Apostasy and its Classification in Yusuf Al-Qardawi's View

Religious Authority: 
Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Human faith is a matter of conviction and submission and to a great extent based on human reasoning and understanding by which the faith could be justified and elaborated. Therefore the religious faith is not only deeply rooted in human hearts but also in their minds and both may affect each other. As human minds and reasons are subject to change and transform from a state to another or could be affected by external factors, man's perception and adherence to a religion may change even shift to that opposes his previous faith if some opposite assumption occurred in his mind.   Such a practice of human experience is not something new in our time, but it happened to all religious followers in the past, irrespective of their race, state of mind, and religious identity. The change in religious belief and identity has been referred to in religious terminology as apostasy.

Although apostasy is a common phenomena in all religions, it is considered by all religious authorities to be a hateful event and it is criticized by all, for it undermines the foundation of every religion and destroys the integration and unity of the community. The first apostasy case in Islam happened right after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, and was quickly put down by his successor Abu Bakar, the first caliph of the Islamic state. From that time continuing to the present, apostasy has continued in Islamic countries, and this fact has made authorities vigilant and fearful to the matter. So verdicts about apostasy were made, punishments were prescribed, and opinions were articulated around it a long time ago.

As apostasy cases continue to be frequently reported in the contemporary Islamic world, scholars are reminded of its dander and destructive consequence to Islam. These scholars are repeating the previous verdicts, with some new perceptions originated from the new context. Among them, Yusuf Al-Qardawi is one of those prominent figures who has came up with a new articulation and classification to help us to grasp its reality and its danger, as well as the wisdom behind opposing apostasy. He also has devised a new classification of apostasy which has made its punishment slightly different from the traditional one. His work, "Crime of Apostasy and Its Punishment in The Light of The Quran and Sunnah," exclusively deals with the issue.

According to Al-Qardawi's view, the Islamic faith rests on two portions of the testimony of the faith: to testify that there is no god but Allah, and to testify that Muhammad is messenger of Allah. The two portions are interrelated and should not be separated from one another. The first portion embodies a Muslim's view on the universe and its lord, on nature and beyond, on life and the hereafter, and on the visible world and unseen world. These views establishe a sense of the real existence and oneness of God. It implies that the source of the universe and what lies within it is not other than God, and that everything does not come into being by itself but rather is created by a wise, powerful, and omniscient creator who is unique in his essence, his attributes, his acts, and he has no partner in his wills and his deeds. Al-Qardawi quoted the following verses of the Quran to articulate the essential belief of the oneness of God in Islam:

"Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him" (Al Ikhlas: 1-4)."If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both! "(Al Anbiya: 22).
"Say: If there had been (other) gods with Him, as they say, behold, they would certainly have sought out a way to the Lord of the Throne! Glory to Him! He is high above all that they say! Exalted and great (beyond measure)!" (Al Isra': 42-43).

In Islam, the oneness of God does not only mean the uniqueness of God in his essence, but also uniqueness in his person. He is absolutely one with no partnership and son-ship as the Quran states:

"They say: "God hath begotten a son": glory be to Him. Nay, to him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him" (Al Baqarah: 116)."No son did God beget, nor is there any god along with him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created, and some would have lorded it over others! Glory to God! (He is free) from the (sort of) things they attribute to Him!" (Al Mu'minun: 91).

Al-Qardawi emphasized, as other scholars did, on the oneness of God because being a god, the creator, implies that absolute veneration, worship, and sacrifice should be dedicated to him and that his status and greatness deserves to enjoy such offerings. Islam preserves such rights only to the creator of the universe and no one else, because no one could create the universe except Allah. Thus he must be one and unique in all aspects.

The first portion may be common to many religions in principle, but differs among them in some particulars which may be interpreted in a way consistent with the principle. The second portion is confined to Islam, as apostasy often breaks through by denial of the Prophet and his message. Thus the second portion of the faith plays a role of foundation stone of Islam if not of religions as general. According to Al-Qardawi, to testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah implies that God did not ignore the needs of his creatures or neglect their existence. On the contrary, he bestowed upon them his mercy and love by sending messengers to them constantly for guidance in order to lead them to the right path.  He gave some examples from the Quran:

"Messengers who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind, after (the coming) of the Messengers, should have no plea against God: For God is Exalted in Power, Wise" (Al-Nisa': 165)."We sent before time our apostles with clear signs and sent down with them the book and the balance (of right and wrong), that men may stand forth in justice" (Al Hadid: 25).

