Islam and Apostasy

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Apostasy (ارتداد, irtidād and ridda) i.e. the rejection of faith, is a serious offense in Islam. The punishment for apostasy as prescribed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad is death. A murtad (مرتد apostate) who hides his apostasy is referred to as a munāfiq (منافق hypocrite).

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In Islam, the rejection in part (of any of the pillars, or individual principles of Islam), or discarding the faith as a whole, amounts to apostasy.[1] The punishment for apostasy in the Islamic faith is death. Though it may be argued that this is not clear through the Qur'an alone, scholars have found justification for the penalty from within its pages, and there are also numerous Sahih (authentic) hadiths confirming this punishment as attested by Prophet Muhammad. In Sahih Bukhari, we see it as “Allah's Apostle said, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him'”,[2] and it was also one of only three reasons given by him where killing a Muslim is permitted.[3]

Historical Context

An evaluation of Islam's attitude to apostasy would not be complete without expounding on the political make up of the religion. Islam is essentially a tribal system that once was the social composition of Arabia in the north. Society, in its absolute sense, had never been in existence in the north prior to Islam. All that existed there were certain assemblages that never flourished or evolved into a fully fledged society for several reasons; one being, that most at that time were nomads wandering throughout the desert. Religion was not a personal but communal affair in pre-Islamic Arabia. Deserting religion thus amounted to treason and so was punishable by death. The death penalty being incorporated into Islam for apostasy is better understood when viewed through this tribal prism. Muhammad once belonged to this way of life, but reshuffled society and he did so by organizing certain tribes under one roof without sacrificing much of the already existing norms. Muhammad was successful, thus, did not venture to get rid of all pre-existing tribal prescripts. Instead, he assimilated many of them into his new religion. The prescribed punishment for apostasy was one such practice which Muhammad annexed.

Early Islam

We do not know of any apostates being killed during the lifetime of Muhammad for the specific crime of apostasy. This is largely due to the lack of individuals apostatizing during Muhammad's life. However in one Sahih Bukhari hadith, Muhammad is seen deporting a Bedouin who desired to discard his religion. This incident alone does not indicate Muhammad viewing apostasy as anything less than treason or a crime worthy of death. This alleged incident occurred during the early stages of Islam in Medina where Muhammad’s Islam and its revelations were incomplete and a far cry from the all encompassing way of life it was to become by the time of his death. After the death of Muhammad and under the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, many apostates had been killed during the lengthy “Riddah (apostasy) wars”. This attests to the fact that apostasy had already become a serious crime within Islam and was not some later innovation. In fact, it was a Qur’anic verse[4] which prompted Abu Bakr to fight against the people who refused to pay tithe. These people were not rejecting Islam as a whole but only refusing to abide by one of its five pillars (Zakat). As historians will testify, Abu Bakr took up arms against them in a bloody war which lasted for over a year (632–633 CE). The Caliph did not put down his arms until all rejectors were either killed or had reverted back into the fold of Islam. There are also many narrations which record Muhammad's command being followed by his companions, with atheists,[2] Christians,[5] and Jews[6] being put to death for leaving Islam.


For a comprehensive collation of the rulings regarding apostasy from the four Sunni schools of Jurisprudence, with additional sources cited beyond those given here, see the article:

Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars: Apostasy#Fiqh

Islamic jurisprudence on Apostasy is derived from the words of Muhammad and the aforementioned actions of the Caliph and other companions. If rejecting one of the pillars of Islam is considered to be a crime warranting war against such people, it is only logical for the prescribed punishment for apostasy in Islam to be death. Imam Abu Hanifa’s prescript as seen in Al-Shybani's Kitab al-Siyar grants the apostate a stipulated period of three days to revert back to Islam or face the death penalty. All four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence are in agreement with this ruling, with only slight variations on whether to allow the grace period and the punishment for females.[5] The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence believe female apostates are an exception to the rule and are not to be killed, but beaten every three days and put under confinement until death or repentance, while the remaining Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools all agree the verdict for the female apostate is the same as for the male.[7] In Shia Islam, the males are to be executed, but females imprisoned and beaten at the times of Salah.[8]

