View Full Version : Apostasy

01-23-2013, 04:46 AM
As salaamu alaykum

I have a question about a topic which actually somewhat disturbs me, and I am sincerely hoping that someone can point me in the right direction, give me some sources to information, or explain.

I was reading through sahih bukhari and found inVolume 9, Book 84, Number 57:Narrated 'Ikrima:
Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle for- bade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them ac- cording to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'"

I am extremely disturbed at this. The hadith isnt clear as to whether or not any crime had been committed, though I assume if there was one it would have been related. All that is mentioned is that these people were atheists, and that 'Ali had them immolated (seemingly simply due to their belief in no deity. Ibn 'Abbas criticizes 'Ali for using fire to kill them, as this punishment is reserved for Allah(swt), but does not criticize him in the slightest, simply saying that he would not have used fire (I am assuming he meant he would have killed them another way. So this is 'Ali, 4th Rashidun caliph and universally accepted as one of the most authoritative and respected companions of the Prophet (saws).

I am very worried about this - it simply disturbs me. This seems to go entirely against any respect for rights of personal conscience - as Ibn 'Abbas recounts the statement of Allah's Apostle (saws) - "whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him". Just as I write this I had an idea, that this could be referring to bid'ah (innovation) or literally changing the Islamic religion, instead of choosing another religion after Islam.

What is the consensus here? Of the companions? scholars? What is the punishment for apostasy- and does the punishment only apply if the apostasy is in enmity to Islam, such as what occurred in medina with people joining Islam for political reasons while actively conspiring against the Prophet and the community, and who then after his death would take up arms against the community.

For an example in my own life: I embraced Islam first at the young age of 15, finding much wisdom and personal joy in it, but 2 years later rejected it and embraced the Dunya. In the intervening years I found many good things, but found much spiritual suffering, loneliness and a deep sense of emptiness and hollowness. all the while my heart kept pulling me, urging me, and sending my gaze back towards Islam - and then a month or so ago in a flash my heart embraced Islam again, at lightning speed.
Should, or in the time of the companions or the Prophet (saws), would I have been executed? would my soul not have been given the chance to make its full journey, to islam - to the dunya - and back (graciously) into Islam? Would I have been deserving of death?

And for the atheists - there is not indication in the hadith that these people were ever Muslim, just that they are atheists. It seems to completely contravene freedom of conscience to say that a group of people deserve excecution for their atheism. It is not that I have any sympathy for the idea of atheism, as I clearly believe in the existence of the creator, but I am honestly horrified by this; that a group of people were maybe burnt (alive? not alive?) for their atheism.

I am very much hoping someone could point me to an explanation, or explain this for me. I am very much praying that this isnt the case, that people whom I had thought of so highly could commit what I can only term as an atrocity. :hmm:

I am open to anything you all have to say. Please help to set me on the right path here.

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01-23-2013, 06:53 PM
Upon further research, i found that there are a few "versions" of this story (though they are so divergent as to really seem like different tales altogether). Here are the divergent versions,from wwCall-to-monotheism:

The referred narrative is placed in the Kitaab Al-Jihaad as well as the Kitaab Istitaabah Al-Murtaddeen by Al-Bukhari in his "Sahih".

Although Bukhari's narratives do not give any details regarding the incident, yet in his exegesis on Bukhari - "Fath Al-Baari" - Ibn Hajar has mentioned a few other versions of the same incident [3]. Considering all the narratives reporting this incident, the following major variations come to the forefront:

Firstly, there is quite a bit of variation regarding the people, who were subjected to this punishment. According to one version, they were atheists, according to a second version, they were apostates, according to a third version, they were a group of people, who secretly used to practice idolatry and according to a fourth version, they were a group of Rawafidh [4], who believed in the divinity of `Ali (ra).

Secondly, there is a significant difference between the reports regarding the incident itself. Although, the narratives given in Bukhari do not give any details of how the incident happened, yet Ibn Hajar has given a few narratives, which give some details of the happening. According to one version, when `Ali (ra) was informed regarding a people who considered him to be god, he called them and asked them to refrain from such blasphemy. They refused to comply. This went on for three days. Till, finally, `Ali (ra) ordered to dig a deep pit and burn a huge fire in it. The criminals were brought to the fire. `Ali (ra) told them that if they do not agree to refrain from their blasphemy, they would be thrown in the fire. They persisted in their refusal and were, subsequently, thrown in the fire. According to a second version, `Ali (ra) was informed of a people who secretly worshipped idols in a house. `Ali (ra) went to investigate the report. An idol was recovered from the house and, subsequently, the house was burnt to ashes. According to a third version, `Ali (ra) was informed of some apostates. He called for them. When they arrived, `Ali (ra) gave them food to eat and asked them to return to Islam. They refused. At their refusal, `Ali (ra) made them stand in a pit and killed them in it. Subsequently, he burnt them.

These are some of the various versions of the incident as reported in books of history and Hadith. One may take whichever explanation he believes to be more plausible to be accurate.

In my opinion, the second and the third versions of the incident are quite considerable. It seems that:

1. After it had become evident that the house was secretly being used for idolatry, `Ali (ra) ordered that it be burnt down. However, due to a mistake on the part of one or more of the narrators, the incident has been reported in a way that it gives the impression that the house was burnt down with its inhabitants. Whereas, it may not have been so; or

2. People were killed for their apostasy and later on their corpses were burnt to ashes. This is clearly implied in the third stated version of the incident.