Prophets were sent to all nations of the world in different periods of time and at the end of the chain of prophethood, God sent his last messenger Muhammad to mankind with an universal message which renewed all of the previous religions. Therefore the new message should be followed universally by all people for there is nothing new and it is only a concise form of all previous religions. Al-Qardawi sees the second portion as a complement of the first, and a denial of the second would be tantamount to a denial of the first. So the denial of Islam would be tantamount to the denial of God's will and His divine plans. That is why Islam considers apostasy a serious crime that should be punished appropriately. Al-Qardawi further pointed out that obedience to the messenger Muhammad is a part of obedience to God and a sign to love God. He gave the following examples from the Quran:

"He who obeys the Messenger, obeys God: but if any turn away, we have not sent thee to watch over their evil deeds" (Al-Nisa': 80)."Say: "If ye do love God, follow me: God will love you and forgive you your sins: for God is oft-forgiving, most merciful" (Ali 'Imran: 31).

Belief in God can not be separated from the belief in his messenger, because the messenger pronounced on behalf of God and acted under his inspiration. So what the messenger brought should be deemed as doctrine and authority similar to that of God. He gave the following examples from the Quran:

"When a matter has been decided by God and his apostle, it is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys God and his apostle, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path" (Al Ahzab: 36).

Al-Qardawi holds that apostasy is “the disbelief after accepting Islam” and that it is the most dangerous phenomena to Muslim communities in our time. He explains that apostasy is very threatening because it is not only a change of the minds of the apostates, but also the threat contains the conspiracies of the enemies.  Al-Qardawi said: "The enemies of Islam tried every possible means to prevent its followers from their religion by using forces, weapons or conspiracies and tricks.”  He found three serious challenges facing contemporary Islamic societies, and they represent new forms of apostasy today. The first challenge was the Christian missionary campaigns on Muslims, which started with the rise of western colonialism and continued in the Islamic world, especially among Muslim immigrants and minorities. The aim of the missionary is obvious and that was to covert all Muslims to Christianity. The second challenge were the communist campaigns which influenced Islamic states in Central Asia and Muslim communities in Europe. It worked for eliminating Islam from daily life and causing its followers to ignore its reality. The last and the most serious one is that of atheist secularism, which erodes the structure of Islam in the heart of its territories. It may declare its position sometimes openly, although in most cases it hides this objective. This trend tries to abandon the realities of Islam but prefers to hold its corrupted forms that are considered by orthodox believers as superstitions. According to Al-Qardawi, these were the most serious challenges to and the most destructive factors within Islamic societies.

Apostasy, in whatever form it appears, should be put down and resisted. Al-Qardawi said: “It is obligatory for Muslim communities, in order to protect their existence, to resist all sorts of apostasy no matter what form it presents, and from what source it appears, and no chance should be given for it to spread and prosper as much as the fire swallows the charcoal.”  Al-Qardawi argued that apostasy may be prevented only by imposing a severe punishment on it. As prescribed by four out of eight schools of Muslim thought, the traditional punishment for apostasy is death. There are many authentic sayings of the Prophet to support the verdict of death as punishment.  As narrated by Ibn Abbas, the Prophet said: “Whosoever changed his faith, you should kill him.” As narrated by Ibn Masud, the Prophet said: “The blood of Muslims, who testify that there is no god but Allah and that I am the messenger of Allah, is not lawful (to be killed) except for one of the three reasons: revenge for killing a soul, a mature person committing adultery, and one who has abandoned his faith.” A similar hadith with different wording is attributed to the narration of Uthman: “Except a man disbelieved after accepting Islam or committed adultery after his purity or killed a soul without a right cause.”

All these sayings of the Prophet indicate that the apostate should be punished by death.  Ibn Rajab said: “Death is the consensus of all Muslims (as a punishment) due to all these reasons.”  Al-Qardawi quoted these instances to explain that this punishment was the practice of early Muslims. Once Caliph Ali punished a group of people who declared the godly essence of Ali; after they refused to repent when given the chance, they were put into fire. Ibn Masud, while in Iraq, once captured a group of people who abandoned Islam and upon this incidence he wrote a letter to Caliph Omar describing the situation. In his reply, Omar said: “You should expound upon them the religion of the truth and the testimony that there is no god but Allah. If they accept them you should leave them free and if not, then you may kill them.” Once a man, who became a Christian after he embraced Islam, was brought to Caliph Ali. When he was asked for repentance he refused, therefore Ali ordered his death by killing.

