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In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.


the Message Continues i/58   -   Newsletterfor  June 2006

Article 1: - Article 2: - Article 3: - Article 4: - Article 5: - Article 6: - Article 7: - Article 8: - Article 9: - Article 10: - Article 11: - Article 12:


Punishment of Apostasy in Islam
S.A Rahman (Rtd.) Chief Justive of Pakistan
(An excerpt from the book published by Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India)
The State of Pakistan is the end-result of a historical process which started with the first Muslim 
invasion of this subcontinent. Various factors, political, economic, social, cultural and religious, 
operated on and entered into the structure of the Muslim nation which emerged, in 1947, as a 
unique ideological State, comprising of two units separated by a thousand miles of hostile Indian 
territory. Its dominating inspiration, however, came from the religious consciousness of the Muslims 
of the subcontinent, which crystallized into an ardent longing for a terrestrial base for the working out 
of what was regarded as a Divine Plan of action in the socio-political sphere.
Implementation of the Islamic values of life was declared to be the objective before the Founding 
Fathers of Pakistan by a formal Constitutional Instrument drawn up finally in 1956. The Constitution 
of 1956 was, however, superseded by the Martial Law regime in 1958, and, four years later, 
the Constitution of 1962 was promulgated by a Presidential Decree, under the protective umbrella 
of Martial Law.
Whatever may have been the political overtones or undertones of that constitutional dispensation, 
it respected the ambition of the majority Muslim community to order their lives in accordance with 
the dictates of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, while ensuring cultural and religious autonomy and 
fundamental political equality to the non-Muslim minorities, like its predecessor in the constitutional 
field. Later political developments have thrown that instrument 'again into the melting pot.
Though some political parties have sponsored schemes of a more equitable distribution of the 
means of production and wealth, under the undefined terminology of "Islamic Socialism," none 
has denied the efficacy of the religious motivation in the life of the Muslim community and, except 
for a small group of extremists, even the leftist parties have professed anxiety for pressing into 
service the principles of Islamic social justice. The question, therefore, as to what sort of polity 
the fundamentals of Islam envisage is very much a live issue in the context of our present-day 
The non-Muslims resident in Pakistan, since its inception, were assured time and again by the 
Qa'id-iA'zam Muhammad 'Ali Jinnah, that they would have all the fundamental rights guaranteed 
to them, on a basis of equality with the members of the majority community and that they may even 
expect to receive generous rather than merely egalitarian treatment. These non-Muslims are neither 
dhimmis nor musta'mins in the technical sense. of Muslim jurisprudence. Their position is assailable 
to that of mu'ahids--the beneficiaries of a binding pact. There is august precedent available in 
Muslim history for this kind of integrating equation for certain State purposes, subject to the 
different communities enjoying full liberty of conscience and autonomy of action in the religious 
field, with the overriding reservation that the Head of the State must belong to the numerically 
predominant community. The Prophet (on him be peace) had entered into such a pact with the 
Jewish and Christian tribes of Medina, after his migration from Mecca (the Hijrah). 
[1] The Qa'id-i-A'zam was, therefore, essentially right in holding out an assurance of this character to 
those nonMuslims who owed unquestioning allegiance to the State of Pakistan.
With a mixed population such as we have in Pakistan, the problem of inter-communal harmony 
assumes importance. Freedom of .conscience, the right to profess as well as propagate one's 
own faith and to safeguard one's religious institutions, consistently with law and morality, would 
be regarded as the inviolable right of every community in the modern world. The position of the 
proselyte, if he happens to belong to the majority community, would present a testing ground of 
good faith and fair play in inter-communal relations. Unfortunately our Fiqh Compendiums do not 
enter on an analytical study of this problem, in the light of the Qur'anic injunctions and authentic 
Sunnah, and no distinction apparently exists in the minds of the old jurists between apostasy 
simplicities and apostasy combined with treason or severance of allegiance to the State. It is 
tacitly assumes that every apostate from Islam deserves the death penalty, not merely as a 
renegade from the true faith, but also as a muharib-an active rebel. Such a doctrine
could have far-reaching repercussions in the socio-political sphere and might invite retaliatory 
legislation from countries where the Muslims happen to be in a minority. Eventually such a 
legislative war might put an end to all missionary activity in support of Islam.
The image of Islam created by some of the non Muslim Western scholars strikes a humble 
student of the Qur'an, like the present writer, to be a crude caricature of its liberal humanitarian 
teachings. Majid  Khadduri's appraisal of the Islamic Law on the subject of apostasy leads him 
to conclude that "both jurists and theologians agree that apostasy constitutes a violation of law, 
punishable both in this world and the next. Not only is the person denied salvation in the next world 
but he is liable to capital punishment by the State." 
[2] Samuel M. Zwemer, Christian missionary in Egypt, claims that there are so few converts from 
amongst Muslims to Christianity, in spite of prodigious missionary efforts, because the sword of 
Damocles is always hanging over their heads in the shape of the death sentence, if they commit 
apostasy. He quotes from Dr Andrew Watson's History of the American Mission in Egypt (1854-94) 
an assertion that all seventy five converts to Christianity, from among Muslims, were subject to 
persecution "because the idea of personal liberty-freedom of conscience-has no place in Moslem
Law, whether religious or civil." 
[3] Such distortions of the clear Qur'anic injunction of there being no compulsion in
