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.

  • 2
    4:89 is not about a Muslim who becomes apostate. Jan 14, 2014 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


Note that 2:256 is general and not specific. Meaning that it does not explicitly and specifically address the case of apostates. And if you are going to argue based on a general verse then you should be consistent, because it can also be argued using many general verses that apostasy is punishable by death.

The following are some Quranic verses from which corroboration can be cited for the legal punishment of apostasy:

  • فاقتلوا المشركين حيث وجدتموهم ... فإن تابوا وأقاموا الصلاة وآتوا الزكاة فخلوا سبيلهم

    Kill the mushriqeen wherever you find them ... But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way.

    Quran 9:5

    This verse commands killing mushriqeen* (disbelievers) unless they accept Islam and offer prayer and pay zakat. An apostate is also a type of disbeliever who does not establish prayer nor give zakat - hence he is included in the meaning of this verse. Evidence is rather needed to exclude him from it, and no verse exists in the Quran which says that 'let the apostates go'.

    If you argue that this verse is limited to some specific political faction, then you are relying on some tradition other than the literal Quran, and if you do that then it is more appropriate that you accept the authentic and mutawatir ahadith and Ijma' on the punishment for apostasy.

    *Mushrik is a synonym for Kafir (disbeliever). Anyone who claims that the Quran is not the act of Allah is a Mushrik as he has ascribed an act of Allah to a human. He is also a Mushrik because he rejects Allah's legislation - as such an act is considered shirk in the Quran, see e.g. 6:121.

  • The verse on the prophesied battle:

    ستدعون إلى قوم أولي بأس شديد تقاتلونهم أو يسلمون

    You will be called to [face] a people of great military might; you may fight them, or they will submit (accept Islam).

    Quran 48:16

    This verse foretells of a battle in which the enemy will be fought unless they accept Islam. This is proof that (at least some) disbelievers are fought till they accept Islam. Apostates are included in them by default as they are disbelievers and not explicitly excluded by any verse. Indeed scholars have stated that this verse is especially a prophecy about the war against the apostates of Banu Hanifah tribe.

    لا يقبل من المرتد أيضا إلا الإسلام، أو السيف؛ لقول الله - تبارك وتعالى - {تقاتلونهم أو يسلمون} [الفتح: ١٦] قيل: إن الآية نزلت في أهل الردة من بني حنيفة

    Nothing will be accepted from an apostate except acceptance of Islam or the sword, for Allah has said: {You may fight them, or they will submit} This verse was revealed about the apostates of Bani Hanifah

    Badaa'i' as-Sanaa'i'

  • The verse on the apostates among the Bani Israel:

    وإذ قال موسى لقومه يا قوم إنكم ظلمتم أنفسكم باتخاذكم العجل فتوبوا إلى بارئكم فاقتلوا أنفسكم ذلكم خير لكم عند بارئكم فتاب عليكم إنه هو التواب الرحيم

    And [recall] when Moses said to his people, "O my people, indeed you have wronged yourselves by your taking of the calf [for worship]. So repent to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is best for [all of] you in the sight of your Creator." Then He accepted your repentance; indeed, He is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.

    Quran 2:54

    The apostates in the time of Moses were killed. The law of the Torah is also applicable to us, unless there is evidence of its abrogation.

    شرع لكم من الدين ما وصى به نوحا والذي أوحينا إليك وما وصينا به إبراهيم وموسى وعيسى

    He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus

    Quran 42:13

    ونوحا هدينا من قبل ومن ذريته داوود وسليمان وأيوب ويوسف وموسى وهارون ... أولئك الذين هدى الله فبهداهم اقتده

    And Noah, We guided before; and among his descendants, David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron ... those are the ones whom Allah has guided, so from their guidance take an example.

    Quran 6:84

    While there is no evidence of its abrogation, instead the Quran, Sunnah and Ijma' prescribe this law on us as well.

    شرع من قبلنا شرع لنا، وبه قال جمهور الأصوليين

    The laws of the previous nations are also applicable laws for us and this is the saying of the majority

    Tafsir al-Muneer

  • The verses on the punishment for the apostates:

    وكفروا بعد إسلامهم ... فإن يتوبوا يك خيرا لهم وإن يتولوا يعذبهم الله عذابا أليما في الدنيا والآخرة

    They disbelieved after their Islam ... So if they repent, it is better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter.

    Quran 9:74

    من كفر بالله من بعد إيمانه ... فعليهم غضب من الله ولهم عذاب عظيم

    Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief ... upon them is wrath from Allah, and for them is a great punishment;

    Quran 16:106

    These verses says that Allah will punish the apostates. And the punishment of Allah includes that which is enforced as Hudood by the hands of the Muslim rulers. See 9:14 and 9:52.

    الدنيا بالقتل ، وفي الآخرة بالنار

    In this world by execution, and in the Hereafter by Hellfire.

    Tafsir al-Qurtubi

  • The verses about Nahi 'an al-Munkar:

    الذين إن مكناهم في الأرض أقاموا الصلاة وآتوا الزكاة وأمروا بالمعروف ونهوا عن المنكر

    Those who, if We give them authority in the land, establish prayer and give zakah and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.

    Quran 22:41

    One of the responsibilities of the state is to forbid sins. This includes all sins since every sin falls under the meaning of منكر and nothing in the Quran differentiates between the types of sin which are to be stopped. And among the means of doing this is to enforce legal punishments, even for sins which do not have Hudood. Examples of this include sins like cheating, fraud, harassment, selling drugs, bearing false testimony etc. which do not have any explicit prescribed punishment within the Quran but are punished under the head of Ta'zir.

    It is clear that apostasy is the gravest sin. And it is the responsibility of the Islamic government to provide deterrence for it. So even if someone argues that there is no Hadd for apostasy, then it automatically comes under the domain of Ta'zir and hence it will have a punishment.

    أجمع العلماء على أن التعزير مشروع في كل معصية لا حد فيها ولا كفارة والمعاصي فرعان: ترك واجب وفعل محرم

    The scholars have a consensus that Ta'zir is prescribed for every sin for which there is no Hadd or Kaffarah. And sins include: leaving an obligation or doing a haram act

    Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa


"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, 49.14, 63.3. Not once is death penalty, let alone any kind of penalty, mentioned.

Freedom of religion in Quran - 2.256 (“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.

  • 2
    ""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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