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There are Hadith narrations addressing the only 3 times where a Muslim can be killed, saying the following:

“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) Said: The blood of a Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle should not lawfully be shed except only for one of three reasons: a man who committed fornication after marriage, in which case he should be stoned; one who goes forth to fight with Allah and His Apostle, in which case he should be killed or crucified or exiled from the land; or one who commits murder for which he is killed.”

Sunan Abi Dawud 4353. Grade: Sahih Al-Albani

The Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: "It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except in three cases: An adulterer who had been married, who should be stoned to death; a man who killed another man intentionally, who should be killed; and a man who left Islam and waged war against Allah, the Might and Sublime, and His Messenger, who should be killed, or crucified, or banished from the land."

Sunan an-Nasa'i 4048. Grade: Sahih Darussalam

This lays out 3, clear cut, exclusive reasons for why a Muslim can be killed (or even just exiled for the apostate here). The same “3 reason” structure that is seen in other Hadiths, which simply say “forsakes the religion and his community”, is used as proof for execution being mandated for anyone who simply becomes a kafir after being a Muslim. How can you ignore these extremely specific Hadiths which put apostasy in conjunction with waging war against the Muslims to the side to fit your agenda? If one were to see these Hadith without ever knowing of the other broader definition of the “apostasy” apparently seen in other Hadith, they would undoubtedly assume it is referring to a form of military treason. But even then, the Hadiths that just say “leaving the community” rather than waging war indicate an abandonment, which is much more than simply changing faith.

Why go with the broader and looser definition of just changing one’s faith, when we have a more specific one, which also fits in with the “no compulsion in religion” verse, without making you have to say that the compulsion “only applies to conversion INTO Islam.”

For other Hadiths that state “whoever discards his religion, kill him,” I think it’s very clear from the Hadith I provided that due to the sociopolitical circumstances of the time of the Prophet, leaving Islam was seen synonymously many times to fighting against the Muslims as there were many wars being fought, as well as a lot of valuable intelligence and responsibilities afforded to those who were Muslim due to it being a much smaller and tight knit community. This is evident from the fact that the Hadiths I provided replaced “leaving Islam” with “fighting with Allah and his Apostle.” However, in today’s scope (yes that matters because of the following) even in an Islamic Sharia State, today there wouldn’t be the same level of a tight knit small community as it was in Early Islam. This means it would be difficult to see how one leaving Islam today would be synonymous to waging war against the Muslims.

Many who believe that apostasy doesn’t link to direct treason as in warfare or abandonment cite the consensus of the scholars of past to further bolster their evidence. While it is undoubtedly true there is a consensus in this regard, to act as if there is no difference in the perspective of the scholars from a classical Islamic community many centuries ago on how these things are linked, and how we can observe the link today, is wrong. And to act as if the scholars are infallible is wrong. It is very arguable that for the same reasons I stated last paragraph, that the scholars simply didn’t distinguish between an apostate simply changing their faith, vs an apostate waging war against the Muslims, due to the nature of how the climate was during Earlier Islam. However, to just cite the opinions of the scholars and not realize this reality is just plain misinformation. To claim that “this is the consensus, and there is nothing to indicate that it has to do specifically with war or abandonment or treason” is simply incorrect.

I would like to see how someone could reconcile all of this with the idea that the death penalty applies to all forms of apostasy. This at the very least casts a strong doubt over it.

