Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Politics and Morality of Apostasy*

[This article is a summary of a longer paper, whose url is provided below]
The issue of apostasy under Islamic Law (shari'ah) brought recently to public attention in the widely publicized case of the conversion of an Afghan citizen raises troubling questions regarding freedom of religion and interfaith relations. The Afghan state's prosecution of an Afghan man who converted to Christianity in 1990 while working for a Christian non-governmental raises in the mind of many the question of the compatibility of Islam with plural democracy and freedom of religion. Although state court dropped the case under intense outside pressure, the compatibility issue has not been resolved because the judge invoked insanity as the basis for dismissing the case.

The case was presented as an example of conflict between Islam and democratic governance, but in many respects the case is rooted in, and influenced by, the forced secularization of Muslim society, and the absence of free debate under authoritarian regimes that dominate much of the Muslim world.

The issue of apostasy, like many other issues stemming from the application of shari'ah in modern society, is rooted more in the sociopolitical conditions of contemporary Muslim societies than in Islamic values and principles. More particularly, it is rooted in the incomplete transition from traditional to modern sociopolitical organization. It is rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law (shari'ah), in favor of European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies. The new laws where enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal code in public morality.

Islam is the foundation of moral commitments for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and is increasingly becoming the source of legitimacy for state power and law. Yet the post-colonial state in Muslim societies has done little to encourage debate in the area of Islamic law. The increased interest in adopting legal codes based in Islamic values, leave the majority of Muslims with outdated legal codes that was intended for societies with markedly different social and political organizations and cultures.

The apostasy controversy highlights the importance of allowing Islamic reformers more say in public debates about political and legal reforms, and demonstrates the extent to which world powers undercut cultural and religious reforms by backing autocratic regimes the crack down on Muslim reformers in the name of combating political Islam. To legitimize their political rule and enlist the support of religious voices, autocratic rulers often align themselves with traditional religious scholars, who perpetuate rigid and anti-reform agendas in Muslim societies.

Traditionalist scholars have long embraced classical positions on apostasy that consider the rejection of Islam as a capital crime, punished by death. This uncritical embrace is at the heart of the drama that was played in the case of the Afghan convert to Christianity, and which would likely be repeated until the debate about shari'ah reform and its relevance to state and civil law is examined and elaborated by authentic Muslim voices.

At the heart of the apparent conflict between Islamic and democratic traditions is a static and stagnant approach to understanding Islamic law. The conflict stems mainly from a literalist understanding of the revelatory sources, i.e. the Qur'an and Sunnah (the Prophet tradition), and the body of Islamic jurisprudence derived from them through the exercise of juristic reasoning. With the marginalization of Islamic juristic learning and the restriction of public debate on Islamic law by the state, and the traditionalist jurists allied with it, a literalist approach of Islamic law has become rampant in many Muslim societies.

Under such climate, the most rigid and literalist interpretation of Islamic sources prevails, while enlightened and reformist views are suppressed and marginalized. The voices of many enlightened contemporary scholars who reject the literalist interpretation of the Islamic sources are pushed to the side.

Islamic law (shari'ah) is essentially a moral code with few legal pronouncements, and the question of which precepts are purely moral and which that have legal implications are determined through the theory of right.

The theory of right devised by late classical jurists - around the eighth century of Islam - emphasizes that people are ultimately answerable to God in all their dealings. However, by using the term rights of God to underscore the moral duty of the individual, and his/her accountability before God, classical jurists obscured the fact that rights are invoked to support legal claims and to enforce the interests of the right-holder. Because the Qur’an makes it abundantly clear that obeying the divine revelation does not advance the interests of God, but only those of the human being, the phrase “rights of God” signifies only the moral obligations of the believers towards God, and by no means should they be taken as a justification for legal claims.

It follows that the rights of God which are exclusively personal should be considered as moral obligations for which people are only answerable to God in the life to come. As such accepting or rejecting a specific interpretation or a particular religious doctrine, and observing or neglecting fundamental religious practices, including prayer or hajj, should have no legal implications whatever. A legal theory in congruence with the Qur'anic framework should distinguish between moral and legal obligations, and should confine the latter to public law that promote public interests (constitutional, criminal, etc.) and private law that advances private interests (trade, family, personal, etc.).

Unless the above legal reform is undertaken, there is no way to ensure that takfir (charging one with blasphemy) and zandaqa (charging one with heresy) claims would not become a political weapon in the hands of political groups to be used as a means to eliminate rivals and opponents.

