Friday Sermon: Apostasy in Islam — How Dealt With?

by Majeed Ali

5 January 1990 (Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam Lahore UK)

Play Video

Narrated by: Dr. M Saeed (The text of the sermon below was read out at the Friday sermon dated 21st June 2024)

قَدۡ جَآءَکُمۡ بَصَآئِرُ مِنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ ۚ فَمَنۡ اَبۡصَرَ فَلِنَفۡسِہٖ ۚ وَ مَنۡ عَمِیَ فَعَلَیۡہَا ؕ وَ مَاۤ اَنَا عَلَیۡکُمۡ بِحَفِیۡظٍ ﴿۱۰۴﴾ وَ کَذٰلِکَ نُصَرِّفُ الۡاٰیٰتِ وَ لِیَقُوۡلُوۡا دَرَسۡتَ وَ لِنُبَیِّنَہٗ لِقَوۡمٍ یَّعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۱۰۵﴾

“Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for the good of his own soul; and whoever is blind, it is to its harm. And I am not a keeper over you. And thus do We repeat the messages, and that they may say, You have studied; and that We may make it clear to a people who know” (The Holy Quran, 6:104–105).

A calumny is rampant in non-Muslim circles, and to a lesser degree in some Muslim circles also, that whoever leaves the fold of Islam is liable to be put to death. This is against the teachings of the Holy Quran, which is the primary source of Islamic law. It is a book of wisdom and its injunctions are quite in accord with the trends of human nature.

Nature has granted vision and insight to man. If he acts and directs or shapes his lifestyle on the lines God wishes him to shape, he will remain on the right path, but if he shuts his eyes to the truth placed before him, he will not only remain on the horns of dilemma throughout his life, but he will also be a source of constant trouble for his fellow beings. This is what is meant by:

فَمَنۡ اَبۡصَرَ فَلِنَفۡسِہٖ ۚ وَ مَنۡ عَمِیَ فَعَلَیۡہَا ؕ

“so whoever sees, it is for the good of his own soul; and whoever is blind, it is to its harm” (The Holy Quran, 6:104).

The Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)], through whom the teachings have been revealed, is not a keeper over his people.

Picking up threads of the same style of teaching, the Holy Quran at another place says:

فَاِنۡ اَعۡرَضُوۡا فَمَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنٰکَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ حَفِیۡظًا ؕ اِنۡ عَلَیۡکَ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ ؕ

“But if they turn away, We have not sent you as a watcher over them. Your duty is only to deliver the message” (The Holy Quran, 42:48).

After revealing what He wishes man to do, God has left him to adopt the course he likes with no punishment, or threat of punishment, in this life, making it clear that His Messenger is not a watcher over him.

The above verses present a phenomenon of plain teaching without mentioning the punishment that could follow if those teachings were rejected. Any earthly government that makes laws is responsible to see that its orders are carried out. Breakers of law are punished in the land for which laws were made. The laws made by God, if broken or not obeyed, are punished by Him alone (provided their breaking does not affect any living creature) in the life to come, not in this life. The Holy Quran leaves no ambiguity on this subject:

الۡحَقُّ مِنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ ۟ فَمَنۡ شَآءَ فَلۡیُؤۡمِنۡ وَّ مَنۡ شَآءَ فَلۡیَکۡفُرۡ ۙ اِنَّاۤ اَعۡتَدۡنَا لِلظّٰلِمِیۡنَ نَارًا ۙ اَحَاطَ بِہِمۡ سُرَادِقُہَا ؕ

“The Truth is from your Lord; so whoever wishes, let him believe, and whoever wishes, let him disbelieve. Surely We have prepared for the wrongdoers a Fire, an enclosure of which will encompass them” (The Holy Quran, 18:29).

If someone says that the verses quoted already are Makkan verses, where Muslims were in a weak position and were constantly under threat of persecution, and that it was natural that the Holy Prophet followed a mild policy. However, the Quranic policy remained unchanged whether the Holy Prophet was in Makkah or in Madinah, where he got an upper hand and the government of Madinah was, for all practical purposes, a Muslim government. But strangely, there are Madinite verses which clearly mention believers who turn away from Islam. Makkan verses lay only general principles.

As a general principle applicable in matters of religion, the Holy Quran says:

لَاۤ اِکۡرَاہَ فِی الدِّیۡنِ ۟ۙ

“There is no compulsion in religion” (The Holy Quran, 2:256).

The Jews of Madinah engineered a strange strategy, first to accept Islam, and later to leave it to create an impression that the religion of Islam was a false one. If apostates were to be put to death, this idea would have not entered the minds of the Jews of Madinah, fully knowing that the government of the town was in the hands of the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet was informed of this plan through a revelation:

وَ قَالَتۡ طَّآئِفَۃٌ مِّنۡ اَہۡلِ الۡکِتٰبِ اٰمِنُوۡا بِالَّذِیۡۤ اُنۡزِلَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَجۡہَ النَّہَارِ وَ اکۡفُرُوۡۤا اٰخِرَہٗ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَرۡجِعُوۡنَ ﴿ۚۖ۷۲﴾

“And a group of the People of the Book say: Affirm belief in what has been revealed to those who believe, in the first part of the day, and disbelieve in the latter part of it, perhaps they may turn back.” (The Holy Quran, 3:72).

At about the same time that the above verse was revealed, in another revelation the Holy Quran said:

وَ مَنۡ یَّرۡتَدِدۡ مِنۡکُمۡ عَنۡ دِیۡنِہٖ فَیَمُتۡ وَ ہُوَ کَافِرٌ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ حَبِطَتۡ اَعۡمَالُہُمۡ فِی الدُّنۡیَا وَ الۡاٰخِرَۃِ ۚ وَ اُولٰٓئِکَ اَصۡحٰبُ النَّارِ ۚ ہُمۡ فِیۡہَا خٰلِدُوۡنَ ﴿۲۱۷﴾

“And whoever of you turns back from his religion, then he dies while an unbeliever — these it is whose deeds are fruitless in this world and the Hereafter. And they are the companions of the Fire: in it they will abide” (The Holy Quran, 2:217).

In yet another verse, revealed in Madinah in the fifth to seventh year of the Hijrah, when discussing the relations of Muslims with the enemies, the Holy Quran reminds the Muslims that if any of them turned back from his religion, he will be replaced by others. It says:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا مَنۡ یَّرۡتَدَّ مِنۡکُمۡ عَنۡ دِیۡنِہٖ فَسَوۡفَ یَاۡتِی اللّٰہُ بِقَوۡمٍ یُّحِبُّہُمۡ وَ یُحِبُّوۡنَہٗۤ ۙ

“O you who believe, if anyone of you should turn back from his religion, then Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him” (The Holy Quran, 5:54).

If there is still someone who is in doubt as to what type “turning back” the Quran speaks of, here is a verse revealed at Madinah in the third year of Hijrah considered to be the last word on this issue:

اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا ثُمَّ کَفَرُوۡا ثُمَّ اٰمَنُوۡا ثُمَّ کَفَرُوۡا ثُمَّ ازۡدَادُوۡا کُفۡرًا لَّمۡ یَکُنِ اللّٰہُ لِیَغۡفِرَ لَہُمۡ وَ لَا لِیَہۡدِیَہُمۡ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۳۷﴾ؕ

“Those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor guide them in the (right) way” (The Holy Quran, 4:137).

If beheading was the punishment for apostasy, such a person should not have been given two chances to renunciate Islam without being punished on the first occasion. This one verse is enough to dispel all doubts about apostasy in Islam and the issues emanating therefrom.