Why Do Muslims Kill Apostates?
An Afghan man is currently facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity from Islam. The former Muslim known as Abdul Brahman has been accused of apostasy and jailed, but is yet to be formally charged under Islamic laws.
In the United States this past week, talk shows and advocacy groups rallied their supporters, who flooded the White House and the Afghanistan Embassy with complaints against Islam. Expectedly, the incident has prompted a swift international outcry from world leaders.
And once again Islam is in the lime light for all the wrong reasons.
Anti-Muslim groups have been very quick to capitalise on the current sentiments. A plethora of hate literature against Islam is now rapidly circulating on the Internet, accusing Muslims of wrongfully holding back their peers who wish to opt out of the religion.
Islam is accused to be a chauvinistic and intolerant cult whose phenomenal growth is only happening because Muslims cannot leave the religion. Muslims are being portrayed as unwilling digits trapped into a religion whose clutches they have to endure silently for the rest of their life.
The more creative ones have even described Islam as “Hotel California”. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.
But are these accusations true? Is Islam really unforbearing towards followers of other religion, particularly apostates? Can one actually “check out”?
No Compulsion in Islam
The truth of the matter is, Islam is a religion that has never been forced upon. The very idea that a conversion into Islam is one way street in which one can never turn from is a much dissipated myth. The Quran prohibits Muslims to force Islam onto an individual. Muslims past and present have largely converted into Islam out of their own free will.
A very clear example of this commandement is the following translated Quranic verse from Surah Al-Baqara:
2:256 – “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.”
Another Quranic verse that Muslim scholars have pointed to is the following from Surah Al-Hijr which says:
15:2-3 “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).”
Again, no authority has been granted to Muslims to specifically kill the apostates of Islam should they mean no harm. Apostates are to be treated fairly as non-Muslims.
Compulsion will not make sense in Islam. Islam is one of the fastest growing forces on earth today. One out of every five person in this world is a Muslim. A strong religion like Islam could not have prospered without sincere devotion and faith of its followers, especially during tumultuous times such as the numerous Muslim persecutions during the time of prophet Muhammad and various crusades in the middle ages. At times like those, many could have just left Islam for the comfort of peace and prosperity.
But they did not. They stayed on and Islam is what it is today. The prosperity and growth of Islam in the future will still depend on that very same faith and sincerity – not compulsion.
So why are Muslims calling for the death of apostates?
The practise of granting death to apostates stems from a time in history where Jews and pagan Arabs enter Islam with the intention to disrupt and deceive the well being of the religion. According to Muslim scholars and noted historians, these hypocrites would pretend to embrace Islam in order to commit pillage and inflict damage onto the Muslim community once they are accepted in. After their job is done, they would leave Islam as fast as they had embraced it.
In instances such as these, the death penalty would have been the ultimate deterrent to stem such delinquent and potentially harmful behaviour towards Islam. Bear in mind that Islam was a religion that was highly under persecution and the avoidance of such activities was absolutely crucial to the survival community. That is the reason why there are several evidences in the Prophet’s sayings (Hadith) where permission is granted to kill these types of apostates.
On top of that, there were also highly dangerous apostates like Musylama Al-Kaththab who had gathered an army at the present-day Oman shortly after the death of Prophet Muhammad. His intention was to totally annihilate Muslims from the face of the earth. But this no longer applies in the context of current times, especially in the multi-cultural societies that we live in. Sadly, societies like Afghanistan have decided to maintain the death ruling.
More tolerant Muslim societies like those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have allowed Muslims to leave the religion- free from similar perturbations. However, Muslims who wish to leave the religion are sometimes counselled by the religious authorities and family members.
But what is the need for such counselling? Isn’t that a form of perturbation too?
Losing a member of the family is always a sad event. Similarly when the Muslim community is about to lose a member of the family, they would naturally try to prevent it from happening. Hopefully, they would change their minds.
Similar barriers, and sometimes punishments are present in other religions too. For example in Christianity, members have been explicitly told to kill apostates with their own hands.
Deuteronomy 13:6-9 “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying: Let us go and worship other gods (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other, or gods of other religions), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people.”
Deuteronomy 17:3-5 “And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens, …..and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die.”
Apostasy is not alien to Islam. Muslim leaders over the ages have lived peacefully with apostates and will continue to so so in the future. Ironically, it is our tolerance and benevolence that may just be the key for them to turn back. Not violence and indifference.
The author is an editor at [www.ewadah.com], a site that discusses the latest issues regarding Islam and Muslims. Drop by the site for more articles written by him.