*This article is a shorter version of more elaborate paper entitled “Apostasy and Religious Freedom.” The paper can be viewed on line at:

This full article appeared in the following publications:

Media Monitors Network
The American Muslims
Future Islam
Naseeb Vibes


Anonymous said...

Redda, Apostasy

You are article is nicely writtten and explains, the historical as well as Modern day confontration with the West.
In general, I accept your arguments, but to make it widely acceptable,the need is to bring real Muslim scholars in to the fold of Ijtehad. Ijethad which has been missing since last 700 years of Muslim life. There are no debates, and critical studies between Allah's commandment,and Islamic jurispruence which was developed much later. There are many many corrupted Hadith,which was incorporated only, for the future generations to scutinize it and invalidate it. Unfortunately as the process of Ijetahd was closed, this job of scurtinizing is still incomplete. This is how I understand as an ordinary Muslim.Thanks.

Shabbir Dadabhoy

Anonymous said...

I thought that the path to knowledge was real tough what with old famous figures being known for memorizing the quran as toddlers and devoting their entire lives to studying. I would like to follow in your footsteps so that I can have time for a personal life (career, entertainment ... etc) and still be able to stump centuries of old (fashioned) scholars who did not see the light regarding these legal codes and had to restrict themselves to such unecessary & rigid lifestyles of codes/worship that just don't fit today. Who knows what pointless criticism that their people had to endure in those dark times when they used to apply such weird doctrines! It'll even take a load off my back since I won't have to pester my family members about their personal decisions on faith practises any longer. Why, with your guidance, I could even move to some Western country and earn more money since your analysis is so conveniently in line with all their criticisms. Why have I been holding myself back for so long?! I thought that a partial/literal application of law would still be better than none! It's all the fault of those classical/traditional/islamist/fundamentalist/literalist scholars! (One thing that I really DO thank you for is not going to the point of name-calling those poor fellows. You did pretty much everything else)


Anonymous said...

I was impressed by the article on the web site. By the way what is your educational and training background in the sciences of Quran and Hadith?

S. Naseem

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with your analysis of this thorny problem. You are right and I'm surprised there are not more American Muslims who make solid moral sense out of this case. Have you published this in The American Muslim at If not please do so.

Norm Kurland
Center for Economic and Social Justice

Anonymous said...

I have been overwhelmed by questions regarding this issue including a meeting last week with Christian leaders of the Consortium which the School is a member. I am in the process of translating Dr. Taha's book on opostacy which resonates with your article but I forwarded your article to all whom had asked about this issue..with your permission. So, expect some feedback. Thanks again for the good work.

Ahmed Alwai

Anonymous said...

"Muslim scholars have the obligation to reconsider modern reality and reject any attempt to revive historical claims rooted in classical jurisprudence that are clearly at odd with Qur’anic principles and Islamic spirit, and with modern society and international conventions and practices."

>From the above sentence and some other sentences, I smell that you are trying to prove all the scholars wrong, who came before us.

Nonbelievers also have problem with several aayahs of Qoran which mention about kafirs going to hell fire. Would you suggest to change these aayah also because they do not fit with "MODERN SOCIETY AND INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS AND PRACTICES"?

Would you have enough courage to defend the punishment of killings of the Jews men of Medina after the Gazwa of Khandaq (because they supported enemies of Islam during the battle)? That was done at the time of the Prophet (PBUH).

What is your opinion about the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) which asks Muslims not to live in the land of nonbelievers?

Would you also suggest to make changes in Qoran because of the modern days realities and international rules and conventions? I feel sorry for you that you are rejecting the hadith of Bukhari which is authentic; rather you should have tried to prove why at that time ridda was punishable by death.

What is your opinion about AbuBakr (r) fighting with those who accepted all part of Islam except for zakah (remember they did not reject Islam)?

Why do you want Islam to be compatible with modern society, international conventions and practices, which all are based on kufr? Allah sent his messenger to convey the message to the mankind that what Allah wants from them and not to ask them to change their belief with change in the society.

You talk about international conventions and rules and modern society. Many countries have amended their constitution to make gay marriages legal. You probably live in Canada; do you have enough courage to talk about gay's rights in Islam? Can you write an open article describing how a gay would be punished in an Islamic society?

In my opinion you did not serve Islam by writing this article but you are helping those who reject hadith so easily.


Anonymous said...

Dear Fawad,

1. I am not trying to prove all scholars wrong, but only those who blindly imitate juristic opinions developed under different circumstances.

