Click to View




this chapter we propose to give the passages in the Koran which deal with apostasy, together with the interpretation of these passages in standard commentaries. Also to show from Moslem Tradition and standard law books what the code of Islam is in case of apostasy, and the penalties prescribed.

The word apostate in Arabic is murtadd and one who apostatizes is called man artadd 'an dinihi, i.e. "Who turns his back on religion." Two words are used for apostasy in Moslem law: irtidad and ridda. The latter term relates to apostasy from Islam into unbelief, kufr; the former, from Islam to some other religion, for example, Christianity.1 The passages in the Koran dealing with apostasy are the chapter of Women, verse 90; the chapter of the Table, verse 59; and the chapter of the Bee, verse 108, viz:

"Why are ye two parties about the hypocrites, when God hath overturned them for what they earned? Do ye wish to guide those whom God hath led astray? Whoso God hath led astray ye shall not surely find for him a path. They would fain that ye misbelieve as they misbelieve, that ye might be alike; take ye not patrons from among them until they too fight in God's way; but if they turn their backs, then seize them wheresoever ye and them, and take from them neither patron nor help" (IV. 90, 91). "O ye who believe! Whoso is turned away from his religion-God will bring (instead) a people whom He loves and who love Him, lowly to. believers, lofty to unbelievers, strenuous in the way of God, fearing not the blame of him who blames" (V.59).

It will be sufficient to quote what the standard commentary of Baidhawi says on the first passage: "Whosoever turns back from his belief (irtada), openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel.

1 Mufradat-gharib-ul-Quran-lil Sheikh-ar-Raghib, p.191.


Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard."

All other standard commentaries agree with Beidhawi in their comment on the verse.

A third Koran passage is the chapter on The Bee, XVI. 108. In this verse two types of apostates are distinguished: those who are compelled to apostatize, on whom judgment is lenient; and those who apostatize from their own free will. The commentaries on this passage, also, leave no doubt as to the interpretation. "Whoso disbelieves in God after having believed, unless it be one who is forced and whose heart is quiet in the faith, - but whoso expands his breast to misbelieve, - on them is wrath from God, and for them is mighty woe! That is because they preferred the love of this world's life to the next; but verily God guides not the unbelieving people."

Perhaps it is a mistake to use as our fourth reference Surah II. 214, to prove that apostasy merits the death penalty. This verse need not be translated as Dr. W. St. Clair Tisdal has translated it, - "Whosoever shall apostatize from his religion, let him die for it, and he is an infidel"; but correctly, '"Whosoever shall apostatize from his religion and dies, he is an infidel." And we are not dependent on one Koran text, but a careful examination even of the last passage, together with the interpretation of the same, leaves no doubt that according to the commentators the Koran here also declares the punishment for apostasy to be death.

The famous commentary of Al Khazan (used most extensively in the Mohammedan University called Al Azhar), quotes from Malik ibn Anas, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others, and gives this interpretation of the verse: "All the deeds of the apostate become null and void in this world and the next. He must be killed. His wife must be separated from him and he has no claims on any inheritance" (page 155, vol. I, Cairo edition). Ath Tha'alibi (788 A.H.), in his commentary on Sura II, verse 214, leaves no doubt that the verse in question, whatever the grammatical construction may be, demands the death of the apostate. (Cf. vol. i, p.167, Algiers edition, 1323).

1 Mizan-ul-Haqq, by Pfander, revised by Tisdall, p.364, London 1910.


Finally the great commentary of Fakhr-ud-Din-ar-Razi (vol. ii, p.220, lines 17 to 20, Cairo edition, 1308) distinctly favours the interpretation of this verse as given in the translation by Dr. Tisdall and objected to by the Woking critics. He says the apostate should be killed and loses his wife and heritage. Still it is only fair to state that the Arabic Koran text does not necessarily require this rendering, and that Tabari in his commentary does not seem to favour it. In Zarkani's commentary on Al Muwatta (vol. iii, p. 193) there are many examples given of Jews and Christians who turned Moslem, and when they afterwards apostatized were immediately killed. The statement is made that" change from Islam to any religion whatever requires the death penalty." Al Nahayat fi Gharib al Hadith, by Ibn Athir (Cairo edition, vol. iv, p. 38), gives instances how the law was applied, and defines when the apostate becomes a Kafir. And to quote, among many, only one Moslem history used as a textbook in the secondary schools of Egypt, Ibn Taqtaqi, in his History called Al Fakhri fil Adab as Sultaniya (1). 67, Cairo edition, 1317), says that Abu Bekr killed all the apostates of Mecca after the death of Mohammed.

Islamic law is based in the first instance on the teaching of the Koran, but no less on Moslem Tradition. These two primary sources then become fixed as canon law by what is called general agreement, Ijma'a. All books on canon law, therefore, include a section on the punishment due to apostasy. Generally this section is grouped with those on other crimes that demand corporal punishment. These are seven: rebellion, apostasy, adultery (on the part of a free woman), reviling, wine-drinking, theft, and highway-robbery.1

The earlier laws and practices in regard to the apostate from Islam were perhaps less rigid and less severe than those codified after the Moslem state extended its domain and authority beyond Arabia. Many of the "Traditions" regarding apostates were manufactured to express later tendencies for which Divine authority and the Prophet's example were needed.2 Yet the manufacture of such Traditions is the more

1 Cf. Al Ghazali's Wajiz, Vol. ii, pp.164-169 (Cairo 1317).

2 Cf. Caetani's Annali dell' Islam (Introduction), vol. i: 340 and 352 ; vol. ii A. H. ii sec., 77, 120, 128; vol. iii: A. H. 14 sec., 252, etc.


significant as they became part of orthodox Islam long before the laws were codified.

