Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy

Punishment for Apostasy

50 The Review of Religions – June 2006 In earlier chapters we have given numerous references from the Holy Qur’an and the history of Islam to expose the fallacy that Islam prescribes any corporal punishment for those who renounce Islam as their faith. We examined at length the most common arguments presented by the advocates of death for apostasy, namely the report of Ikramah and the incident of zakat in Hadhrat Abu Bakr’s time. Some other arguments are examined in this chapter. It is difficult to assess whether the concept of coercion in Islam had its birth on Islamic soil or was the child of the orientalists’ imagination and was later on transferred to the lap of Islam. Having examined this in the light of Islamic history, I honestly believe that the idea first took root in the Islamic world itself and that it is wrong of us to blame the orientalists for having initiated it. They picked it up from the Muslims: before the orientalists were even born, the idea seems to have been present in medieval Islamic thought. It originated in the late Umayyad dynasty. Throughout the Abbaside period, the idea continued to flourish and was further strengthened because the Abbaside sovereigns wanted to use force not only against the enemies of Islam but also against their own people. A licence for this was not infrequently sought from Muslim scholars under their influence. The concept has there- fore arisen from the conduct and policies of the post-Khilafat-i- Rashida1 Muslim governments of Baghdad. Looking on from the outside, Western scholars believed that this was an Islamic teaching, but the fact was that it was not Islamic at all. It was the basis of the PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY– Part 7 This is the seventh extract from the ‘Murder in the Name of Allah’ by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, dealing with Jama’at Islami’s founder, Maulana Maududi’s misinterpretation of the Islamic concept of Jihad. 51 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 behaviour of some Muslim governments. We should remember that the idea had its birth in an age when all over the world the use of force for the spread of influence and ideology was a common feature and no exception was taken to this. It is clear that the allegation that Islam advocates the use of force for the spread of its ideology does not originate from a study of the sources of Islamic teachings but from a study of the conduct of some Muslim states. Now that a new era has dawned in which all the Islamic literature and traditions are available to us and the Holy Qur’an has been translated into so many languages – when Western scholars have direct access to the sources of Islamic teachings – their persistence in making the allegation is unjustified. They should go to the sources and study the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, the traditions and the conduct of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad(saw), himself. This work is an attempt to examine the whole issue, not in the light of how Muslims of a certain era behaved, but in the light of the fundamental teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the exposition of those teachings by the words of the Holy Prophet(saw) and by his conduct. The tendency to judge teachings by the conduct of their followers has often misled people about the original teachings. It is universally observed that after a while all religions lose their influence on the conduct of their adherents. For illustrations of this, study the behaviour of the Buddhists of today or of earlier eras, study the behaviour of the Hindu governments, and so on and so forth; it often has no relationship whatsoever with the original teachings. In particular, politics must not be confused with religion; political behaviour of a nation should not be treated as a mirror reflecting the teachings of the religion which its people are supposed to follow. It is against this background that we examine the arguments presented by the advocates of death as a punishment for apostasy. 52 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 Definition of an apostate The Holy Qur’an states: They will not stop fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can. The works of those from among you who turn back from their faith and die in a state of disbelief shall be vain in this world and the next. These are the inmates of the fire, therein shall they abide. (Ch2: V.218) This means that whoever, out of fear of the sword (or pain of punishment), decides to abjure Islam has a fundamental right to do so but no one else has the right to declare him to be an apostate. The right to declare himself to be an apostate lies only with him. Nowhere in the Holy Qur’an has this right been granted to others. That is to say, one is free to renounce one’s own religion but has no right to impose renunciation of religion on others. According to Islamic teachings, an apostate, therefore, cannot be manufactured by religious scholars or the clergy or any non- tolerant individual or government. The Holy Qur’an also states: Surely, those who have