The conditions for apostasy are that the apostate is performing an act of free will, is of adult age (which means puberty in Islam), is of sound mind, and does so intentionally.[8]

The rulings for the four four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence and the Ja'fari school in Shia Islam can be summarised as follows:[8][9][10]

Hanafi - recommends three days of imprisonment before execution to allow repentance, although the delay before killing the Muslim apostate is not mandatory. Apostates who are men must be killed, states the Hanafi Sunni fiqh, while women must be held in solitary confinement and beaten every three days till they recant and return to Islam.

Maliki - allows three days for recantation, after which the apostate must be killed. The same applies to both men and women apostates according to the traditional view of Sunni Maliki fiqh.

Shafi'i - waiting period of three days is required to allow the Muslim apostate to repent and return to Islam. After the wait, execution is the traditional recommended punishment for both men and women apostates.

Hanbali - three day waiting period should be granted. Apostate is invited three times to repent. Execution is the traditionally recommended punishment for both genders of Muslim apostates.

And in Shia Islam:

Ja'fari - waiting period not necessary, but may be granted according to this Shia fiqh, but only if the apostate was born a disbeliever (Murtad al-Milli). A male apostate must be executed, states the Ja'fari fiqh, while a female apostate must be held in solitary confinement and beaten on the hours of salah with her food tightly rationed till she repents and returns to Islam.

There are also civil law penalties for apostates who are imprisoned, awaiting execution, or have taken flight.[8][11] Except for the Hanafites, the apostate's right to dispose of his or her property is suspended pending repentance. An apostate loses the right to inherit (from anyone, Muslim or otherwise). The schools and jurists within them differ on whether all an apostate's property goes to their Muslim heirs, or just that acquired before his apostasy (if a male). The apostate's marriage contract is annulled upon the act of apostasy, even if they repent, or is suspended pending repentance within the wife's waiting period in the Shafi'i school (if already consumated) and Shia Ja'fari school (if the apostate was born a disbeliever).

Modern Muslims

A Pew poll released on April 30, 2013 asked Muslims in 39 countries between 2008 and 2012 questions about religion, politics and society based on 38,000 face-to-face interviews. In one question, asked in 37 of these countries with a combined Muslim population of just over 1 billion people, the survey asked participants whether they favored or opposed the death penalty for leaving Islam. Using the complete dataset for this question on page 219 of the full report[12], and weighing the responses by Muslim population[13] indicates that overall, 40% of Muslims in these countries favour the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.

The percentage was below 10% in Central Asia, Turkey and Balkan countries included in the survey. It was above 50% in Afghanistan (79%), Egypt (88%), Jordan (83%), Malaysia (58%), Pakistan (75%), Palestinian Territories (62%), and Djbouti (62%). It is possible that support for the penalty has fallen in the years since the survey was conducted due to worldwide distaste for the actions of ISIS and attempts to distance Islam from the actions of that group, and in Egypt following the negative experience of Muslim Brotherhood government.

Note that a common mistake is made by commentators on this survey who don't read the full dataset at the end of the full report. In Chapter 1: Beliefs about Sharia, there is a table showing support for the death penalty for apostasy by those who answered that they were in favour of Sharia in their country in an earlier question. Multiplying the percentages in these two tables results in significantly lower, but incorrect conclusions compared to those mentioned above (Egypt, for example would appear to have 64% support for the penalty on this basis, and overall support in the countries surveyed would be approximately 35% after weighing by Muslim population).