This great authoritative source of Moslem law, Tradition, is called in Arabic Hadith. Mark Twain once defined a "classic" as a piece of literature which every one talked about but no one had read. One fears that this remark would apply to the Hadith as regards many who profess to interpret Islam, and who are well aware that the Koran is not the only source of Islamic theology, jurisprudence and the practical duties of daily life. These sources, indeed, are four; and among them the Hadith is undoubtedly of the greatest importance. Both in quantity and in quality of interest and of influence the Hadith collections surpass the Koran. Ijma'a and Qiyas also (i.e. the agreement of the learned as representing the body of believers and their legal deductions) are based on sunnat-an-nabi, i.e. the practice or example of the Prophet as recorded in Traditions. What the mihrab (prayer niche) is to the true Kibla Mecca, that the Hadith is to the sunnat. It is the exact indication of what Mohammed did and what has, therefore, Divine approval and authority.

These collections of Traditions are as popular among the common people as Sheldon's What Would Jesus Do? proved popular as a story. Only in the former case it is not religious fiction, but actual divine revelation (alwahi-ghair-al-matlu). The six standard collections are well known by name, but who has read them? In the sixth century of the Hijra, Imam Hussain al Baghawi prepared a careful and authoritative collection from all of the six standard books, and entitled it Mishkat-u-Masabih. This volume had an enormous vogue, and is perhaps the best known summary of the vast Moslem Talmud.

It has been translated by Moslems into Persian and other languages, and was translated into English by Captain Matthews and published at Calcutta in 1809. A new but greatly abridged translation by Rev. William Goldsack appeared in 1923.1 It is as hopeless to judge of the real character of Islam from the Koran alone, as it is to deduce the beliefs and

1 Christian Literature Society for India. Selections from Mohammedan Traditions. Translated from the Arabic. 1923: Madras.


practices of Christians in Mexico from the Pauline epistles, or of orthodox Judaism from the Pentateuch. There is not a single Moslem sect that looks to the Koran as the only rule of faith and practice. The lock of Koran obscurity opens only to the key of Tradition. The Hadith is at once the strength and the weakness of Islam. It reveals the real Mohammed and indicts him. Intelligent Moslems reverence and yet dread the collections of Al-Bukhari and Muslim. The untrustworthiness of many of the Traditions and the weakness of the whole as a support of Islam only increases the importance of knowing them.1

The most celebrated collection among the six standard works on Traditions is that of Bukhari. He devoted sixteen years to his selection of seven thousand orthodox Traditions out of six hundred thousand that were current. In every standard collection of this sort we find a special section devoted to the subject of apostasy and the treatment apostates received at the hands of Mohammed or his companions. The commentaries on the Traditions leave no doubt as to their interpretation. Such Traditions in regard to apostates and Mohammed's estimate and treatment of them are given in both Bukhari and Muslim. The two standard commentaries on the former give much additional information, and add also the comment on the Koran passages that deal with apostasy, viz.: Fath-ul-Bari, by Al Askalani, vol. xii, pp.89-91 and pp.214-225 (Cairo edition); and 'Amdat-u-Qari, by Al 'Aini, vol. xi, pp.143-144 and pp. 230-236. The first section in both of these commentaries on the Hadith is entitled, "On Unbelievers and Apostates who make war on Islam"; the second section in both is entitled, "On the repentance of Apostates and Rebels, and when killing them is incumbent." To begin with the famous collection of forty Traditions by An-Nawawi, we find the following: "The Apostle of God said the blood of a fellow-Moslem should never be shed except in three cases; that of the adulterer, the murderer,

1 Cf. Professor Wensinck's article in the Moslem World for July 1921. He says: "It is not amazing that the canonical books of Tradition-especially Bukhari and Muslim-in the eyes of the community have acquired a rank nearly as high as the Koran. Oaths are sworn on a copy of Bukhari; at times of public calamity or danger the book is read to repel them; they are a staff and weapon for Moslems to this day."


and whoever forsakes the religion of Islam." The comment given on this Tradition is as follows: "The adulterer should be stoned; the murderer, when convicted of his crime, should be killed with the sword; but he who departs from Islam, becoming disobedient to God and His Apostle, let him be cut off or crucified or destroyed from the earth."

Other Traditions are given as follows: "It is related from 'Ikrimah that he said, 'Hypocrites were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them.' The news of that reached Ibn 'Abbas, and he said, 'If it had been I, I would not have burnt them, because of the prohibition of the Apostle of God; Do not punish with the punishment of God; but I would certainly have killed them according to the word of the Apostle: Whosoever changes his religion, kill him.'" - Al Bukhari. "It is related from 'Ali that he said, 'I heard the Apostle of God say: There will come forth a people at the end of time, young in age and foolish in vision, who will speak the best words in creation; but their faith will not pass their throats. They will pass through religion as an arrow passes through the thing hit. Therefore, whenever ye meet them, kill them; for verily for whoever kills them there is a reward on the day of resurrection.'" - Muslim, and Al Bukhari."

