Apostasy in Islam

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Muslim countries with death penalty for the crime of apostasy as of 2013.[1] Many other Muslim countries provide prison term for apostasy, or prosecute it under blasphemy or other laws.[2]

Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ردةriddah, literally means: "relapse" or "regress" but usually translates to "apostasy", or ارتداد irtidād) is commonly defined in Islam as the rejection in word or deed of one's former religion (apostasy) by a person who was previously a follower of Islam. Islamic scholarship differs on the appropriate punishment for the apostate (or murtad مرتد ), which ranges from execution – based on an interpretation of certain hadiths – to no punishment at all as long as they do not rebel against the Islamic society or religion.[3] A significant minority of contemporary Muslim scholars (and twelve Muslim-majority countries[4][unreliable source?][better source needed] hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.[5][6][7]

According to critics of the traditional position of classical jurists or scholars, apostasy is an issue of freedom of faith and conscience, but has become conflated with treason against the community or the state. Most Islamic scholars say the original rulings on apostasy were similar to those for treasonous acts in legal systems worldwide and do not apply to an individual's choice of religion,[8][9][unreliable source?][better source needed] while many contemporary Muslim scholars, including influential[peacock term] Islamic reformers, have rejected this position, arguing for religious freedom instead.[6][10][11][12]

The definition of apostasy from Islam —at least among those who have killed or threatened to kill people for apostasy—[not in citation given] includes not only former Muslims who have renounced Islam (such as converts to Christianity or another religion),[13] but self-professed Muslims who have allegedly questioned or denied "a fundamental tenet of creed" of Islam, such as sharia law, the prophets or angels of Islam, or who have "mocked God", "worshiped idols", etc.,[14][15][16][17] and is even applied to some who were born non-Muslim, but whose ancestors had converted from Islam—examples being Bahá'ís in Iran and Ahmadiyya in Pakistan.[18]

Scriptural references[edit]


Quran discusses apostasy in many of its verses. For example:[19]

But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.

Quran 3:90

Make ye no excuses: ye have rejected Faith after ye had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin.

Quran 9:66

He who disbelieves in Allah after his having believed, not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith, but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief-- on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.

Quran 16:106

In these, and other verses,[20] Quran reprimands apostasy in Islam and suggests it deserves chastisement. However, Quran does not reveal a specific punishment for apostasy.[21] The sunnah in Hadiths, which form part of Sharia, specify death penalty.[21]


Within the different Hadith collections, there are references to punishments for committing apostasy in Islam.[22] For example, in the Sahih al-Bukhari, the most trusted book in Islam after Quran, punishments for apostasy are described:[23]

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."

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17

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.'

Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:260

A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu'adh bin Jabal came and saw the man with Abu Musa. Mu'adh asked, "What is wrong with this (man)?" Abu Musa replied, "He embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism." Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down unless you kill him (as it is) the verdict of Allah and His Apostle.

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:89:271

The Sahih Muslim collection, reiterates and confirms that which is in the Sahih al-Bukhari collection:[24]

"(4152) 'Abdullah (b. Mas'ūd) reported Allah's Messenger as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact) that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah, but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for a life, and the deserter of his Din (Islam), abandoning the community."[25]

Sahih Muslim, 16:4152 see also Sahih Muslim, 16:4154, Sahih Muslim, 20:4490

There are many other sunnah that describe capital punishments for apostasy in Islam.[26][27]

What constitutes apostasy in Islam[edit]

Apostasy is called irtidād (which literally means relapse or regress) or ridda in Islamic literature; an apostate is called murtadd, which means 'one who turns back' from Islam.[28] Someone born to a Muslim parent, or who has previously converted to Islam, becomes a murtadd if he or she verbally denies any principle of belief proscribed by Qur'an or a Hadith, deviates from approved Islamic tenets (ilhad), or if he or she commits a blasphemy such as treating a copy of the Qurʾan with disrespect.[29][30][31] A person born to a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam is called a murtad fitri, and a person who converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a murtad milli.[32][33][34]

