1- The notion that the punishment of apostasy nullifies or precludes the concept of freedom of religion that is mentioned in the Qur’an: The notion that sentencing of the Apostate to death breaches the Qur’anic spirit of ‘la ikraha fiddin’ is not quite tenable. The nafiy [negation] of ikrah [compulsion] has occurred in the general mode. The preposition used is [La], which is an indefinite composed negation that is from the modes of ‘umum [generality]. All of the usuliyyun agree to this [that being from the mode of ‘umum] other than al-Qarafi who disagrees in considering the indefinite negation which indicates to the general except in certain modes [siyaqat], however, the ‘umum [general statements] must indicate to a type from its genus, and this is qati’ and is agreed by all scholars. Therefore, here it indicates to the affirmation that it is not valid to coerce or compel a person to embrace Islam or to force a person to move from one religion to another. Hence the Mufassirun have deduced that ikrah of people to remain in the religion is not equal to as compelling someone to embrace Islam. This was explained by Shaykhul Islam Muhammad Tahir ibn ‘Ashur in at-tahrir wat-tanwir.
None of the scholars of the past has understood these verses in the manner they have been purported by some. As far as we are aware, this understanding is in contrast to the principles of usul al-fiqh and the rules [Qawi’d] of the Arabic Language.
As regards to the wisdom of this ruling I will cite what I have already stated:
Regarding the hikamh [wisdom] of the legislation of killing the apostate, he [Ibn ‘Ashur] explains that when a person enters Islam and then recants; he is advocating that he found it to be unsound or unfit, and the religion or way he was in prior to his conversion is more fit and superior. This, he explains, is istikhfaf [scorning, disdain] of the din. It is also a prelude for others to do the same, which opens the door to mass corruption and degeneration.
He goes onto explain that if there were no deterrent for people, they would not be reproved from creating corruption [and there is no other crime more corrupt and heinous than to deny God after accepting him] – hence there is nothing that would act as a deterrent other than the prospect of death- and thus death is prescribed for the Apostate so that no one enters Islam except with certainty, conviction and with knowledge:
]وحكمة تشريع قتل المرتد -مع أن الكافر بالأصالة لا يقتل- أن الارتداد خروج فرد أو جماعة من الجامعة الإسلامية فهو بخروجه من الإسلام بعد الدخول فيه ينادي على أنه لما خالط هذا الدينَ وجدَه غير صالح ووجد ما كان عليه قبلَ ذلك أصلحَ فهذا تعريض بالدين واستخفاف به، وفيه أيضاً تمهيد طريق لمن يريد أن ينسل من هذا الدين وذلك يفضي إلى انحلال الجامعة، فلو لم يُجعل لذلك زاجر ما انزجر الناس، الإسلامولا نجد شيئاً زاجراً مثل توقع الموت؛ فلذلك جُعل الموت هو العقوبة للمرتد حتى لا يدخل أحد في الدين إلاّ على بصيرة، وحتى لا يخرج منه أحد بعد الدخول فيه، وليس هذا من الإكراه في الدين المنفي بقوله تعالى: “لا إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ” لأن الإكراه في الدين هو إكراه الناس على الخروج من أديانهم والدخول في الإسلام، وأما هذا فهو من الإكراه على البقاء في الإسلام[
Furthermore, If we apply the perception or understanding of not obliging [ikrah] people to remain in the religion, many of the furud [obligations] or fundamentals of the din would be in danger of neglection such as the prayer [Salah], and almsgiving [Zakah] etc. In the name of freedom of ‘thought’ and ‘religion’, this is exactly what is occurring in the ranks of some Muslims. Forget imposing the law of Hijab, it is an individual’s choice! Islam is a personal matter nothing to do with politics or life! Those who are espousing this line of thinking are similar to some Jews who embraced some part of the book and denounced others; only to satiate and further their whims and desires.
This maslak [path] is that of the people of bida’ and heresy; who are trying to deconstruct the comprehensive nature of the divine message of Allah which is suitable and fit to apply for all time, place, and people.
The concept of ‘freedom of expression’ or the ‘freedom of religion’ has been over exhausted and misunderstood by many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike: it is a relative philosophical construct which varies in its definitions and application. It is universally accepted that there is no notion of ‘unrestricted’ or ‘unlimited’ freedom. In Islam and other religions and philosophies, [this certainly applies to the concept of Democracy]; we have certain guidelines and restrictions that every Muslim is obligated to adhere.
The greatest conundrum or challenge people –both non-Muslims and some Muslims- have when the notion of freedom of religion is concerned is their understanding of religion itself. For a non-Muslim, religion is a personal matter which does not interfere in any other aspect and sectors of life. This is definitely the understanding of the Christians who say, ‘Render unto Caesar which belongs to Caesar, and render unto God things which belong to God’. [Mathew: 22:21].