It is related from Anas that he said, 'A band of men of the 'Uki tribe came to the Prophet and embraced Islam. But they fell ill at Madina, so the Prophet ordered them to go to the camels given in alms and drink their urine and milk. Then they did so and regained their health. After that they apostatized and killed the keepers of the camels and drove off the camels. Then (the Prophet) sent after them, and they were brought back. Then he cut off their hands and feet and put out their eyes. After that he did not staunch the bleeding until they died.' And in another Tradition it runs, 'drove nails into their eyes.' - And in another Tradition it runs, 'He ordered nails, and they were made hot; and he pierced them with them. And he cast them out on to the stony plain. And they asked for a drink, but they were not given to drink, until they died.'" - Muslim, and Al Bukhari.1

We would not quote such Traditions if it were not necessary.

1 See facsimile text of the last tradition, opposite page 40.


in order to refute the statements of those who constantly assert that there is no penalty for apostasy in Islam. In one case they even base their assertion upon the Traditions above given.

For example, in 1922 the Moslems of the Ahmadiya Sect in Britain with headquarters at Woking, circulated in the House of Commons and elsewhere a paper dealing with apostasy in Islam. It consists of special pleading to show that Islam has always been a religion of tolerance, and has protected minorities of Christians and Jews. The argument is specious but not convincing. We quote two paragraphs: "In the days of the prophet all the reliable records of his life are silent on the subject. There were many apostasies doubtless, but no one was punished, for it is, and has ever been, the watchword of Islam, that there shall be no compulsion in religion."

"We, however, read of the putting to death of the party of 'Uki in our traditions who, after professing Islam, feigned that the climate of Medina was insalubrious, and being told to go to the place where the herds of camels belonging to the State were grazed, murdered the keepers and drove the herds along with them. They were charged under the crime of murder and dacoity, for which the punishment of death has been provided in Ch. v, verse 33. This episode has generally been cited by the Quranic commentators under the verse which ordains the death penalty for murder and dacoity; and there is no other case which can even be twisted to show that the punishment of death was ever inflicted on apostasy from Islam."

We leave the reader to judge whether "this episode" given in every standard work on Tradition under the head of "Apostles" was recorded to illustrate the penalty for murder and robbery or the penalty for apostasy. Whatever may have been the original intention, Moslems themselves have considered it an authoritative Tradition for the application of the death penalty on apostates.

We turn now to the various books on jurisprudence used in Moslem law schools.

One of the most famous books of Hanafi Law is that called the Hedaya, by Burhan ed Din Ali. It was translated by Charles Hamilton by Order of Council in Bengal, and the English edition was printed in London in 1791. Translations of this


code are found in Turkish and other languages. It is used as a text-book in schools of law and is authoritative. We quote from volume II, chapter ix, page 225, "The Law concerning Apostates "

"When a Mussulman apostatizes from the faith, an exposition thereof is to be laid before him in such a manner that if his apostasy should have arisen from any religious doubts or scruples, those may be removed. The reason for laying an exposition of the faith before him is that it is possible some doubts or errors may have arisen in his mind, which may be removed by such exposition; and as there are two modes of repelling the sin of apostasy, namely, destruction or Islam, and as Islam is preferable to destruction, the evil is rather to be removed by means of an exposition of the faith; but yet this exposition of the faith is not incumbent (according to what the learned have remarked upon this head), since a call to the faith has already reached the apostate."

An apostate is to be imprisoned for three days; within which time, if he returns to the faith, it is well; but if not, he must be slain. It is recorded in the Jam 'a Sagheer that "an exposition of the faith is to be laid before an apostate, and if he refuse the faith he must be slain"; and with respect to what is above stated, that "he is to be imprisoned for three days," it only implies that if he requires a delay, three days must be granted him, as such is the term generally admitted and allowed for the purpose of consideration. It is recorded from Hanifa and Abou Yusef that the granting of a delay of three days is laudable, whether the apostate require it or not: and it is recorded from Shaf'i that it is incumbent on the Imam to delay for three days, and that it is not lawful for him to put the apostate to death before the lapse of that time; since it is most probable that a Mussulman will not apostatize but from some doubt or error arising in his mind; wherefore some time is necessary for consideration, and this is fixed at three days. The arguments of our doctors upon this point are two-fold. First, God says, in the Koran, "Slay the unbeliever," without any reserve of a delay of three days being granted to him; and the Prophet has also said "Slay the man who changes his religion," without mentioning anything concerning a delay. Secondly, an apostate


is an infidel enemy who has received a call to the faith, wherefore he may be slain upon the instant, without any delay. An apostate is termed on this occasion an infidel enemy, because he is undoubtedly such; and he is not protected, since he has not required a protection; neither is he a Zimmee, because capitation tax has not been accepted from him; hence it is proved that he is an infidel enemy. It is to be observed that, in these rules, there is no difference made between an apostate who is a freeman and one who is a slave, as the arguments upon which they are established apply equally to both descriptions....

If an apostate die or be slain in his apostasy, his property acquired during his profession of the faith goes to his heirs who are Mussulmans, and whatever he acquired during the apostasy is public property of the community of Mussulmans; that is, to the public treasury. This is according to Hanifa.