However, apostasy is not always in the same degree or the same form. There are several kinds of apostasy, each which has a different impact and harm on the Muslim community. Some scholars and authorities of Islamic history had maintained that the punishment for apostasy should match its harm to society, and that punishment may differ in accordance with its degree of impact. Al-Qardawi quoted Ibn Taymiyya's view on the issue, who classified apostasy into different categories; this shows that Al-Qardawi himself appropriates such divisions and different methods of punishment.  Ibn Taymiyya's view was that some apostasies may be excused by repentance, while some are in no way exempt by the punishment of killing, because the Prophet once accepted repentance of some people and executed some others who had committed crimes and harms to Islam and Muslims. For instance, the Prophet ordered the killing of Miqyas Ibn Hibabah on the day of triumph (the day of the opening of Makkah) because Ibn Hibabah killed and looted a Muslim and refused to repent for his sins. Similarly the Prophet ordered the killing of others for the reasons of killing other people, for blasphemy, and for committing falsehoods. Based on this evidence, Ibn Taymiyya classified apostasy into two categories: simple apostasy, which could be excused by repentance, and apostasy for opposing Allah and his messenger and striving to spread mischief throughout the land. The latter is the apostasy of which repentance can not be accepted before one loses his ability.

According to Ibn Taymiyya, it is obvious that punishment for apostasy depends on the degree of the apostate's harm to Islam as well as on the apostate's repentance, and that death is not the only method of punishment. In early Islamic history, Caliph Omar was asked if death is the only way to punish apostasy and in his response, he suggested another solution: “I expound upon them Islam, and if they refused then I put them into prison.” So imprisonment might be a alternative punishment in the case of simple apostasy. Among later jurists, Ibrahim An-Nakha' and Atthouri adopted Omar's view.

Based on the above arguments, Al-Qardawi divided apostasy into two categories: major apostasy and minor apostasy. He elaborated on this classification with a comparison of the concept of innovation in Islam and its categorization. Al-Qardawi said: “What I see in the matter is that scholars differentiated between major innovations and minor ones, as they differentiated among the innovators between who calls attention to his innovation and one who does not. Likewise, we must differentiate between matters of apostasy between major ones and minor ones, and among the apostates between who proclaims it and who does not.”  It is obvious that to Al-Qardawi major apostasy is to abandon the Islamic faith with a proclamation, while minor apostasy is simply renouncing the faith without proclaiming it. Al-Qardawi further gave the example of author Salman Rushdie, who Al-Qardwi said had not only betrayed Islam but also committed apostasy with his tongue and his pen. In this case of major apostasy,  the generally accepted punishment of death should be implemented in order to eliminate the apostate's evil and to shut the door of tumult (fitinah). But in the case of minor apostasy, Al-Qardawi suggested that the view of Ibrahim An-Nakha' and Atthouri may be adopted, and that punishment may take a form other than death.

To Al-Qardawi, the apostate does not only deny Islam, but also incites a war against Islam and the Muslim Ummah. The apostate joins the rank of those who “wage war against God and his apostle, and strives with might and main for mischief throughout the land” (Al Ma'idah: 33). Ibn Taymiyya differentiated the matter of “fighting” in two forms, as he explained: “Fighting with the hands and fighting with tongues. The latter for religious purposes is worse than the former, and that is why the Prophet fought those fought him with their words and left alive those who fought him with their hands. It is obvious that fighting with the tongue has is more destructive to people in ways that physical fighting is not able to be. Therefore Al-Qardawi argues that the apostate who uses his words and his pen should be punished severely.

Islam neither compels anyone to embrace it, nor does it allow someone to play with it by joining it today and leaving it tomorrow. As the Quran says: "A section of the people of the book say: "Believe in the morning what is revealed to the believers, but reject it at the end of the day; perchance they may (themselves) turn back" (Ali 'Imran: 72).

For those who did not precisely pronounce their apostasy and did not proclaim it, a severe penalty would not be imposed upon them; rather, their punishment is postponed to the next world and left in the hands of God. On this point, the Quran says: "And if any of you turn back from your faith and die in unbelief, your works will bear no fruit in this life and in the hereafter; they will be companions of the fire and will abide therein" (Al Baqarah: 217).