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  • The site is not for debate, not for making statements, and nor for multi-part questions. The simple answer to your first query is that you misunderstand the hadith and scholars because of their wider knowledge understand it correctly. An apostate is no longer a Muslim, so how can a hadith protecting 'The blood of a Muslim' benefit him? It says war against Allah, how does a human fight against Allah? Does he shoot bullets in the sky?
    – UmH
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:32
  • You think it means against the Muslims, then one can ask if a person wages war against the Muslim state without leaving Islam then can he be killed or not? Or if some Muslim tries to murder you can you kill him to defend yourself or not? If your answer is yes, then how do you reconcile that with this hadith? This hadith is understood to allows for killing an apostate regardless of what he does further and it allows for killing a bandit, regardless of whether he also apostatized or remains a Muslim. And the same is evident from other versions of the hadith and from other ahadith and Ijma'.
    – UmH
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:33
  • “An apostate is no longer a Muslim, so how can a hadith protecting 'The blood of a Muslim' benefit him?” It’s not that the Hadith “benefits” him. It’s that these Hadiths point more to this prescribed punishment NOT being for any apostate. Furthermore, there is also protection for any non Muslim, as there nothing in the Quran and the Sunnah that commands us to execute those who aren’t Muslim living in a Muslim state, simply for their beliefs. (You can grossly misinterpret the sword verse or others if you’d like, abandoning all historical context of warfare)
    – Albattal
    Sep 29, 2023 at 18:43
  • “Does he shoot bullets in the sky” You seem to ignore the obvious possibility that waging war against the Muslim would be clearly synonymously seen as a war against Islam, Allah, and Muhammad. Furthermore, you ignore the Hadith that includes Allah’s apostle, which is a real person they can shoot bullets at.
    – Albattal
    Sep 29, 2023 at 18:46
  • @UmH “one can ask if a person wages war against the Muslim state without leaving Islam then can he be killed or not? Or if some Muslim tries to murder you can you kill him to defend yourself or not?” Im glad you mentioned this. The Abu Dawud Hadith states: “ one who goes forth to fight with Allah and His Apostle.” This doesn’t even mention them being an apostate! “Or if some Muslim tries to murder you can you kill him to defend yourself or not“ Both Hadiths clearly address the fact of Qisas for Murder.
    – Albattal
    Sep 29, 2023 at 18:50

2 Answers 2

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The orthodox position relies on the ahadith which say to kill one who leaves Islam - accepting their literal and apparent wording. Such as:

أتي علي ـ رضى الله عنه ـ بزنادقة فأحرقهم فبلغ ذلك ابن عباس فقال ... ولقتلتهم لقول رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من بدل دينه فاقتلوه.

Some Zanadiqa (other ahadith give the detail that they worshiped idols in secrecy while claiming to be Muslims and some believed that 'Ali was divine incarnate) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them.

The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, ... I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ), 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'

Bukhari

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

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."

Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed.

Bukhari

يأتي في آخر الزمان قوم حدثاء الأسنان، سفهاء الأحلام، يقولون من خير قول البرية، يمرقون من الإسلام كما يمرق السهم من الرمية، لا يجاوز إيمانهم حناجرهم، فأينما لقيتموهم فاقتلوهم، فإن قتلهم أجر لمن قتلهم يوم القيامة

At the end of time there will appear young people with foolish minds. Their faith will not pass through their throats, and they will go out of Islam as an arrow goes through the target. If you meet them, then kill them, for killing them will bring reward to the one who killed them on the Day of Resurrection.

Bukhari

These ahadith and others do not mention any fighting on behalf of the apostates and prescribe killing them nonetheless. If the reason for killing was fighting from their side then that must have been mentioned instead as that would be the deciding factor and more worthy of being mentioned.

The sahaba understood these ahadith to mean anyone who left Islam, regardless of whether they fought. And none of the sahaba are known to have opposed the killing of apostates who did not fight. The sahaba are the ones who learnt the Quran and Sunnah directly from the Prophet ﷺ. Their knowledge and understanding of it is better than your understanding. Similarly scholars devote their lives to understanding the Quran and Sunnah. Their knowledge of it is greater than yours and their understanding of it is better than your understanding. Further Ijma' has been established on this and Ijma' is evidence by itself - its validity is proven from the Quran and Sunnah and from logic.

Next coming to the two ahadith you have asked about:

  • These ahadith are about the protection of the blood of a Muslim as they say:

    The blood of a Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle should not lawfully be shed except ...

    It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except ...

    An apostate is not a Muslim. Rather he is a non-muslim. And the blood of a non-muslim is by default not protected:

    أمرت أن أقاتل الناس حتى يشهدوا أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدا رسول الله ... فإذا فعلوا ذلك عصموا مني دماءهم وأموالهم

    I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger ... so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me.

    Bukhari also see Nasai

    لا يجتمع كافر وقاتله في النار أبدا

    A disbeliever and a believer who killed him will never be gathered together in Hell.

    Muslim

    So the hadith does not grant protection to any non-muslim. And it really does not need to mention an exception for him.

    And if some versions of the hadith do mention apostates among the exceptions then that is not a true exception but is interpreted as a 'but' or 'and' ... similar to the verses:

    • يا أيها الذين آمنوا لا تأكلوا أموالكم بينكم بالباطل إلا أن تكون تجارة عن تراض منكم

      O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly except in trade by mutual consent.