A person is considered apostate if he or she converts from Islam to another religion.[35] A person is an apostate even if he or she believes in most of Islam, but verbally or in writing denies of one or more principles or precepts of Islam.[29] For example, a Muslim who doubts the existence of Allah, enters a church or temple, makes offerings to and worships a symbol of Christ, an idol or stupa or any image of God, celebrates festivals of non-Muslim religion, helps build a church or temple, confesses a belief in rebirth or reincarnation of God, disrespects Qur'an or Islam's Prophet are all individually sufficient evidence of apostasy.[36][37][38]

Some examples of Apostasy in Islam, according to Sunni Shafi'i school of jurisprudence (Fiqh), are:[39] (a) bowing before sun, moon, objects of nature, idols, cross or any images symbolically representing God whether in mere contrariness, sarcastically or with conviction; (b) intention, hesitation or actually commiting unbelief in Islam; (c) speak words such as "Allah is the third of three" or "I am Allah"; (d) revile, question, wonder, doubt, mock or deny the existence of Allah or Prophet of Islam or that the Prophet was sent by Allah; (e) revile, deny, doubt or mock any verse of the Quran, or the religion of Islam; (f) deny or fail to practice that which is considered obligatory by Ijma (consensus of Muslims); (g) believe that things in themselves or by their nature have cause rather than it being the will of Allah. In the Shafi'i school, it is an act of apostasy for a sane adult Muslim to accuse or describe another devout Muslim as an unbeliever.[40]

Al-Ghazali held that apostasy occurs when a Muslim (a) denies, intends to deny or doubts that "there is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah", (b) denies, doubts or refuses to obey Quran and the Law (Sharia), and (c) denies, doubts or questions through action or intent Muhammad's prophecy about the end of the world and last judgment.[37][41][42] This opinion later came to be favoured by the Hanafi Ottoman scholars. In early Islamic history, the declaration of Prophethood was automatically deemed to be proof of apostasy. This view has continued to the modern age in the rejection of Ahmadiyya sect of Islam as apostates by mainstream Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, because Ahmadis consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of Ahmadiyya, as a modern day Prophet.[43][44] Other Fiqhs such as Hanifi and Shafi'i schools of jurisprudence also disagree on whether ridiculing (Islamic) scholars is an act of apostasy.[45] Other Fiqhs of Islam include additional requirements as evidence of apostasy, such as joining the enemies of Islam.[46]

There are disagreements among Islamic scholars, and Islamic schools of jurisprudence, as to who can be judged for the crime of apostasy in Islam. Some in Shafii such as Nawawi and al-Misri state that apostasy code applies to a Muslim who (a) has understood and professed that "there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" (shahada), (b) knows the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims, (c) is of sound mind at the time of apostasy, (d) has reached or surpassed puberty, and (e) has consciously and deliberately rejected or consciously and deliberately intends to reject any part or all of Quran or of Islam religion (Sharia).[47][48] Maliki scholars additionally require that the person in question (f) have publicly engaged in the obligatory practices of the religion.[49]

Punishment for apostasy[edit]

"Execution of a Moroccan Jewess (Sol Hachuel)" a painting by Alfred Dehodencq


Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed according to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children if they entered Islam and left it after they reach maturity.[50][51]

In Islamic law (sharia), the view among the majority of medieval jurists was that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi'a scholars.[52]

Many Islamic scholars, but not all, consider apostasy as a Hudud (or Hadd) crime, that is one of six "crimes against God" a Muslim can commit, which deserves the fixed punishment of death as that is a "claim of God".[37][18][53]

Under traditional Islamic law an apostate may be given up to three days while in incarceration to repent and accept Islam again and if not the apostate is to be killed without any reservations.[37]

Other views on punishment[edit]

Various early Muslim scholars did not agree with the death penalty, such as that of Ibrahim al-Nakha'i (d. 715) and Sufyan al-Thawri and their followers, who rejected the death penalty and prescribed indefinite imprisonment until repentance. The hanafi jurist Sarakhsi also called for different punishments between the non-seditious religious apostasy and that of seditious and political nature, or high treason.[54][55]