2. If you read my piece carefully you will find that I reject the dismissal of so many Qur'anic ayahs by two hadiths, and failing to give priority to Qur'anic injunctions over hadith statements.

3. I do believe that the Qur'an came to reform reality on the basis of a set of transcendental values. But when the reality of Christian society is changed substantially from those that existed during the time of classical scholars, and contemporary scholars fail to notice that change and incorporate it into their juristic reasoning, this should tell you that something profoundly wrong is at play.

4. I made no suggestion to change the Qur'an anywhere in my article, and I wonder were did you pick this idea.

5. I think Islam should be compatible with modern society whenever modern society incorporates values and principles that are intrinsically Islamic. To oppose good institutions and practices, such as peaceful transition of power on the basis of popular election (as opposed to hereditary rule on using violence to change rulers), on the pretense that they are developed by "kafirs" is extreme, and defies the Islamic spirit of seeking knowledge and wisdom from the farthest corners of the world.

6. I disagree with those who want to reject hadith because it is hadith. But I disagree with those who give hadith more importance than that Qur'an. However, when a hadith contradicts an established practice of the Prophet, this is a clear indication that it cannot be accepted at its face values. Classical scholars would have concluded that such a hadith was meant as a particular rule suited to the very context it addresses.

Finally, I do believe that many of your conclusions go far beyond of the argument I made, but I do like the tone of your disagreement and appreciate sharing your view.

Louay Safi

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Dr.Louy Safi for writing in depth in such an eloquent and informative way about this sensitive issue. All I want to say to you is THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE

Azhar Aziz

Anonymous said...

Well written,full of pertinent facts,from Quraan and Hadith.Too bad,it will not be aired on the major news networks.


Anonymous said...

Asalaamu Alaikum

It might have been good to include how this law has been applied by the earlier generations and the context in doing so. It is my understanding that apostasy was in fact punished by death, but not for the mere fact of conversion, but for fighting Islam after conversion. And Allah knows best. Like the woman who confessed to adultery in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him)...on paper the punishment is death, but how was this applied?

Another point to consider is that nearly every country on earth has laws regarding treason, and nearly all countries punish treason with death. So this begs the rhetorical question: Is one's nation more important than God? (Of course not).

From the Bible (Book of Deuteronomy - Old Testament): Chapter 13: If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying "Let us go and serve other gods," which you have not known, neither you nor your shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God.

Certainly Afghanistan is not a model for shari'ah, but that the world media condemns Islam on one country's application or interpretation of the apostasy law is hypocrisy if one considers the above Biblical verses and the world's treason laws.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not taking one position or the other, simply because I do not know. But we should be wise, calm, patient, and not emotional in our discussions on this matter. The world needs to hear about Tawheed, not the specifics of one law or the other.

Allah knows best.


Abu Aasyia

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in a public school in which over 50 different languages are spoken; in which Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism are practiced (plus their various sects), I encourage my students to ask questions and ask more questions to seek the truth. The Great Prophet Jesus blessed the "Doubting Thomas." He did so because Thomas had the courage to disbelieve until he could see for himself. Hence, the label "doubting Thomas" has been mis-interpreted over the ages. Here was a man of courage who received encouragement from Jesus to question his faith. And yes, Jesus did say, "Blessed are those who believe but have not seen." This does not condemn Thomas. These words recognize the inner struggles of individuals, which are seen by God as the natural condition of man.

War is easier than Peace. War is the unbalanced core of humanity. Peace is the striving of men and women to balance within the soul emotion and reason with the infinite depth of God's love. John:20, 24-29 (NRSV)



Anonymous said...

This article has some truth to it. But if some one asks me about this article a month from now. This is what i will remember.
- Muslims desperate to make islamic values fit into western values.

- hadith is not a reliable source.

- muslims trying to save the face of islam because they cannot stand up to the cristian criticism.

- Moderation is better than radicalism. But history teaches us onlt radicals make change(good or bad).


Anonymous said...

We have to look in to Holy Quran for answers to today's questions. This article has make good references in explaining WHY.


Anonymous said...

The Qur'an always seems to include limits for harsh remedies. If you don't see similar limits in the body of similar hadith then what might that suggest to the Muslim possibly concerning the context of the hadith? And no I don't think it means the hadith could never again apply. But it seems such measures are permitted when the Muslim community is under siege. So if the community employs such measures during a time when it is dominant then might it not be at risk of exceeding the limits? Perhaps even oppressively so?