turned away after guidance has been made manifest to them have been deceived by Satan who has beguiled them with false hopes. (Ch.47: V.26) The Holy Qur’an says: O ye who believe, whoso from among you turns back from his religion let him remember that in place of such a person, Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him, who will be kind and considerate towards the believers and firm and unyielding towards the disbelievers. They will strive hard in the cause of Allah and will not at all take to heart the reproaches of fault finders. That is Allah’s grace; He bestows it upon whosoever He pleases. Allah is the Lord of vast bounty, All-Knowing. (Ch.5: V.55) Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed, 53 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 excepting the case of one who is forced to make a declaration of disbelief while his heart rests securely in faith, but one who opens his mind wide to disbelief; on him is Allah’s wrath and he shall have a grievous punishment. (Ch.16: V.107) Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them, nor guide them to any way of deliverance. (Ch.4: V.138) Muhammad is but a Messenger; of a surety, all Messengers before him have passed away. If then, he dies or be slain, will you turn back on your heels? He who turns back on his heels shall not harm Allah a whit. Allah will certainly reward the grateful. (Ch.3: V.145) No corporal punishment can be understood to have been mentioned by any stretch of imagination in the foregoing passages from the Holy Qur’an. Surah Al-Taubah In a desperate search for at least one verse in the Holy Qur’an which might lend support for death as a punishment for apostasy, recourse has been made to verses 12 and 13 of Chapter 9 (Surah Al-Taubah). We quote below verses 3-14 of that chapter. These speak for themselves and defy all attempts on the part of anyone who would have them understood differently: 3. This is a public proclamation on the part of Allah and His Messenger on the day of the Great Pilgrimage, that Allah is free of all obligation to the idolaters, and so is His Messenger. So now, having witnessed this Sign, if you will repent and make peace, it will be better for you; but if you turn away, then know that you cannot frustrate Allah’s design. Warn the disbelievers of a painful chastisement. 4. Excepting those of them with whom you have a pact and who have not defaulted in any respect, nor supported anyone against you. 54 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 Carry out the obligations you have assumed towards them till the end of their terms. Surely, Allah loves those who are mindful of their obligations. 5. When the period of four months during which hostilities are suspended expires, without the idolaters having settled the terms of peace with you, resume fighting with them and kill them wherever you find them and make them prisoners and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. Then if they repent and observe prayers and pay the zakat, leave them alone. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. 6. If anyone of the idolaters seeks asylum with thee, grant him asylum so that he may hear the Word of Allah; then convey him to a place of security for him, for they are a people who lack knowledge. 7. How could there be a guarantee for the idolaters on the part of Allah and His Messenger, except in favour of those with whom you entered into an express treaty at the Sacred Mosque? So long as they carry out their obligations thereunder, you must carry out your obligations. Surely, Allah loves those who are mindful of their obligations. 8. How can there be a guarantee for the others who, if they were to prevail against you, would have no regard for any tie of kinship or pact in respect of you? They seek to please you with words, while their hearts repudiate them; most of them are perfidious. 9. They have bartered the Signs of Allah for small gains and hindered people from His way. Evil indeed is that which they have done. 10. They show no regard for any tie of kinship or any pact in respect of a believer. It is they who are the transgressors. 11. If they repent and observe prayer and pay the zakat, then they are your brethren in faith. We expound our commandments for a people who know. 12. But if they break faith after pledging it and ridicule your religion, then fight these leaders of disbelief that they may desist, for 55 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 they have no regard for their pledged word. 13. Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths, who plotted to turn out the Messenger from his home, and who were the first to start hostilities against you? Do you fear them? It is Allah Who is Most Worthy that you should fear Him, if you are believers. 