Medieval Islamic scholars also differed on the punishment of a female apostate: death, enslavement, or imprisonment until repentance. Abu Hanifa and his followers refused the death penalty for female apostates, supporting imprisonment until they re-embrace Islam. Hanafi scholars maintain that a female apostate should not be killed because it was forbidden to kill women by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and because women are unlikely to take up arms and endanger the community.[55]

Contemporary reform Muslims such as Quran Alone intellectuals Ahmed Subhy Mansour,[56] Edip Yuksel, and Mohammed Shahrour have suffered from accusations of apostasy and demands to execute them, issued by Islamic clerics such as Mahmoud Ashur, Mustafa Al-Shak'a, Mohammed Ra'fat Othman and Yusif Al-Badri.[57] Despite claiming to have received death threats Edip Yuksel also believes that high profile apostates who are controversial should be killed. He wrote, “Apostasy is not what gets one killed. It’s a combination of being controversial and having a high profile.”[58]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a minority sect found in South and Southeast Asia, rejects any form of punishment for apostasy whatsoever, citing hadith, Quran, and the opinions of classical Islamic jurists to justify its views.[59] However, Ahmadiyya Muslims are widely considered as non-Muslim apostates and persecuted by mainstream Islam, because of their beliefs.[60][61]

Prominent recent examples of writers and activists killed because of apostasy claims include Mahmoud Mohammed Taha,[62] and Faraj Foda.[63] The Egyptian Nobel prize winner Najib Mahfouz was injured in an attempted assassination, paralyzing his right arm.[64]

The case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity, sparked debate on the issue. While he initially faced the death penalty, he was eventually released as he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.[65]

View of Mahmud Shaltut[edit]

Mahmud Shaltut, the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University argued that a worldly punishment for apostasy was not mentioned in the Qur'an and whenever it mentions apostasy it speaks about a punishment in the hereafter.[66]

Opposition to execution[edit]

A minority of medieval Islamic jurists, notably the Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d. 1090),[54] Maliki jurist Ibn al-Walid al-Baji (d. 494 AH) and Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), held that apostasy carries no legal punishment.[67]

Contemporary Islamic Shafi`i jurists such as the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa,[68][69] Shi'a jurists such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri,[70] and some jurists, scholars and writers of other Islamic sects, have argued or issued fatwas that either the changing of religion is not punishable or is only punishable under restricted circumstances, but these minority opinions have not found broad acceptance among the majority of Islamic scholars.[3][71][72][73]

In a book on the issue, Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed argue that Islamic law that calls for death for apostasy is in conflict with a variety of fundamentals of Islam. They contend that the early development of the law of apostasy was essentially a religio-political tool, and that there was a large diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment.[74]

Medieval Muslim scholars (e.g. Sufyan al-Thawri) and modern (e.g. Hasan at-Turabi), also have argued that the hadith used to justify execution of apostates (see below) should be taken to apply only to political betrayal of the Muslim community, rather than to apostasy in general.[75] These scholars argue for the freedom to convert to and from Islam without legal penalty.

Other prominent Islamic scholars like the Grand Mufti of Cairo Ali Gomaa have stated that while God will punish apostates in the afterlife they should not be executed by human beings.[76] Ali Gomaa later clarified that leaving Islam without punishment was not what he meant: "What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished."[77]

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, an Islamic scholar, writes that punishment for apostasy was part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form by Muhammad (see Itmaam-i-hujjat), hence, he considers it a time-bound command and no longer punishable.[78]


S. A. Rahman, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, argues that there is no indication of the death penalty for apostasy in the Qur'an.[79]

W. Heffening states that in Qur'an "the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only", adding that Shafi'is interpret verse [Quran 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in the Qur'an.[80] Wael Hallaq holds that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text".[81] The late dissenting Shia jurist Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a significant Shi'a religious authority, stated that the Quranic verses do not prescribe an earthly penalty for apostasy.[70]

Islamist author Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi argued that verses [Quran 9:11] of the Qur'an sanction death for apostasy. However, scholars such as S. A. Rahman reject Mawdudi's interpretation, concluding "that not only is there no punishment for apostasy provided in the Book but that the Word of God clearly envisages the natural death of the apostate. He will be punished only in the Hereafter…"[82] He continues and says that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an.

