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Apostasy in Islam


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bullet "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." Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Emphasis ours).

bullet "Let there be no compulsion in the religion: Surely the Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path." Al Baqarah, 2:256.

bullet "Those who blasphemed and back away from the ways of Allah and die as blasphemers, Allah shall not forgive them." Suratan Nisa', Ayah 48.

bullet "Those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve, and then increase in their disbelief - Allah will never forgive them nor guide them to the path." Surah An-Nisa', 4:137.

bullet "Whoever changes his religion shall be killed", Abu Dawud.

bullet "Kill those who believe in many gods" Sura al-Tawba 9:5.

bullet "Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard." Sura 4: 88-89

Note: This list once contained an entry which we suspect is disinformation and has been removed.

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bullet Hadith: Collections of the sayings of Muhammad (pbuh). *

bullet Hudud: Punishments for spiritual or religious crimes.

bullet Irtidăd: Literally: "turning back". The act of apostasy -- leaving Islam for another religion or for a secular lifestyle.

bullet Murtadd: Literally: "one who turns the back." An apostate.

bullet Murtad Fitri: Literally: apostate - natural. A person born of a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam.

bullet Murtad Milli: Literally: apostate - from the community. A person who converted to Islam and later rejected the religion.

bullet Shari'a: (aka Shariah) Islamic law.

* "pbuh" means "peace be upon him." It is one of the abbreviations used to indicate respect for Muhammad, viewed by Muslims as the final prophet of God. It is also used whenever the name of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is written. He is viewed by Muslims as the second last prophet.

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A person is an apostate if they leave a religion and either adopt another religion or assume a secular lifestyle. Historically, Islam, Christianity and other religions have taken a very dim view of apostates. The penalty was often execution. Today, apostasy in Islam is a very complex and sensitive issue. There exists a range of beliefs among Muslims; two extremes are:

bullet "Some commentators have drawn the conclusion that ...the punishment for the mere renunciation of faith is death." 1 An adult apostate would typically be given three days to reconsider their decision before being executed. Some believe that this sentence is to be carried out "whether or not the apostasy occurred in an Islamic State or not." 2

bullet Others believe in complete freedom of religion, such as is stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief..." 3

Apostates have been rarely executed in the 21st century. However, Muslims feel "a powerful sense of rage...when one of their number forsakes the community." 4 They consider it a profound insult to Allah and to all Muslims.

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Rejecting Islam:

There are numerous ways in which a person can be regarded as having rejected Islam. The online book "The Penalties for Apostasy in Islam" 5 lists a few:

bullet They may make an explicit declaration, such as, "I associate other gods alongside Allah" (usherek billah).

bullet They may make a claim that results in blasphemy, such as, "Allah has a material substance or a shape just like other substances or shapes" (kufr).

bullet They may make "an action that clearly resembles blasphemy, such as carelessly discarding a Qur'an, or parts of it..."

bullet They might burn the Qur'an out of contempt.
bullet They might soil the Qur'an, "(such as putting it in a holy place that has become dirty, or staining it with an unclean substance, such as turning its pages with fingers that have been licked)." 6

bullet A Muslim becomes an apostate if he or she "... worships an idol, or learns and practices magic..." This same source also claims that a Muslim becomes an apostate if he or she enters a Christian church. That appears to be incorrect.

bullet They might state that the universe has always existed from eternity.

bullet They might believe that transmigration of souls or reincarnation happens at death.

bullet "...a Muslim becomes an apostate if he defames a prophet's character, morals, virtues, or religion, if he accuses angels of having bad qualities, or if he questions the efficacy of a prophet's asceticism."

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman, "Malaysian laws on apostasy inadequate," at:
  2. "The punishment for apostasy from Islam," at:
  3. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," at: The text is available in other languages at:
  4. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, "Apostacy (Irtidad) in Islam," at:
  5. "Light of Life," at:
  6. US military staff at the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba circulated a three-page memorandum in 2003-JAN which discussed care of copies of the Qur'an. It said that only chaplains or Muslim interpreters should touch the Qur'an, after donning clean gloves in view of the prisoner may they handle the Qur'an like a "fragile piece of delicate art." Muslims working at the Guantanamo base in Cuba were to use both hands when handling the Qur'an as a sign of respect, while favoring the right hand because of cultural associations with the left hand.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-AUG-6
Latest update: 2011-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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