Apostasy in Islam 3

Apostasy in Islam 3

The Shari`ah Sources

What are the sources for these laws? In Sh`iah Islam, the primary sources of shari`ah laws are the Qur'ān and the sunnah (of the Prophet and the Imams of Ahlul Bayt).(1) However, on the issue of apostasy, the Qur'ān only talks about the consequence of an apostate in the hereafter: whether his repentance will be accepted or not; the nullification of his good deeds; and the punishment in the hereafter. The laws dealing with worldly punishments for apostasy have been outlined in the authentic and reliable ahādith of the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.).(2)

Here is a selection of the ahādith on this issue:

1. Shaykh al-Kulayni narrates a sahih (correct) hadith from `Ammār as-Sābāti who said: I heard (Imam) Abu `Abdullāh (as-Sādiq) (a.s.) saying, "A Muslim from among the Muslims who renounces Islam and rejects the prophethood of Muhammad and considers him untrue, then verily his blood is lawful (mubāh) for anyone who hears that from him, his wife is to be separated from him the day he became murtad, his wealth will be divided among his heirs, and his wife will observe the`idda of a widow (i.e., four months). The Imam is obliged to kill him, and not ask him to seek forgiveness."(3)

2. Shaykh at-Tusi narrates a sahih hadith from al-Husayn bin Sa`ād who said: I read (a question) in handwriting of a person addressed to (Imam) Abu 'l-Hasan ar-Rizā (a.s.): "A person born as a Muslim, then becomes an unbeliever (kāfir),polytheist (mushrik), and leaves Islam--should he be asked to seek forgiveness, or should he be killed and not be asked to seek forgiveness?" The Imam (a.s.) wrote: "He should be killed."(4)

3. Shaykh al-Kulayni narrates a sahih hadith from `Ali ibn Ja`far from his brother (Imam) Abu 'l-Hasan (Musa al-Kāzim) (a.s.). `Ali ibn Ja`far said, "I asked him about a Muslim who became Christian." He answered, "He should be killed and not be asked to seek forgiveness." Then I asked: "What about a Christian who becomes a Muslim and then turns away from Islam (i.e., becomes murtad)?" He replied, "He should be asked to seek forgiveness; so if he returns (to Islam, then okay), otherwise he should be killed."(5) This hadith covers both types of murtad: fitri as well as milli.

4. Shaykh as-Sadiq quotes a sahih hadith from Muhammad bin Muslim who said that (Imam) Abu Ja`far (al-Bāqir) (a.s.) said, "Whoever rejects the prophethood of a prophet/messenger and considers him untrue, then his blood is lawful."(6)

5. Shaykh al-Kulayni quotes a sahih hadith from Muhammad bin Muslim who said, "I asked (Imam) Abu Ja`far (al-Bāqir) (a.s.) about the murtad." He said, "Whoever turns away from Islam and rejects what has been revealed to Muhammad (s.a.w.) after he had been a Muslim, then there is no repentance for him; rather it is obligatory to kill him; and his wife should separate from him, and his wealth should be distributed among his heirs."(7)

All these five ahādith are authentic and sound from the sanad (chain of narrators) point of view; and even their meaning is quite clear.(8)

This is the opinion of all the Sh`iah jurists. For example, Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi, after discussing the ahādith on murtad fitri in his renowned encyclopedia of Sh`iah jurisprudence, Jawāhiru 'l-Kalām, says: "There is no considerable difference that I have found in the above-mentioned laws; on the contrary, there is unanimity (ijmā`) of both kinds on them because of the textual evidences quoted earlier."(9)

Neither is this a new or a debatable issue one among the Sh`iah jurists. Even the scholars of the past centuries had the same views; for example, Shaykh at-Tusi (d. 460 AH) in an-Nihāya; Ibn Idris (d. 598 A.H.) in as-Sarā'ir; Ibn Hamza at-Tusi in al-Wasila, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (d. 676 AH) inSharāya`u 'l-Islām, al-`Allāma al-Hilli (d. 726 AH) inQawā`idu 'l-Ahkām, and the First Martyr (d. 786 AH) and the Second Martyr in Sharhu 'l-Lum`ati 'd-Dimishqiyya.