When permission is given to kill apostates it seems the community is (literally within the hadith) freed of a special burden to endure even members who seem striving to undermine it. It is seemingly for the sake of unity that the Muslim community endures such members in the first place. An apostate's confession basically seems necessary because it seems ill advised for the Muslim to insist a Muslim isn't a Muslim whatever would be the reason for doing so.

When the community is forbidden to kill someone working to undermine it, who suddenly proclaims "there is no god but God" even when he seems doing so only to avoid being killed by a Muslim, suddenly it seems the Muslim shoulders a special burden for the sake of unity. That is, rather than simply treating him as a non-Muslim who is threatening the community (depending on the context it seems).

If defending the community from Christians is the general idea then treating Christians like murderers merely for what they believe seems a poor way of doing so. That is to say at least if the meek being treated like murders are crying to their Lord for deliverance. On the other hand if you are convinced the Qur'an taken alone is likely to mislead the Muslim in cases where human life is concerned then my advice is to do as you please.

Yahya Bergum

Anonymous said...

I like this refreshing article that shows a balanced view of religious compassion for all faiths. Currently there is too much bickering between Muslims and Christians in the religious war to win the souls of millions. There are far more similarities between both religions than differences, so let's cut out all the finger pointing and exercise some civility. Besides, Allah/God created all of you and will judge your souls accordingly.

Bonita Johnson

Anonymous said...

We cann't expect any reasonable and just opinion from a Bush backed Imam. He challenged Muslim scholors by his abusive language and attacks. If he wants to provide a reason to Bush and Rice he is more than welcome to do so. But he must apologize with muslim Ummah for abusive words like literalist, traditionalist, rigid etc. He is using this language since he got the shelter of Imam Bush. We know the enemies of Islam who are within us. Those who write these articles can easily get ca$h rewards so easily from their masters. Be prepared for hell fire.


Anonymous said...

I think there are natural reasons to religious freedom. Could you believe God to accept somehow forced faith? Forced faith ain't faith at all, it's bluffing. And you can't bluff God. Only basis for real faith is that it's 100% voluntarily chosen. Other ways lead more or less to a shameful theatre and hypocrisy.


Anonymous said...

Asalamualaikum! Jazakallah for the insightful article.We see that the Muslim community in the US and many other countries stands up for the rights of Muslims everywhere.Why then are no voices heard when such issues rise? I did not see any single statement from ISNA or CAIR regarding the Afghan convert case.Most of my friends from other faiths think that Islam is an extreme and intolerant religion-where as the Quran proves the opposite

Afroze AbdulHai

Anonymous said...

Saif Khan, ... You speak of Hell as if you know it firshand. Then you make false accusations about money and people being on the take. Do you realize the enormity of such a stupid comment? Your so .. backwards, your mind automatically goes to such nonesense when challenged. ... Get a life.

J. Dell

Anonymous said...

Dr. Safi claims that the recent apostasy case in Afghanistan is “rooted in the decision of many post-colonial Muslim countries to abandon traditional legal codes informed by Islamic law, in favor for European legal codes developed to suit modern European societies”. That is completely ridiculous and unfair in that it – predictably – places the blame on the west. In fact, many of the laws developed to suit “modern European societies” were developed to protect minority rights and allow a diverse group of people to live as one, with equal rights.

He also states that these laws “were enforced by state elites without any public debate, and with little attention for the need to root legal code in public morality.” Was there public debate in developing the traditional pre-Colonial laws in Muslim countries? I very much think not. Further, what is public morality? Is it telling women what to wear when they leave the house? Is it ensuring that men and women who are out in public together are married? What is the theory behind it, and how should it be enforced? How is it related to the topic at hand, i.e. apostasy in “Muslim” counties?

I think it is far more appropriate to say that the recent apostasy case is rooted in the CULTURAL development and application of Sharia. Cultural traditions have taken priority over actual Islam. Most Islamic scholars view non-Muslims the same as Israel views non-Jews – as secondary citizens. Laws should be developed to include everyone in society. By basing modern law on the historical cultural interpretations of a homogenous society, you end up with an embarrassing mess like this case.

I am grateful however, for the work that Dr. Safi did in showing the Quranic basis for personal accountability for moral choices and the message of freedom of belief and religious tolerance. However such freedoms negate his earlier contention for the need for legal code rooted in public morality.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Louay M. Safi is not alone in opposing the death penalty for apostacy. Prof. Mohammad Hashim Kamali - IIU, Malaysia; Prof. Abdullah Saeed - Uni. Melbourne, Australia; and Chandra Muzaffar, Malaysia also write "apostacy is not a punishable offence".

