Written by Theresa Corbin
Recently, I was questioned about my position on the death penalty for the Muslim apostate. I am embarrassed to say that I had until recently blindly followed what I was told. And what I was told was that the Islamic scholars agree: the death penalty is prescribed for the apostate, that the apostate in an Islamic state is like the the one committing treason in a democracy.
Even though Islam had liberated me from taking the word of people as my religion, apparently, I continued to do so in some things.
As far as Islamic knowledge goes there are clear sources. Something unique to Islam. The Quran has never been altered, something we unfortunately cannot say about the Bible or the Torah. And the hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him-PBUH)) have been recorded and verified by authentic chains of narration. Something that has been lost for all other prophets.
And even with these sources available to me, I had neglected them. And took what the people said in their place.
And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided? (Quran 2:170)
This is a slippery slope and a dangerous path to be on if this is the only place you look to for your religion. Because like doctors, scholars can make an incorrect diagnosis. While scholars deserve an immense amount of respect, they should not be followed without question. And sometimes we may need a second opinion.
Seeing the flaw in my logic for accepting this platitude of “the scholars agree on the punishment for the apostate” I began my own research and these are some of the reasons why I changed my position on the death penalty for the apostate:
There shall be no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in idolatry and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (Quran 2:256)
And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers? (Quran 10:99)
The Quran does not prescribed any punishment for the apostate.
As it turns out, scholars DO NOT agree on the death penalty for the apostate:
The hadith (there are only a few) that people use as evidences for the death penalty for the apostate have questionable authenticity (these few hadith only have one link to the first generation of Muslims.)
During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) it has been recorded in many hadith that there were those who accepted Islam and then apostated. The Prophet allowed these people to come back to Islam if they wanted (and some of them did) or continue to reject Islam if they so desired (and some of them did). None of those people were put to death for simply apostating.
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