Those who might suspect a division on this issue between the "usuli" and the "akhbāri" schools, should know that even the muhaddithān have chapters in their collections of hadith on "the punishment for murtad" citing the ahādith on this subject. See, for example, Shaykh Hurr al-`āmili, who has seven pages of ahādith under the title "abwāb haddi 'l-murtad -- sections on the punishment for murtad" in the 18th volume of hisWasii'ilu 'sh-Shi`a.

What about the Sunni Fiqh?

The Sunni fiqh is also in agreement with the views mentioned above on the punishment for apostasy. Soon after the Prophet's death, the Sunni caliphate started a widespread campaign of fighting some tribes in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The justification used by the caliphate was that the tribes had turned away from Islam; they had become murtad. 

Even historians describe it as "waq`atu 'r-ridda -- the event of apostasy". Although we do not agree with the accusation leveled against some of those who were killed as "apostates,"(10) but the justification presented by the caliphate shows that the Sunnis also agree with the Sh`iah fiqh on punishment for those who become murtad.

The Sunni author of the authoritative al-Fiqh `ala 'l-Madhāhibi 'l-Arba`ah writes, "The four (Sunni) Imams agree that it is obligatory to kill a person whose apostasy against Islam is proven."(11) The Sunni jurists, however, do not differentiate neither between the fitri and the milli apostate, nor between male and female apostate. (12)



1. For the discussion on the place of the Qur'ān and the sunnah in shari`ah, see my An Introduction to the Islamic Shari`ah.

2. Those who know Arabic and have the aptitude to handle thefiqh istidlāli text may refer to the late Ayatullāh al-Khu'i'sMabāni Takmilati Minhāji 's-Salihiyn, vol. 1, pp. 324-337 for the ahādith used by our jurists.

3. Furu al-Kāfi, vol. 7, p. 257. This hadith has also been quoted by Shaykh as-Sadiq, Kitabu Man la Yahdhuruhu al-Faqāh,vol. 3, p.89, and Shaykh at-Tusi, Tahdhibu 'l-Ahkām, vol. 10, p. 136

4. Tahdhibu 'l-Ahkām, vol. 10, p. 139

5. Furu` al-Kāfi, vol. 7, p. 257. It has also been quoted by Shaykh at-Tusi, Tahdhibu 'l-Ahkām, vol. 10, 138.

6. Man La Yahzuruhu 'l-Faqih, vol. 4, p. 76.

7. Furā` al-Kāfi, vol. 7, p. 256; it has also been quoted by Shaykh at-Tusi, Tahdhibu 'l-Ahkām, vol. 10, p. 136.

8. For the authenticity of these ahādith, see Sayyid Abu 'l-Qāsim al-Khā'i, Mabāni Takmilati Minhāji 's-Sālihiyn, vol. 1, pp. 324-337 and also the transcript of his lectures by Shaykh al-Gharawi, at-Tanqāh, vol. 3, p. 224-229.

9. Jawāhiru 'l-Kalām, vol. 41, p. 605. By both kinds of unanimity, he means "al-ijmā` al-manqāl -- the unanimity of jurists of all times as quoted by one or more jurist" as well as "al-ijmā` al-mahassal -- the unanimity of the jurists of all times as ascertained by studying their views".

10. Some such "apostates" like Mālik bin Nuwayrah did not recognize Abu Bakr as the legitimate successor of the Prophet of Islam, and therefore refused to pay zakāt to him. He was brutally killed by Khālid bin Walid who then took Mālik's wife as his own. There was serious disagreement Abu Bakr and `Umar ibn Khattāb on Khālid bin Walid's un-Islamic and inhuman behavior. This is a very well known fact to the students of Muslim history.

11. `Abdu 'r-Rahmān al-Jazairi, al-Fiqh `ala 'l-Madhāhibi 'l-Arba`ah, vol. 5, p. 423-425.

12. Ibn Rushd al-Hafid al-Andulsi, Bidāyatu 'l-Mujtahid wa Nihāyatu 'l-Muqtasid, vol. 2 (Cairo: Maktaba al-Khanji, 1994) p. 383. Abu Hanifah, however, believes that a woman apostate should not be killed.