Janette Hashemi

Anonymous said...

islamic sharia cannot be understood only from the Quran.Many things are understood from the Hadith too.We should look for suitable hadiths regarding apostasy to better understand this issue.

Uzma Khan

Anonymous said...

Dr. Louay Safi analysis is correct. As Muslims we must support scholars who are bold enough to be critical of scholars of the past (while still being respectful). While we have to acept Hadith, it should not be at the price of the Glorious Qur'an. A certain Safi Khan (I am not sure if it's the same as the one condemning Dr. Louay to hell)of Maryland wrote several years ago that the Hadith is infallable. They also say that stoning to death for adultery is the Islamic law. These are the position of the Salafis/Wahabites and we must stand up to them. I hope and pray Insha'Allah that more of today's Islamic scholars take a page from the works of Scholars like Imam Muhammad Abdu, the Great Sheikh of Al-Azhar.

Your brother in Islam,

M. Zakir Rahaman (al humbli)

Anonymous said...

I am 100% agree with your explanation with the help of Quran and Hadith.

I would like to answer the question of brother Fawad about Abu Bkr jihad against the Muslims who refused to pay alms (Zakah, charity which is madatory in Islam). Brother Fawad your answer was already in the article that if anyone changes from Islam to harm Islam he should be punished.

Saying this these people not only rejected the principle of Zakah but they stood up against this and that’s why Abu Bkr did jihad.
I know one thing If Muslims heart becomes so tough that we hate everyone then how will we spread the truth of Islam. If some become tough and rigid after understanding Islam, I think he is from some other faith not from Islam. If you are Muslim your heart should be soft, should have unconditional love for all humanity, you should be kind enough for all living being, you should have patient and answer the question in cool manner. But yes a brain is really intelligent is it is under Islamic Shariah if it goes beyond this boundary it will go stray.


Perwez Akhter

Anonymous said...

ASSALAM-U-ALAIKUM, my dear brother,I read your article sent to me by, on the subject of APOSTASY and am so much impressed by your knowledge of and zeal for islamic studies that I cannot say in words. So I visited your BLOG PAGES and found it still more interesting and informative. Please note that I have been trying to write a book on the topic of WHY AND HOW WORLD PEACE? I hope it will be completed within next twoweeks. I am going to take and enter some excerpts from your articles in mybook,willyou please permit me to do so. Thanking you in anticipation. ALLAH HAFIZ

Khursheed Ali

Anonymous said...

God in His infinite wisdom did not create robots. Who of us has the right to take away what God himself refrained from doing?


Anonymous said...

So Mr. Khan...

You know for sure, that Dr. Safi is destanined for hell. These are very serious claims to make, Mr. Khan. Only the Lord of the Heavens and Earth knows who is destained for hell.

I would sincerely urge you to respect yourself.

"Sometimes the wolf comes in sheep's clothing."

N Ameen

Anonymous said...

Dr. Safi is obviously one of the newly emerging sects of the Quraniyoon, those who wish to not use the hadeeth in understanding the religion. He is also someone not proud of his religion. Many immigrant muslims in the United States are so afraid of being forced back to their countries that they try to explain away Islam so that Americans will accept them. I am an American, many Americans are racist bigots and they will never accept you. Read the verse Dr. Safi about what Allah says "The Christians and Jews will never accept you until they get you to believe as they believe." Fear Allah Dr. Safi.


Anonymous said...

Ismael, So any Muslim who uses his/her own reasoning rather than following others is an apologetic to the US? I thought that was the point of Islam, that we didn’t need intermediaries in our relationship with God? So now it’s not “Islamic” for people to read the Quran for themselves and follow it, they have to rely on “Scholars” who have a very culturally-based interpretation of Islam to tell them what to do and how to live?

I think it’s hypocritical to accuse others of racism when it exists so rampantly in the “Muslim” world. Every time an ignorant “Muslim” stereotypes “Westerners”, “Christians”, “Jews” and others it’s racism as well. Why don’t you try to improve the Ummah, and do something about that? The next time you hear a brother or sister making unfair blanket comments such as “Americans are racist” or “Christians are bad” why don’t you tell them that you are against racism, and that they shouldn’t say things like that. Racism and prejudice is not allowed in Islam. Or maybe I should check with a scholar first instead of just relying on the Quran.

