Monday, 16 August 2010
The Punishment for Apostasy in Islam
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Below is a compilation of some notable Islamic voices, who have expressed their views on punishment for apostasy in Islam. Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from a religion and the renunciation of its beliefs, creeds and tenets. In Islam, it is known as irtidad or riddah depending on the grammatical context. An apostate is known as a murtad. It is often thought by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that apostasy is punishable by death. There is no evidence whatsoever that this was the position of Rasulullah (s.a.w.) and there are no reports that he advocated such. The Qur’an itself does not advocate death for apostasy.
The alleged punishment for apostasy is not unique to Islam. It is in the Bible and was enforced in early Christianity and Judaism.
6 And that prophet or forger of dreams shall be slain: because he spoke to draw you away from the Lord your God, Who Brought you out of the land of Egypt, and Redeemed you from the house of bondage: to make you go out of the way, which the Lord your God Commanded you: and you shall take away the evil out of the midst of you. 7 If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or daughter, or your wife that is in your bosom, or your friend, whom you love as your own soul, would persuade you secretly, saying, “Let us go, and serve strange gods,” which you know not, nor your fathers, 8 of all the nations round about, that are near or afar off, from one end of the earth to the other, 9 consent not to him, hear him not, neither let your eye spare him to pity and conceal him, 10 but you shall presently put him to death. Let your hand be first upon him, and afterwards the hands of all the people.
Some Muslim states such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan still have it as a criminal offence punishable by death. It is mostly a political tool departing from the spirit of the religion and subject to much abuse.
There was an early convert who renounced Islam and became a Christian. ‘Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh was the brother of Zaynab bint Jahsh (r.a.), Hammanah bint Jahsh (r.a.) and ‘Abdullah ibn Jahsh (r.a.). He was famed as one of the prominent hunafah mentioned by Shaykh ibn Ishaq (r.a.) along with Waraqah ibn Nawfal (r.a.), ‘Utsman ibn Huwarits (r.a.) and Zayd ibn ‘Amr (r.a.). He married Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan (r.a.), also known as Umm Habibah Ramlah (r.a.). They had a daughter named Habibah bint ‘Ubaydullah (r.a.). His wife and he converted to Islam and took part in the first hijrah to Christian Abyssinia in order to escape persecution. At Axum, they were given sanctuary. ‘Ubaydullah eventually converted to Christianity and testified his new faith to the other Muslim refugees.
Shaykh ibn Ishaq (r.a.) related, “‘Ubaydullah went on searching until Islam came; then he migrated with the Muslims to Abyssinia taking with him his wife who was a Muslim, Umm Habibah bint Abu Sufyan. When he arrived there, he adopted Christianity, parted from Islam, and died a Christian in Abyssinia. Muhammad bin Ja’far al-Zubayr told me that when he had become a Christian, ‘Ubaydullah, as he passed the Prophet's companions who were there, they used to say, ‘We see clearly, but your eyes are only half open.’”
Due to his conversion, he was divorced from his wife. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) eventually married his former wife, Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan (r.a.) and, later on, his sister, Zaynab bint Jahsh (r.a.). When reports of his apostasy reached the Prophet (s.a.w.), he did not order any action to be taken upon him.
With regards another early convert to Islam, Imam Abu ‘Abdullah al-Qurthubi (r.a.) reported from ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn ‘Awf (r.a.), “One night, I went out with ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab touring Madina when we sighted a lamplight in a house whose facing door shut off some people with loud voices and clamour. ‘This is the house of Rabi’ah ibn Umayyah ibn Khalaf, and they are now drinking; what do you think?’ asked ‘Umar.
I said, ‘I think we have done what is prohibited by Allah (s.w.t.); He said, ‘And spy not’, but we have spied,’ upon which ‘Umar turned away and left them.”
This same Rabi’ah went to Abu Bakr asw-Swiddiq (r.a.) and said to him, “Last night, I dreamt I left a rich and fertile land for a sterile land, and I saw my hands tied to my neck.”
