Is it not useless and impossible to kill an apostate (murtad)?

Details of the Question

You say it is necessary to kill an apostate. No sane person will tell people that he is an apostate if he knows that he will be killed. He will be a munafiq on his own at best; he will nurture a grudge against Muslims who restrict his freedom thought and will at worst and be a ferocious munafiq who will do his best to harm Muslims.   Since it cannot be decided that a person is an apostate unless he declares it, it is impossible to kill apostates. The decree about killing an apostate will cause a munafiq who will harm the community secretly to emerge. Is an apostate who lives on his own not better for the community than a munafiq who is full of hatred? What can be the use of killing an apostate?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

To change one’s religion, means “to join the opposite front and to declare war against Muslims” in terms of balances in the international level and among nations in a sense. Or, it means a snake, a scorpion that poisons people, especially the young people by propaganda against the Muslim community, emitting poison.

Therefore, a person is not killed because he changed his religion but because he waged war against Muslims and tries to poison them spiritually.

Doubtlessly, this execution will be carried out by the state if it is deemed appropriate. The state can execute an apostate only after giving him some time to think and scientific help to correct his mistake if he still insists on his apostasy.

As for your question,

We should state first that the reason for a decree comes before the wisdom behind a decree. The orders of Allah and His Messenger are the reason for the decree; the benefits related to that decree are its wisdom. When the reason exists, the existence of wisdom is of secondary importance.

As a matter of fact, the reason for shortening a prayer is travelling because it is definite based on the Quran. The wisdom behind it is difficulty. If travelling, which is the reason, occurs, “fard prayers of four rak'ahs are performed as two rak'ahs” whether difficulty, which is wisdom, occurs or not.   

- An important source of the decree about killing an apostate is the following hadith:

“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.” (Muslim, Qasama, 25,26 ; Tirmidhi, Hudud,15; Abu Dawud, Hudud,1; Nasai, Qasama,5,14)

- Acting upon the hadith above, and the following hadith that is included in all of Kutub as-Sitta books except Bukhari “Kill the person who changes his religion” (Naylul-Awtar, 7/190), Islamic scholars agree unanimously that an apostate is to be killed. (see W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 6/186)

- According to Hanafi madhhab, it is mustahab to give an apostate the opportunity to repent and want him to repent. According to the other three madhhabs / the majority, it is wajib to want him to repent and to give him this opportunity, and to try to realize it (by keeping him in prison / under custody at least three days). (Zuhayli, 6/187-188)

It is understood from the explanations above that an apostate is dealt with after it becomes clear that he has become an apostate.

It will be gullibility to expect that an apostate will come and say openly “I have become an apostate.” However, apostasy can occur with deeds as well as words. A person becomes an apostate when he denies a verse of the Quran or decree of Islam that is known clearly like prayer and fasting; a person can also become an apostate by performing the rituals of a religion that is contrary to the religion of Islam and by carrying a sign of unbelief. 

Apostasy is sometimes determined when the person expresses his apostasy unknowingly and sometimes by the testimony of some witnesses. 

The perpetrators of heavy crimes that necessitate other penal sanctions like theft, murder, and fornication will not be punished as long as they are kept secret; similarly, an apostate cannot be punished as long as he keeps it a secret.

No matter what the reason is, the apostate will be given three days to repent and give up his mistake after the issue is taken to the court. If he does not give up despite this, he will be punished. If he says, “I have repented”, though he has not, his statement is accepted as true.

- An important point regarding the issue is as follows: Only the president or his deputy (official courts of the state today), not individuals, can determine and execute the penalty of an apostate.

- We can explain the wisdom behind killing an apostate as follows:

a) The apostate loses his innocence since he exist his religion and the ummah of Islam, and becomes a traitor. The penalty of a traitor is death.

b) A person who abandons his religion is regarded to have betrayed his religion. A person who betrays his religion betrays his country where the religion of Islam is in effect. Therefore, the crime committed by the apostate is a kind of “treason”. Its penalty is death.

c) An apostate cannot be compared to an unbeliever. For, a person who exits from the religion of Islam, which is a religion that addresses both the mind and the heart as well as the lofty feelings, will not have any virtues related to humanity.

From this viewpoint, when a person exits the religion of Islam, he is regarded to have exited humanity too. A person who loses his humane feelings becomes an anarchist. It cannot be thought that he will adhere to any religion or doctrine. He loses the right to live since he has a mind and he is like a wild animal, not an innocent animal.

d) As Badiuzzaman Said Nursi puts it, “Also, Islam cannot be compared with other religions; if a Muslim abandons Islam and gives up his religion, he will not accept any other prophet; indeed, he will not acknowledge Almighty God either nor probably recognize anything sacred. He will have no conscience that will allow him moral and spiritual attainment; it will be corrupted. Therefore, in the view of Islam, in wartime, an unbeliever has the right to life. His life is protected according to Islam if he is outside the country and makes peace, or if he is inside the country and pays the head-tax. But an apostate does not have the right to life. For his conscience is corrupted and he becomes like poison in the life of society. But a Christian may still contribute to society, even if he is irreligious. He may accept some sacred matters and may believe in some of the prophets, and may assent to Almighty God in some respects.” (Mektubat, 438)

- The explanations above show that the execution of the apostate is a warning that will prevent others from being apostates; the apostate becomes a monster that takes pleasure from harming the peace and tranquility of the community materially and spiritually with his spoilt conscience, treacherous heart and anarchist mind.

In Islam, eliminating evil and harm is more important than obtaining goodness and benefits. The principle “Sadd adh-dharai” (blocking the means) indicates this. Therefore, a person who insists on apostasy has no right to life.

That is, the reason why an apostate is given the capital punishment is due to the harms he will do to the community rather than his unbelief since even an unbeliever has the right to life in Islam.

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