All acts of an apostate with respect to his property (such as purchase, sale, manumission, mortgage, and gift) done during his apostasy are suspended in their effect. If, therefore, he become a Mussulman those acts are valid; but if he die, or be slain, or desert into a foreign country, those acts are null."If any person kill an apostate, before an exposition of the faith has been laid open to him, it is abominable (that is, it is laudable to let him continue unmolested). Nothing, however, is incurred by the slayer; because the infidelity of an alien renders the killing of him admissible; and an exposition of the faith, after a call to the faith, is not necessary."

If a Mussulman woman become an apostate, she is not put to death, but is imprisoned, until she return to the faith. Shafei maintains that she is to be put to death; because of the tradition before cited ;-and also, because, as men are put to death for apostasy solely for this reason, that it is a crime of great magnitude, and therefore requires that its punishment be proportionably severe (namely, death), so the apostasy of a woman being likewise (like that of a man) a crime of great magnitude, it follows that her punishment should be the same as that of a man.1

1 Hamilton's Hadaya, or Guide; a Commentary on the Mussulman Laws,vol. ii p.227. The same laws are given in all books on fiqh (jurisprudence). E.g. the celebrated manual, Badayet-ul-Mujtahid, by Ibn Rushdi Al Qartabi, vol. ii, p.383 (Cairo edition).


If a husband and wife both apostatize, and desert to a foreign country, and the woman become pregnant there, and bring forth a child, and to this child another child be afterwards born, and the Mussulman troops then subdue the territory, the child and the child's child both are plunder, and the property of the state: the child is so, because as the apostate mother is made a slave, her child is so likewise, as a dependant on her; and the child's child is so, because he is an original infidel and an enemy; and as an original infidel is fee, or the property of the state, so is he: the woman's child may, more-over, be compelled to become a Mussulman, but not the child's child, Hassan records from Haneefa that compulsion may be used upon the child's child also, to make him embrace the faith, as a dependant of the grandfather."1

In an article by Johann Kresmarik on criminal law in Turkey (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, vol. lviii, pp. 69-113) there is one section on "Irtidad." He quotes from a number of Turkish law books, showing that their interpretation of the law for apostasy is no less severe than that above indicated.

An excellent summary of the Moslem law of apostasy is given by Juynboll in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. i, p.625. He refers to other authorities, especially : Matthews' Mishcat, vol. ii, p.177 f.; C. Snouck Hurgronje, Indische Gids, 1884, vol. i, p.794; and El Dimishqi-Targamet ul Umma fi Ikhtilaf al A'imat, p.138 (Bulaq edition, 1300).

Of the four Orthodox schools of Islam the Maliki sect seems to be the sternest with regard to apostasy. According to Captain F. H. Ruxton :2

"In Maliki and Shafti'i Law the punishment is irrespective of sex, whilst in Hanafi Law a female apostate is to be kept in confinement until she recant."

Again, the Hedaya speaks of the possibility or otherwise of an apostate selling his property, of his marriage continuing, of the validity of his or her testamentary disposition, whilst in the Mukhtassar such dispositions are not admitted; seeing that the apostate is to be put to death on the third day on

1 Hamilton's Hadaya; a Commentary on the Mussulman Laws, vol. ii, p.244.

2 The Moslem World, vol. iii, p.38.


the evidence of two witnesses, whilst his or her property is forfeited to the Bait-ul-mal, and his or her testamentary disposition becomes null and void.

In strict law, therefore, a convert cannot exist. But though in all probability no European Power has troubled itself over the Mohammedan Law of Apostasy, still we know that no man could directly be charged with the offence in any Native Court. His life is thus safeguarded by the Paramount Power; but the convert himself, in the eyes of his fellow-men and of the law of the country, remains an outlaw."'

He gives further particulars showing that although the life of the convert may be safeguarded by European Powers, yet the convert suffers certain legal disabilities, which he has summarized as follows"

I. The convert's Moslem brothers are forbidden to give him branches to be carried on Palm Sunday; to buy an animal slaughtered by him; to sell him wood from which a crucifix might be made, or copper from which bells could be cast; to alienate a house in order that it may be used as a church. (Cf. Ch. i, on the Use of the Flesh of Animals; Ch. xiii, on Sale.)"

2. A Moslem is forbidden to lend or hire to the convert the services of his slave, or to lend or hire him an animal to ride. A Moslem is forbidden to give, without payment, his personal services to a Christian. (Cf. Ch. xxvi, Commodatum; Ch. xxxii, Hire.)"

It is, however, to be remarked that a Hubus ('endowment') created by a Christian in favour of a church or hospital is valid. (Cf. Ch. xxxv, Hubus.)"

3. A Christian may not bear witness against a Moslem, though the latter may bear witness against the former, under the same conditions as govern all evidence. (Cf. Ch. xxxix, Evidence.)

4. No Moslem, not even a slave, can be put to death for the murder of a Christian. (Cf. Ch. xl, Homicide.)"

5. No Mohammedan woman may marry a Christian. (Cf. Ch. v, Marriage.)"

6. Difference of religion is a bar to inheritance. (Cf. Ch. iv, Succession.)


"There are, of course, many more such disabilities, but none which need be reckoned of practical importance under present day conditions." So far Captain D. H. Ruxton.