In his book on Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, Rahman declares the verse [Quran 2:256] which contains the explicit language, "Let there be no compulsion in religion...", to be "one of the most important verses of the Qur'an, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind…". He goes on to criticize the attempts by Muslim scholars over the ages to narrow its broad humanistic meaning and impose limits on its scope in their attempts to reconcile it with their interpretations of Muhammad's Sunna.


Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Heffening holds that contrary to the Qur'an, "in traditions [i.e. hadith], there is little echo of these punishments in the next world... and instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty."[83] Wael Hallaq states the death penalty was a new element added later and "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet."[81]

The Hadith record cases for which Muhammad allowed apostates to live:

Jabir ibn `Abdullah narrated that a Bedouin pledged allegiance to Muhammad for Islam (i.e. accepted Islam) and then the Bedouin got fever whereupon he said to Muhammad "cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. He (the Bedouin) came to him (again) saying, "Cancel my pledge." But Muhammad refused. Then he (the Bedouin) left (Medina). Muhammad said, "Madinah is like a pair of bellows (furnace): it expels its impurities and brightens and clear its good."[46]

Ayatollah Montazeri holds that it is probable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad during early Islam to combat political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims, and is not intended for those who simply change their belief or express a change in belief. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He argues that capital punishment should be reserved for those who desert Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim community, and not those who convert to another religion after investigation and research.[70]


The charge of apostasy has often been used in Islam's history to punish dissidents, minorities and skeptics.[21] From the earliest history of Islam, the crime of apostasy and execution for apostasy has driven major events in Islam. For example, the Ridda wars (civil wars of apostasy) shook Muslim community in 632 AD, immediately after the death of Muhammad.[21][84] The apostasy wars split the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, and caused numerous deaths.[85][86] From 7th century through 18th century, atheists, materialists, Sufi, and Shii sects were accused and executed for apostasy in Islam. In 10th century Iraq, Sufi mystic Al-Hallaj was executed for apostasy; in 12th century Iran, al-Suhrawardi along with followers of Ismaili sect of Islam were killed on charges of being apostates;[21] in 17th century India, Dara Shikoh and other sons of Shah Jahan were captured and executed on charges of apostasy by his brother Aurangzeb.[87]

According to Muslim scholar Cyril Glassé, death for apostasy was abolished by the Ottoman government in 1844 AD."[88] In the west this decree was named the Edict of Toleration.

Effects on Islamic learning[edit]

The English historian C. E. Bosworth argues that while the organizational form of the Christian university allowed them to develop and flourish into the modern university, "the Muslim ones remained constricted by the doctrine of waqf alone, with their physical plant often deteriorating hopelessly and their curricula narrowed by the exclusion of the non-traditional religious sciences like philosophy and natural science," out of fear that these could evolve into potential toe-holds for kufr, those people who reject God."[89]

Apostasy in the recent past[edit]


The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world in recent years has derived primarily not from government authorities but from individuals or groups operating with impunity from the government.[90] An example is the stabbing of a Bangladeshi Christian evangelist (a "murtad fitri" or Muslim-born apostate) while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke.[91] Bangladesh does not have a law against apostasy, but some Imams encourage the killing of converts from Islam. Ex-Muslims in Great Britain have faced abuse, violence, and even murder at the hands of Muslims.[92] There are similar reports of violent intimidation of those electing to reject Islam in other Western countries.[93]

Other examples of persecution of apostates converting to Christianity have been given by the Christian organisation Barnabas Fund:

The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related "crimes" is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.[94]

Similar views are expressed by the 'non-religious' International Humanist and Ethical Union.[95]

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found relatively widespread popular support for death penalty as a punishment for apostasy in Egypt (84% of respondents in favor of death penalty), Jordan (86% in favor), Indonesia (30% in favor), Pakistan (76% favor) and Nigeria (51% in favor).[96]