14. Fight them: Allah will punish them at your hands, and will humiliate them, and will help you to overcome them, and will relieve the minds of the believers of fear and distress. Those who deduce from verses 12 and 13 that the punishment for apostasy is death offer no explanation of the contradiction this creates with numerous other verses. These verses relate to the period after the migration from Makkah to Madinah (see verse 3) when the Quraish of Makkah had embarked upon hostilities to wipe out Islam by force. The advocates of capital punish- ment for apostasy should remember that these verses refer to idolaters who have broken their pledges and ridicule religion; there is no mention of people renouncing their faith. They have broken their pledge after their firm commitment to it. Those who have become hostile to your religion are the first to initiate hostilities against you. The permission for you to fight them is restricted to their leaders whose covenants are worthless and false. The permission is given in order to stop them from entering into hostile acts against you. This is the true meaning of these verses which have been misconstrued by the advocates of capital punishment. There is not even the remotest reference to people who renounce their faith being forced to become Muslims. The same people are discussed in another part of the Holy Qur’an: It may be that Allah will bring about amity between you and those with whom you are at enmity. Allah has the power; Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. Allah does not forbid you to be kind and act 56 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 equitably towards those who have not fought you because of your religion, and who have not driven you forth from your homes. Surely Allah loves those who are equitable. Allah only forbids you that you make friends with those who have fought against you because of your religion and have driven you out of your homes and have aided others in driving you out. Whoso makes friends with them, those are the transgressors. (Ch.60: Vs.8-10) Temporary disbelief Another verse of the Holy Qur’an states: A section of the people of the Book urge some from among themselves: why not affirm, in the early part of the day, belief in that which has been revealed unto the believers and repudiate it in the latter part of the day, perchance they may turn away from their faith. (Ch.3: V.73) The people of the Book mentioned in this verse are the Jews of Madinah. Theirs was a Jewish tactic to create doubt among the Muslims in the hope that some of them might thereby by beguiled into repudiating Islam. How could it be possible for the Jews to have enacted this plan if death was a penalty for apostasy? Had anyone been executed for commiting this crime, that would have been a deterrent for others who would not follow in their footsteps. The advocates of the death penalty urge that this verse merely refers to a Jewish philosophy which was never put into practice by them. Even if it was merely a philosophy, this verse is conclusive proof of there being no punishment in this world for apostasy because the Jews could never have conceived the idea had there been such a punishment Moreover, it is wrong to say that the idea was a hypothetical case; the books of tradition mention that it was put into practice by twelve Jewish divines of Khaibar and Urainah.2 All commentaries agree that this chapter of the Holy Qur’an was revealed between the victory of 57 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 Makkah and the demise of the Holy Prophet(saw). This conclu- sively proves that the Jews put it into practice after Islam became firmly established in Arabia. How could the Jews ever think of such a suicidal and insane strategy if death was prescribed as a punishment for apostasy? How could they encourage Muslims to follow their faith by affirming it during the day and repudiating it at the end of the day if they knew that the Muslims would be executed for changing their faith? Traditions The advocates of capital punishment for apostasy mis- construe out of all proportion the traditions narrated about the Holy Prophet(saw). Traditions lend no support to their thesis. On the contrary, there are many traditions which clearly show that there is no punishment for apostasy in this life. However, for the sake of completeness, we set out those traditions which are most often cited by advocates of capital punishment for apostasy. a) Abu Qalabah reports on the authority of Anas that the Holy Prophet(saw) told the people of Akal or Uraynah to go and stay among his she-camels outside Madinah. These people killed the keeper of the camels and ran away with the herd. Although it is true that these people had become apostates, their punishment was not a result of their apostasy but of their murder of the keeper of the she-camels. b) Whereas Ibn Khatal, who was without doubt one of the four executed on the fall of Makkah, was an apostate, he had also committed the crime of murdering his travelling companion. His execution was, therefore, obviously ordered as a result of his having been convicted as a murderer. c) Another incident is that of Maqees b. Sababah who killed an Ansar in revenge for Hisham, his brother, who was accidentally killed during the campaign of Zeeqard. Thereafter, Maqees became an apostate. He was executed on account of the murder of the Ansar. In each one of the above incidents, 58 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 the executed person had committed murder. The three people had also happened to renounce their faith, but how can