In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
This article was first published on Beliefnet. It is reproduced here:
Amid intense international pressure, an Afghan court recently dropped the charges against Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old Afghan man, who faced execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. But as many around the world uttered a collective sigh of relief, the tension continued to grow.
In Kabul, hundreds took to the streets protesting against the court’s decision. Rahman is still very much in danger of being murdered. Afghan clerics had warned that if the charges were dropped, they would incite Afghanis to execute Rahman unless he reverted to Islam. Cleric Abdul Raouf said, “Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die.”
But I ask why? Why must Abdul Rahman die?
“Because he is an apostate [traitor], and the apostate must die.” This is not the first time I have heard this reasoning. Some Sunni militants kill Shi’as because they claim them to be “apostates.” So many of Islam’s detractors –as well as some Muslims–frequently claim that leaving Islam is punishable by death. Such a claim is absurd and has absolutely no scriptural basis in the Qur’an. None.
The Qur’an, in fact, is quite clear in matters of faith and personal conscience. The choice is left completely up to the individual. Let’s reflect on these verses in the Qur’an:
“Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you … (5:48)”
“Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright? (13:31)”
“And [because He is your Creator], it rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright. (16:9)”
“For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)”
All of these verses imply that humans are free to make their own choice when it comes to matters of faith. It is part of God’s plan to have different faiths and to allow the humans to choose their own path. The Qur’an is even more explicit about this. Consider the following verses:
“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error … (2:256)”
“Say [O Muhammad], ‘The truth is from your Lord:’ Let him who wills believe it, and let him who wills, reject (it). (18:29)”
“If it had been your Lord’s will, they all would have believed–all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)”
“It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but God sets on the right path whom He pleases. (2:272)”
The evidence is quite overwhelming. In Islam there is complete freedom of choice in matters of faith and religion. Furthermore, the Qur’an states that the reason war is sometimes necessary–as a last resort and in self-defense–is to preserve religious freedom: “If God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques–in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled–would surely have been destroyed. (22:40)”
So is it that if someone chooses to leave Islam, he or she is liable to be killed? Where is the scriptural basis for this? As far as I can tell, there is none.
Moreover, the Qur’an is not silent about apostasy. There are numerous references to apostasy, but not one verse says the apostate is to be killed for his or her choice:
“… [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth–these it is whose works will go for naught in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide. (2:217)”
“Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. (3:90)”
“O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith, God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him–humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing. (5:54)”
“Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters unbelief–except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith– but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful penalty. This because they love the life of this world better than the hereafter: and God will not guide those who reject faith. (16:106-107)”
And even if someone were to leave Islam multiple times, there still is no death penalty imposed on him. The following verses are effective proof of this:
“Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way. (4:137)”
Do the above Qur’anic verses warn of a severe chastisement for apostasy? Absolutely. In fact, these verses are akin to this passage in the Bible: “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deut. 6:14-15)”
Apostasy is chastised to some degree by all the Abrahamic faiths. Yet, could it be any clearer that the punishment addressed in the Qur’an is in the hereafter and not the here and now?
Given this enormous and overwhelming evidence against a scriptural basis for the murder of apostates, how could any Muslim cleric–such as Abdul Raouf in Afghanistan–claim that Islam calls for the murder of apostates? What sort of faith keeps its adherents in its fold by threatening death if one leaves?
If Islam claims that the humans have complete freedom of will–which they do–then how can an apostate be killed? What kind of faith is so threatened by the rebellion of some of its adherents that it mandates they be murdered? Contrary to the contention of many, Islam is not that kind of faith.
I am relieved that Abdul Rahman was released, and I hope he will not fall prey to a mob mentality. His murder would be a grave injustice. Like it or not, he chose to leave Islam for Christianity, and that was his prerogative. One day he will, like us all, answer to God for his actions.
I truly believe that God was not “humiliated” by Abdul Rahman’s choice to become a Christian. There is nothing in this universe that can “humiliate” God. But Islam is quite clear: There is no compulsion in matters of faith. God alone is the judge of our heart, and we should leave that judging up to Him. Believe me, He knows what He is doing.
Author Note: There are Prophetic traditions that, on the surface, seem to bolster the notion that apostates must face death. These will be explained in time, God willing. Stay tuned.