I disagree that Dr. Safi is “not proud” of his religion. In fact, I think it is his pride in Islam that has prompted him to try to take back the image of Islam from the ignorant and backwards people who have been allowed to become the voice of Islam. How is it that people can ignore all of the beautiful exhortations in the Quran about how to live in peace and submit to God, but find the passages that they can twist in order to justify their own evil.

By the way, the passage you mentioned about Christians and Jews is generally considered (by non-racists) to mean the behaviour that was displayed by Christians and Jews at the time – not ALL Christians and Jews though-out history. Since Muslim behaviour is no better right now, and Muslims seem to be making all of the same mistakes that they accuse others of, don’t be so sure that it doesn’t include you.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Safi:

Excellent article by you. As always, you impress me.

Great points by QRizwan and Shakir_Ebrahim as well.

Here are some Quranic injunctions:

[7:159] Among the followers of Moses there are those who guide in accordance with the truth, and the truth renders them righteous.

[5:46] Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous.

[5:47] The people of the Gospel shall rule in accordance with GOD's revelations therein. Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD's revelations are the wicked.

[2:62 & 5:69] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

[3:113-114]. They are not all the same; among the followers of the scripture, there are those who are righteous. They recite GOD's revelations through the night, and they fall prostrate.

They believe in GOD and the Last Day, they advocate righteousness and forbid evil, and they hasten to do righteous works. These are the righteous.

[3:199] Surely, some followers of the previous scriptures do believe in GOD, and in what was revealed to you, and in what was revealed to them. They reverence GOD, and they never trade away GOD's revelations for a cheap price. These will receive their recompense from their Lord. GOD is the most efficient in reckoning.

But, I DO solidly condemn all fanatics including Evengelical Fundamentalists who are hell bent upon their God Given Self-Righteousness.


Anonymous said...

I am so thankful to Allah first and then to Br. Safi for writing this courageous and insightful article. I absolutely agree with you Br. Safi and pray for more wisdom, articulation and courage for you. I have been having this debate in my circle and was surprised to see that folks just would not agree to read the following hadith within the context of its time and situation.

“Three acts permit the taking of a person’s life: a soul for a soul, the adultery of a married man, and renouncing religion while severing ties with the community”.

As I understand it, this hadith was to keep the munafiqeen (hypocrites) from infiltrating the Muslim forces to avoid bringing any harm. There were people who would convert and become a Muslim and spy on Muslims. Hence Abu-Bakr RAU implemented this law. However, using this hadith in this situation as source for authorizing death penalty for apostacy is mere ignorance. Do we really need a person who does not believe in Allah remain among us known as a Muslim just because of the fear of losing his neck? Are we happy to have a hypocrite among us? obviously not.

So in essence, the hadith which was to keep the hypocrites away from Muslims is now being used to keep the hypocrites among Muslims. Total opposite to the real intentions of the hadith. This is why literalist approach to interpretation of Quraan and Hadith can misguide us at many a times.

May Allah show all of us the right path. Ameen sum Aameen.

Was Salam,

A. Siddiqui

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Just what we need. More of these dollarstore doctors to explain Islam to the North American public such that it is palatable to them.

I agree with the poster who brought up the issue of gay marriages. Next thing we know you will have such "doctors" trying to explain how gay marriage is acceptable in Islam! All on the basis of "There is no compulsion in matters of faith"(2:256)!!! In effect, it makes you no different from the "progressives". This ayah serves as the bread and butter in their propaganda.

Frankly, I'm not surprised by this attempt to make Islam digestible to the western world. I mean after all, what do you expect from such people who spend most of their time around goras in the workplace and elsewhere. Talking about Islam in a straightforward manner only risks their livelihood and potentially isolates them from their workplace/school etc. If they don't do this, they cannot survive in the western world.

We all want shariah to be implemented in Muslim countries and we all say that we should go back to our roots and all those nice things. But the fact is, if true shariah is implemented in muslim countries, we would be in trouble ourselves because we have become so softened and our Iman has become so weak living in non-muslim countries. We like to pick and choose whatever we want and this is what these kinds of "scholarly" attempts show.

What happened in this case is it was shown to the world that Muslims can ignore and circumvent Shariah law whenever they want. As long as the international community applies sufficient pressure, our puppet rulers will do everything in their power to meet their demands. If it means ridicule and utter disregard for Islamic law, so be it!