In March 2006, an Afghan citizen Abdul Rahman was charged with apostasy and could have faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity. His case attracted much international attention with Western countries condemning Afghanistan for persecuting a convert. Charges against Abdul Rahman were dismissed on technical grounds by the Afghan court after intervention by the president Hamid Karzai. He was released and left the country to find refuge in Italy.[90]

Two other Afghan converts to Christianity were arrested in March 2006 and their fate is unknown. In February 2006, yet other converts had their homes raided by police.[90]


On 21 March 2006, the Algerian parliament approved a new law requiring imprisonment for two to five years and a fine between five and ten thousand euros for anyone "trying to call on a Muslim to embrace another religion." The same penalty applies to anyone who "stores or circulates publications or audio-visual or other means aiming at destabilizing attachment to Islam."[90]


A 2010 Pew Research Center poll showed that 84% of Egyptian Muslims believe those who leave Islam should be punished by death.[97]

In 1992 Islamist militants gunned down Egyptian secularist and sharia law opponent Farag Foda. Before his death he had been declared an apostate and foe of Islam by ulama at Al Azhar. During the trial of the murderers, Al-Azhar scholar Mohammed al-Ghazali testified that when the state fails to punish apostates, somebody else has to do it.[98]

In 1993, a liberal Islamic theologan, Nasr Abu Zayd was denied promotion at Cairo University after a court decision of apostasy against him. Following this an Islamist lawyer filed a lawsuit before the Giza Lower Personal Status Court demanding the divorce of Abu Zayd from his wife, Dr. Ibtihal Younis, on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to an apostate—notwithstanding the fact his wife wished to remain married to him. The case went to the Cairo Appeals Court where his marriage was declared null and void in 1995.[14]

After the verdict, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization (which had assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981) declared Abu Zayd should be killed for abandoning his Muslim faith. Abu Zayd was given police protection, but felt he could not function under heavy guard, noting that one police guard referred to him as "the kafir".[99] On 23 July 1995, he and his wife flew to Europe where they lived in exile but continued to teach.[14]

In April 2006, after a court case in Egypt recognized the Bahá'í Faith, members of the clergy convinced the government to appeal the court decision. One member of parliament, Gamal Akl of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said the Bahá'ís were infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion, this despite the fact that most living Bahá'í have not, in fact, ever been Muslim.[100]

In 2007 Mohammed Hegazy, a Muslim-born Egyptian who had converted to Christianity based on "readings and comparative studies in religions", sued the Egyptian court to change his religion from "Islam" to "Christianity" on his national identification card. His case caused considerable public uproar, with not only Muslim clerics, but his own father and wife's father calling for his death. Two lawyers he had hired or agreed to hire both quit his case, and two Christian human rights workers thought to be involved in his case were arrested. As of 2007, he and his wife were in hiding. In 2008, the judge trying his case ruled that according to sharia, Islam is the final and most complete religion and therefore Muslims already practice full freedom of religion and cannot convert to an older belief.[101][102][103]

In February 2009, another case of a convert to Christianity (Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary), came to court. El-Gohary's effort to officially convert to Christianity faced opposing lawyers who advocated he be convicted of "apostasy," or leaving Islam, and sentenced to death.

"Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals," El-Gohary said. "We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us."

El-Gohary, 56, has been attacked in the street, spat at and knocked down in his effort to win the right to officially convert. He said he and his 14-year-old daughter continue to receive death threats by text message and phone call.[104]


Salman Rushdie is a prominent[105] contemporary figure accused of apostasy. In 1989 a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the ruler of Iran at the time, calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for the blasphemy of authoring the book The Satanic Verses.

