Can an apostate (murtad) be killed before he is invited to repent? What is the view of madhhabs regarding the issue?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The view of Ibn Quadama, one of the Hanbali scholars, is not the view of the madhhab. According to the majority of the scholars, it is wajib to invite the apostate to repent.

Murtad (Apostate): A person who exits from Islam based on his own will by expressing clearly that he denies Islam or utters a statement necessitating his denial or doing something that leads to denial.

Execution of an apostate:

Scholars agree unanimously that it is wajib to kill an apostate. For, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
"Kill the person who changes his religion (Islam)."(1)

"It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim except in one of the three cases: a married person who commits adultery, a person who kills another person unjustly and a person who exits the religion of Islam, abandoning the community." (2)

"A woman called Umm Marwan exited from Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) was informed about it. He ordered them to invite the woman to repent, to release her if she repented and to kill her if she rejected to repent." (3)

According to what is mentioned in the famous hadith of Muaz, the Prophet addressed Muadh as follows when he sent him to Yemen.

"If any man exits Islam, invite him to return to Islam. If he returns, it is all right; if he does not return, kill him. If any woman exits Islam, invite her to return to Islam. If she returns, it is all right; if she does not return, kill her." (4) Hafiz Ibn Hajar states the following about this hadith: "The chain of narrators of the hadith is hasan. It is a nass that is necessary to be accepted as a basis in case of disagreement."

According to Hanbalis, it is possible for a person who has exited Islam to return to Islam; therefore, it is mustahab to invite him to repent and to ask him to return to Islam. If he returns, he is welcomed. If he does not return, the president of the Islamic state checks his state and if it is hoped that he will repent or if he himself wants, he is given three days to think. However, if there is no hope that he will repent and if he does not want any respite, he is killed. The following narration reported about Hz. Umar indicates this practice:  

"Hz. Umar asked a person who came from the Islamic army, “Do you have any recent news?” He said, “Yes, a man became a Muslim but denied Allah after that and we killed him.” Thereupon Hz. Umar said, “Why did you not imprison him for three days and feed him each day with bread. He might have repented.” Then he added, “O Allah’ I was not present there and I did not command it; and I was not pleased with it when I heard it!” (5) Kamaluddin Ibnul-Humam said, "That Hz. Umar stated that he was away from it like that necessitates it being wajib to invite the apostate to repent."  

According to the majority of the scholars, it is wajib to invite three times the man and the woman who exits from Islam to repent. The hadith about Umm Marwan and the narrations that Hz. Umar regarded it necessary to invite the person to repent are evidences for this decree.

In conclusion, it is mustahab to ask the person who has exited Islam to return to Islam according to Hanafis (6) and wajib according to the majority of the scholars. If the apostate has some doubts, the issue is explained to him because it is apparent that a person who has some doubts exits his religion. According to Hanafis, it is mandub to imprison the apostate for three days. He is asked to return to Islam every day during this period. If he becomes a Muslim again, it is all right. If he does not return to Islam, he is killed based on the following hadith: "Kill the person who changes his religion." (7)

An apostate can be killed only by the imam (the president) or his deputy. A person who kills an apostate without their permission is punished.

1. Kutub as-Sitta books except Muslim, Ibn Abu Shayba and Abdurrazzaq Ikrima narrated it through Ibn Abbas. see Naylul-Awtar, VII, 190.
2. Bukhari and Muslim narrated it from Ibn Masud. Subulus-Salam, III, 231; al-Ilmam, 443.
3. Daraqutni and Bayhaqi extracted it from Jabir; its chain of narrators is weak. Bayhaqi extracted it from Hz. Aisha from another weak aspect. Naylul-Awtar, VII, 192; Nasbur-Raya, III, 458; at-Talkhisul-Habir, Egypt impression, IV, 49.
4. Tabarani narrated it from Muadh b. Jabal in al-Mujam. Hafiz Ibn Hajar said its chain of narrators was hasan. Naylul-Awtar, VII, 193; Nasbur-Raya, III, 457.
5.  Imam Malik narrated in Muwatta and Bayhaqi from Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Abdulqadir through Imam Shafii starting with: "From the land of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, a man came to Umar al-Khattab..." Nasbur-Raya, III, 460; Naylul-Awtar, VII, 191.
6. al-Kitab ma'al Lubab, IV, 148.
7. Bukhari, Abu Dawud, Nasai, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad narrated from Abdullah b. Abbas.

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