      Quran 4:29

      Trade is not unjust. And there are other just ways to consume other's wealth such as gift or inheritance etc.

    • لا يسمعون فيها لغوا ولا تأثيما إلا قيلا سلاما سلاما

      They shall not hear therein vain or sinful discourse, except the word peace, peace.

      Quran 56:25-26

      'Salam' is not vain or sinful speech, rather it is good speech. And the people of paradise will hear other good speech.

    In the same way an apostate is not a Muslim rather he is a non-muslim. And there are also other non-Muslims whose blood is lawful. And even if an apostate is not mentioned in some versions of the hadith that does not change anything.

    A non-Muslim's blood is by default permissible to shed. It is only protected because of explicitly being granted protection, such as by a treaty or asylum. No such explicit protection exists for an apostate so he defaults to the rule that his blood can be shed.

    Hence this hadith does not grant protection to apostates. And does not forbid killing them.

  • Apostasy is a type of war with Allah. You need to provide evidence that it is not. And you need to provide evidence for your claim that only physical war against Muslims is counted as war with Allah and His Messenger.

    The Quran declares considering taking of Riba to be permissible as disbelief (apostasy) and war with Allah:

    يا أيها الذين آمنوا اتقوا الله وذروا ما بقي من الربا إن كنتم مؤمنين فإن لم تفعلوا فأذنوا بحرب من الله ورسوله

    O you who have believed, fear Allah and give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers. And if you do not, then be informed of a war [against you] from Allah and His Messenger.

    Quran 2:279

    In the same way, any other form of apostasy is a type of war with Allah and His Messenger.

    As for your ancillary comment that the punishment can be exile rather than execution because of this hadith:

    • The meaning of ينفى من الأرض (translated as banish\exile) is imprisonment according to a number of scholars. And some madhabs say that some apostates (i.e. females) are perpetually imprisoned rather than killed. And most say that an apostate is first imprisoned and asked to repent and is only executed after e.g. three days of imprisonment.

    • The punishment varies with the crime and there are multiple ways to perform war against Allah and His Messenger. Apostasy is the gravest form of war against Allah so it gets execution\crucifixion:

      ومن أظلم ممن افترى على الله كذبا أو كذب بآياته إنه لا يفلح الظالمون

      And who is more unjust than one who invents about Allah a lie or denies His verses? Indeed, the wrongdoers will not succeed.

      Quran 6:21

    Similarly killing innocent Muslims gets punished by execution.

    While lesser crimes such as merely terrorizing the Muslims without leaving Islam and without killing anyone earns exile\imprisonment.

  • Consider the second hadith you have asked about:

    أو رجل يخرج من الإسلام يحارب الله عز وجل ورسوله فيقتل أو يصلب أو ينفى من الأرض

    and a man who left Islam and waged war against Allah, the Might and Sublime, and His Messenger, who should be killed, or crucified, or banished from the land."

    You are claiming that to be kill-able a person must have both left Islam and fought against the Muslims.

    My counter question to this is: What will you do if a person remains a Muslim but fights against the Muslims? You replied:

    The Abu Dawud Hadith states: “ one who goes forth to fight with Allah and His Apostle.” This doesn’t even mention them being an apostate!

    Meaning that you allow for killing him because of the second hadith which does not mention being an apostate.

    By the same reasoning we can rely on the versiom pf the hadith which mentions apostasy without mentioning war:

    لا يحل دم امرئ مسلم إلا بثلاث أن يزني بعد ما أحصن أو يقتل إنسانا فيقتل أو يكفر بعد إسلامه فيقتل

    It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except in three cases: A man who commits adultery after having married; or one who kills another person, who is to be killed; or who reverts to Kufr after having accepted Islam, who is to be killed.

    Nasai

    And understand that if he leaves Islam and does not fight us then he can also be killed. The hadith may be understood as 'if he leaves islam or if he wages war' or it may be understood that leaving Islam is by itself waging war.

  • Similar to the above: There are other matters for which a Muslim can be killed other than strictly the three mentioned in some wordings of the hadith. Some of these include:

    • A Muslim who oppresses/rebels other Muslims.

      وإن طائفتان من المؤمنين اقتتلوا فأصلحوا بينهما فإن بغت إحداهما على الأخرى فقاتلوا التي تبغي حتى تفيء إلى أمر الله

      And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah.

