Apostasy – c
c)They contradict other hadiths of the Prophet, for example:
Abu Huraira reports that the Prophet said: ‘None of the Muslims is allowed to [take] another Muslim’s blood, property and honor.
- a) They were not cited by the companions when they themselveshad to deal with apostasy.
Ibn Abbas quoted the hadith (‘he who changes his religion, kill him’) in the context of his disapproval of Ali’s punishment of the Zatt, a sect that refused to give up their pagan practices. This happened during Ali’s reign as caliph, more than thirty-five years after the Hijra of the Prophet.
Significantly, this hadith was not cited by Abu Bakr when he was challenged by Umar for his harsh treatment of apostate tribes twenty years earlier. He only said to Umar: ‘By God, I will [definitely] fight those who separate between prayer and zakat. By God, if they refuse [to pay even] a bridle, which they used to pay to the Messenger of God, I will fight them for their refusal.”
If the hadith reported by Ibn Abbas had been such an approved and well-known statement of the Prophet, as it is now claimed, Abu Bakr would have surely used it in his reply to Umar in order to justify his persecution of apostate tribes because it would have had much more authority than his own ijtihad on this.
- b) The hadith has never been applied and turned into common practice (‘kill him’), neither during the time of the Prophet nor during the reign of the rightly guided caliphs. Those clans, tribes,
and individuals, which al-Zamakhshari lists, were not killed because of the fact that they abandoned religion but because of the political consequences their apostasy had for the safety and welfare of Muhammad’s community at the time.
This will be explained in detail below.
- All accounts of the first cases of apostasy start in the year ten of the Hijra, after Muhammad’s farewell pilgrimage.
This includes the exegetical works on 2:217 and 5:54, and the treatment of apostasy by scholars of hadith, sira, akhbar, and tarajim—all of them seem to date the first cases of apostasy to the last year of Muhammad’s life.
Does this mean that before 632 there were no cases of apostasy?
Of course there were many! We are told that it was then labelled as ‘hypocrisy’ (nifaq), not apostasy. a”isha said: ‘the Messenger of Allah died, and the Arabs apostatized, but it was [still] known as hypocrisy’.
Also, al-Zamakhshari’s list of apostates ends with a group that apostatized during the reign of Umar. Does this mean that after his death in 644 there were no more cases of apostasy?
Of course there were, but in the fiqh manuals they became categorized under different headings, for example, (assault), (breach of the oath of allegiance), (secession from the community), al-zandaqa (heresy, ‘free thought’), (disobedience and rebellion against those in authority, political dissent), and others.
It is evident from this that apostasy has not been treated systematically by the fuqaha” and that the lists of apostates circulated by the exegetes are both historically and legally worthless. From the discussion so far we can discern four things:
first, apostasy needs to be publicly manifest (openly declared) in order to be punished (Imam Malik); second, it has to become ‘known’, that is, officially acknowledged—even though it might be under the name of hypocrisy (hadith by a”isha);
third, apostasy was treated as a collective misdeed ( al-Zamakhshari); and
fourth, apostasy is reported to have occurred in the shape of (armed) separatist movements which forcefully opposed the authority of the central government.
We see that the real issue at stake was the question of loyalty which was measured according to the standards of tribal alliances of ancient Arabia. Apostasy from religion, as such, did not matter to anyone.
These accounts give us a good picture of the tribal culture of ancient Arabia. At its heart lay the question of allegiance, loyalty, tribal solidarity, and the (male-centred) norms of honour and dignity. Tribal warfare was an expression of power politics that aimed at the regulation of the balance of power in the Arabian Peninsula and at the political and military control over the area. The so-called apostasy wars were not fought because someone ‘left religion’ or apostatized from the faith, otherwise everyone who abandoned Islam in those years would have been killed, which was clearly not the case.
Reading al-tabari’s history, one comes across names of people who, because of their alliance to tribes that fought the troops of Abu Bakr’s central government, should also have been killed—at least according to the alleged words of the Prophet, i.e. ‘he who changes his religion, kill him’ and ‘he who changes his religion, cut off his head”—but the fact that they were left alone not only increases our doubts as to the authenticity of these hadiths but also as to the fuqaha”s’ claims to have correctly read these events.
Is it possible that Abu Bakr and the other caliphs would have been allowed to kill apostates in the way it is reported—assuming for a moment that the accounts are accurate—purely because these people abandoned a specific belief? Or put differently, how likely is it that their harsh (persecution and decapitation) and often inconsistent (marriage to relatives, release from prison) treatment of apostates could have been possible?
Indeed, we would not be so critical of our early history if that spurious concept of (punishment for) apostasy, which provided the perfect legal pretext for the elimination of political opponents during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, did not today play such a dominant role in the tactics of Islamist groups and their terror against the political establishment. Ironically, by allowing the killing of political rulers on the basis of (alleged) apostasy, Aiman al-dhawihiri and other ideologues are using precisely the same weapon of terror as the ancient political regimes did in order to intimidate their opponents.
Because of the confusion between religion (disbelief ) and politics (secession) from the time of the early ‘wars of apostasy’, apostasy has attained a political dimension and has thus been fixed in the Arab-Muslim mind ever since. And since the fuqaha” were so involved in power politics during that period, apostasy, with these political overtones, has come to be formulated in Islamic law with exactly that fusion of religion with politics, rendering what happened during the appointment of Abu Bakr as Muhammad’s successor (eliminating the influence of the al-Ansar) as perfectly legal.
Once these apostasy wars, and in particular Abu Bakr’s military expedition in the years 10–11 A.H., were defined as ‘fulfilling God’s words’, they became the legal norm of how to deal with (any) apostate (individual or group), so that the possibility of being persecuted as an apostate hung over the political opposition like a sword of Damocles and is today, because the Islamists have turned this threat against the rulers themselves, a common feature of our current political life.
Apostasy – d is next