Now this guy is going to be sitting in London with Salman Rushdie and all the other "dignitaries" from the muslim world sipping tea and munching on English buiscuits and when the media hype's going to die down, he's going to write a book like "My journey from Allah to Jesus!"


Anonymous said...

I really like this article and I completely agree with Dr. Safi . If someone wants to convert to a different religion. i mean, sure, try to stop this from happening but I dont think I want any hypocrites as part of the Muslim ummah. It is between him and Allah. Besides, who are we to judge this man? What if he comes back to Islam later. Allah swt accepts repectance at any time so what if he comes back to Islam later. Allah is Ghafur- ArRahim. For the learned brothers and sisters who quote the hadith about the permission of killing if one coverts, what may i ask is the majority scholars view on the Quranic ayah "there is no compulsion in religion?"


Anonymous said...

assalam o alleikum. i would like a detailed account of punishments that were given according to this apostacy law in the entire history of ISLAM. even if an accusation was forwarded and found to be untrue. i know this is a difficult task but it would be very helpful if u can provide atleast 10 such incidents. hope you will reply.

Allah hafiz


Anonymous said...

First of all, I think those criticizing Mr Safi are being unjustafiably harsh (and unislamic in their sarcasm and insults).

That being said, I wish Mr. Safi did not dismiss the above mentioned hadeeths as "shaky" and weak. One may argue that a face-value interpretation or understanding of a particular hadeeth may be incorrect, but I think it is wrong to suggest that a Bukhari hadeeth is "shaky." I have noticed this trend lately with muslim apologists. When discussing a seemingly unflattering hadeeth, some will simply state that the hadeeth is actually weak. One would think that Bukhari messed up a lot and fooled traditionalists for centuries, but now us modern folks know better. Where is the proof that those hadeeths are weak?


MA Khan said...

Dear Mr. Safi,
We found your latest article on the provision of death apostasy in Islam in the internet. On reading the article, we realized that you have either missed or willingly excluded the relevant verses in the Koran. Instead, you have cited many verses, which do not deal with the issue of Ridda at all. Hence, we felt compelled to write a thorough review on your article - so that readers can get correct message and would not be misled. However, we will be very happy to rectify any misconception of our part that might have been expressed in our rebuttal. We will be happy to publish any comments that you may have.

A Review of Louay Safi’s Article "Apostasy and Religious Freedom":

Louay Safi said...

Let me first thank all those who contributed to this discussion. Debate is always healthy, for it allows for reevaluation of one’s understanding, and provides an opportunity to clear misunderstanding.

I don’t wish to respond to every critical point raised with regard to my article, but would like to clarify three positions that were wrongly inferred from my argument.

Hadith Authority

It is not my position that the hadith should be rejected whenever we don’t like its content, or when another religious community critical of Muslim beliefs and practices demand that Muslim should do so. Far from it. I do believe that many aspects of the Islamic revelation would be incomprehensible if it is not informed by the prophetic tradition.

My argument is that 2 hadiths cannot tromp a fundamental Qur’anic principle that has been repeated in various forms, and that was traced back to the earliest prophet: Faith is based in personal conviction, and conviction is personal choice and moral responsibility.

It is well establish Islamic jurisprudential position, supported even by scholars of hadith (muhaddithun) that a hadith cannot be followed if it contradicts established Qur’anic principles or a habitually none fact. The term “shakey” (mutarib) does not mean that the hadith is weak (da‘if), for the first pertain to the content of the hadith, while the latter to its chain of narrators. Therefore a hadith can be authentic (sahih) and mutarib at the same time. Classical scholars dealt with shaky hadiths by contextualizing them, i.e. by rejecting the textual or apparent meaning (al-ma’na al-zahir), and understanding them within a broader textual or social context.

Rejecting Early Scholarship

Nor is it my position that one should automatically reject or doubt the knowledge of early scholars. I do believe that traditions are essential for developing any healthy community, and those who follow no traditions are unlikely to develop in knowledge and social conditions beyond the natural life of a Bedouin community.

In fact, I believe that one reason why contemporary Islamic learning has not progressed is because of the idea widely accepted that the best way to reform Islamic learning is to discard early Muslim scholarship and go directly to the Qur’an and Hadiths. The result has been “scholars” who lack any deep understanding of important debates and important scholarly tools that were developed by early Muslim scholars.

My position is that these scholars were human, and hence susceptible to human limitation, including the fact that they were influence by the social conditions of their times. We should learn from them, but when we discover that they have taken a position in contradiction of established Qur’nic principles, we should not hesitate to take the right position ourselves.