anyone shut his eyes to the murders and attribute their executions to their acts of apostasy? d) The advocates of capital punishment for apostasy rely heavily on a tradition which mentions the execution of a woman for apostasy. This tradition is most unreliable, to say the least. The truth of the matter is that the Holy Prophet(saw) never ordered the execution of a woman on account of her apostasy. The well-known treatise of jurisprudence, Hedayah, sets out the following: ‘The Holy Prophet(saw) forbade the killing of women for apostasy, because the principle of punitive regulations is that in such cases the penalty should be left for the hereafter, as a penalty imposed in this life would contravene the purpose of apostasy, being a trial calling to account what pertains to God alone. This can be departed from only when the object in view is to restrain the person concerned from continuing hostilities (during times of war). As women, by their very nature, are not capable of fighting, a woman apostate cannot be punished in any case.’ Strangely enough, scholars like Maududi, who might be supposed to be fully aware of serious flaws in the reliability of these traditions, still adhere to weak traditions which have been rejected by most eminent Muslim scholars. e)The incident of Abdullah Bin Sad has already been quoted in part 6. Had there been any Qur’anic penalty for apostasy, the Holy Prophet’s(saw) words to the effect that no one is above the law would be a clear reminder of his strict observance of God’s laws. If death was the punishment for apostasy, how could the Holy Prophet(saw) disobey the commandments of God? Companions We have observed that neither the 59 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 Holy Qur’an nor any reliable traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw) lend any support to those who advocate capital punishment for apostasy. But those advocates have some other tricks up their sleeves. It is necessary to examine their remaining arguments at greater length. Those arguments are based on the opinions of the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw), and not directly on his own personal judgement. Let it be known at the outset that observations or opinions of Companions(ra) can only be a commentary; they have no right to be treated with as much respect as an injunction of the Holy Qur’an. At best they can only be regarded as an opinion. a) The incident of the widespread apostasy in relation to the payment of zakat has been discussed [in part 6, see The Review of Religions, May 2006]. The Abs and the Zubyan were the tribes which initiated hostilities by attacking Madinah. Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) fought them before the return of Osama from his expedition. The apostates were the aggressors. They not only refused to pay zakat, but also took up the sword against the Muslims. Thus they rebelled against the Islamic state, slaughtered the Muslims amongst them by burning some alive and mutilated those they had killed3. Those who advocate execution for apostasy on the authority of this incident are either ignorant of the facts or deliberately seek to mislead people by playing down the killing of innocent Muslims by the rebels. b) The advocates then pose the question that if there was no punishment for apostasy, why was Musailmah the imposter not left alone? The truth is that Musailmah aspired to political power. He had accompanied Abu Hanifa and offered to the Holy Prophet(saw) his submission subject to his being nominated as his successor. The Holy Prophet(saw) told Musailmah that he would not yield him even a twig of a date palm tree. Musailmah returned and claimed that half of Arabia belonged to him. He sent a letter to the Holy Prophet(saw) in which he claimed: ‘I have been appointed your partner in authority.’ The Holy Prophet(saw) responded by quoting to him verse 60 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 129 of chapter 7 of the Holy Qur’an.4 After Musailmah’s claim of prophethood, he captured Habeeb b. Zaid, a Companion of the Holy Prophet(saw), dismem- bered him limb from limb, and then burned his remains. The advocates of capital punishment ignore this gruesome murder and claim that apostasy was the only crime attributable to Musailmah. Had he not commited murder, would he have been killed for the crime of apostasy alone? Was he not brought to justice for the murder and for the mayhem and disorder which he created in the land? There is not the slightest shred of evidence that having heard of Musailmah’s rejection of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) condemned Musailmah to death or exhorted any of his Companions to kill him. Having failed to find evidence of any specific condemnation by the Holy Prophet(saw), Maulana Maududi had to seek recourse in a wish which the Holy Prophet(saw) is said to have expressed during his dying moments, that Musailmah should be done away with. Had there been such a wish, it is impossible for us to believe that the Holy Prophet’s(saw) first successor, Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), would have ignored it and not sent an expedition in compliance with the wish of the