However, this approach ignores support for the apostasy death penalty by those who answered that they do not support / don't know whether they support Sharia being the official law in their country, which surprisingly, makes a significant difference. Only the table on page 219 reveals support for the apostasy death penalty for all respondents in each country. This was confirmed by an independent analysis of the data and correspondance with Pew's Director of International Survey Research.[14]

Nevertheless, a strong correlation can be seen in the results for the two questions on support for Sharia and support for the death penalty for apostates.[15]

So with all points considered, we can rightly conclude from religious texts, history and even modern Muslim opinion in most of the countries with the strongest support for Sharia, that the ruling of Islam is to put apostates to death if they refuse to revert back to their Islamic faith. This ruling remains true even among the Shi'ite sect,[16] whom together with the Sunnis constitute almost the entirety of the world's Muslim population.[17][18]

Modern Scholars and Apologetics

Some modern scholars ignore centuries of Islamic jurisprudence on the penalty for apostasy and instead interpret certain Qur'anic verses as allowing freedom of religion, including apostasy. They also argue that some apostates were allowed to live during Muhammad's lifetime, and point to a small number of early scholars who they claim supported less severe treatment of apostates. These interpretations and claims are disputed by traditionalists.

There is also a growing trend to instead interpret or contextualize hadiths and Qur'anic verses to mean that only those apostates who fought against the Muslims or gave support to their enemies were to be given the penalty. It is then regarded in these apologetics as a punishment for treason. Others claim that even talking openly about one's apostasy is an act of treason by undermining the foundation of the Islamic state, but that apostates who keep their beliefs private should be left alone.

Primary Articles

The following are summaries of pages discussing Islam, in relation to Apostasy:

Islamic Writing and Apostasy

This page simply quotes authoritative Islamic sources, i.e. the Qur'an, hadith, and both classical and modern scholars, to provide you with an accurate picture of what Islam teaches in regards to apostasy.

Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."
Narrated Ikrima: Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' "

Apostasy and Human Rights

The full text taken from a paper that was presented by Ibn Warraq at a panel discussion on "Apostasy, Human Rights, Religion and Belief" held at the the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva, 18th April 2005.

It is clear quite clear that under Islamic Law an apostate must be put to death. There is no dispute on this ruling among classical Muslim or modern scholars... Sura II.217 is interpreted by no less an authority than al-Shafi'i(died 820 C.E.), the founder of one of the four orthodox schools of law of Sunni Islam to mean that the death penalty should be prescribed for apostates. Sura II.217 reads: "... But whoever of you recants and dies an unbeliever , his works shall come to nothing in this world and the next, and they are the companions of the fire for ever." Al-Thalabi and al -Khazan concur. Al-Razi in his commentary on II:217 says the apostate should be killed . Similarly, IV. 89: "They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all like alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of God. If they desert you seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them..." Baydawi (died c. 1315-16), in his celebrated commentary on the Koran, interprets this passage to mean: "Whosover turns back from his belief ( irtada ), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether .Do not accept intercession in his regard". Ibn Kathir in his commentary on this passage quoting Al Suddi (died 745) says that since the unbelievers had manifested their unbelief they should be killed.

Real-World Impact of Apostasy Laws

Former Muslims are often persecuted, abused and killed by Muslims. This treatment of apostates is not simply down to the issue of state-enforced religion as some may suggest. The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives, not from government authorities, but from family members and individuals from the Islamic communities themselves, who operate very often with impunity from the government. This point is further emphasized by the persecution and murder of former Muslims which has now become evident in many non-Muslim societies. For example, in 2007 the daughter of a British Imam was taken under police protection after receiving death threats from her father (a leader of a mosque in Lancashire) for converting to Christianity.[19]

Notable Former Muslims

Whilst apostatizing from the Islamic faith is a dangerous thing to do, in addition to movie stars and rappers, many outspoken Muslim preachers, mullahs, imams, scholars, missionaries and even terrorists have apostatized and become atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindu's etc. In doing so, many (including Ibn Warraq and Mark Gabriel) have taken it upon themselves to oppose the Islamic ideology and have become celebrities in their own right.

