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In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
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Punishment of Apostasy in IslamS.A Rahman (Rtd.) Chief Justive of Pakistan(An excerpt from the book published by Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India)Introduction:The State of Pakistan is the end-result of a historical process which started with the first Musliminvasion 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 aunique ideological State, comprising of two units separated by a thousand miles of hostile Indianterritory. Its dominating inspiration, however, came from the religious consciousness of the Muslimsof the subcontinent, which crystallized into an ardent longing for a terrestrial base for the working outof 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 FoundingFathers of Pakistan by a formal Constitutional Instrument drawn up finally in 1956. The Constitutionof 1956 was, however, superseded by the Martial Law regime in 1958, and, four years later,the Constitution of 1962 was promulgated by a Presidential Decree, under the protective umbrellaof 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 withthe dictates of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, while ensuring cultural and religious autonomy andfundamental political equality to the non-Muslim minorities, like its predecessor in the constitutionalfield. 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 themeans of production and wealth, under the undefined terminology of "Islamic Socialism," nonehas denied the efficacy of the religious motivation in the life of the Muslim community and, exceptfor a small group of extremists, even the leftist parties have professed anxiety for pressing intoservice the principles of Islamic social justice. The question, therefore, as to what sort of politythe fundamentals of Islam envisage is very much a live issue in the context of our present-daypolitics.The non-Muslims resident in Pakistan, since its inception, were assured time and again by theQa'id-iA'zam Muhammad 'Ali Jinnah, that they would have all the fundamental rights guaranteedto them, on a basis of equality with the members of the majority community and that they may evenexpect to receive generous rather than merely egalitarian treatment. These non-Muslims are neitherdhimmis nor musta'mins in the technical sense. of Muslim jurisprudence. Their position is assailableto that of mu'ahids--the beneficiaries of a binding pact. There is august precedent available inMuslim history for this kind of integrating equation for certain State purposes, subject to thedifferent communities enjoying full liberty of conscience and autonomy of action in the religiousfield, with the overriding reservation that the Head of the State must belong to the numericallypredominant community. The Prophet (on him be peace) had entered into such a pact with theJewish and Christian tribes of Medina, after his migration from Mecca (the Hijrah). The Qa'id-i-A'zam was, therefore, essentially right in holding out an assurance of this character tothose 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 harmonyassumes importance. Freedom of .conscience, the right to profess as well as propagate one'sown faith and to safeguard one's religious institutions, consistently with law and morality, wouldbe regarded as the inviolable right of every community in the modern world. The position of theproselyte, if he happens to belong to the majority community, would present a testing ground ofgood faith and fair play in inter-communal relations. Unfortunately our Fiqh Compendiums do notenter on an analytical study of this problem, in the light of the Qur'anic injunctions and authenticSunnah, and no distinction apparently exists in the minds of the old jurists between apostasysimplicities and apostasy combined with treason or severance of allegiance to the State. It istacitly assumes that every apostate from Islam deserves the death penalty, not merely as arenegade from the true faith, but also as a muharib-an active rebel. Such a doctrinecould have far-reaching repercussions in the socio-political sphere and might invite retaliatorylegislation from countries where the Muslims happen to be in a minority. Eventually such alegislative 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 humblestudent of the Qur'an, like the present writer, to be a crude caricature of its liberal humanitarianteachings. Majid Khadduri's appraisal of the Islamic Law on the subject of apostasy leads himto 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 worldbut he is liable to capital punishment by the State." Samuel M. Zwemer, Christian missionary in Egypt, claims that there are so few converts fromamongst Muslims to Christianity, in spite of prodigious missionary efforts, because the sword ofDamocles is always hanging over their heads in the shape of the death sentence, if they commitapostasy. 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 topersecution "because the idea of personal liberty-freedom of conscience-has no place in MoslemLaw, whether religious or civil." Such distortions of the clear Qur'anic injunction of there being no compulsion inreligion (La ikraha fi'd-Din) are, however, made possible (speaking with all respect) by uncriticalgeneralizations 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 punishmentfor apostasy in Islam is death. Echoes of this view are to be heard in the writings of some ofour 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. " Working out the logical consequences of a similar stand, another modern scholar; who also headsa religiopolitical party in Pakistan, expresses himself on the incidents of anl Islamic State, with thispronouncement "To my mind the solution lies in this (Wa-Allahu al-muwafqu li'l-sawab) And Godalone leads us into conformity with what is right)-whenever the Islamic revolution is successful, theMuslim population will be notified that those who renounce Islam, by declaration of a different faithor 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 ofthe Faith Thereafter if some one of them leaves the fold of Islam, he shall be put to death. After theissue of such a notification, all efforts shall be made to save as many of the Muslim-born children aspossible from falling into the lap of disbelief, and those not amenable to the process of conservationshall 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 aredevoted to Islam." 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 whobelieve in Islam as a living force for all times and climes. Such writings would of course beavidly 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 theDaily 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 anypunishment for apostasy as such and from the side of the Zamindar this proposition wasvehemently contested. The writer had access to the articles published on the subject in theZamindar through the courtesy of Dr S. M. Ikram and Dr M. Jahangir Khan of the ResearchSociety of Pakistan, Lahore. He regrets, however, that despite diligent search, he was unableto lay hands on the relevant files of the Hamdard. Judging from the material published in theZamindar, both parties to the controversy were able to draw upon the authorities from the Sunnahand Muslim Fiqh, in support of their respective positions.From the point of view of the solidarity and integrity of the Islamic community, the questionassumes vital importance when we recall to mind the historic fact that the so-called sects ofMuslims have been too prone to condemn one another as disbelievers, on the basis of slightdeviations from the orthodox position, in respect of doctrine or practice. The grounds on whicha person could be declared to be a kafir (disbeliever) appear to be vast and varied and someidea of the wide field they cover may be obtained from a study of fasl al-thalith of bab al-awwalof al-Samara'i's Ahkam al-Murtadd." With this background of facts in mind, I have ventured to examine de novo, in the light of thefundamental sources of Islamic Law, the question whether apostasy simpliciter, without anypolitical strings attached, is at all punishable in Islam and, if so, whether it is possible to spellout of the historical precedents, cited in support of the death penalty for change of faith, anygeneral rule laying down the measure of such punishment. I was encouraged to embark on thisventure 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 inspiringcomment occurs therein: "The claim of the present generation of Muslim Liberals to reinterpret thefoundational legal principles, in the light of their own experience and the altered conditions ofmodern life, is, in my opinion, perfectly justified. The teaching of the Quran that life is a processof progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the workof its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems."  What follows: is a humble attempt in the direction indicated by `Allamah Iqbal, but neitherfinality 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).. Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, Siyasi Wathiqah Jat (Urdu translation), pp. 19-24.. Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam, pp. 149-52.. Samuel M. Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam, Chapter 1, pp. 17-20. Dr M. Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State, Part III, Chapter IV, pp. 172 et seq.. S. Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi, Murtadd Ki Saza Islami Qanun Min, pp. 75-6.. 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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