Freedom of Religions Hadith

Punishment for Apostasy

14 The Review of Religions – July 2006 Continued from June 2006: h) Reference needs to be made to 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.) Now let us examine the reliability of this tradition (of capital punishment for apostasy). Muaz’s remark contradicts the instruction of the Holy Prophet(saw) to make things easy for people and not in a manner which might repel them. To place reliance on one tradition without investigating Muaz’s understanding of Islam on a key PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY– Part 7, section 2 This is the second section of the seventh extract taken from the book Murder in the Name of Allah by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), dealing with the lack of evidence and contrary arguments from the Holy Qur’an on the subject of capital punishment related to someone changing one’s faith. 15The Review of Religions – July 2006 issue where human rights are involved is sheer absurdity. Considerable doubt prevails regarding this tradition, the chain of narrators and their authenticity. Wherever such disputes arise, the tradition is rejected outright. It should be remembered that these traditions were compiled some three to four centuries after the advent of Islam and that, over a passage of time, memories are prone to error. According to one tradition, the Jew was beheaded upon Muaz’s instructions.11 In the second tradition, Muaz himself beheaded the Jew. When such fundamental differences occur in a key incident, how can anyone accept the authenticity of these traditions? People may forget what someone said, but if they were eye-witnesses they would at least remember what ultimately happened to the ‘apostate’ in question. Next we turn to a tradition which has obtained much attention because it is strongly emphasised and relied upon by the school advocating capital punishment for apostacy. This has deliberately been deferred to the end of this chapter so that justice may be done to it without interfering with the general flow of the subject matter. Before a detailed examination of this tradition, a few words concerning the application of certain principles accepted by Islamic scholars throughout the ages would not be out of place. These principles help to resolve controversies concerning the apparent contradiction between the Holy Qur’an and hadith (tradition) on the one hand and some traditions vis-a-vis other traditions. 1. The Word of God stands supreme. 2. This is followed by the actual practice of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw). This is known as sunnah. 3. This is followed by hadith, the words reported to be those of the Holy Prophet(saw). a) If the authenticity of the words of the Holy Prophet(saw) is established unquestionably, the words concerned are words put PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 16 The Review of Religions – July 2006 into the mouth of the Holy Prophet(saw) by God Almighty. Where there is no apparent contradiction between the word of the Holy Prophet(saw) and the Qur’an, the tradition may be accepted as authentic. b) There are no two opinions regarding the accepted fact that whenever any so-called tradition atttibuted to the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) contradicts any clear injunction of the Holy Qur’an, such a tradition is rejected as false and is not accepted as the word of the Holy Prophet(saw). c) If such a tradition does not glaringly violate any injunction of the Holy Qur’an and there is room for compromise, then ideally an attempt should be made to search for a suitable compromise before the final rejection of the tradition. d) In attempting to reconcile a tradition attributed to the Holy Prophet(saw) with the Holy Qur’an, it must always be borne in mind that the clear teachings of the Holy Qur’an are not to be compromised for the sake of a so- called tradition, but a genuine attempt is to be made to find an explanation of the tradition. Therefore in all cases of doubt, the tradition is put to the anvil of the Holy Qur’an and judged accordingly. e) If there is no contradiction between the Holy Qur’an and hadith, then their mutual merit of credibility would be determined according to the reliability of the sources and the chain of narrators. f) Such a tradition will also be compared with other authentic and widely accepted traditions to make sure that the tradition does not conflict with other traditions. g) Lastly, another reliable method of investigating the credibility of a tradition is to study its internal evidence critically. If the contents of the tradition clash with the image of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) which has emerged from a study of his conduct and bearing throughout his life, then such a tradition would be rejected as a false attribution to the Holy Prophet(saw) or as being against the PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 17The Review of Religions – July 2006 principles of logic and common sense. In the light of the above principles, let us examine13 the tradition in question. Tradition It is recorded in Bukhari that: ‘Ikramah relates that he heard that some Zindeeqs were presented before Hadhrat Ali whereupon he directed the burning alive of these people. lbn Abbas stated that had it been him, he would not have ordered this because the Holy Prophet(saw) had said that the torment of the fire may only be decreed by God but the Prophet had also said, ‘Slay whosoever changes his religion.’ 