In Turkey the Law of Apostasy was naturally the law of the courts for many centuries, until, on November 3rd, 1839, Sultan Abdul Medjid issued an imperial rescript named the Hatti Sherif, promising to protect the life, honour and property of all Ottoman subjects irrespective of religion. This was a great step forward. In August 1843, however, an Armenian youth, some twenty years of age, was beheaded in Constantinople for apostasy. He had once accepted Islam, then left the country; later on he returned to the practices of Christianity. "In spite of threats and promises he adhered to his ancestral faith, with the above results. Sir Stratford de Redcliffe did all in his power to save his life, but without success. This execution aroused the ambassadors of England, France, Russia, and Prussia, who united in a formal demand upon the Sultan to abolish the death penalty for a change of religion. Hitherto there had been full liberty to change from and to all non-Moslem religions, and for anyone to abandon the faith of his fathers and to embrace Islam, but the right had been denied to a Mohammedan to depart from that faith."

Under pressure brought to bear by the before-named ambassadors, led by the British, the Sultan, on March 21st, 1844, gave a written pledge as follows :- 'The Sublime Porte engages to take effectual measures to prevent, henceforward, the persecution and putting to death of the Christian who is an apostate.' Two days later Abdul Medjid, in a conference with Sir Stratford, gave assurance 'That henceforward neither shall Christianity be insulted in my dominions, nor shall Christians be in any way persecuted for their religion.' "1

Later history has shown how futile were all these promises and how the spirit of the law is interpreted by Islam triumphing again and again in spite of all treaties and regulations. The recent Armenian massacres were not the killing of apostates, but surely emphasize the fact that religious liberty does not exist under Turkish rule.

The Treaty of Berlin (1878, Art. 2) states that absolute

1 Daybreak in Turkey, by James L. Barton (Boston: The Pilgrim Press).p.250.


religious liberty is to exist in all the various territories mentioned in the preceding articles, including the "whole Turkish Empire." The Sixty-second Article begins: "The Sublime Porte, having expressed willingness to maintain the principle of religious liberty and to give it the widest sphere, the contracting parties take cognizance of this spontaneous declaration."

"A high official once told me," writes Dr. Barton, "that Turkey gives to all her subjects the widest religious liberty. He said, 'There is the fullest liberty for the Armenian to become a Catholic, for the Greek to become an Armenian, for the Catholic and the Armenian to become Greeks, for any one of them to become Protestants, or for all to become Mohammedans. There is the fullest and completest religious liberty for all the subjects of this empire.'

"In response to the question, 'How about liberty for the Mohammedan to become a Christian?' he replied, 'That impossibility in the nature of the case. When one has once accepted Islam and become a follower of the Prophet, he cannot change. There is no power on earth that can change him. Whatever he may say or claim cannot alter the fact that he is a Moslem still and must always be such. It is, therefore, an absurdity to say that a Moslem has the privilege of changing his religion, for to do so is beyond his power.' For the last forty years the actions of the official and influential Turks have borne out this theory of religious liberty in the Ottoman empire.' Every Moslem showing interest in Christian things takes his life in his hands. No protection can be afforded him against the false charges that begin at once to multiply. His only safety lies in flight."1

The punishment of death is sometimes decreed for lesser offences. In the latter part of the year 1879 one of the Turkish 'Ulama, named Ahmad, was condemned to death for having assisted Dr. Koelle, an English clergyman residing in Constantinople, in the translation of the Book of Common Prayer and a tract on "Christ the Word of God." Owing to the urgent representations of the British Ambassador the man's life was spared, but he was banished to the island of Chio. Canon Sell (Faith of Islam, p.278) writes:

1 Daybreak in Turkey, by James L. Barton, pp.256-7.


"On January 16th, 1844, the Earl of Aberdeen wrote to Sir Stratford Canning thus: 'The Christian Powers will not endure that the Porte should insult and trample on their faith, by treating as a criminal any person who embraces it.' All that was gained by this was the publication by the Porte of a Memorandum in the year 1856, containing these words: 'As all forms of religion are and shall be freely professed in the Ottoman dominions, no subject of His Majesty the Sultan shall be hindered in the exercise of the religion that he professes, nor shall he be in any way annoyed on this account. None shall be compelled to change his religion.' It will be seen that this does not meet the case of a convert from Islam, but the British Ambassador advised the British Government to be content with this statement. In a despatch, dated Feb. 12th, 1856, he says:'The law of the Koran is not abolished, it is true, respecting renegades, and the Sultan's Ministers affirm that such a stretch of authority would exceed even His Majesty's legal powers.' The Ambassador went on to say that though this is the case, the British Government could remonstrate were the Koranic law applied."

There are references to the bearing of the law of apostasy in all Mohammedan works on jurisprudence. For example, we find the following regulations in a manual of the law of marriage from the Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil, translated by A. D. Russell, a judge and magistrate in the Mohammedan colony of Trinidad, South America. The book is, therefore, intended for use as a present-day manual, and does not deal with conditions in past centuries."

