Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 26 November 2009
The Islamic Law of Apostasy: join our campaign for its abolition
The Islamic Law of Apostasy: j...
Throughout 2009 Barnabas Fund has been running a campaign for the abolition of the Islamic apostasy law, which imposes very serious penalties on Muslims who choose to leave their faith. All schools of Islamic law specify the death sentence for apostasy, and converts face a range of other punishments, including the loss of their families and property. The law also provokes powerful hostility to apostates among Muslims.
But change is possible. Some progressive Muslim scholars have argued that the apostasy law should be abandoned, so that people can leave Islam without fear of reprisals. And in a very encouraging development, just last month a group of mainstream Muslim leaders in Britain declared that no-one should be coerced into remaining a Muslim: “It is important to say quite simply that people have the freedom to enter the Islamic faith and the freedom to leave it” (Contextualising Islam in Britain, Cambridge: Centre of Islamic Studies, 2009, p.75). These brave voices will be strengthened by non-Muslims also calling for repeal of the law.
Below you will find an important article by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, which explains how Christians should respond to the issue of apostasy (and blasphemy) in Islam. In response to this, we invite you to sign our petition against the apostasy law, and to encourage your church and Christian friends to sign it too. The more signatures we have, the more impact we can have.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Fund
Apostasy and Blasphemy in Islam: What should Christians Do?
From the Foreword to Freedom to Believe (McLean, VA: Isaac Publishing, 2009). Also published in Barnabas Aid November/December 2009.
The Qur’an is fierce in its condemnation of apostasy (ridda) and of the apostate (murtadd). Theirs, according to it, will be a dreadful penalty (‘adhabun ‘azimun). This sentiment, which occurs in Sura 16:106, is re-expressed in other ways in other suras (chapters of the Qur’an). The interesting point to note is that the various threats of judgement and of punishment seem to relate to the next world or to life after this earthly one, rather than to this world and to this life.
Against this, we have the unanimous position of the various schools of Islamic law (fiqh) that shari‘a lays down the death penalty for adult male Muslims in possession of their faculties who apostatise. Some schools also prescribe a similar punishment for women, whilst others hold that a woman apostate should be imprisoned until she recants and returns to Islam. In addition to this, should an apostate somehow escape the ultimate penalty, his property becomes fai’, i.e. it becomes the property of the Muslim community, which may hand it over to his heirs; his marriage is automatically dissolved and he is denied Muslim burial.
How then did such a major difference arise between the prima face teaching of the Qur’an and the provisions of shari‘a as codified by the various schools of law? The answer is that the death penalty for apostasy is to be found in the hadith, the various collections of traditions about the Prophet of Islam’s sayings and doings, and it is also found in the sunna of Muhammad and of his closest companions, the reports about their practice.