14 This tradition, with some variation, may also be found in Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Al-Nisa’i and Ibn Majah’s compilations. Contradiction with the Holy Qur’an It is not possible for a fair-minded person to reconcile the following verses of the Holy Qur’an with this tradition: The following passage is typical: Whoso seeks a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY Chapter Verses 2 57, 100, 109, 218, 257,273 3 21, 73, 86-92, 145 4 83, 138, 139, 146 5 55, 62, 91-93, 99-100 6 67, 105-108, 126 7 124-129 9 11-14 10 100-109 13 41 15 10 16 83, 105-107, 126 20 72-74 22 40 24 55 25 42-44 42 7, 8, 48, 49 17:55, 18:30, 19:47, 26:117, 28:57, 29:19, 39:30-42, 40:26-27, 47:26, 50:46, 51:57, 64:9-13, 66:7, 88:22-23 18 The Review of Religions – July 2006 life to come he shall be among the losers. How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after having believed and who had borne witness that the Messenger is true and to him clear proofs had come? Allah guides not the wrongdoers. Of such the punishment is that on them shall be the curse of Allah and of angels and of men, all together; thereunder shall they abide. Their punishment shall not be lightened nor shall they be granted respite; except in the case of those who repent thereafter and amend. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. Those who disbelieve after having believed, and then continue to advance in disbelief, their repentance shall not be accepted. Those are they who have gone utterly astray. From anyone of those who have disbelieved, and die while they are disbelievers, there shall not be accepted even an earthful of gold, though he offer it in ransom. For those there shall be a grievous punishment, and they shall have no helper. (Ch.3: Vs.86-92) It is obvious from these verses that no punishment is to be inflicted by one man on another for apostasy. The words ‘thereunder shall they abide’ clearly refer to the life hereafter. By no stretch of the imagination can any sane person interpret the words ‘curse of Allah’ to be a licence to murder anyone whom he considers to be an apostate. No capital punishment is mentioned. If it had, according to the strict requirements of the law, the punishment would have been clearly defined, as in the case of all other hudud (punishments specifically prescribed in the Holy Qur’an). On the contrary, the Holy Qur’an mentions the possibility of repentance by such persons and subsequent forgiveness by God. How can anyone repent and atone for his sins in this world if he has been killed? The advocates of capital punishment for apostasy need to consider how, if their tradition is presumed to be accurate, the clear PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 19The Review of Religions – July 2006 contradiction between it and the Holy Qur’an is to be resolved. In particular, they should reconsider their stance in view of the verses quoted above and re-examine those with an impartial mind. How could anyone accredit greater weight to such a dubious tradition than to these manifestly clear dictates of the Holy Qur’an: If thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely all those on the earth would have believed without exception. Will thou than take it upon thyself to force people to become believers? Except by Allah’s leave no one can believe and He will afflict with His wrath those who will not use their understanding. (Ch.10:Vs.100-1) When God Himself does not force people to believe, who are we to raise the sword to force belief or to set Maududian mouse-traps? The problem with the advocates of capital punishment for apostasy is that they invariably accept literally traditions compiled hundreds of years after the Holy Prophet(saw) which obviously contradict the teachings contained in the Holy Qur’an. Conflicts with the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw) Our second source of law is the conduct and personal example of the Holy Prophet(saw). We have already demonstrated the hollowness of the claim that anyone has ever been executed for the crime of apostasy. After all, what was the stand of the Holy Prophet(saw) against the Makkans? It was that he should be allowed to profess and proclaim the message of God in peace. The Makkans did not grant him this freedom and punished those who began to believe in him. As far as the Makkans were concerned, those who believed in the message of Muhammad(saw) were the apostates, having recanted their faith of idol worship. The Holy Prophet(saw) spent his entire life fighting in defence of the fundamental human rights that everybody should be free to choose his religion, no one should change another person’s religion by force, and everybody has a PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 20 The Review of Religions – July 2006 right to change his own religion, whatever that religion is. In fact, this has been the true meaning of ‘Holy War’, waged by all messengers of God against their opponents throughout the history of religion. The Holy Qur’an has repeatedly mentioned this with reference to earlier prophets of God (see 2.5; 6.113; 21.42; 25.32; 36.8, 31; 43.8). To name but a few, these are Abraham(as) (6.75-9; 19.47; 21.53, 59, 61, 69-70; 37.89-91, 98); Elias(as) (37.126-7); Lot(as) (26.166-8; 27.57;15.71); Noah(as) (7.60; 10.72; 11.26-7; 26.117; 71.2-21); Moses(as) (7.105- 6,124¬7; 10.76-9; 17.102-3; 20.44-5; 50-3; 26.19-34); and Jesus(as) (3.52-6; 5.118; 19.37; 43.65). What was their struggle about? It was simply a response to the claim of the opponents of the prophets(as) that they had no right to change the faith of their contemporaries. In fact every- body has a right to choose his faith and as long as the message of peace and love is spread by peaceful means, no one has the right to prevent this by force. The obstinate response of the opponents to this most logical and humane stance was that they positively rejected the prophets’ position and stuck to their claim that the prophets had no right to change the faith of their people. If they did not desist from this course, the prophets were to be ready to accept the penalty for apostasy which was (in the opponents’ opinion) no other than death or exile. The Holy Prophet’s(saw) struggle with his opponents was consistent with the practice of all prophets of the past. How can any sane person deny the lifetime mission of the Holy Prophet(saw) and challenge his firm stance on this fundamental principle? The Holy Qur’an, the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw), and the other traditions provide ample contradiction to the tradition in question. One cannot over-emphasise the utter unrelia- bility of this tradition. Reliability of the sources and narrators Prima facie, the tradition refuted here has been authenticated by the PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 21The Review of Religions – July 2006 reputable compilers Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Al-Nisa’i and Ibn Majah; it is included in five out of the six generally accepted compilations of hadith. But there ends its claim to authenticity. For a tradition to be declared authentic, it is not enough for it to be found in an authentic compilation. There are other established measures which are applied to every tradition. The most important among these measures is the examination in depth and detail of the reputation and character of the narrators forming the links in the chain of narrators. There are scholars who have devoted their whole lifetime to such studies and, thanks to their most painstaking and thorough investigations, we are today in a position to examine every link of the chain of narrators in any compilation. Let us turn our attention to the tradition under consideration. This hadith falls into the category of ahad gharib (i.e., a tradition in which there is only one chain of narrators connected to the same single source) because all the five books of hadith derive their chain of narrators from Ikramah as their ultimate source. The late Maulana Abdul Hayy of Lucknow specifically refers to Ikramah, pointing out that merely because Bukhari had included him in his compilation, others followed suit without carrying out independent research.15 A tradition may be authentic and reliable even if it is quoted through a single chain of narrators. However, it cannot be regarded as being as reliable as traditions which have more than one chain of reliable narrators. Such traditions are not permitted to influence edicts regarding the rights, liabilities and penalties; in particular, extra caution is required in relation to hodud. Hudud is a term strictly applicable to punishments specifically prescribed in the Holy Qur’an. The exponents of death as the penalty for apostasy consider their view to be based on Qur’anic PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY 22 The Review of Religions – July 2006 injunctions falling within the category of hudud. In fact, we have disproved this claim earlier. It is important to bear in mind that the tradition under discussion is a tradition quoted by a single chain of narrators and has no jurisprudence even if it is considered to be correct by some. In this context, it is essential to learn more about Ikramah and his reputation. Ikramah Ikramah16 was a slave of Ibn Abbas, and also his pupil – a very indifferent pupil, for that matter, and a back-bencher of the first order. He confirms this himself by saying that Ibn Abbas was so infuriated with his lack of interest in his studies and by his truancy that he would bind his hand and foot to compel him to remain present during his sermons.17 He was an opponent of Hadhrat Ali(ra), the fourth caliph ofIslam, and was inclined towards the Khawarij in particular at the time when differences between Hadhrat Ali(ra) and Ibn Abbas began to emerge. Later, during