Apostasy – B

July 8, 2021

Apostasy – b

Neither verse suggests punishing the apostate in any specific (corporeal) or personal way. Given the fact that the adoption of faith is a conscious, rational decision taken by intelligent people freely and voluntarily, the absence of any order to act against apostasy should not surprise anyone.

After all, apostasy is a personal decision that only needs to be given account for on the Day of Judgement. The Book says that those who believe do so for the good of their own soul, and those who disbelieve do so to their own loss:

Say: ‘O you men! Now truth has reached you from your Lord! Those who receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls; those who stray, do so to their own loss: and I am not (set) over you to arrange your affairs.’ (Yunus:108)

We showed him the way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will). (Insan:3) Given that these are clear rules by the Book, it is surprising to read that the commentaries of the exegetes prescribe unbelievably cruel punishment for apostates. In al-Razi’s Mafatih al-ghayb we read, for example, that an apostate ‘should be killed and should be fought until he is defeated. He does not deserve any support, help or good words from the believers. His wife should separate from him, and he does not deserve inheritance from the believers.”

By which verse of the Book can they justify such cruelty? We also hear unbelievable stories about the punishment of entire tribes for apostasy during the early period of Islam.

In al- Zamakhshari’s Tafsir al-kashaf we read that ‘during the period of the Messenger there were three groups of people who apostacized:

1—the clan of the Banu Mudlaj

2—the clan of the Banu hanifah

3—the clan of the Banu Asad

During the reign of Abu Bakr there were a further seven groups of apostates:

4—the tribe of the Fazarah

5—the Ghatfan

6—the clan of the Banu Salim

7—the clan of the Banu Yarbu’

8— from the clan of the Banu Tamim

9—the tribe of the Kindah

10—the tribe of the Bikr bin Wa”il of al-Bahrayn

and during the reign of Umar bin al-Khattab there was one more group:

11—the Ghassan

Zamakhshari’s list is very peculiar for three main reasons.

First, it omits, for no given reason, the Banu Amiyya (and hence of Abdallah bin Sa’d bin Abi Sarah and Marwan bin al-hakam who allegedly apostatized), while it includes the people of Ghassan as apostates who, ironically, had never accepted Muhammad’s new message and could therefore, not apostatize.

Second, it suggests collective takfir, that is, the accusation of unbelief against a whole group because of the apostasy of individual members of this group—which contradicts the rule of the Book that ‘no laden soul shall bear the burden of another’ (35:18).

Third, it lists the names of Muhammad’s companions (e.g., al-Ash’ath bin Qays) who should be, by the exegetes’ own logic, beyond the accusation of kufr, given that the scholars keep circulating a hadith that calls the believers to follow (all!) of Muhammad’s companions: ‘My companions are like the stars. Whichever [of them] you follow, you obtain guidance.”

It is obvious to everyone that such accounts of apostasy are in clear breach of the rules of the Book. Later exegetes such as al-Razi and al-Zamakhshari were victims of a scholarly ethos that,

  1. a) regarded the Companions as infallible and
  2. b) took their accounts as sacrosanct,

resulting in doctrines that mutated ‘historical Islam’ into ‘Islamic history’, a form of revisionism through which purely historical narratives turn into sanctified heritage, and heritage into legislation. By the time al-Razi and al-Zamakhshari wrote their commentaries, they could not but accept at face value the texts of the tradition which had acquired an authority that they did not dare to challenge. At the root of this problem lay the earlier fuqaha”s’ search for a passage in the Book with the help of which their masters and employers, that is, the despotic rulers of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, could legitimize the liquidation of their political opponents as a preventive measure for the protection of religion.

When the fuqaha” realized that they could find nothing in the Book that served this purpose, they moved on to the prophetical Sunna searching for a suitable hadith.

Yet again, they could not find a rule that demands the killing of an apostate. Finally, they searched the sira biographies of the Prophet and made a strike. They referred to reports that claim that Muhammad had ordered the killing of the clan of the Banu Mudlaj (because of the apostasy of al-Aswad al-Anasi), the killing of the clan of the Banu hanifah (because of the apostasy of Musaylima al-Kadhab), and the killing of the clan of the Banu Asad (because of the apostasy of tulaihah bin Khuwaylid).

Furthermore, they claimed to have found a hadith that quotes the Prophet saying that ‘he who changes his religion, kill him’, and finally they managed to portray Abu Bakr and Umar as acting only in the tradition of the Prophet’s harsh words on apostasy when they persecuted and punished clans and tribes which had apostatized.

However, their claims can easily be contradicted in several ways, for example:

  1. ‘Ali had burnt a group of apostates.This [news] reached Ibn Abbas who said, “Had it been me, I [also] would have killed them because of the statement of the Messenger: ‘he who changes his religion, kill him’…..

2-by a hadith narrated by Imam Malik in his Muwatta’, reported by Zayd bin Aslam: ‘The Prophet said: “He who changes his religion, cut off his head.”

We believe that both hadiths are unreliable/false for the following five reasons:

  1. a) They contradict the punishment for apostasy as it is given in the Book (2:217; 5:54).
  2. b) They deviate from the spirit of the Book and its treatment of disbelief or—as it puts it—any ‘rejection of God’:

Not for you, (but for God), is the decision: whether He turn in mercy to them, or punish them; for they are indeed wrong-doers. (al-Imran:128)

Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance. (Nahl:125)

If it had been your Lord’s will, they would all have believed—all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! (Yunus:99)

Therefore, do give admonition, for you are one to admonish. *

You are not one to manage (men’s) affairs. * But if any turn away and reject God, * God will punish him with a mighty punishment. (Ghashiyya:21–24)

Apostasy – c  is next