Holy Prophet(saw). Why did Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) wait until the time when Musailmah himself took the offensive and openly rebelled against the Muslims? We find that Musailmah mustered a force of 40,000 warriors of Banu Hanifa alone when he fought Khalid b. Walid. Musailmah initiated hostilities and moved against Madinah. It was only then that Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) gave orders to march against him on account of his rebellion and his gruesome murder of Habeeb bin Zaid.5 c) Another incident cited is that of Tulaiha, another pretender to prophethood. Again, he was not just a pretender but had murdered Ukasha b. Mohsin and Thabit b. Aqram Ansari. Before Khalid b. Walid commenced battle with him, he sent an emissary to Tulaiha to agree peace terms and avoid bloodshed. The advocates of capital punishment overlook the fact that if there had been capital punishment for apostasy, there 61 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 was no point in sending an emissary offering forgiveness to Tulaiha.6 d) A similar case is that of Aswad Anasi who raised the standard of rebellion with his apostasy. He killed the Muslim governor of Yemen, Shahr b. Bazan, forcibly married his widow and made himself ruler of Yemen. When the Holy Prophet(saw) learned of his rebellion, he sent a letter to Muadh b. Jabal and the Muslims to oppose Aswad Anasi, who was subsequently killed in a skirmish with the Muslims. (News of his death arrived one day after the demise of the Holy Prophet(saw))7 e) Similarly, Laqbeet b. Malik Azdi became an apostate and claimed to be a prophet. He expelled Jafar and Abad who had been appointed as functionaries in Oman.8 He, like all these claimants to prophethood, had no concern with religion. He had his own political axe to grind. His search for political domination was through open rebellion against the Islamic state he lived in, so the question of apostasy is irrelevant here. Let us suppose for a moment that all these people had not recanted their faith but had merely rebelled against the Muslim state. The state would have had to take the step of quelling the rebellion; for the crime of creating disorder in the land, the Holy Qur’an prescribes capital punishment. That punishment is not for apostasy. f) The advocates of capital punishment for apostacy cite also the case of Umm Qarfah, a woman who became an apostate during the time of Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra). She had thirty sons whom she constantly exhorted to fight the Muslims. She paid the price for her treason and for her complicity in murder, not on account of her apostasy.9 g) The case of Hadhrat Ali(ra) fighting the Khawarij is often cited. The Khawarij created disorder in the land, killed Muslim men and women, the governor appointed by Hadhrat Ali(ra), his female slave, and also Ali’s emissary.10 (This incident has been discussed on p.70.) h) Reference needs to be made to 62 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 the appointments of Muadh b. Jabal and Abu Musa Ashari, each as governor of a part of Yemen. As they were about to leave, the Holy Prophet(saw) instructed them: ‘Make things easy for people and do not put them into difficulty. Talk to them cheerfully and not in a manner that might repel them’. One day Muadh came to meet Abu Musa Ashari and noticed a person sitting there who had been secured with a rope. When Muadh enquired about this he was told that that person was a Jew who had become a Muslim and then became an apostate. The narrator adds that for the past two to three months the Muslims had reasoned with him in order to persuade him to become a Muslim but to no avail. Muadh declared that he would not dismount until the person had been executed and observed that this was the judgement of God and His Messenger. This last remark indicates no more than his personal opinion of what he understood to be the Will of God and His prophet. Such opinions carry no weight in law unless they are completely substantiated by references which verify the claim. (This principle is elaborated subsequently in this chapter.) References 1. The term used for the first four caliphs (successors) after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw), namely Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), Umar(ra), Uthman(ra), and Ali(ra). (Their rule lasted from AD632 to 661). 2. Commentary: Bahral Muheet, vol. II, 493. 3. Tabari, vol.IV, 1873; Ibn Khaldun, vol. II, 65; Khamees, vol.II, 237 etc 4. Tabari, vol. IV, 1849. 5. Khamees, vol. II, 641. 6. Ibn Hijr Al-Asqalani, Al-Isaba fi Tamyiz-is-Suhaba (Beirut: Darul Kitab Al-Arabi), vol.2, 448; Al Imam-Allama Ibn ul- Athir, Usudul Ghaba fi Ma’rifat-is-Sahaba (Beirut: Dar Ahyaultarath Al-Arabi), vol.4,3. 7. Ibn Al-Athir Al-Jazri, Alkamil 63 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – June 2006 fil Tarikh (Beirut: Darul Kutb Al-Almiya), vol.2, 201-5. 8. Tabari, vol.IV, 1977. 9. Masboot, vol.x, 110. 10. Fath Al-Bari, vol.XII, 267; Imam Razi, Tafsir Kabir, vol.III, 614; Sheikh Ibn Taimiyyah, Minhajus Sunnah, vol.II, 61-2; Tarikh- al Kamil, vol.III, 148. 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