the Abbasid period, (the Abbasids, it should be borne in mind, were extremely antagonistic because of political apprehensions) to all those who were in any way allied to Hadhrat Ali’s progeny, Ikramah acquired great renown and respect as a versatile scholar, obviously because of his hostility towards Hazrat Ali(ra) and links with the Khawarij.18 Dhahbi states that because Ikramah was a Kharijite, his traditions were unreliable and dubious. An expert on the punishment for apostasy, Imam Ali b. Al-Madani, is of the same opinion. Yahya b. Bekir used to say that the Kharijites of Egypt, Algiers and Morocco were strongly allied to Ikramah. It has generally been observed that the traditions of capital punishment for apostasy emanate mainly from incidents in Basra, Kufa and Yemen. The people of the Hejaz (Makkah and Madinah) were totally unfamiliar with them. One cannot shut one’s eyes to the fact that the tradition from Ikramah under discussion is known as an Iraqi tradition. Let us PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY recall the famous Makkan Imam, Taus b. Kaisan, who used to say that Iraqi traditions were generally doubtful.19 That is not all. A great scholar, Yahya b. Saeed Al-Ansari, has strongly censured Ikramah for his unreliability in general and has gone to the extent of calling him a kadhab,20 that is to say an extreme liar of the first order. Abdullah b. Al-Harith quotes a very interesting incident which he witnessed himself when he visited Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas. He was deeply shocked and dismayed to find Ikramah bound to a post outside the door of Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas. He expresseed his shock at this cruelty by asking Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas if he had no fear of God in him. What he obviously meant was that Ikramah, with all his renown of piety and so on, did not deserve such a base and cruel treatment at the hands of his late master’s own son. In response to this, Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas justified his act by pointing out that Ikramah had the audacity to attribute false things to his late father, Ibn Abbas.21 What better judge of the character of Ikramah could there be than Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas? No wonder, therefore, that Imam Malik b. Anas (95-179 AH), the pioneer compiler of hadith and an Imam of jurisprudence held in the highest repute throughout the Muslim world, held that the traditions narrated by Ikramah were unreliable.22 The following scholars of great repute have declared that Ikramah had a strong disposition towards exaggeration: Imam Yayha b. Saeed Al Ansari, Ali b. Abdullah b. Abbas and Ata b. Abi Rabae.23 This, then, is the man who we are dealing with and on whose sole authority the matter of the lives of all those people who change their faith is left hanging till the end of time. Ibn Abbas Whenever the name of Ibn Abbas24 appears at the head of a chain of narrators, the vast majority of Muslim scholars is overawed. They forget the fact that because of his name and reputation, concocters of false 23 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – July 2006 traditions tended to trace their fabricated chain of narrators back to him. Therefore, all traditions beginning with the name of Ibn Abbas must be properly judged and examined. Moreover, even if Ibn Abbas is honestly reported by a narrator, the possiblity of human error on Ikramah’s part regarding what Ibn Abbas might have said cannot be ruled out. The following would be a good illustration of the case in point: ‘Ibn Abbas says that Umar used to say that the Holy Prophet(saw) said that crying over the dead brought chastisement to the dead. Ibn Abbas further said that after Umar died, he related this tradition to Ayesha who said, “God forgive Umar!” By God, the Holy Prophet(saw) said nothing of the kind. He only said that if the descendants of a disbeliever cried over his dead body, their action tended to augment his punishment, and by way of argument, Ayesha also said: Sufficient for us is the saying of the Qur’an: “Verily no soul can bear the burden of another.”’25 If a man of Hadhrat Umar’s stature and integrity can misunderstand the Holy Prophet(saw), however rarely it might have happened, how much more is there danger of ordinary narrators misunderstanding the reports of Ibn Abbas? With such wide possibilities for the miscarriage of the message of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw), how can a sane person rely entirely on the evidence of this hadith and draw conclusions of far-reaching import regarding matters of life and death and fundamental human rights? It is likely that Ikramah concocted this tradition, attributing it to Ibn Abbas, as it was his wont to do, according to Ali b. Ibn Abbas. Other internal criteria When we examine the subject matter of the tradition under consideration, we find the contents to be erroneous in several ways. a) A person of Hadhrat Ali’s 24 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – July 2006 stature is presumed to be unaware of