The topic of death penalty for apostasy (defection form one's religion) in Islam seems to be a controversial one since many people have both positive and negative answers regarding the issue. Now, since Quran is the only source of guidance for all Muslims regardless of opinions or sects etc I wanted to know how the Quran tackles this issue if it tackles it at all.

I know about the Sahih Hadith in which the Prophet of Islam clearly prescribes death for apostasy but it seems Muslims have mixed responses to it, one of them being it a "dhaeef" or weak Hadith.

Bukhari[52:260] "...The Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' "

The only verse from the Quran I've been able to find (allegedly) regarding apostasy is the following:

Quran[4:89] "They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper."

I haven't studied the Tafseer of this verse so please forgive my nuisance.

So does anyone know whether the Quran really does prescribe the death penalty like the above mentioned Hadith? If there is then the other part of my question is the following:

If I was brought up as Muslim, meaning that since my childhood being a Muslim wasn't really my choice and it can be argued that it was my parents who "forced" me to be Muslim, wouldn't it be wrong to forbid me from exercising my freedom of consciousness and freedom of thoughts? The classic argument from Muslims supporting the penalty is of "treason". It is true that being a traitor to my country can bear severe consequences, possibly death or life sentence. But this is a weak argument and it can be argued that religion and country are two different things. I can never change the fact that I was born in a certain country but I can change my beliefs which I wasn't born with at all.

Quran says that there is no compulsion regarding the practice of religion.

Quran[2:256] "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion."

So bottomline, what does the Quran really have to say about this issue? References of Ahadith are not welcome because no matter how authentic, they are still hearsay sayings of the prophet and prone to exaggerations or manipulations. Quran is the only source of authentic Islamic teachings.

Thank you..

Edit: Another argument from Muslims is that everyone in the world is born a Muslim but their parents mislead them towards other religions. Thus death penalty for apostasy is justified. This argument is a foolish one, has absolutely no logical or natural basis and impossible to be true.

  • 4:89 is not about a Muslim who becomes apostate. Jan 14, 2014 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


"Apostasy" does not refer to beliefs, but rather political loyalties in this context.

In an Islamic political system, like a Caliphate, the Muslims give bay'ah (oath of allegiance) to an Imam (leader). This is considered to be a pledge that you cannot go back on. So even if you lose faith in Islam, stop praying, stop believing in God Quran etc, you cannot turn against the Imam - doing so is considered to be treason.

As far as individual beliefs are concerned, it is between the individual and God - the state has no right to intervene.

For Qur'anic ayahs on apostasy as far as beliefs are concerned, see the following: 2.109, 2.143, 2.217, 3.72, 3.77, 3.80, 3.82, 3.86, 3.90, 3.100, 3.106, 3.144, 3.149, 3.177, 3.187, 4.81, 4.137, 5.54, 49.15, 63.3. Not once is death penalty, let alone any kind of penalty, mentioned.

Freedom of religion in Quran - 2.156 (“no compulsion in religion”) 18.29 (“this is the truth from your Lord; so whoever wills, let him believe, and whoever wills, let him disbelieve”) 88.21-22 (“so remind, you are only a reminder; you are not a controller over them”)

For a good explanation, see the following video by Tareq al-Suwaidan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhMkirsaVZE

And Allah knows best.

PS - regarding the verse you mentioned, I think you should mention the next verse too: "If they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause (for fighting) against them." [4.90]

Also, the hadith you mentioned is an authentic hadith. However, we cannot just copy and paste it, because the original hadith actually reads "Whoever changes his religion, kill him." ( مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ ) So if someone converts from Christianity to Buddhism, or Jainism to Islam, or anything else like that, should we kill them? No, the hadith has to be understood in consideration with all the other Qur'anic ayahs and Hadiths we have cited. It cannot be just copied, pasted and applied like that.

  • ""Apostasy" does not refer to beliefs, but rather political loyalties in this context." I'm not aware of any classical jurists who said this, they all talk in terms of belief.
    – G. Bach
    Mar 26, 2017 at 22:43
  • @G.Bach I would assume so, since (religious) beliefs and political loyalties went hand in hand in classical times.
    – The Z
    Nov 21, 2018 at 3:04
  • ibn hazm and qatadah said 4.90 was abrogated by 9:5
    – Hisham
    Dec 9, 2021 at 11:26

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