The Creed and Philosophy Committee affiliated to the Islamic Research Institute has issued a recommendation titled “The punishment for apostasy in the light of the Islamic creed.” The recommendation reads: “If a Muslim renounces Islam and abandons the Islamic community, he is to be judged by the person in power. If his apostasy does not pose danger to the society, the person in power has the right to urge him to repent but not to order his killing. However, if his apostasy poses danger to the society and to the fundamentals of the religion, the person in power has the right to sentence him to death.”
The alleged new thing the committee has brought about in the respect of the punishment for apostasy is the fact that it gives the apostate a lifetime chance to repent by renouncing his apostate ideas. This is instead of a three-day chance after which he is to be killed if he does not renounce his ideas.
In order to refute the “horrible accusation” that they have laid down a new jurisprudence that old jurisprudents did not speak of, the members of the committee stress that their recommendation is based on the opinion of Imam Al-Nakh’i who called for a lifetime chance for apostates to go back to Islam.
Despite stressing this fact, the recommendation of the committee is highly opposed.
Dr. Ra’fat Othman objects to the recommendation “Because sorting out apostates who pose danger to the society and apostates who do not pose danger is not at all mentioned in the opinions of old scholars.” He adds: “Giving the apostate a lifetime chance to renounce his apostate ideas is a strange opinion which means cancelling the punishment for apostasy. However, fiqh scholars agree that killing is the punishment for apostasy.”
The important question in this whole issue is: Why, in the first place, has the committee held meetings to discuss this matter and give such a recommendation?
Dr. Al-Fayoumi, secretary of the committee, says: “It is not according to our will [that we have met to give this recommendation]…it is because we have taken into consideration the global circumstances that surround Islam and the accusations of Islam that it is a religion of violence and terrorism…”
This means that the concern of the committee is the stand of the USA and the whole civilized world toward Islam after the September 11 attacks. Before this day, which has changed the face of history, neither Islam nor Muslims ever preoccupied Americans. America only thought of Islam and Muslims in the framework of its interests in the Islamic countries and not more.
However, after September 11, Muslims and Islam have become the point of concern of the powerful world. The powerful world knows well that terrorism is the weapon of the weak and that the reasons behind terrorism should be brought to an end. The world of power also knows that the war against terrorism is not a traditional war but a war that needs a flagrant intervention in the culture of Muslims, which they believe is the source of terrorism.
Between years 1998 and 1999, I kept warning and asking for changing our ways of handling the affairs of our life and religion. This is to find a place among civilized nations and to avoid any intervention in our affairs in the name of human rights or minorities’ rights. I have also called for the “freedom of belief.” However, Dr. Abdel-Mo’ti Bayoumi, member of the committee, accused me of “hallucinating.” Others accused me of unbelief and said that I was conspiring against Islam.
Anyhow, all what the committee has been able to do to face the accusations of the superpowers and to grant the “freedom of belief” is to give the apostate a lifetime chance to repent. However, this means presenting him with a sentence for life. He is to be urged every now and then to repent from his apostasy.
The issue of faith and worshipping is a purely personal matter that is based on man’s free choice. There can never be a control over man‘s conscience when it comes to faith. That is why any western or eastern mind, a real thinking mind, will likely be in a state of shock when thinking about this urging to repentance before killing, which is a flagrant form of terrorism. Is it really true that God, the Almighty, asks for man’s faith while the sword is on his neck or while a life sentence is waiting for him?
Strangely enough, sometimes we hear [contemporary] fiqh scholars say that western human rights are mentioned in our Arab-Islamic culture. However, speaking about punishment for apostasy and a chance for repentance negate any talks about human rights in Islam.
Let us now have a look at the sources on which our great scholars based their opinions concerning the punishment for apostasy and the chance for repentance. Dr. Ra’fat Othman believes that killing is the punishment for apostasy because there is a hadith – only one hadith – that says: “Kill him he who renounces his religion.” He believes that hadiths are part of the sunna and that the sunna is the second source for legislation in Islam after the Qur’an.
Othman also believes that killing is the punishment for apostasy because Caliph Abu Bakr insisted on fighting those who renounced Islam. Of course Othman thinks Abu Bakr cannot be wrong in that respect.
As for Dr. Abdel-Mo’ti Bayoumi, he bases his opinion on a story that goes like this. The companions of the Prophet once wanted to kill a Muslim who renounced Islam. However, Omar Ibn Al-Khatab objected and asked them whether they tried for three days to urge him to repent. Bayoumi bases his opinion neither on a Qur’anic verse nor a true hadith, but just on a story that does not tell us who the apostate person is or how he renounced Islam.
The simple ordinary Muslim, who does not study at the Azhar, will find himself in a state of confusion in front of these contradictory opinions. He will ask himself whether the sunna clashes with the Qur’an that says: “There is no compulsion in religion” [Sura 2:256]. He will also ask himself which hadith to believe. The hadith which says “kill him he who renounces his religion” or the hadith that says: “May God never allow him he who renounces Islam, to go back to Islam.”
In such a case, the simple ordinary Muslim has to choose between two things: either to put his mind aside and accept all these contradictions or to believe only some of them. But if he chooses the latter, he will be accused of “intentionally denying one of the fundamentals of religion.” This accusation means that he is an apostate and then he should be ready either to be killed or to be kept urged to repent for a lifetime.