the fact that Islam categorically prohibits a person to be punished by fire. b) The words ‘slay whosoever changes his faith’ are so general that they can be interpreted in many ways. They can apply to men, women and children, whereas according to Imam Abu Hanifa and some other schools of jurisprudence, an apostate woman can never be slain. c) The Arabic word deen (religion) used in this tradition is a general word meaning any religion, not Islam specifically. Even the faith of idolaters is referred to as deen. (Sura Al- Kafiroon). In the light of the general nature of the language used, how can one restrict the application of this tradition to a Muslim who renounces his faith? In strict legal terms, according to this tradition, anyone who changes his religion, whatever that religion is, would have to be put to death. It would mean slaying the Jew who became a Christian, slaying the Christian who became a Muslim, and slaying the pagan who adopted any new faith. ‘Whosoever’ also transcends the geographical boundaries of Muslim states, implying that anywhere in the world, anyone who changes his faith – be he an aborigine of Australia, a pygmy of Africa or an indian of South America – must be slain forthwith the moment he renounces his previous faith and accepts another one. Islam lays a great deal of emphasis on proselytizing, so that it is binding upon every Muslim to become a preacher in the path of Allah. How ironic it is therefore that many renowned Muslim scholars today negate the very spirit of Islamic jihad by audaciously sticking to the narrow- minded view that Islam dictates that whosoever changes his faith, meaning in this context Islam, must be put to death forthwith. What about those of other faiths? Islam declares it to be an obligation upon Muslims to stand committed to the noble goal of constantly endeavouring to change the faith of all non-Muslims around them by peaceful means. 25 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – July 2006 This task is so important and demanding that every Muslim is instructed to stick to the endeavour till his last breath. The Holy Qur’an states: CalI unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and reason with them on the basis of that which is best. Thy Lord knows best those who have strayed away from His way; and He knows best those who are rightly guided. (Ch.16: V.126) The advocates of the bigoted inhumane doctrine of death upon apostasy never visualise its effect on international and inter- religious human relationships. Why can they not see that according to their view of Islam, adherents of all religions have a fundamental right to change their faith but not so the Muslims, and that Islam has the prerogative of converting others but all adherents of different faiths are deprived of any right to convert Muslims to their faith? What a sorry picture of Islamic justice this presents! To conclude, apostasy is the clear repudiation of a faith by a person who formerly held it. Doctrinal differences, however grave, cannot be deemed to be apostasy. The punishment for apostasy lies in the hand of God Almighty, against Whom the offence has been committed. Apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable in this world. This is the teaching of God. This was the teaching of the Holy Prophet(saw). This is the view confirmed by Hanafi jurists,26 Fateh al Kadeer,27 Chalpi,28 Hafiz ibn Qayyim, Ibrahim Nakhai, Sufyan Thauri and many others. The Maududian claim of consensus, concerning the tradition they hold to be true, is a mere fiction. References 11. Bukhari, Kitab al-Mustadeen wal Muanadeen wa Qitaalihim, Bab Hukumul Murtad wal Murtadda. 12. Abu Daud. 26 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – July 2006 13. The Holy Qur’an urges: ‘When you hear of it, why did not the believing men and the believing women think well of their own people, and say: This is a manifest lie …’ (Ch.24: V.13). The Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘It is evidence enough of the untruthfulness of a person that he should relate, without examination, whatever he hears.’ (Muslim, vol.1, chapter headed ‘Don’ts about Tradition’) 14. Bukhari Mishkat (Egypt), 9- 10; Bukhari and Fath Al- Bari, Hadith no. 6922, Egypt, Vol.12, 267. 15. Abdul Hayy, Al-Riaf a wal Takmeel. 16. Not to be confused with Ikramah b. Abu Jahl. 17. Ibn Saad, Al Tabqa al-Kabir, Vol.2, 386. 18. Mizan al-Aitadal, Vol.2, 208. 19. Abu Daud, Vol.II, 35. 20. Abu Jafar Muhammed b. Amr b. Musa b. Hamad Al-Aqbli Al-Mulki, Kitab al-Soafa Al- Kabir, Lebanon Darul Kutb Al-Almiyya, Al Safr III, 1983, 373. 21. Abu Jafar Muhammed b. Amr b. Musa b. Hamad Al-Aqbli Al-Mulki, op.cit. 22. Mizan Al-Aitadal, Vol.2, 209. 23. Fateh Al-Bari. 24. The son of Abbas, an uncle of the Holy Prophet(saw). Ibn Abbas was no more than a child during the Holy Prophet’s(saw) time. 25. Bukhari, Kitab al-Janaiz, chapter headed ‘Wailing over the Dead’. 26. Hedayah. 27. Fateh al-Kadeer, Vol. IV, 389; Vol. II, 580. 28. Chapri, Commentary on Fateh al-Kadeer, 388; Inayah, 390. 27 PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY The Review of Religions – July 2006