Why Killing Apostates Is Anti-Islamic - Sources, Laws, and Cases

Why Killing Apostates Is Anti-Islamic - Sources, Laws, and Cases

Hasan Mahmud

The Sharia law of killing apostates turns Islam to a dangerous and immoral mousetrap; you can enter it but cannot leave. 

An apostate (“Murtad” in Arabic) is a former Muslim by birth (Murtad Mitri) or by conversion (Murtad Mili). The Sharia law of killing apostates violates Article 18 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights that acknowledges every person’s right to change or abandon religions.[1]

A famous critic of Islam claims that, “Islam has adopted a totally contradictory stance in this matter.[2] On the one hand, it says: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (Quran 2:256) and ‘Whosoever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him disbelieve’ (Qur'an 18:30). On the other hand, it itself threatens to punish by death the person who renounces Islam and determines to move toward kufr.” [3]

This is simply not true. The author got mixed up between Sharia law and Quran/Prophet.  Let’s consider the law, the Quran, and Prophet (S) now.


All five major schools of Sharia law stipulate the death sentence to apostates after a fixed time given to them for repentance.[4] The exception is for female apostates, in which Hanafi law prescribes life-long imprisonment. Witness and rights to inherit are rejected for apostates and their marriage is dissolved.[5] The Quran allows Muslim men to marry Christian and Jewish women, but Sharia law forbids a Muslim man from marrying a Muslim woman who converts to Christianity or Judaism. In Sharia law, it is also incumbent on every Muslims to kill apostates. Additionally, no trial is necessary and the killer is not to be sentenced to death.[6] On 6 September 2008,  the BBC reported that the Sudan Islamic hardliners beheaded Mohammed Taha, a newspaper editor, who had been tried in court for apostasy and was acquitted.[7] Sudan: the same country where the great Islamic scholar Mahmoud Tahawas hanged for the charge of apostasy in 1985 by President Numeri, a murder that was instigated by the Saudi Chief Imam, Bin Baaz. [8]  This is the same clergy that is responsible for legal ban on Saudi women driving or having a bank account. 

Apostasy is discussed in detail with biographies of apostates in the book Leaving Islam – Apostates Speak Out by Ibn Warraq.[9]  Furthermore, Maolana Mawdudi, the founding father of modern political Islam, dealt with the issue in detail in his famous book, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law.[10]  Mawdudi claims that, “the Qur'an and the Sunnah (the Prophet’s Examples) offer no special explanation about these matters.” Below, we will see why that is not true.[11]

Some recent proponents of Sharia law deceive the world by stating that an apostate must be killed only if s/he propagates her/his view in an Islamic state. That statement is not found in any Sharia law book.  Lest we forget, there is a Sharia law that allows them to lie if the purpose promotes their agenda. 


             The most significant Quranic verse about apostasy stipulates “Indeed, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief - never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a way.”[12]

                Surely, the Quran kept the door of return open to apostates, as many apostates returned to Islam. Killing apostates is a clear violation of several verses throughout the Quran as its references to apostates never stipulate any worldly punishment but rather refer to Allah (God)’s ultimate punishment. This was not for human hands to ever carry out.[13]   

               Ibn Kathir[14] and Mawdudi[15] agree that 2:217 says apostates will be hurled “into the eternal torment in the Hellfire.” As seen in Sura 3:86, the Quran does not mention any punishment as was revealed when Harith left Islam.[16]

               Mawdudi also quoted Tawba, claiming that the killing of covenant-breakers was “in no way can be construed to mean breaking of political covenants. Rather, the context clearly determines its meaning to be ‘confessing Islam and then renouncing it’. Thereafter the meaning of ‘fight the heads of disbelief’ can only mean that war should be waged against the leaders instigating apostasy.”[17]

               Mawdudi is wrong. Those verses are not about apostasy but about non-Muslims who broke the peace treaty with Muslims.[18] The Quranic Tafseer explains, “[verse 11] stipulates that no matter how much the Kafirs (unbelievers) torture Muslims, all their sins will be forgiven if they will become Muslims…. Verse 12 instructs us to fight the Kafirs if they betray us after promising and signing the treaty, furthermore, do not embrace Islam [emphasis added], but mock Islam.”

