Freedom of Religion and Punishment of Apostasy in Islam



Dr. Abdul Majeed Hassan Bello
 University of Uyo, Uyo, Nigeria 


Islam set the pace 1400 years ago for human rights by proclaiming,” There is no compulsion in Religion”. The position that emerged after a survey of various verses of the Holy Qur’an, was that not only is there complete freedom of conscience to profess, to practise or to change religious views in Islam, but that no punitive measures of any sort are laid down against peaceful dissidents. The paper admitted that the Islamic books of jurisprudence contain death penalty for male apostates, but argued that a distinction must be drawn between the jurisprudence as such and the early Islamic law of Holy Qur’an and the practice of the Holy prophet. Much stress is laid on the tradition that says “Whoever change his religion kill him.” It is believed that the tradition contains a strong argument in support of killing an apostate. But it is observed that the tradition’s words are so comprehensive that they include every change of religion. If the penalty of apostasy from Islam is death, it would not be unreasonable for other faith also to impose the penalty of death for apostasy from those faiths to Islam. Historically it is not true that the fighting of the Arab tribes in the time of Abu Bakr is for their apostasy from Islam. The paper thus concluded that, the instances in the history of Islam where the apostates were put to death that was not because they apostatised but because they were guilty of State crimes punishable with the death.