Reinterpreting Islam to Please the West

One need here to distinguish between pleasing western society in violation of Islam, as opposed to pleasing western society in the sense of accepting western traditions that are either neutral or positive.

“‘Urf” or social customs have been an essential part of the fiqh rulings. In many ways Islamic principles have been adopted to social practices in different part of the world. One need to travel through Africa and Asia to see how Islamic practices takes on local colors: marriage, administration of justice, organization of the work place, etc. western society has developed many good practices and traditions and one should learn from them.

I have been, on the other hand, critical of Western excesses, be it sexual promiscuity or the ongoing efforts to undermine traditional marriage on the social side, or aggressive and often exploitative US foreign policy toward the Muslim world.

Louay Safi

Shamimur Rahman said...

Shamimur Rahman, Canada

NFB has recently posted an article “A Review of Louay Safi’s Article "Apostasy and Religious Freedom" by Archimedez which was forwarded by some Meher Ali Khan. I wonder how this inaccurate dishonest writing did find its way into the FEATURE section.

Archimedez either out of total ignorance or by intentional twisting( this is more probable) has accused Koran of supporting death penalty for apostates. Archimedez wrote:

continues at:

fazila said...

Everything evil, unjust, inhuman that is being practiced by the majority of moslem communities nowadays can be directly linked to either shaky Hadiths or (more or less willful) misinterpretation of good ones.
May Allah forgive our arrogance in trying to 'complete' the Qur'an.

Jim GUIRARD said...

Dear Dr. Safi:

Adding a wider dimention to your excellent commentary on the subject of "apostasy" in Islam, it seems to me that while both the cartoons episode in Europe and Mr. Rahman's conversion from Islam to Christianity are understandably offensive to many Muslims, both are mere distractions from the real enemy of authentic, Quranic Islam.

Neither comes anywhere near the blasphemous disrespect for and the wholesale desecration of the Holy Qur'an and of Allah Himself being displayed on a daily basis by what should forevermore be called "The al Qaeda Apostasy."

Against this supremely arrogant attempt by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri,Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and their followers to redefine Islam in their own murderous image, the Muslim World should enter now into a worldwide consultative ijtihad for the purpose of declaring a Truly Holy War -- a spiritual and intellectual "Jihad al-Kabir" -- against this attack on the "compassionate, merciful, munificent, peaceful and just" Allah who is repeatedly so described by the Qur'an.

Those who demand that poor, terrorized, exiled Mr. Rahman be executed should be called on -- as they most assuredly will be on Judgment Day -- to explain why they have failed to apply this same condemnation to such clearly khawarij (outside the religion) al Qaeda-style crimes and sins as

o Wanton killing of innocents and noncombatants, including many peaceful Muslims

o Decapitating the live and desecrating the dead bodies of perceived enemies

o Committing and enticing others to commit suicide for reasons of intimidation

o Fomenting hatred among communities, nations, religions and civilizations

o Ruthless warring against nations in which Islam is freely practiced

o Issuing and inspiring unauthorized and un-Islamic fatwas (religious edicts)

o Using some mosques as weapons depots and battle stations, while destroying others

o Forcing extremist and absolutist versions (and perversions) of Islam on Muslims, when the Qur’an clearly says that there shall be “no compulsion in religion”

o Distorting the word “infidels” to include all Christians, all Jews and many faithful Muslims, as well -- when the Qur’an calls them all “Children of the Book” (the Old Testament) and “Sons of Abraham,” and calls Jesus one of Islam’s five main Prophets and even its "Messiah"

o Deliberate misreading, ignoring and perverting of passages of the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Islamic Jurisprudence (the Fiqh)

If all of these ruthless acts of Hirabah (unholy war and forbidden "war against society ") and of arrogant istihlal do not constitute an apostasy worthy of death in this life and of Jahannam (Eternal Hellfire) in the hereafter, then there is no such thing.

But, of course, there is such a thing. And its self-evident name in today's world is "The al Qaeda Apostasy." N'est-ce pas?

Respectfully yours,

Jim Guirard -- TrueSpeak Institute

Anonymous said...

I agree with fazila. To try and complete the whole and perfect Qur'an with hadith is the real sin. When you look at all the problems with intepretation and rules in Islam it is because of hadith. These are the words of MEN not God, if God wanted this God would have just put it in the Qur'an. You disobey God when you follow hadith and sunnah.