Section 107. (Where separation is imperative) in consequence of the conversion of one (of two spouses), the annulment of the marriage will be without repudiation." Section 108. Contrary to the principle indicated in the last section, an irrevocable repudiation is involved where separation becomes necessary owing to the apostasy of one of the spouses. This will be so even where the husband apostatizes in order to embrace his wife's faith."1

We read also in Mohammedan Jurisprudence, by 'Abd-ur Rahim, that: "Apostasy or change of faith from Islam to

1 A Manual of the Law of Marriage from the Mukhtasar of Sidi Khali (Translated by A. D. Russell: London), pp.39-40.


infidelity places the apostate outside the protection of law. The law, however, by way of indulgence, gives the apostate a certain locus poenitentiae."1 For instance, he will first be asked to conform to the Faith, and if he entertains any doubt, efforts must be made to remove it by argument. He will be given an option of three days to re-embrace the Faith before sentence is passed on him. But since a man loses the protection of law by the very act of apostasy, if a Moslem kills an apostate before the chance of re-embracing the Faith has been given, no penalty of the law will be incurred, although it will be considered as an improper act. According to the two disciples, so long as the sentence has not been passed on an apostate he will be allowed to retain possession of his property; but according to Abu Hanifa, it passes to his heirs at the instant of apostasy.

Perhaps the most succinct account of apostasy is that given in the celebrated book Minhaj-at-Tahbin, by Nawawi. The adherents of this school of Shafi'i number some sixty million persons, of whom about half are in the Netherlands Indies, and the rest in Egypt and Syria, the Hadramaut, Southern India and Malaya. The manual from which this account is taken is a standard work in all of these countries and especially in Egypt.2

"Apostasy consists in the abjuration of Islam, either mentally, or by words, or by acts incompatible with faith. As to oral abjuration, it matters little whether the words are said in joke, or through a spirit of contradiction, or in good faith. But before such words can be considered as a sign of apostasy they must contain a precise declaration:

"(1) That one does not believe in the existence of the Creator, or of His apostles; or

"(2) That Mohammed, or one of the other apostles, is an imposter; or

(3) That one considers lawful what is strictly forbidden by the ijma', e.g. the crime of fornication; or"

(4) That one considers to be forbidden what is lawful according to the ilma'.

1 Mohammedan Jurisprudence, by Abd-ur-Rahim (Thacker & Co.: Calcutta, 1911, p. 253.

2 Minhaj-at-Talibin: a Manual of Mohammedan Law according to the School of Shaft'i, by Nawawi, from the French Edition of A.W.C. van den Berg, by E. C. Howard, District Judge, Singapore. London: Thacker, 1914.


"(5) That one is not obliged to follow the precepts of the ijma', as well positive as negative; or

(6) That one intends shortly to change one's religion; Or that one has doubts upon the subject of the truth of Islam, etc."

"As to acts, these are not considered to be incompatible with faith, unless they show a clear indication of a mockery or denial of religion, as, e.g. throwing the Koran upon a muck heap or prostrating oneself before an idol, or worshipping the sun. No account is taken of the apostasy of a minor or a lunatic, nor of acts committed under violent compulsion. Even where the guilty person, after pronouncing the words or committing the acts, becomes mad, he may not be put to death until he has recovered his sanity. This favour, however, does not, according to our school, extend to the case of drunken-ness. Apostasy, and a declaration of having returned from one's errors, pronounced by a drunken person, have the ordinary legal consequences."

Witnesses need not recount in all their details the facts that constitute apostasy; they may confine themselves to affirming that the guilty person is an apostate. Other authorities are of the contrary opinion; but the majority go so far as to make no account of the mere denial of the accused, even where the assertions of the witnesses are made in general terms. But where, on the other hand, the accused declares that he acted under compulsion, and the circumstances render this assertion plausible, e.g. if he has been kept a prisoner by infidels, he has a presumption in his favour, provided he takes an oath; but this presumption does not arise in the absence of such circumstances. Only where the two witnesses required by law do not declare that 'the accused is apostate,' but that 'the words pronounced by him are words implying apostasy,' and the accused then maintain that he only pronounced them under compulsion, the presumption is in his favour, and it is not necessary for him to give more detailed explanations. Where, after the death of an individual whose faith has never been suspected, one of his sons who are both Moslems declares that his father abjured Islam and died impenitent, and adds the cause of the apostasy, this son alone is excluded from the


succession, and his portion escheats to the State as a tax; but his deposition has no effect upon the rights of his coinheritors. The same rule applies also where the cause of the crime is not mentioned and the son limits himself to saying that his father died apostate.

"An attempt should be made to induce the apostate to return from his or her errors, though according to one authority this is only a commendable proceeding. The exhortation should take place immediately, or, according to one jurist, in the first three days; and if it is of no effect, the guilty man or woman should be put to death. Where, on the contrary, the guilty party returns from his or her errors, this conversion must be accepted as sincere, and the converted person left alone; unless, according to some authorities, he has embraced an occult religion such as the Zend, whose adherents, while professing Islam, are none the less infidels in their heart, or some doctrine admitting of a mystic or allegorical interpretation of the Koran.

"The child of an apostate remains a Moslem, without regard to the time of its conception, or to one of its parents remaining a Moslem or not. One authority, however, considers the child whose father and mother have abjured the faith to be an apostate, while another considers such a child to be by origin an infidel. (The child should be considered as an apostate. This is what the jurists of Irak have handed down to us as the universally accepted theory.)