However, paradoxically, a Muslim sees that Islam governs and deals with all spheres of life. Therefore, denouncing this aspect means to denounce; one’s loyalty and allegiance, political views, sovereignty, social order, economical directions and so and so forth. The western philosophy of religion may accept the capital punishment for treason; however, apostasy is worse than treason as it includes denying God himself and more. Just by apostasy, the mufariq al-jama’a [separating from the main body of the Muslims] has established. It is ironic what some suggest and seem to understand. It is as if they are proposing that Islam is not a way of life, it is just a religion!
The fact of taking Islam as a complete way of life stems from the belief of the Tawhid [unity] of Allah and the divine maqsad [purpose] of creation which every believer must submit to willingly and wholeheartedly.
This [the alleged contradiction of freedom of religion and the hudud] is furthermore proven false when looking at the overall objectives of the Shari’ah. All of the Ahkam decreed by Allah in his book and His Prophet in his Sunnah and that the Ummah has agreed upon, are beneficial for the mukallaf [subject] and hence the statement:
‘’The Shari’ah, all of it is masalih; either repels harm or brings benefit’’.
Therefore, the perception that the implementation of the death sentence on the Apostate precludes freedom of religion is unsound and flawed. In contrast, it preserves and safeguards one of the universal objectives [kulliyatul khamsat]; which is hifdh ad din [protection of religion], and hifdh ad din is given precedence to all other objectives.
In the Hashiyah on the Risalah of Ibn Abi Zayd, the commentator said, ‘’The hudud are deterrents to protect against loss of sanity, life, religion, honour, property, and lineage. Qisas [retaliation] protect lives. Amputation for theft protects property. The hadd for illicit sex protects lineage. The hadd for drinking protects minds. The hadd for slander protects honour. Execution for apostasy protects religion. It is said that the hudud are acts of expiation, which is sound.’’
Scholars have maintained that the one who is coerced, compelled, or was in doubt about Islam [meaning he embraced Islam under false precepts] and then recants Islam; he is not to be punished due to a shubhat – ‘idrau’l hudud bishubuhat [Prevent (the application of) hadd punishments because of ambivalences]. Imam Malik said, ‘he has an excuse [lahu ‘udhr].
To conclude this point; the prohibition of ikrah fiddin is a general [‘aam] rule by which the specific [khas] is intended and here the non Muslim who has not entered Islam is intended because of the evidence we have regarding the killing of the apostate [in the Sunnah]. Even if we assume the apostate is intended in this general prohibition of la ikrah fiddin, it would be subjected to takhsis [specification] since we have the Ahadith concerning the ruling of the Apostate; because the khas [specific] is given preference over the ‘aam [general]. [al khas muqaddam ‘alal ‘aam]. This may be further illustrated by stating that some scholars in the past maintained that the Sunnah takes precedence to the Qur’an because, they say, the Sunnah explains and judges the Qur’an and not vice versa. [Wallahu ‘alam]
For further clarification on the wisdoms of the hudud and punishments in Islam, one may refer to the treatise on Maqasid ash-Shari’ah by Imam Ibn ‘Ashur on the chapter of penalties.
2- The views of Ibram an- nalhi’ and Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri: Imam Nawawi narrates from Ibrahim al Thawri the following view
“…and Imam Thawri said that the apostate is asked to repent indefinitely and he will be imprisoned until he repents or dies”.
Ibn Hibban also narrates:
“..Al-Nakhi’ and al Thawri have gone towards the view that he [the apostate] is asked to repent while in prison indefinitely.
[Ibn Hibban al Bahr al Muhit Chapter 2/ 34, Nawawi Takmilat al Majmu’ 19/237]
Others have interpreted the views of the two illustrious scholars differently. They go and say that the phrase “the person is asked to repent indefinitely” means that there is no limit to the number of times an apostate can repent i.e. with multiple infractions of apostasy.
[Al-‘awn al-ma’bud bi Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud: 9/38]
Yet other scholars hold onto the other narrations. Ibn Abdil Barr says:
“..and the scholars differed on the female apostate as well, Imam Malik, Al-Awzai’i’, Uthman al Bitti, al Shafi, and Laith bin Sa’d have said that the apostate [regardless of their sex] is executed and this is the view of Ibrahim Al Nakhi’. Their evidence is the apparent generality of the hadiths that do not qualify any gender” [Al-Tamhid: 312/5]
Ibn Hajar affirms that the narration from an-Nakhi’ which confirms the death sentence for the apostate is more authentic than the narration that negates the death sentence. He declared the latter weak:
“Sai’d Bin Mansur narrated on the authority of Hashim on the authority of Ubaydat bin Mugith on the authority of Ibrahim that he said, “If a male or female apostatise from Islam they are asked to repent and if they refuse they are to be killed. [Fath al Bari: 12/268] [http://saaid.net/Doat/ahdal/115.htm]
Therefore, clearly the narration that states that the male apostate should be killed is given precedence over the one that negates it, since the former is in conformity with the Sunnah, ijma and the practice of the Sahabah, while the latter is weak and is at variance with the Sunnah [qawliyah], ijma’, and the practice of the Sahabah.