Abu Bakr (r.a.) interpreted it thus: “If your dream is confirmed, you will renounce Islam for disbelief. As for me, my hands do not covet the goods of this world.”
In the Caliphate of ‘Umar (r.a.), Rabi’ah did indeed leave Madina and join the Byzantines, becoming a Christian. The seeds of his unbelief were planted earlier. Just as conversion is a process, so too is apostasy.
There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Surah al-Baqarah:256)
The following are the opinions and actions of Muslim scholars pertaining to apostasy. These are examples for us from the sunnah.
Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al Aziz (r.a.) was also known as ‘Umar II, the great grandson of ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) and regarded as one of the Khulafah ar-Rashidin, one of only two just rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate.
Some people accepted Islam during the period of ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-Aziz (r.a.), who is called the fifth Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam. All these people renounced Islam sometime later. Maymun ibn Mahran, the governor of the area wrote to the Caliph about these people. In reply ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz (r.a.) ordered him to release those people and asked him to reimpose jizyah on them. This is recorded in Muswannaf ‘Abd ar-Razzaq by Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq ibn Humamah (r.a.). This is the earliest known muswannaf in existence.
Imam Ibrahim an-Nakha'i (r.a.) was a leading tabi’in jurist and mujtahid, who was a major influence of the Hanafi madzhab. He was also a noted narrator of the six main books of ahadits: Swahih al-Bukhari, Swahih Muslim, Sunan an-Nasa’i, Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan ibn Majah and Sunan at-Tirmidzi. According to Imam an-Nakha’i (r.a.), an apostate should be re-invited to Islam, but should never be condemned to death. He maintained the view that the invitation should continue for as long as there is hope that the apostate might change his mind and repent.
Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri ibn Sa’id (r.a.) was known as “the Prince of the Believers concerning ahadits”, ‘Amir al-Mu'minin fi al-Ahadits, and is the author of two important compilations of ahadits, al-Jami’ al-Kabir, and al-Jami’ asw-Swaghir. He was a tabi’in scholar, hafizh and jurist and the founder of the Tsawri madzhab. He was also a hadits compiler, of whom a great number of anecdotes are recorded. His madzhab did not survive long after his death but was a great influence on the Shafi’i madzhab that came after.
According to Imam ats-Tsawri (r.a.), an apostate should be re-invited to Islam, but should never be condemned to death. He maintained the view that the invitation should continue for as long as there is hope that the apostate might change his mind and repent.
Imam Shams ad-Din as-Sarakhsi (r.a.) was an eminent Hanafi jurist and author of al-Mabsuth. He wrote, “The hudud are generally not suspended because of repentance, especially when they are reported and become known to the imam. The punishment of highway robbery, for instance, is not suspended because of repentance; it is suspended only by the return of property to the owner prior to arrest.” He continued, “Renunciation of the faith and conversion to disbelief is admittedly the greatest of offenses, yet it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is Postponed to the Day of Judgment. Punishments that are enforced in this life are those which protect the people's interests, such as just retaliation, which is designed to protect life.”
Imam Abu al-Walid al-Baji (r.a.) was also known as Sulayman ibn Khalaf ibn Sa’d or Sa’dun ibn Ayyub, al-Qadhi Abu al-Walid at-Tujaybi al-Andalusi al-Qurthubi al-Baji at-Tamimi adz-Dzahabi al-Maliki. He was a noted Maliki jurist and poet from al-Andalus; a contemporary of Imam ibn Hazm (r.a.). He wrote that he “observed that apostasy is a sin which carries no prescribed penalty, and that such a sin may only be punished under the discretionary punishment of ta’zir.” That means there is no death penalty for it under hadd.
Imam Abu ‘Abdullah al-Qurthubi (r.a.), formally known as Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr al-Answari al-Qurthubi, was a famous mufassir, muhaddits and faqih from Cordoba of the Maliki madzhab. He is most famous for his commentary of the Qur’an, Tafsir al-Qurthubi. His commented on the verse below and linked it to apostasy.