Muslims Leaving Islam by the Millions

Muslims often (sometimes falsely) advertise news of non-Muslims converting to Islam, but they do not tell the other side of the story, where Muslims are also leaving Islam. There are more Muslims leaving Islam today than there are new converts joining it.[20] In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 6 million Muslims are leaving Islam each and every year. Once the majority faith of the continent, they are now the minority with Christianity being the majority. The sheer volume of recent apostates is unprecedented in the history of Islam. Here at WikiIslam, we document this news and host hundreds of written testimonies.

Apostasy Discussed in Arabic/Islamic Media

This hub page contains English translations of various Arabic/Islamic media discussing apostasy.

Whoever insults Allah, the angels, and the religion, has apostatized from Islam, and become an infidel -- (agreed).

The apostate is the legally competent one who voluntarily withdraws from Islam, whether he openly declares his infidelity, or utters something which makes him an infidel, or does something which makes him an infidel. In this case, this man has uttered something which makes him an infidel! For he insulted the religion, or in other words mocked, ridiculed, and belittled it. We take this from Islam -- (agreed).

The ruling on the apostate is for him to seek forgiveness within three days, and if not he is killed, according to the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): "The blood of a Muslim man is not permissible except under one of three conditions: 1) he commits adultery, 2) he takes an innocent life, or 3) he abandons his religion and separates himself from the community" (narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Ibn Mas'ud).

Let us beware, servants of Almighty Allah, to not be careless or reckless in our words and deeds, and to fear Almighty Allah in that which we say. For it is a great disaster for insults to the religion and the like to be found on our tongues, rather than remembrance and thanks for Almighty Allah.


See Also



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Other Core Articles

Core articles contain an overview of other articles related to a specific issue, and serve as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn about Islam:

External Links


  1. Questions about Apostasy (Blasphemy) - Al
  2. 2.0 2.1 M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84 - Dealing with Apostates, Number 57 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
  3. M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 83 - Blood Money (Ad-Diyat), Number 17 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
  4. "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." - Quran 9:5
  5. 5.0 5.1 Abul Ala Maududi - The Punishment of the Apostate According to Islamic Law - Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, 1963
  6. M. Muhsin Khan (Translator) - Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84 - Dealing with Apostates, Number 58 - USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts
  7. 'Abdurrahmani'l-Djaziri - The Penalties for Apostasy in Islam According to the Four Schools of Islamic Law - "The Case of the Female Apostate" (Pg. 19)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Peters, R.and G.J.J.De Vries (1976-77), 'Apostasy in Islam'. Die Welt des Islams 17, 1/4:1-25 [ pdf of the article] or jstor article with free read access
  9. webcitation archive Sunni books of jurisprudence (translations) quoted in The Rationaliser, Apostasy in Islam, 2014
  10. Imam Khomeini, Tahrir al-Wasilar Volumie IV (English translation), Tehran: Institute for Compilation of Imam Khomeini's works, 2011, p.255
  11. Fatwah 134339: Effect of apostasy on marriage before and after consummation]
  12. The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society Pew Research Centre, 30 April 2013, p.219 (responses by country to the question on apostasy)
  13. Future Global Muslim Population Pew Research Centre, 2011, pp.156-163 (Estimated Muslim population by country in 2010)
  14. Check the original source! How so many writers got the facts wrong after the Maher vs. Affleck Islam debate Archive
  15. Survey Reports - The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society - Chapter 1: Beliefs about Sharia - Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013
  16. A Shiite Opinion on Apostasy - Originally from Kayhan International, March 1986
  17. Comparison of Sunni and Shia Islam - ReligionFacts, accessed October 4, 2011
  18. Tracy Miller - Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population - Pew Research Center, October 2009
  19. Imam's daughter in hiding after her conversion to Christianity sparked death threats - London Evening Standard, December 6, 2007
  20. 6 Million Muslims LEAVE Islam every year! Shiekh Ahmed Katani, speaking with Maher Abdallah