Some scholars argue that the root word “rad” of apostasy (Murtad, Ridda, Irtida, etc.) is an action to be inflicted on one-self, like the act of suicide. It must be acted upon by the person concerned. One can kill but cannot “suicide” others. An apostate is an apostate only when he or she declares it in clear words. In Nisa 94, the Quran categorically prohibits declaring another apostate (Takfir) if he or she offers the Islamic greeting.[19] Mawdudi agreed, saying “the purport of the verse is that no one has the right summarily to judge those who profess to be Muslims, and assume them to be lying.” The implication that only Allah can do this. Not humans.

PROPHET (S)              

Having failed with the Quran, Mawdudi turned to the Hadiths and failed again. There were hypocrites who used to pretend to be Muslims to harm Muslims from within. Prophet (S) knew it well and there is a chapter in the Quran called “The Hypocrites.” Still, Prophet (S) complied with Nisa 94 and accepted an individual’s “Muslim-hood” based solely on their oral announcement as seen below:

“Narrated Hudhaifa: The Prophet said (to us), ‘List the names of people who have announced that they are Muslims.’ So, we listed one thousand and five hundred men. Then we wondered, ‘Should we be afraid (of infidels) although we are one thousand and five hundred in number?’ No doubt, we witnessed ourselves being afflicted with such bad trials that one would have to offer the prayer alone in fear.”[20]

We have four records of apostasy in the Prophet’s time and his dealing with them. A Muslim came to him and declared his apostasy thrice. Prophet just kept silent. The apostate left Medina safe and sound.[21]

Harith, Ubaydullah, and Abdullah ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Sorah left Islam in Prophet’s (S) time, and nobody was punished.[22] Sa’d ibn Abi Sorah was appointed as the Governor of Egypt in Othman’s time. 


Yes, there are documents that show Muslims did kill apostates in the past.[23] Many of those documents are vague and do not record incidents with details regarding names or places. Hadiths, such as, “Whoever changes religion is to be killed,” is problematic because it supports the killing converts to Islam from other religions. The inclusion of apostates in one of only three categories (adultery, apostasy and murder) who must be killed is an over-generalization. Mawdudi quoted eight such Hadiths. his quote of killing a female apostate, from Imam Bayhaqi, even fails to record the correct name of the woman. In Hanafi Law women apostates are to be imprisoned, and Imam Abu Hanifa is surely more authentic because he was (7th century Iraq) alive much earlier than Bayhaqi (13th century Iran). The flaw of Bayhaqi is aptly shown by reputed progressive Islamic scholar Dr. Javed Ghamidi.[24]

It is shocking to see that political Islamists conveniently violate their own assertion that the Quran wins over Hadith if there is conflict.   

It’s also shocking to see that both political Islamists and Islam-bashers quote the same sources to legitimize killing apostates.[25] If they were true, then we would have to believe that the Prophet acted against the Quran; that is absurd. Although Sharia Law stipulates killing apostates and forces us to accept past Imams’ or scholars’ personal interpretations,[26] we have every right to accept or reject partially (or totally) any source except the Quran. 

