Why does the right to life not given to a person who exits the religion of Islam?

Details of the Question

- Why does the right to life not given to an apostate, that is, a person who exits the religion of Islam?
- What can be the wisdom behind it?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- First of all, we should say that the door of repentance is always open for everybody. This issue is valid for apostasy too. If a person commits the same crime many times and repents truly, his repentance will be accepted.

We cannot know whether Allah accepts a repentance or not but the apparent rules of the shari’ah necessitate it. There is no difference between repenting of a sin and repenting of apostasy.  

As a matter of fact, According to the majority of Shafii scholars, if a person becomes an apostate (murtad) and then repents and becomes a Muslim, his repentance is accepted. Even if he does in a hundred times, his repentance is accepted. (see Mawardi, al-Hawi, 13/449)

- 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, an apostate who is a woman is not killed. However, she is imprisoned until she repents. According to the other three madhhabs, an apostate is killed even if she is a woman. (Zuhayli, ibid)

- On the other hand, 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)

- 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.

The state can execute him only after giving him some time to think and scientific help to correct his mistake if he still insists on his apostasy.

- After giving this short information about the execution of an apostate, we can explain the wisdom behind it 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) 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.  

e) “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 Allah 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 Allah in some respects.” (Mektubat, p. 438)

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