This because they love the life of this world better than the Hereafter: and Allah will not guide those who reject faith. (Surah an-Nahl:107)
He said, “as-Samara’i, in his comment on this verse, has quoted from Qurthubi’s al-Jami’ the remark that the verse conveys an admonition that the Wrath of Allah will be incurred by the apostate but there is no hint of any other punishment.” He referenced Imam ‘Abd al-Razzaq as-Samara’i’s (r.a.) Ahkam al-Murtad fi ash-Shari’at al-Islamiyyah,
Imam Abu Hayyan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Andalusi (r.a.) was a Maliki scholar and author of the commentary of the Qur’an, Bahr al-Muhith. It written here that no apostate can be coerced into rejoining the Muslim community.
Imam ibn al-Hammam al-Hanafi (r.a.) was an eminent scholar and faqih of the Hanafi madzhab. He said, “There is no punishment for the act of apostasy, for its punishment is greater than that, with God.”
Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Jawhar (r.a.) was an Indian Muslim leader, activist, scholar, journalist and poet, and was among the leading figures of the Khilafat Movement. He was one of the founders of the All India Muslim League and he was also a former president. In “Punishment of Apostasy in Islam”, the author, Shaykh ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.) mentioned, “Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Jawhar had, it seems, sponsored the thesis that Islam did not sanction any punishment for apostasy.”
Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut (r.a.) was a prominent Egyptian scholar and theologian best known for his work in Islamic reform. He was the Grand Imam of al-Azhar 1958 until his death in 1963. Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, in his commentary in “Freedom of Expression in Islam”, on Shaykh Shaltut’s (r.a.) al-Islam ‘Aqidah wa ash-Shari’ah, wrote, “Mahmud Shaltut analyses the relevant evidence in the Qur'an and draws the conclusion that apostasy carries no temporal penalty, and that in reference to this particular sin, the Qur’an speaks only of punishment in the Hereafter.”
Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Thanthawy (r.a.) was the Grand Mufti of Egypt from 1986 to 1996. In 1996, he was appointed as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, a position he retained until his death in 2010. This is found in Introduction of Grand A’immah of al-Azhar: “Shaykh Thanthawy’s ruling on the subject of a Muslim apostatising has certainly shed new light on this subject, while making the non-Muslims realise that Islam is a religion of moderation. To Shaykh Thanthawy, a Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam. If the Muslims were forced to take action against the apostate, he said it should not be because he or she had given up the faith but because he or she had turned out to be an enemy or a threat to Islam. Shaykh Thanthawy, in his views, shows clearly how simple and moderate Islam is, a religion that is tolerant and not coercive on anybody. Shaykh Thanthawy repeatedly stresses the need for Muslims to acquire traditional Islamic knowledge as well as the modern ones so that they could add to the strength of the Muslim community to defend the religion.”
As quoted in al-‘Alam al-Islami on the 23rd August 2002, “The Islamic Research Department of al-Azhar University has called the penalty for apostasy as null and void and has said that the ways of repentance are open for the whole life.” It continued further down, “So an apostate can repent over his mistake anytime during his life and there would be no fixed period for it.”
Dr. Jamal A. Badawi is an Egyptian-born Muslim Canadian. He is a noted scholar who sits on the board of many Muslim organisations. He said, “The preponderance of evidence from both the Qur’an and sunnah indicates that there is no firm ground for the claim that apostasy is in itself a mandatory fixed punishment, hadd, namely capital punishment.”
He further added in his paper, “Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam?”, “When a man in Madinah apostatised from Islam, the Prophet (s.a.w.) neither ordered his execution nor punished him in any other way, and when the man finally left Madinah, the Prophet (s.a.w.) never sent anyone to arrest him or punish him because of his apostasy.”
Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali is professor of law at the International Islamic University of Malaysia where he has taught Islamic law and jurisprudence there since 1985. As quoted in his paper, “Freedom of Religion”, “The controversy been exacerbated further by reliance on the provision in the sunnah which authorises the death penalty for apostasy without due consideration of other evidence in the sunnah to the effect that punishment by death was meant only for apostasy accompanied by hostility and treason.” He continued, “The Prophet (s.a.w.) did not treat apostasy as a proscribed offense, but, on the contrary, pardoned many individuals who had embraced Islam, then renounced it, and then embraced it again.” He also said, “The Qur’an is consistent in its affirmation of the freedom of belief and it fully supports the conclusion that the objectives of the shari’ah cannot be properly fulfilled without granting people the freedom of belief, and the liberty to express it.”
Dr. Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss academic and writer. He is also a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. He was asked, “What about apostasy? What happens if you are born and educated a Muslim but then say, ‘I have now decided that Islam is not for me.’ Would you accept that someone born into a Muslim family has a right to say that they no longer believe, and that families and communities must respect that?”
He replied, “I have been criticised about this in many countries. My view is the same as that of Sufyan ats-Tsawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam, who argued that the Qur’an does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. Neither did the Prophet himself ever perform such an act. Many around the Prophet changed religions. But he never did anything against them. There was an early Muslim, ‘Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who went with the first emigrants from Makkah to Abyssinia. He converted to Christianity and stayed, but remained close to Muslims. He divorced his wife, but he was not killed.”
Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid (q.s.) was the former President of Indonesia and leader of Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia. He was a scholar of note, and a hafizh of the Qur’an. He said, “Muslim theologians must revise their understanding of Islamic law, and recognise that punishment for apostasy is merely the legacy of historical circumstances and political calculations stretching back to the early days of Islam. Such punishments run counter to the clear Qur’anic Injunction, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ “People of goodwill of every faith and nation must unite to ensure the triumph of religious freedom and of the 'right' understanding of Islam, to avert global catastrophe and spare millions of others the fate of Sudan's great religious and political leader, Mahmud Muhammad Thaha, who was executed on a false charge of apostasy.”
Let there be no compulsion in religion ... (Surah al-Baqarah:256)
Dr. Abdul Hamid Abu Sulayman is the former Rector, International Islamic University, Malaysia and the former Chairman, International Institute of Islamic Thoughts. As quoted in “The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic Methodology & Thought”, “The conceptual confusion occurs in the early period of Islam, because this political conspiracy took the form of apostasy while the real goal was to destroy the Muslim community. The confusion lies in taking the act for what it appeared to be and not for what it was meant to be. They mistook political conspiracy for an exercise of the human right of freedom of belief and choice. The jurists seemed to exercise little analysis concerning the whole question. The word apostasy alone determined their position. This misunderstanding of the significance of the word apostasy in the Qur’an and the punishment to it in the hadits of the Prophet (s.a.w.) destroyed in the classical jurisprudence the basis of the Islamic concept of tolerance and human responsibility.” He further said that the early Muslim position on apostasy was not directed against freedom of conscience and belief but towards enforcing the policy of Islamisation of the warring Bedouin tribes and toward checking conspiracy.
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl is a professor of law at the UCLA School of Law. Dr. El Fadl currently serves on the Advisory Board of Middle East Watch. He is also a noted faqih of the current age. He said, “But while the Qur’an mentions riddah, it never calls for the execution of apostates. There is no record of the Prophet killing an apostate himself. And executions of apostates have been rare in Islamic history. The common argument is that it clearly contradicts the Qur’an, which says there should not be compulsion in religion.” This was quoted from his article, “In Kabul, a Test for Shari’ah.”
Dr. Mahmoud Ayuob is a professor of Islamic Studies, Temple University. As quoted in ‘Religious Freedom & the Law of Apostasy in Islam Summary, “After determining what constitutes apostasy, defined as ‘an act of rejection of faith committed by a Muslim whose Islam had been affirmed without any coercion’, the author looks at the understanding of riddah in the Qur’an and the sunnah. From this study, he concludes that there is no real basis for the riddah law in either of these sources.”
Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is a scholar of the Dawoodi Bohra He is the director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, India. He said, “No wonder than that Qur’an not only does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy it is against any such punishment.” He continued, “In view of such clear exposition how can one maintain that one who becomes apostate should be punished with death? Such a punishment goes completely against the principle of freedom of faith laid down in the Qur’an. Since according to the Qur’an, human beings are responsible for their acts, they have been Created free and only a free agent can be held responsible for one’s acts, good or bad. This is quite clear from the story of Adam who was warned not to go near a tree in Paradise but was left free to decide and he decided to test the fruit of the tree and as a result was expelled from it. This story itself is sufficient to establish principle of freedom of choice in the Qur’an.” He further said, “Today human rights are of vital importance and modern scholars are also engaged in the project of showing these rights as quite compatible with Islam. And, if some ‘ulama insist on death sentence for apostasy it is not only crime against freedom of conscience and democratic rights but also serious disservice against Islam.”
Dr. Abdullah Saeed is the director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam, University of Melbourne, Australia. In the “Introduction: Freedom of Religion, Apostasy & Islam,” he wrote, “This book argues that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death in Islamic law is untenable in the modern period. Apostasy conflicts with a variety of foundation texts of Islam and with the current ethos of human rights, in particular the freedom to choose one's religion. Demonstrating the early development of the law of apostasy as largely a religio-political tool, the authors show the diversity of opinion among early Muslims on the punishment, highlighting the substantial ambiguities about what constitutes apostasy, the problematic nature of some of the key textual evidence on which the punishment of apostasy is based, and the neglect of a vast amount of clear Qur’anic texts in favour of freedom of religion in the construction of the law of apostasy.
Examining the significant challenges the punishment of apostasy faces in the modern period inside and outside Muslim communities - exploring in particular how apostasy and its punishment is dealt with in a multi-religious Muslim majority country, Malaysia, and the challenges and difficulties it faces there - the authors discuss arguments by prominent Muslims today for an absolute freedom of religion and for discarding the punishment of apostasy.”
Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan is a respected scholar of the Qur’an, president of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations and Chair of the Inter-Religious Engagement Project. He is also a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. In his article, Freedom to Change Ones’ Religion, he said, “No one has any right to use pressure of any kind to make a person change or stop from changing his religion. An individual out of his own free will should himself or herself do entering into a religion or coming out of a religion.”
Dr. Mohammed Fadel is from the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, Canada. In a recorded interview, he said, “It is certainly true that the vast majority of Islamic legal scholars in the Middle Ages prescribed the death penalty for apostates, after an appropriate period for the defendant to repent. This was not, however, a universal position, as an early, and quite respected and important authority, Ibrahim an-Nakha’i, argued that an apostate has the rest of his natural life to repent. More importantly, the origin of the crime of apostasy is political and military treason, not freedom of conscience. Early works of Islamic law make this clear. Almost inevitably, questions of apostasy are raised in the context of a Muslim defecting and joining the ranks of the enemy.
This should not be too surprising given the religious nature of polities in that day and age. In today’s world, polities are not religion-based, but based on citizenship, and accordingly, the original logic behind the rules of apostasy have lost their force. For that reason, many, but not all, contemporary Muslim thinkers reject the notion that apostasy should be a capital offense. Of course, that does not mean that, in times of crisis, demagogues cannot abuse obsolete rules to wreak havoc.”
Dr. Louay Safi is the Executive Director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, and ex-President of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. He said, “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.” He continued, “Indeed, one cannot find in the Qur’an any support for the apostasy penalty. I am inclined to the increasingly popular view among contemporary scholars, that riddah does not involve a moral act of conversion, but a military act of rebellion, whose calming justifies the use of force and the return of fire.” He added, “A Christian or a Jew who converts to Islam is no more a Christian or a Jew, but a Muslim and must be respected as such. By the same taken a Muslim who converts to Christianity is no more a Muslim, but a Christian and must be respected as such.”
