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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Apostasy in Islam

 

Apostasy in Islam is commonly defined as the conscious abandonment of Islam by a Muslim in word or through deed. It includes the act of converting to another religion or non-acceptance of faith to be irreligious, by a person who was born in a Muslim family or who had previously accepted Islam. The definition of apostasy from Islam, and whether and how it should be punished, are matters of controversy and Islamic scholars differ in their opinions on these questions.

Other Qur'anic verses refer to apostasy. According to professor of anthropology Dale F. Eickelman, some verses in the Quran appear to justify coercion and severe punishment for apostates. In contrast, legal historian Wael Hallaq writes that "nothing in the law governing apostates and apostasy derives from the letter" of the Quran. There is no mention of any specific corporal punishment for apostates to which they are to be subjected in this world, nor do Qur'anic verses refer, whether explicitly or implicitly, to the need to force an apostate to return to Islam or to kill him if he refuses to do so.

Apostasy is called irtidad (which literally means relapse or regress) or ridda in Islamic literature; an apostate is called murtadd, which means 'one who turns back' from Islam. According to some, someone born to a Muslim parent or one who has previously converted to Islam becomes a murtadd if he or she verbally denies any principle of belief prescribed by Qur'an or a Hadith, deviates from approved Islamic tenets (ilhad), or if he or she commits a blasphemy such as treating a copy of the Qur?an with disrespect. A person born to a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam is called a murtad fitri, and a person who converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a murtad milli.

In early Islamic history, after Muhammad's death, the declaration of Prophethood by anyone was automatically deemed to be proof of apostasy. This view has continued to the modern age in the rejection of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam as apostates by mainstream Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, because Ahmadis consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of Ahmadiyya, as a modern-day Prophet.

In the contemporary Islamic Republic of Iran, at least one conservative jurist, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, has attempted to reconcile following the traditional doctrine while addressing the principle of freedom of religion enshrined in the Islamic Republic's constitution. At a 2009 human rights conference at Mofid University in Qom, Araki stated that "if an individual doubts Islam, he does not become the subject of punishment, but if the doubt is openly expressed, this is not permissible." As one observer (Sadakat Kadri) noted, this "freedom" has the advantage that "state officials could not punish an unmanifested belief even if they wanted to".

Proselytization and apostasy of Muslims to leave Islam and join another religion is considered a religious crime by many writers. Throughout the history of Islam, proselytization and apostasy of Muslims was forbidden by law.

In Islamic law (sharia), the view among the majority of medieval jurists was that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi'a scholars.

Medieval Islamic scholars also differed on the punishment of a female apostate: death, enslavement, or imprisonment until repentance. Abu Hanifa and his followers refused the death penalty for female apostates, supporting imprisonment until they re-embrace Islam. Hanafi scholars maintain that a female apostate should not be killed because it was forbidden to kill women under Sharia. In contrast, Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali and Ja'fari scholars interpreted other parts of Sharia to permit death as possible punishment for Muslim apostate women, in addition to confinement.

By law, children follow the religion of their fathers, even if they are born abroad and are citizens of their (non-Muslim-majority) country of birth. The study of Islam is a requirement in the public and private schools for every Algerian child, irrespective of his/her religion. Although the educational reform of 2006 eliminated "Islamic sciences" from the baccalaureate, Islamic studies are mandatory in public schools at primary level and followed by Sharia studies at secondary level. Concerns have been expressed that requests by non-Muslim religious students to opt out of these classes would result in discrimination.

 
 

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