      Quran 49:9

    • A Muslim who tries to kill you. Note that this does not fall under Qisas for murder because this person has not yet committed murder, he is only attempting to commit murder. Qisas will only apply if he succeeds and if your heirs then decide to not forgive him.

    • A Muslim who tries to rob you (or rape you):

      جاء رجل إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال يا رسول الله أرأيت إن عدي على مالي قال فانشد بالله ....‏ قال فإن أبوا على قال فقاتل فإن قتلت ففي الجنة وإن قتلت ففي النار

      A man came to the Messenger of Allah [SAW] and said: "O Messenger of Allah, what do you think if someone comes to steal my wealth?" He said: "Urge him by Allah." He said: "What if he persists?" ... He said: "Then fight. If you are killed you will be in Paradise and if you kill him, he will be in the Fire."

      Nasai

    • Killing a Muslim who tries to create disunity among the Muslims:

      من أتاكم وأمركم جميع على رجل واحد يريد أن يشق عصاكم أو يفرق جماعتكم فاقتلوه

      When you are holding to one single man as your leader, you should kill who seeks to undermine your solidarity or disrupt your unity.

      Muslim

    If it was necessary the ahadith on killing apostates could be reconciled with the hadith in the same way that these other texts are reconciled. However reconciling it is not necessary as the previous points explain.


As for the claim that apostasy was understood to really mean treason or fighting against Muslims. Then this is a mere assumption and is untrue.

For example from the seerah we know that Hatib bin Abi Balta committed treason without apostatizing. He wrote a letter to the Quraish informing them about the Prophet's military secrets. On being confronted he said that he had not apostatized from Islam and the Prophet ﷺ said that this is true:

قال يا رسول الله، لا تعجل على ... وما فعلت كفرا ولا ارتدادا ولا رضا بالكفر بعد الإسلام .‏ فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏لقد صدقكم

Hatib replied, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! Don't hasten to give your judgment about me ... I did this neither because of disbelief not apostasy nor out of preferring Kufr (disbelief) to Islam."

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ), said, "Hatib has told you the truth."

Bukhari

This makes it clear that the Prophet ﷺ and the sahaba differentiated between treason and apostasy.

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Quran is very clear about freedom of belief and it is against forcing anyone.

Let there be no compulsion in religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood. Quran 2:256

And say, "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve." Quran 18:29

You are not ˹there˺ to compel them ˹to believe˺. Quran: 88:22

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then would you compel the people in order that they become believers? Quran 10:99

Actually there are lot of similar verses that mentions about freedom of belief. But some people say all these verse are now abrogated after the revelation of Quran 9:5, which is actually a verse regarding polytheist at the time of prophet(s.a) who didn't adhere to the treaty they had with Muslims. The verse above and below this verse make this clear. Also those who claim the verses of freedom of belief is abrogated by 9:5, do not bring any proof from sunnah of prophet(s.a) to establish this. So they are actually rejecting many verses of Quran. See how Quran sees people who believe in the book partially.

Do you believe in some of the Scripture and reject the rest? Is there any reward for those who do so among you other than disgrace in this worldly life and being subjected to the harshest punishment on the Day of Judgment? For Allah is never unaware of what you do. Quran 2:85

Now we will see what Quran says about those who leave Islam.

Those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them unto a way. Quran 4:137

Here we can see a person believe, disbelieve, believe and finally disbelieve. If we are to kill the person after first disbelief itself, how he is able to believe again ?

In another verse Quran says whoever disbelieve in Islam, Allah bring another people who loves him.

O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion - Allāh will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, strong against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allāh and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allāh; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allāh is all-Encompassing and Knowing. Quran 5:54

I think this is what currently happening in the world, Muslims are still debating whether it is permissible to force others to Islam or not but at the same time people are coming to Islam on their own by understanding Islam from Quran and Sunnah.

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    The question is clearly asking for an answer from the perspective of "those who simply believe apostasy of any form is to be punishable by death". Your answer, as-written, does absolutely nothing to provide that. Please refrain from using the site to push your opinions, we're here to build a comprehensive library of knowledge on the topic of Islam, for all perspectives of Islam, not to promote any one belief as more correct than any other.
    – goldPseudo
    Oct 9, 2023 at 21:58

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