Punishment for Apostasy In Islam and How Islam Teaches Tolerance


Nazma Raichuri Bishop, Hounslow

In 2017, The Independent newspaper reported that there are over 13 countries that declare apostasy punishable by law; all except one of these are Muslim majority countries. This is not a surprising statistic from the view of the populist misguiding media about practices of Islam, but one that could not be further from the truth. The menacing practice of killing apostates (someone who has repudiated their faith) is based neither on the Holy Qur’an nor on the practice of the Holy Prophet of Islam, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

The Holy Qur’an addresses disbelief more than 150 times, yet never gives authority to punish the disbelievers for their disbelief; Islam does not allow any worldly punishment, let alone death, for apostasy. There is no mention of any punishment for an apostate in this world which may be inflicted by human hands, politically or administratively.

The confrontations and disputes between Messengers of God and those who opposed them throughout the history of religion were caused when people rejected the message of the Prophets which they brought from God. The Holy Qur’an mentions this with reference to Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus (peace be on them all) and states:

‘He has prescribed for you the religion which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have revealed to thee, and which We enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying, ‘Remain steadfast in obedience, and be not divided therein Hard upon the idolaters is that to which thou callest them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He pleases, and guides to Himself him who turns to Him.’ (42:14)

There have been cases in Islamic history in which someone became an apostate, murdered Muslims and was guilty of armed rebellion. History tells us that the murderer has had to forfeit his life, and the armed rebellion is put down with the use of force. Anyone who took up the sword to kill people (in this case Muslims), was punished with death because of the murder and not because of his repudiation of Islam.

“Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; You are not a warden over them.” (Holy Qur’an 88:22-23).

Islam has guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of belief, and has announced in the plainest terms that so far as faith is concerned everyone is answerable to Allah alone. The Prophet of Islam, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was commanded to proclaim that he had not been appointed a keeper over the people, nor had he been made responsible for them. No one has been made responsible for another’s faith; everyone is responsible for himself.

The punishment for apostasy in Islam lies with the One against whom the offence has been committed, i.e. Allah. In Islam apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable in this world.

The role of a true Muslim today is to spread the message of truth and is by no stretch of the imagination the role of an enforcer. We are entrusted to heal, help, and support the people of the world, and we do it through reasoning and tolerance, we respect others right to reject, and we always counsel with love and patience as guided by the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.


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