"As to the ownership of the property of an apostate dead in impenitence, it remains in suspense, i.e. the law considers it as lost from the moment of abjuration of the faith; but in case of repentance it is considered never to have been lost. However, there are several other theories upon the subject, though all authorities agree that debts contracted before apostasy, as well as the personal maintenance of the apostate during the period of exhortation, are Charges upon the estate. It is the same with any damages due in consequence of pecuniary prejudice caused to other persons, the maintenance of his wives, whose marriage remains in suspense, and the maintenance of his descendant or descendants. Where it is admitted that ownership remains in suspense, the same principle must be applied to dispositions subsequent to apostasy, in so far as


they are capable of being suspended, such an enfranchisement by will, and legacies, which all remain intact where the exhortation is successful, though not otherwise. On the other hand, dispositions which, by their very nature, do not admit of such suspension, such as sale, pledging, gift, and enfranchisement by contract, are null and void ab initio, though Shafi'i, in his first period, wished to leave them in suspense. All authorities, however, are agreed that an apostate's property may in no case be left at his disposition, but must be deposited in charge of some person of irreproachable character. But a female slave may not be so entrusted to a man; she must be entrusted to some trustworthy woman. An apostate's property must be leased out, and it is to the court that his slave undergoing enfranchisement by contract should make his periodical payments."

So far the legal text-books of Islam. Observe, however, that all the above laws regarding apostasy are based in the first instance, as we have seen, on the Koran itself, which to all Mohammedans is the unalterable, eternal Word of God. The matter is summed up very briefly in the famous book Al Madhal, of Mohammed Al Abdari Ibn Hadj, vol. ii, p. 181 (Cairo edition), where we read:

"As for apostates, it is permitted to kill them by facing them or coming upon them from behind, just as in the case of polytheists. Secondly, their blood if shed brings no vengeance. Thirdly, their property is the spoil of true believers. Fourthly, their marriage ties become null and void."

Thus far we have given the opinion of orthodox juriscults, all of them belonging to the Sunni school. This sect embraces the vast majority of Moslems everywhere. In Persia, parts of India and Mesopotamia, however, the Shi'ah sect are in the majority, and number altogether about fifteen millions. In their law books the law of apostasy is no less severe. We read:

"Every individual of the male sex who, born in the religion of Islam, apostatizes, no longer enjoys the protection of Islam, but is ipso facto condemned to death. His wife should be separated from him; and his property is confiscate. .

"The Woman guilty of apostasy is not punished with death, even if she was born in the Moslem faith, but she is 51

condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and is to be beaten with rods at the hours of prayer. .

"A child born of a heretic after the apostasy of the father, and of a Mohammedan mother, shares equally with those whose birth preceded the apostasy of the father. The child descended from a heretic father and mother, and conceived after the apostasy, is subject to the same conditions as his parents; and if he is assassinated, the murderer cannot be punished by the law of retaliation."1

Regarding marriage disabilities we find the following regulations laid down as present-day principles of Mohammedan law, applicable to all Moslems in British India. We quote from Principles of Mohammedan Law, by Faiz Badruddin Tyabji, M.A., published at Bombay, 1913

"Subject to Act XXI, of 1850 where either party apostatizes from Islam, the marriage becomes null and void.

"Where a marriage is made void by the apostasy of the husband, if it has been consummated, the wife is entitled to the whole of her mahr (dowry); if it has not been consummated, she is entitled to half of the mahr.

The wife is entitled to no part of the mahr where the marriage becomes void by her apostasy.

"If both parties apostatize together and come back to Islam, the marriage is re-established.

"The Act of 1850 referred to is given in the same Law Book, and is entitled the Caste Disabilities Removal Act (p.30). In it the following clause was inserted to establish certain rights for apostates in India

"So much of any law or usage now in force within the territories subject to the government of the East India Company as inflicts on any person forfeiture of rights or property or may be held in any way to impair or affect any right of inheritance, by reason of his or her renouncing, or having been excluded from, the communion of any religion, or being deprived of caste, shall cease to be enforced as law in the Courts of the East India Company, and in the Courts established by Royal Charter within the said territories."This provision introduced into the Law Courts of India,

1 Droit Musulman; Recueil de Lois concernant Les Musulmans Schyites, by A. Querry, vol. ii, pp.528-533. Paris 5872.


does not yet, however, obtain in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Persia, Arabia, nor in any country under the old Moslem law. It is to be hoped that under the new mandatories such provision will be made as would definitely declare the abrogation of the law of apostasy above described as regards personal rights, property rights and marriage. Until these laws, characterized by a high court in the Madras Presidency as being contrary to "justice, equity, and good conscience, are removed, we cannot expect Moslems in large numbers to face the consequences of apostasy, even if they are convinced of the truth of Christianity.

In regard to the present situation and the need of urging special corrective legislation, we may quote the words of the Rev. Canon W. H. T. Gairdner. What he says in regard to Egypt may be said of Persia, Syria, and the entire Near East.

It is submitted that to secure in Egypt the same level of elementary personal freedom which is considered a necessary minimum in civilized countries, a further modification of existing law and usage is still necessary. For example:

(a) Conversions from Christianity to Mohammedanism are registered officially, and the new status of the convert is thus established. But there is no way of securing the registration and recognition of at least equally mature and considered con-versions to Christianity, whose status is thus exceedingly unsatisfactory, vis-a-vis the Government, the law, and the public.