Mawdudi also tried to use Omar, and especially the battles of Abu Bakr against some tribes, in support of his argument because, as he claims, they left Islam. However, history records that the main battles were fought against Muslim tribes, such as Banu Yarbu, who refused to give the Islamic tax to Abu Bakr’s government.[27] They have secondary documents in their support to believe that Abu Bakr’s rule was illegitimate; the Prophet’s intention was to leave the leadership to Ali.[28]

Mawdudi said, “if doubts arise even about such matters which are supported by such a continuous and unbroken series of witnesses, this state of affairs will not be confined to one or two problems. Hereafter, anything, whatever of a past age which has come down to us through verbal tradition will not be protected from doubt, be it the Qur'an or ritual prayer (namaz) or fasting (roza). It will come to the point that even Muhammad's mission to this world will be questioned.”[29]

Actually, he himself has contradicted the Quran over the mission of Muhammad (see Chapter “What Is Islam?”). He also denied the fact that protests against this law have always existed. A Sicil Record of 1728 from Sharia courts of the Ottoman Caliphs shows that the court only dissolved the marriage, but did not give the death sentence to apostate Ibrahim Bese, who “cursed” Islam as confirmed by two witnesses.[30] Similar cases were found in India as well. In the 1930s, a group of women declared apostasy to get their marriage with oppressive husbands dissolved. No one killed or imprisoned them. Unfortunately, the famous Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi did not address the oppression, but rather consulted with Middle Eastern clergies and applied Maliki law which does not dissolve marriage of apostate wives. The Quran and Prophet severely warned against overdoing the faith or forms of extremism in the faith.[31]  

However, Mawdudi claimed to save his proposed “Islamic State” from apostates by the following methods:

“(To) notify the Muslim population in the area where an Islamic revolution occurs that people who in belief and practice have defected from Islam and wish to remain as defectors should formally disclose their non-Muslim identity and leave our social order within a year from the date of the notification. After this period, all those who are born of Muslim lineage will be considered to be Muslim, they will be subject to all Islamic laws, they will be compelled to perform the religious duties and obligations, and then whoever steps outside the fold of Islam will be executed. Following this announcement utmost effort should be made to save as many sons and daughters born of Muslims as possible from the lap of kufr. Then whoever cannot be saved by any means should be cut off and cast away, sadly but firmly, from his society forever. After this act of purification, a new life for Islamic society may begin with only those Muslims who are dedicated to Islam.”[32]

If such a horror is not anti-Islamic, what is?


This law and the cultural branding of others as apostates (Taqfir) impacted Muslim societies devastatingly. Political Islamists have used these weapons to eliminate all kinds of opposition and any progressive, pluralistic views about Islam. They have victimized almost all our past and present scientists, philosophers, scholars, and even jurist Imams. This practice has exploded in recent years. Dr. Al Fawzan, a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, and author of country's religious curriculum, says, "Slavery is a part of Islam….Muslims who contend Islam is against slavery are ignorant, not scholars…..Whoever says such things is an infidel."[33] He also suggested that liberal Muslims are not real Muslims.[34] The Muslim world is full of clergy like Mufti Amini of Bangladesh, infamous for their habit of threatening others as apostates. Even in Canada in 2003, the brochure of the Sharia court claimed that a Canadian Muslim would be apostate if s/he went to Canadian court instead of the Sharia court.[35] This Sharia Court, the very first to function legally in West since 1991, was banned along with all other faith-courts in 2005 by the Ontario government due to strong protest from Muslim Canadian Congress, Canadian Council of Muslim Women, and International Campaign Against Canadian Sharia Court.                                            

            The good news is that many Islamic organizations, some Muslim States, and some leaders of Political Islam, are now denying that this law as Islamic in nature.[36] This is due to century-long, tireless campaigning by progressive Muslims, but we still have miles to go before we sleep. What all good Muslims should do is help the process of promoting freedom of and from religion in all Muslim societies.  

            Some Muslim clergies translate and interpret chapter 7 and verses 172-173 to claim that each person is born a Muslim, then their parents or environment turns many of them into followers of other faiths. They also cite Prophet’s same claim in Hadith.[37] They don’t realize that this claim turns all non-Muslims, the majority of humankind, to apostates – worthy of killing. These are the reasons that engender Islamophobia around the world.