religion (La ikraha fi'd-Din) are, however, made possible (speaking with all respect) by uncritical 
generalizations of concrete decisions in our history, by our own scholars and jurisconsults. 
By and large, our orthodox Fuqaha' (jurists) have taken the inelastic line that the punishment 
for apostasy in Islam is death. Echoes of this view are to be heard in the writings of some of 
our modern savants as well. Only two such instances may suffice to illustrate my point.
In the estimation of a reputed Muslim scholar, "Apostasy constitutes a politico-religious rebellion." He sums up his views in these terms: "The sayings and doings of the Prophet, the decisions and practice of the Caliph Abu Bakr, the consensus of opinion of the Companions of theProphet and all the later Muslim jurisconsults and even certain indirect verses of the Qur'an, all prescribe capital punishment for an apostate. " [4]
Working out the logical consequences of a similar stand, another modern scholar; who also heads 
a religiopolitical party in Pakistan, expresses himself on the incidents of anl Islamic State, with this 
pronouncement "To my mind the solution lies in this (Wa-Allahu al-muwafqu li'l-sawab) And God 
alone leads us into conformity with what is right)-whenever the Islamic revolution is successful, the 
Muslim population will be notified that those who renounce Islam, by declaration of a different faith 
or by their actions, but desire to remain subjects of the State, shall, within a year of the notification, 
proclaim themselves publicly to be non-Muslims and to be outside the pale of the Muslim community. After the expiry of this period, those born in Muslim households would be deemed to be Muslims, bound by all the Islamic Laws. They will be compelled to carry out all obligations and observe all injunctions of
the Faith Thereafter if some one of them leaves the fold of Islam, he shall be put to death. After the 
issue of such a notification, all efforts shall be made to save as many of the Muslim-born children as 
possible from falling into the lap of disbelief, and those not amenable to the process of conservation 
shall have to be cut off from the social organism with a determined hand though a heavy heart. 
After this purge, the Islamic polity shall be inaugurated with the support of such Muslims as are 
devoted to Islam. 
"[5] This solemn pronouncement conjures up a vision of the shape of things to come which, 
the present writer ventures to think, will not commend itself to those thinking individuals who 
believe in Islam as a living force for all times and climes. Such writings would of course be 
avidly seized upon by censorious Western scholars as grist for their polemical mill.
In 1924-5, the question of punishment for apostasy was the subject of controversy between the 
Daily Hamdard of the late Maulana Muhammad 'Ali Jauhar and the Daily Zamindar of Lahore, 
edited by the late Maulana Zafar 'Ali Khan. This was occasioned by the stoning to death at Kabul, 
for alleged apostasy, of one, Ni'mat Ullah, a member of the Qadiyani section of the Ahmadi sect. 
M. Muhammad `Ali Jauhar had, it seems, sponsored the thesis that Islam did not sanction any 
punishment for apostasy as such and from the side of the Zamindar this proposition was 
vehemently contested. The writer had access to the articles published on the subject in the 
Zamindar through the courtesy of Dr S. M. Ikram and Dr M. Jahangir Khan of the Research 
Society of Pakistan, Lahore. He regrets, however, that despite diligent search, he was unable 
to lay hands on the relevant files of the Hamdard. Judging from the material published in the 
Zamindar, both parties to the controversy were able to draw upon the authorities from the Sunnah 
and Muslim Fiqh, in support of their respective positions.
From the point of view of the solidarity and integrity of the Islamic community, the question 
assumes vital importance when we recall to mind the historic fact that the so-called sects of 
Muslims have been too prone to condemn one another as disbelievers, on the basis of slight 
deviations from the orthodox position, in respect of doctrine or practice. The grounds on which 
a person could be declared to be a kafir (disbeliever) appear to be vast and varied and some 
idea of the wide field they cover may be obtained from a study of fasl al-thalith of bab al-awwal 
of al-Samara'i's Ahkam al-Murtadd. 
"[6] With this background of facts in mind, I have ventured to examine de novo, in the light of the 
fundamental sources of Islamic Law, the question whether apostasy simpliciter, without any 
political strings attached, is at all punishable in Islam and, if so, whether it is possible to spell 
out of the historical precedents, cited in support of the death penalty for change of faith, any 
general rule laying down the measure of such punishment. I was encouraged to embark on this 
venture by the stimulating sixth lecture of the late `Allamah Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal, headed as 
"The Principle of Movement in Islam". Among other profound observations, the following inspiring 
comment occurs therein: "The claim of the present generation of Muslim Liberals to reinterpret the 
foundational legal principles, in the light of their own experience and the altered conditions of 
modern life, is, in my opinion, perfectly justified. The teaching of the Quran that life is a process 
of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work 
of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems. 
" [7] What follows: is a humble attempt in the direction indicated by `Allamah Iqbal, but neither 
finality nor infallibility is claimed for the opinions expressed herein: Wa-Allaho a'lam bi'l-sawab 
(And God is the best knower of the truth).
[1]. Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, Siyasi Wathiqah Jat (Urdu translation), pp. 19-24.
[2]. Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam, pp. 149-52.
[3]. Samuel M. Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, Chapter 1, pp. 17-20
[4]. Dr M. Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State, Part III, Chapter IV, pp. 172 et seq.
[5]. S. Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi, Murtadd Ki Saza Islami Qanun Min, pp. 75-6.
[6]. Al-Samara'i, Ahk'am al-Murtadd, pp. 77-137.
[7.] Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Six Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, 
p. 234.







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