Dr. Ingrid Mattson is the ex-president, Islamic Society of North America and Professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. As quoted in the Christian Science Monitor feature of her, Muslim Convert Takes on Leadership Role, “Given the importance to her of individual choice, Mattson is well aware of the major questions Westerners have about religious freedom in Muslim countries - and whether Muslims have the right to convert to other faiths. A few converts have had their children taken away or have been persecuted as a result. A specialist in Islamic law, Mattson says this is an area that is now being widely examined and contested.
‘Many scholars have convincingly argued that apostasy is not a crime, while treason is, based on cases from the early days of Islam, where people who left the community for other religions were not punished, while those who left the political community and betrayed it were.’
What happened historically in some Muslim societies, she says, was that no distinction was made between community affiliation and religious affiliation. But today's world makes other demands, and she supports the case being made for separation of the two.”
Shaykh Mohammed Aboulkhair Zaki Badawi (r.a.) was a prominent Egyptian scholar, and promoter of interfaith-dialogue. At an inter-faith meeting in March 2005, he said, “forcing people to believe things just makes them hypocrites. The Qur’an has no compulsion, no punishment for going away.”
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a mosque in New York City. In ‘What’s Right with Islam’, Imam Rauf maintains that, “What is right about any religion or societal structure is therefore the extent to which individuals and societies fully manifest the principles of the Abrahamaic ethic”. Just prior to this conclusion, he listed a number of failings of the Muslim community in this respect after the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) passed away - namely, the disappearance of the rule of law applied by an independent judiciary; the judgment that apostasy is the equivalent of treason; continuation of the practice of slavery despite the many Qur’anic verses that sought to eliminate that institution; and, the on-going oppression of women.”
Dr. Saif ad-Deen ‘Abdul-Fattah is the professor of political theory at Cairo University, known for his remarkable contribution to the branch of jurisprudence that deals with al-maqaswid. As quoted in ‘Freedom & the Cartoon Crisis: From the Incident to the Approach’, “I think that the rule that governs the issue here is Allah’s Saying,” referring to the ayat, “There is no compulsion in religion.” He continued, “Religion cannot by any means be compared to a trap; whoever is trapped in it can never get out. Muslims are in no need of new hypocrites. From this point, I can assure that those who apostatise are always to be asked to repent. The incidents of apparent apostasy in our history are those of collective apostasy. This kind of collective apostasy is considered as cases of state security and national security, in which the penalty for apostasy is applied to protect the whole state.”
Dr. Asma Afsaruddin is the associate professor of Middle East Studies, University of Notre Dame. She was interviewed regarding the Afghan Christian convert in ‘Afghan Christian Averts Death for Apostasy as Italy Grants Asylum’. The article said, “Asma Afsaruddin, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, said that Islam ‘threatens punishment in the next world, but that is God’s Prerogative. The Qur’an has no penalty prescribed for apostasy.”
Shaykh. Abdul Hakim Murad, currently the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, Director, and perhaps the most renowned British convert and scholar. He said, “The issue of the punishment for apostasy is a fascinating example of debates unfolding in Islamic law. Islam has four orthodox schools of law, and traditionally the majority view in all four of them held that apostasy carries the death penalty. In recent years, however, many Muslim scholars have pointed out that even among the medieval writers there are leading figures who, on the basis of the Muslim scriptures, have contested this. An example, from the Hanafi school, would be as-Sarakhsi; and from the Maliki, al-Baji. The reason for the difference of opinion, hardly an uncommon phenomenon in Islamic law, is that the Qur’an nowhere lays down a penalty for apostasy, and the hadits texts have been interpreted in very contrasting ways. For this reason, Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut, the highest religious authority in Egypt during the 1960s, issues an opinion to the effect that apostasy was not a criminal offence in Islamic law. This view has been followed widely in the Muslim world.” This was taken from “Online Dialogue: The Future of Muslims in the West”.