(b) A convert, on being baptized, especially if he changes his name, as he is morally obliged to, is deprived of his patrimony, and that not only when there is a special clause in the family trust which secured the property to orthodox Mohammedans exclusively, but also where there is no such clause, i.e. where the family property is divided in the normal way. It is even doubtful whether a convert could secure the probate of a special legacy in his favour, except by virtually declaring himself a Moslem when doing so and in order to do so.

"(c) A woman has no power to change her faith in Egypt. If unmarried, her person can be claimed by her father or guardian; and if married, by her husband, and the British officered police will execute the order of the Moslem court to


this effect. She then disappears from view, and every form of pressure is applied to make her actually or virtually recant, and oblige her to live an actually or virtually Mohammedan life."

The law in regard to apostasy is doubtless one of the chief factors in Moslem intolerance towards those who produce apostates, e.g. missionaries. From the time of the earliest convert to Christianity, Obeidallah Ibn Jahsh (who was also the first missionary, and of whose conversion and subsequent persecution in Abyssinia we will speak later), until the Middle Ages the record is one of constant, continued intolerance and persecution. All of Raymond Lull's converts were put to death, and he himself suffered martyrdom. These pages of mission history are wet with tears and blood.

In some missionary letters from Franciscans in the fourteenth century, found in MSS. in the library at Cambridge, we read this thrilling account :1

"You will know that there perished lately in the city of Trebizond Brothers Anthony of Milan, Monald of Ancona, and Ferdinand (perhaps a mistake for Francis) of Petriolo, who especially (as all the brothers bear witness) in Lent (?), and in the presence of Qadi (as the bishop or prelate is called), and of all the people giving sight to a blind man, and very often discrediting Mohommet and his law, are brought to the square or Maydan where, after sentence had been pronounced and they did not cease to preach, all cried out, 'Let all who despise our law and hold our prophets as cheap as mud be put to death.' And when they were most cruelly pricked with swords and spears, they said, 'This way of salvation is the joy of inward delight to us.' On their knees, and wounded with many blows they were at length beheaded and torn limb from limb, and their limbs were carried and hung up about the towers and walls of the city. But some of them, bought by the merchants or stolen, were brought back to us. A Saracen, too, who had pity on them tried to dissuade the butchers from so much cruelty, but he was instantly killed. And an Armenian priest who seemed friendly to the martyrs was whipped through the whole city with [an animal's] head tied round his neck."

That was in the fourteenth century. On Feb. 12th, 1916, in

1 The East and West, "Fourteenth-Century Missionary Letters" A. C. Moule p.357, Oct., 1921.


the same locality and according to the same principle of intolerance, similar cruelty was perpetrated (Report of Viscount Bryce on the Armenian Atrocities, p. 158): "Dr. Shimmun was in the village of Spurghan when the Turks attacked the place. He was among those who took refuge on a mountain near the lake. He was captured and told that since he had been a good doctor and had helped the wounded they would not kill him, but that he must accept the Mohammedan faith. He refused, as about all Christians did. They poured oil on him and before applying the torch, they gave him another chance to forsake his religion. Again he refused, and they set his clothes on fire. while he was running in agony from the flames, the Turks shot him several times. After he fell to the ground unconscious, they hacked his head off. Mr. Mien, an American missionary, who went from village to village burying the victims of this butchery at Urumia, found the body of Shimmun half-eaten by dogs."

And what is the law of apostasy today? The following letter has recently come from a correspondent in Constantinople

"A rather sad thing happened over here the other day While Dr. Zwemer was in Smyrna (1920) he succeeded in getting a Mohammedan to stand up and confess Christ. I have forgotten what the young fellow's name is. Of course, the Turks got hold of it, and the other day an article appeared in one of the papers which was signed by this same boy, in which he stated that he had not made a confession of any kind, but on the contrary he was a stronger Mohammedan than ever. One of the Y.M.C.A. men went to call on him to find out what was the matter, and, lo and behold, he was not to be found! A thorough investigation has been conducted, and it has been found that the poor fellow has been killed, and that this article appeared after his death. You can see that it is a rather risky thing for any Mohammedan to give up his faith, especially in public."

The spirit of Islam has not changed since the days of Omar. Then, as now, a convert to Christianity was outlawed, and ran the risk of assassination. If the law of apostasy intimidates the fearful or timid, it is also a challenge to brave men and women to heroism and sacrifice. We will see how it works.


Why did you tahe off the white turban from your fez? Why have you ceased being an "imam"?' Shemseddin replied, 'Because I am a Christian.'

"For more than an hour and a half he was questioned, and as the case went on the crowd increased. His answers were clear, distinct, gentle, unequivocal. ' You may kill me,' said he, 'you may slay me in any way you please; you may make me a slave, but my heart is freed. I see in Islam many plants not of God's planting, and by the grace of God I want to do all I can to root them up. I see a great building, very high, very glorious, built by force, but no heart or soul in it. Some day it will fall down and destroy those who occupy it.'

S. RALPH HARLOW, in Student Witnesses for Christ.

The Law of Apostasy

Click to View