I'm currently researching Shari`a laws, and this query is related.

ʿUbaydallāh bin Jaḥsh parted from Islam and adopted Christianity and died a natural death. Yet, under Shari`a law, leaving Islam constitutes a capital offense. As an example Reliance of the Traveller states:


But then why wasn't ʿUbaydallāh bin Jaḥsh punished? Or why isn't Shari`a law different because of the precedent set by this incident?

Any help is much appreciated. Thank you!

1 Answer 1


The legal penalty for apostasy is proven through mutawatir ahadith and ijma'.

من بدل دينه فاقتلوه

Whoever changes his religion, kill him

Saheeh Bukhari

قال كان يهوديا فأسلم ثم تهود ... قال لا أجلس حتى يقتل قضاء الله ورسوله

Abu Musa said (regarding an imprisoned man in the province of Yemen) "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." ...

Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Messenger."

Saheeh Bukhari

أجمع أهل العلم على وجوب قتل المرتد

The people of knowledge are in consensus on the obligation of killing an apostate

al-Mughni - Ibn Qudamah

The perceived inconsistency with the case of Ibn Jahsh can be explained in any of the following ways:


Ibn Jahsh was a fugitive living in Ethiopia. The legal punishment could not be carried out as he was not under the writ of the Islamic state. It is not possible to impose Islamic laws in a Christian country, let alone a law which involves killing a person for embracing Christianity.

In similar cases: the early Muslim state was for a time unable to enforce legal punishments on other fugitives such as on Tu'mah ibn Ubayriq (for theft and apostasy) and Miqyas bin Subabah (for murder and apostasy) when they ran away.

The Muslims were excused from executing Ibn Jahsh because of their lack of ability to do it:

وإذا أمرتكم بأمر فأتوا منه ما استطعتم

If I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.

Saheeh Bukhari

So this incident does not effect jurisprudence because an exception does not void the rule itself.

Not enacted at that time:

The apostasy of Ibn Jahsh happened in the beginning of Islam. It is possible that at that time the punishment was not yet prescribed. And by the time that the punishment was prescribed Ibn Jahsh had already passed away.

It is well known that in the early period it was prescribed to categorically pardon, ignore and be patient with the disbelievers:

وأعرض عن المشركين

turn away from the polytheists

Quran 15:94

يغفروا للذين لا يرجون أيام الله

forgive those who expect not the days of Allah

Quran 45:14

While it was only in the later period when the Islamic state had been established and gained strength that jihad and hudud were ordained:

فاقتلوا المشركين حيث وجدتموهم

kill the polytheists wherever you find them

Quran 9:5

قاتلوا الذين يلونكم من الكفار وليجدوا فيكم غلظة

fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness

Quran 9:123

Apostates are part of the polytheists and disbelievers. So it is possible that there was a time when the legal treatment for apostasy was not yet commanded. Jurisprudence is based on the latest commands, and not on abrogated ones. For example one can not now pray towards Jerusalem or drink wine, in the same way one can not rely on this report for the law on apostasy.

Doubtful authenticity of the report:

The apostasy of Ibn Jahsh, and hence him being spared after it, is suspect. The reports about it are criticized from the point of view of hadith sciences (1 , 2), such as having weak transmitters or disconnected chains or other issues. And authentic reports do not mention anything about his apostasy, and rather imply a negation of it:

عن عروة بن الزبير، عن أم حبيبة، أنها كانت عند ابن جحش فهلك عنها - وكان فيمن هاجر إلى أرض الحبشة - فزوجها النجاشي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وهي عندهم

Urwah Ibn Az-Zubayr reported on the authority of Umm Habibah that she was the wife of Ibn Jahsh, but he died, He was among those who migrated to Abyssinia. Negus then married her to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).

Sunan Abu Dawud

هاجر عبيد الله بن جحش بأم حبيبة بنت أبي سفيان وهي امرأته إلى أرض الحبشة، فلما قدم أرض الحبشة، مرض، فلما حضرته الوفاة، أوصى إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فتزوج رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أم حبيبة، وبعث معها النجاشي شرحبيل بن حسنة

Ubaydullah bin Jahsh immigrated with Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyan, who was his wife, to the land of Abyssinia. When he reached the land of Abyssinia, he fell ill, and when death approached him, he made a bequest in the favor of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ married Umm Habibah, and Negus sent her (from Abyssinia to Medinah) accompanied by Shurahbeel ibn Hasanah.

Saheeh Ibn Hibban

Some scholars have argued that the following hadith negates his apostasy:

قال فهل يرتد أحد منهم سخطة لدينه بعد أن يدخل فيه قلت لا

Heraclius then asked, 'Does anybody amongst those who embrace his religion become displeased and renounce the religion afterwards?'

Abu Sufyan bin Harb replied, 'No.'

Saheeh Bukhari

As Abu Sufyan was the father-in-law of Ibn Jahsh, hence he would have been informed of the matter and would have mentioned this if it were true.

Weak reports are not used as evidence in jurisprudence, especially when they go against saheeh and mutawatir reports, or matters on which there exists ijma'.


وأما قصة عبيد الله بن جحش وارتداده في الحبشة، فهذا كان في بدء الإسلام.وأيضا فما كان لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أن يقيم عليه حكم الردة، لأنه كان هاربا في بلد لا يخضع لسلطان الإسلام


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