Sunday, March 26, 2006

Confusion Over The Issue Of Apostasy.

Shahul Hameed.

Actually, there is a lot of confusion about this issue of apostasy. The Noble Qur'an does not prescribe death penalty for deserters of Islam, but rather states that they would be in Hell in the hereafter (Al- Baqarah 2:217).

Here is a verse that directly refers to people who abandon their faith after accepting it. It says what means:

But those who reject faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of faith never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have [of set purpose] gone astray. (Aal-'Imran 3:90)

It should be noted that there is no mention here of the death penalty for the deserters.

However, there are Muslim scholars of respected opinions who believe in the death penalty for apostates because of hadiths that mention it. If we study the context of these hadiths, we can see that the ruling was with reference to certain specific cases of miscreants who wished to undermine Islam, by joining Islam first and then deserting it. This is mentioned in the following verse that says what means:

A section of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] say: "Believe in the morning what is revealed to the believers [Muslims], but reject it at the end of the day; perchance they may [themselves] turn back [from Islam]." (Aal `Imran 3:72)

In order to protect Islam from such malicious attempts to subvert it, the Prophet ordered the death penalty for such people. This indeed was a drastic step adopted by the Prophet to ensure the solidarity of the nascent Muslim community in those days. If it had been a general ruling applicable for all occasions, this would have been stated in the Qur'an because it is a life-and-death question that affects the very fabric of Islam most seriously. On the other hand, read the verse that says what means:

Again and again will those who disbelieve, wish that they had bowed [to God's will] in Islam. Leave them alone to enjoy [the good things of this life] and to please themselves: let [false] hope amuse them: soon will knowledge [undeceive them]. (Al-Hijr 15:2-3)

This verse clearly indicates that the disbelievers should be left alone. Moreover, the killing of apostates would undermine the freedom of will Allah has bestowed on each human, as is made clear in the verses that say what means:

If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! No soul can believe, except by the will of God, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand. (Yunus 10:99-100)

Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject [it]: for the wrong doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a dwelling (resting place)!"(Al-Kahf 18:29)

Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Al-Baqarah 2:256)

The verses quoted above are categorical that complete freedom of will is a condition for sincere and wholehearted submission to Allah Almighty, and no force should be used in this regard. This is because coercion does not go along with freedom of choice.

In addition, we may consider another verse, too, which says what means:

Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe [again] and [again] reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief, — Allah will not forgive them nor guide them on the way. (An-Nisaa' 4:137)

The example of a person who vacillates between Islam and disbelief is cited here. Note the expression: believe, then reject faith, then believe [again] and [again] reject faith.

How can we imagine a person becoming a Muslim a second time, after rejecting faith once, IF he is to be killed after his rejection? The significance of this verse is one of free choice; though one is expected to be responsible in the use of that choice.

Thus, we see that the general teaching of the Qur'an is one of freedom of choice and mercy. In addition, if we are to adopt the death penalty for apostates today, with the exception of one or two there is the absence of a true Islamic system (even in the so-called Islamic countries) to judge apostasy and to enforce the punishment where it is due. Second, there are scholars of respected opinions who doubt whether death is the due punishment now. Third, we need to question the emphasis on punishments rather than on peaceful and diplomatic means of promoting the Islamic ideal. Which is prior to what, in which case, should be judged only by true correct and wise Muslim scholars.


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