(This is a chapter of my book “How Sharia-Ism Hijacked Islam: The Problem, Prognosis, and Prescription” - https://www.amazon.ca/How-Sharia-ism-Hijacked-Islam-Prescription/dp/1522023844#customerReviews)

Free download of the book click on the cover picture:- https://hasanmahmud.com/index.php/books/how-sharia-ism-hijacked-islam 


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html, last accessed 27 Apr 2017.

[2] Ibn Warraq, Leaving Islam. 

[3] Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law, translated by Syed Silas Husain and Ernest Hahn, (1994), available at http://answering-islam.org/Hahn/Mawdudi/.

[4] Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali Law.

[5] Codified Islamic Law, Vol. 1 article 444, Vol. 3 page 844. Author note: It was not possible to make sure if Maliki law dissolves marriage of apostate wives.

[6] Codified Islamic Law, Vol. 1, Law# 72 and Clause # 14, Medina Charter.

[7] Kidnapped Sudan Editor Beheaded (6 Sept 2006), BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5321368.stm.

[8] Writer of the visionary book, “The Second Message of Islam.”

[9] Prometheus Books (edited by Ibn Warraq).

[10]Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law, translated by Syed Silas Husain and Ernest Hahn, (1994).

[11] E.g., Bakara 217. See also Nisa 94 & 137; Imran 82, 86 & 106; Nahl 106; Tawba 66.

[12] Quran Chapter Nisa : 137

[13] See e.g. Quran 2:217, 3:82, 86, 106, 4:137, 9:66, 74, 16:106.

[14] Jihad is Made Obligatory, Quran Tafsir Ibn Kathir, http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=197#1, last accessed 27 Apr 2017.

[15] Towards Understanding the Quran, Islamic Studies, http://www.tafheem.net/main.html, last accessed 27 Apr 2017.

[16] Ibn Hisham/Ibn Ishaq, Sirat 384.

[17] Quran Chapter Tawba 11-12.

[18] By Mawlana Mufti Muhammad Shafi, translated to Bangla by Mawlana Muhiuddin Khan.

[19] Quran, chapter Nisa : 94.

[20] Sahi Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 52, Number 293.

[21] Sahi Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 89, Number 318.

[22] Ibn Hisham/Ibn Ishaq, Sirat 527, 550.

[23] E.g., Sahi Hadithes, Tarikh Al Tabari, Vol. 10.

[24] Al-Mawrid: A Foundation for Islamic Research and Education, http://www.al-mawrid.org/, last accessed 27 Apr 2017.

[25] From “Answering Islam – Silas.”

[26] Imam  Shafi’i book Reliance of the Traveller (.F1.3 and o.8.0), translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amana Corporation, (Revised edition, 1997).

[27] Tarek Fatah, Chasing A Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, John Wiley & Sons, (2008).

[28] Prophets’ speech in the Field of Gadeer, his wish in death bed to write an  instruction that Omar did not allow, his oral instructions from death bed  that the companion “forgot”, oppression on Ali and Fatima after Prophet and other documents.

[29] Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law, translated by Syed Silas Husain and Ernest Hahn, (1994).

[30] Amira El Azhari Sonbol, Women, The Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History page 119, Syracuse University Press, (1996).

[31] Quran chapter Nisa :171. See also Maida 77 and Last sermon  of the Prophet.

[32]  Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law, translated by Syed Silas Husain and Ernest Hahn, (1994).

[33] Saudi Sheik: 'Slavery is a Part of Islam' (10 Nov 2003), World Net Daily, http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=35518.

[34] Reuters, Edict Against Liberals Raises Violence Fears (9 July 2007), Gulf News, http://web.archive.org/web/20070712095256/http://archive.gulfnews.com/articles/07/07/09/10138030.html.

[35] Ibid at Chapter 2 for a photo of the group’s brochure.

[36] E.g., Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Dr. Jamal Badawi, Dr. Yusuf Qarzavi, Mubin Shaikh of Canada, Shah Abdul Hannan.

[37] Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426.