According to US think tank Freedom House, since the 1990s the Islamic Republic of Iran has sometimes used death squads against converts, including major Protestant leaders. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has engaged in a systematic campaign to track down and reconvert or kill those who have changed their religion from Islam.[90]

15 Ex-Muslim Christians[106] were incarcerated on 15 May 2008 under charges of apostasy. They may face the death penalty if convicted. A new penal code is being proposed in Iran that would require the death penalty in cases of Apostasy on the Internet.[107]

At least two Iranians – Hashem Aghajari and Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari – have been arrested and charged with apostasy in the Islamic Republic (though not executed), not for self-professed conversion to another faith, but for statements and/or activities deemed by courts of the Islamic Republic to be in violation of Islam, and that appear to outsiders to be Islamic reformist political expression.[108] Hashem Aghajari, was found guilty of apostasy for a speech urging Iranians to "not blindly follow" Islamic clerics;[109] Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari was charged with apostasy for attending the 'Iran After the Elections' Conference in Berlin Germany which was disrupted by anti-regime demonstrators.[110]

Bahá'ís in Iran, the nation of origin of the Bahá'í Faith and Iran's largest religious minority, were accused of apostasy in the 19th century by the Shi'a clergy because of their claim to a valid religious revelation subsequent to that of Muhammad. These allegations led to mob attacks, public executions and torture of early Bahais, including the Báb.[111]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

According to the "Online Saudi-arabian Curriculum مناهج السعودية الألكترونية",[112] taught at schools, we read under the title "Judgements on Apostates أحكام المرتدين" the following (in Arabic):[113]

"An Apostate will be suppressed three days in prison in order that he may repent ..... otherwise, he should be killed, because he has changed his true religion, therefore, there is no use from his living, regardless of being a man or a woman, as Mohammed said: "Whoever changes his religion, kill him", narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim."


Article 126.2 of the Penal Code of Sudan (1991) reads,

`Whoever is guilty of apostasy is invited to repent over a period to be determined by the tribunal. If he persists in his apostasy and was not recently converted to Islam, he will be put to death.` [18]

Some notable cases of apostasy in Sudan include: Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a Sudanese religious thinker, leader, and trained engineer, who was executed for apostasy in 1985 at the age of 76 by the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry.[114][115] Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Christian Sudanese woman was sentenced to death for apostasy in May 2014, but allowed to leave the country in July after an international outcry.[116]

Other countries[edit]

In December 2005, Nigerian pastor Zacheous Habu Bu Ngwenche was attacked for allegedly hiding a convert. In January 2006, in Turkey, Kamil Kiroglu was beaten unconscious and threatened with death if he refused to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam.[90] In a highly public case, the Malaysian Federal Court did not let Lina Joy to change her religion status in her I/C in a 2–1 decision.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is the British branch of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, who represent former Muslims who fear for their lives because they have renounced Islam. It was launched in Westminster on 22 June 2007. The Council protests against Islamic states that still punish Muslim apostates with death under the Sharia law. The Council is led by Maryam Namazie, who was awarded Secularist of the Year in 2005 and has faced death threats.[117] The British Humanist Association and National Secular Society sponsored the launch of the organisation and have supported its activities since.[118]

Ehsan Jami, co-founder of the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims in the Netherlands has received several death threats, and due to the amount of threats its members received, the Committee was dismantled.[119]

A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed that 31% of British Muslims believed that leaving the Muslim religion should be punishable by death.[120]

Applying law in the Muslim world[edit]

Most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance. Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain religious courts for all aspects of jurisprudence, and religious police assert social compliance. Sharia is also used in Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Some states in northern Nigeria have reintroduced Sharia courts. In practice the new Sharia courts in Nigeria have most often meant the reintroduction of relatively harsh punishments without respecting the much tougher rules of evidence and testimony of regular courts. The punishments include amputation of one/both hand(s) for theft, stoning for adultery, and execution for apostasy. In 1980, Pakistan, under the leadership of President Zia-ul-Haq, the Federal Shariat Court was created and given jurisdiction to examine any existing law to ensure it was not repugnant to Islam[83] and in its early acts it passed ordinances that included five that explicitly targeted religious minorities: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Qur'an; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslims.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights[edit]

Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states the following:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."[121]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Laws Criminalizing Apostasy Library of Congress (2014)
  2. ^ Which countries still outlaw apostasy and blasphemy? Pew Research Center, United States (May 2014)
  3. ^ a b Abdelhadi, Magdi (27 March 2006). "What Islam says on religious freedom". BBC News. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
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External links[edit]