Nevertheless, if someone is not willing to accept any of the above explanations and is persistent that `Ali (ra) actually burnt these criminals to death, even then the most that can be said is that `Ali's decision of burning the criminals to death was not correct, in view of the directive of the Prophet (pbuh) to the contrary. This, obviously, would amount to a criticism on `Ali's decision - not a criticism on Islam.

After all, `Ali (ra) was but a human being, he may have erred in his decision.

I hope this helps.

October 11, 2000

[1] That is the chain of narrators of this reporting.

[2] That is, the text of this reporting.

So these versions are very different tales, with very different implications. This leads to some issues for me: since there are such different versions, and their chain of narration isn't as strong as many in Sahih Bukhari (correct me if wrong), are we to just choose which version to believe? Did Imam Bukhari (may Allah be pleased) believe the one listed in his Sahih was the most trustworthy?

If 'Ali (ra) burnt down a house in madinah which was being used for idolatry, this is entirely justifiable.
If 'Ali (ra) excecuted a group of people for worshipping him and refusing to cease, I can understand (though it still is a difficult thing) - he didn't want them to be spreading this lie, which even exile would not have kept them from...

But the other two versions, in which they are excecuted for being atheists... This is an entirely disturbing idea. I ask Allah subhan wa ta'ala for guidance in this, to find the truth and to understand.

I hope someone here is able to be the mechanism by which this is consoled.

Thanks in advance for any replies and peace be upon all of you.

01-23-2013, 07:30 PM
Islam and Apostasy
clarification of apostasy
Apostasy: an unqualified fatwa
[post] clarification of apostasy
[post] US pastor burns Koran in protest - Article by Jamal Zarabozo [Full article], [pdf]
US pastor burns Koran in protest - Fatwa from AMJA Online
Death Penalty for Apostasy in Islam
How do you treat an apostate?

Ahmad H
01-23-2013, 10:17 PM
As-Salamu 'alaykum,

This Hadith used to bother me as well. In fact, the whole subject of death for apostasy in Islam really bothered me before. But, I realized later on that the Holy Qur'an is the final authority on everything. No Hadith can supersede a verse of the Holy Qur'an. Only the Holy Qur'an is the authority on the Holy Qur'an.

The Holy Qur'an says:
3:89 But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.
3:90 As to those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- never would be accepted from any such as much gold as the earth contains, though they should offer it for ransom. For such is (in store) a penalty grievous, and they will find no helpers.

How can anyone disbelieve, then have a chance to increase in disbelief if the death penalty is to be announced on them? Also, how can they simply die in disbelief if Allah allows them to live and die like other people in disbelief after rejecting Islam? There is no death penalty mentioned here.

4:88 Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way.
4:89 They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-
4:90 Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them).

I think it is verse 4:89 which is the verse taken to mean that there is death for apostasy. Whether there are other verses or not is a different matter. But as you can see, the context of the verse shows something different, which is that Allah is speaking about the hypocrites and their trying to deceive the Muslims into becoming disbelievers. The Muslims were in a state of war with the disbelievers during that time, as fighting was not prescribed until Allah allowed it, and it was meant to eradicate disbelief from Arabia altogether and leave Islam there alone. The only way to peace when Muslims warred with disbelievers was that only those people with belief should be left, since the war was based on religion, not on nationality.

Hence, the only reason to kill those who turn renegade here is that they were siding with the enemy. And only those who sided with the enemy, not those who were neutral or those who disbelieved and were at peace were to be fought. This means that the Holy Qur'an did not allow death for apostates, but only death for apostates who turned to the side of the enemy during a time of war and decided to fight the Muslims. This is the only situation mentioned along with these verses in the commentaries, so I don't know where this bright idea of killing apostates using verse 4:89 as a ruling came from.

So there are a lot of verses of the Holy Qur'an that show that people can disbelieve without dealing with the consequence of death. I think it is only this above verse that mentions this consequence. Read these verses and you will see that people are free to leave Islam without consequence of death:


Furthermore, there is no compulsion in the Islamic faith:


After reading so many verses on this in the Holy Qur'an, I am compelled to believe that the punishment for apostasy could only be during a time of war for religious reasons, meaning Jihad for the sake of Islam. I compiled this list of verses myself after searching through the Holy Qur'an for an answer to this issue.

Remember that not all Ahadith fully describe their situations. It could be that there was some battle in which some people turned renegades and thus they were to be killed because they were going to side with the enemy. I am not making a theory, but I base this upon what I know from the Holy Qur'an. The Ahadith can be difficult to understand when they are read by themselves. I try to first reconcile them with the Holy Qur'an as much as I possibly can. If I read about some scholars who considered a Hadith weak or fabricated, then I accept that. But, always try to reconcile with the Holy Qur'an first. This is how I reconciled it. The Holy Qur'an allows complete freedom for faith. Surah Al-Kafiroon is also very useful in this regard. Allah does not change His ways. The disbelievers were always free to disbelieve, but they were not allowed to persecute, kill and torture Muslims. They declared war on Muslims so that changed the situation, but the overall principle remains the same. Read the Tafsirs on verses 4:88-90 and you will see what I mean.


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