol. Il, p. 281.

[26]. Part I, pp. 232 et seq.

[27]. Urdu translation by Na'ib Husain Naqwi, pp. 554 et seq.

[28]. p. 427.

[29]. H. 'Imad‑ud‑Din Abu'l‑Fida' Isma'il b. Kathir, Tafsir al‑Qur'an al­'Azim, Vol. I, p. 310.

[30]. Rashid Rida', op. cit., Vol. III, p. 39.

[31]. Abu'l‑A'la Maududi, op. cit., pp. 50‑1.

[32]. Al‑Samarra'i, op. cit., p. 73.

[33]. Vol. I. pp. 335.

[34]. Al‑Samarra'i, op. cit., pp. 22, 319‑26.

[35] Ibid,.

[36] Ibid,.

[37] Ibid,.

[38] Ibid,.

[39]. Tafsir Khazan, Vol. I, p. 46: Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, pp. 34-5.

[40]. pp. 34‑5.

[41]. Vol. III, p. 224.

[42]. p. 32.

[43]. Vol. II, p. 491.

[44]. Al‑Samarra'i, op. cit., pp. 29, 30, 32, 39.

[45] Ibid,.

[46] Ibid,.

[47]. pp. 202‑4; also Alusi, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 199‑200, and Ibn Hayyan, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 493.

[48]. Op. cit., pp. 29, 30, 32 and 39.

[49]. vol. V, pp. 153‑4.

[50]. Tafsir, with al‑Suyuti, Lubab al‑Nuqul fi Asbab al‑Nuz'ul (Urdu trans­lation), Vol. I, pp. 264 et seq.

[51]. Ibid.

[52]. pp. 223‑4.

[53]. Naib Naqwi and Muhammad 'Ali, Tr., Arabic‑Urdu, Vol. III, pp. 555‑6.

[54]. Al‑'Asqalani, Fath al‑Bari, Vol. XI, pp. 91‑2.

[55]. Al‑'Aini, 'Umdat al‑Qari, Vol. XI, p. 143.

[56]. Vol. VI, pp. 118‑22.

[57]. Ibid.

[58]. Vol. III, p. 407.

[59]. Op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 227 et seq.

[60]. Tafsir on the margin of al‑Qur'an al‑Hakim (Egypt), p. 114.

[61]. Op. cit., Vol. III, p. 407.

[62]. Surah Taubah, verse 107.

[63]. Vol. 111, p. 276.

[64]. Vol. V, p. 98.

[65]. Vol. III, p. 471.

[66]. Vol. XI, pp. 91‑2.

[67]. Op. cit., Vol. XI, pp. 143‑4.

[68]. Ibid.

[69]. pp. 300‑1.

[70]. Tafsir al‑Qur'an al‑Hakim, p. 427.

[71]. Op. cit., pp. 115‑6.

[72]. Ibid., pp. 213 et seq.

[73]. Vol. VIII, p. 123.

[74]. Vol. I, p. 371.

[75]. Vol. VIII, p. 223.

[76]. Vol. XI, pp. 232‑9.

[77] Sharh Fath al‑Qadir 'ala al‑Hidayah Sharh Badayah and on its margin, Sharh al‑Inayah ala al‑Hidayah with commentary by Chalpi on Fath al‑Qadir, Vol. IV, pp. 388‑9.

[78] Ibid,.

[79] Ibid,.

[80] Ibid,.

[81]. Op. cit., pp. 23‑8.

[82]. Ibid., pp. 30‑1.

[83]. Op. cit., pp. 34‑3.

[84]. Vide al‑Samarra'i, op. cit., p. 31.

[85]. Ibid., p. 33.

[86]. Vol. IV, p. 134.

[87]. Vol. II, p. 493.

[88]. Vol. III, pp. 199‑200.

[89]. Vol. II, pp. 42‑3 (quoted by M. Sher ' Ali).

[90]. Vol. II, p. 60.

[91]. Vol. II, p. 493.

[92]. Op. cit., pp. 33‑4.

[93]. Op. cit., pp. 149‑52.

[94]. Sirat, 'Urdu translation by M. Qutb‑ud‑Din Ahmad Mahmudi, Vol. II . pp. 203‑5 .

[95] Ibid,.