During Muhammad’s lifetime, and the lifetimes of the next 4 “Rightly Guided Caliphs”, a number of Muslims left the faith of Islam.  The punishment for leaving Islam was death.  Those that had left the faith were either killed outright, or were given a few days to turn back to Islam.  If they persisted in leaving Islam they were put to death.  This death sentence is in effect whether or not the apostasy occurred in an Islamic state or not


One of the more controversial topics for Muslims in the West is the punishment for apostasy from Islam.  Muslims living in the Mideast have no problem with the concept of putting apostates to death.  But to Muslims living in the West it is an embarrassing Islamic edict.  The West values freedom of thought and freedom of speech are two virtues that have never blossomed under Islam.  Consequently when asked about the Islamic law for apostates Muslims in the West hide behind excuses such as “only a true Islamic state can execute apostates”, or “punishment was carried out because those apostates were threats to the new Islamic state, and it is not needed anymore”. What exactly was the law during Muhammad’s and the Caliph’s time?  What were the requirements for a death sentence to be carried out?  Was the sentence only for a short period of time?  Was it only to be administered under a “true Islamic state”, or did it apply to anyone who had left Islam?  A close examination of the Quran, Hadith, and Sirat will show that indeed, the punishment for leaving Islam, either under an Islamic government, or not, was execution. To begin with, the Quran does not come out and explicitly state that apostates should be murdered.  However, there are a number of Quranic verses that pertain to apostasy, and they shed some light on the punishment for apostates.

Starting with the Quran. Sura 9:73,74

“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them.  Hell shall be their home:  an evil fire.  They swear by God that they said nothing.  Yet they uttered the word of unbelief and renounced Islam after embracing it.  They sought to do what they could not attain.  Yet they had no reason to be spiteful except perhaps because God and His apostle had enriched them through His bounty.  If they repent, it will indeed be better for them, but if they give no heed, God will sternly punish them, both in this world and in the world to come.  They shall have none on this earth to protect or help them.”   [Dawood]

We see here that Allah urges Muhammad to “make war” on the people who have left Islam.  It also states that “Allah will punish them in this world and in the world to come”.

What exactly Muhammad was to do to the people in his “making war” on them is not explicitly stated, but it can be surmised that they will be physically punished, if not outright killed.  Further, Allah Himself is also going to punish those who leave Islam.  What is His punishment?  Whatever it is, is will be unpleasant.

Sura 47:23-28

 “If you renounced the faith, you would surely do evil in the land, and violate the ties of blood.  Such are those on whom God has laid His curse, leaving them deaf and sightless…. Those who return to unbelief after God’s guidance has been revealed to them are seduced by Satan and inspired by him….

Again, God is punishing people, in this world, but the totality of punishment isn’t detailed… other than becoming “deaf and sightless”.  No doubt this is spiritual blindness, because millions have left Islam and have never become physically blind.  Note also Muhammad’s fear and hatred of and toward those that have left Islam – he claims that they will “do evil in the land and violate the ties of blood.”  Perhaps his mistake assumption is his justification for ordering the killing of apostates.

Additionally one could review Sura 3:86-91 and Sura 16:106.  These verses clearly state that apostates will be punished in hellfire.  However, though it is implied, the punishment meted out while they live is unclear.   Sura 4:137, similarly shows that God will not forgive the apostates, but no mention of a earthly punishment is made.

Finally, brief mention is made of apostates in 3:72, 5:54, 9:107 but none of these shed any penetrating light on the subject.


A review of  the Quran’s position on apostates:

Muhammad is to “make war” on them

Allah is going to punish them in this world and in the next

Allah curses them

They will be punished in hellfire

The Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts – page 16, (written by M. Mir – a Muslim writer), defines the actual Quranic information as:

“APOSTASY. Arabic “irtidad”.  Traditional Islamic law prescribes the penalty of death for a Muslim who commits apostasy.  The punishment is not stated in the Quran, but is said to be based on certain Hadith.  The advocates and the opponents of the said penalty have, in their attempt to find Quranic support for their views, appealed to certain Quranic verses, but the fact is that none of the arguments offered do full justice to the Quranic context……”




It is from the Hadith that we draw our understanding and information on the punishment for the apostate.  From the Hadith, we find no ambiguity on the subject.  All quotes will be from Bukhari’s Hadith, from the 9 volume English set, translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan.


Bukhari, volume 9, #17


“Narrated Abdullah:  Allah’s Messenger said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Messenger, cannot be shed except in three cases:  in Qisas (equality in punishment) for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (Apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”


Bukhari, volume 9, #37


“Narrated Abu Qilaba:  Once Umar bin Abdul Aziz sat on his throne in the courtyard of his house so that the people might gather before him….He replied “By Allah, Allah’s messenger never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations:  1)  A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,)    2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and,  3) a man who fought against Allah and His messenger, and deserted Islam and became an apostate….


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