Of course, death as punishment for apostasy has been strongly criticized by some modern minds, who argue that the evidence on which the verdict is decided were individual narrations which can not be taken into account in legislation. Al-Qardawi's response to this criticism  shows his firm stand towards the Islamic tradition and authority of the early scholars. Al-Qardawi defends this form of punishment frrm three angles: first, the correct narration is the source of practical ruling according to census of all Muslims. On this matter, the Quran says:

"Say: "Obey God, and obey the Apostle: but if ye turn away, he is only responsible for the duty placed on him and ye for that placed on you. If ye obey him, ye shall be on right guidance. The Apostle's duty is only to preach the clear (Message)" (Al Nur: 54).
"He who obeys the messenger, obeys God: but if any turn away, we have not sent thee to watch over their (evil deeds)" (Al-Nisa': 80).

In addition to what is in the Quran, there are numerous sayings of the Prophet indicating that the execution of apostates was practiced by the companions in early Islamic history. The argument that individual narrations should not be taken into account is flawed, because all schools of thought adopted these individual narrations in other instances such as the penalty of drinking alcohol, yet the evidence in matter of apostasy were more authentic than that of the matter of alcohol. Yes, Al-Qardawi says, each of these narrations about the penalty of apostasy is individual, but multiple narrations in the matter constitutes a consensus. Secondly, ijma', or consensus, is a reliable source of Islamic law. Islamic scholars--both Sunni and Shi'a--share the same view of the penalty for apostasy except Omar, Ibrahem An-Nakha' and Atthouri. Therefore it is almost the consensus of the entire Ummah. Thirdly, early scholars interpreted the following Quranic verse as referring to apostates and apostasy: “The punishment of those who wage war against God and his apostle, and strive with might and main to incite mischief throughout the land is execution or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land” (Al Ma'idah: 33). All evidence shows that the apostate who proclaims his apostasy should be fought, as the Quran mentions:

"O ye who believe! If any from among you turn back from his faith, soon God will produce a people whom he will love as they will love him. Lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of God, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault" (Al Ma'idah: 54).

However, there are certain regulations and restrictions raised by Al-Qardawi that suggest declaring a Muslim an apostate is a very dangerous matter. The person who issues a ruling on apostasy should be an expert or specialized scholar, and the person who implements this rule must be a specialist of religious law. The apostate should be given a chance to repent before the execution of the sentence. Al-Qardawi pointed out two types of the most dangerous forms of apostasy which undermine the structure of Islamic societies today. One is apostasy of Islamic authorities and institutions. Muslim rulers, authorities and institutions were meant to protect Islamic communities and prevent them from corruption, but if the authority itself practices apostasy openly or in secret, there are questions about what shall be the consequences. On this matter Al- Qardawi said: “We have seen such rulers who befriend enemies of Allah and are rivalry with friends of Allah. They underestimate Islamic beliefs and law, disrespect Islamic sanctuaries and symbols, such as the Prophet's righteous companions, the pure family of the Prophet, the guided caliphs, the knowledgeable Imams and the Islamic heroes. They consider adherence to Islamic duties a crime and consider collective prayers for men and face veiling of Muslim women signs of extremism. Al-Qardawi said it was strange enough that these rulers, in spite of their open apostasy, were kin to keep the label of Islam and were pretending themselves to be Muslims. The question therefore is who will judge them. It is, Al-Qardawi said, public opinion and general conscience that is possessed by free scholars, preachers and thinkers that can make judgment on such rulers. Another type of apostasy is hidden apostasy,  which is more destructive for it penetrates human minds just as disease penetrates the human body. People of hidden apostasy are known in Islam as hypocrites (munafiq) and they emerge in multiple ways in our time, as their work appears published in newspapers, is distributed in books, is sold in magazines, is spread in sayings, is watched in programs, is popularized in traditions, and is dominated through laws. It works continuously in a wide range and is hardly resisted it as open apostasy is resisted. Therefore in Al-Qardawi's view, hidden apostasy is more dangerous to Islamic societies than open apostasy.

Conclusion

As a modern Islamic thinker and jurist, Yusuf Al-Qardawi is deeply concerned about the destructive phenomena of apostasy. He has elaborated on it in reference to the contemporary Islamic world and he has classified it according to its nature and social impact. Al-Qardawi does not differ from Islamic tradition in his view of the appropriate punishment of apostasy; he considers the penalty of death in principle but he differs from the majority view in that he advocates the option to repent to be given to apostates before execution. Another difference is Al-Qardawi's view that the punishment may take other forms, such as imprisonment, and that hidden apostasy may be left to the mercy of God and judged by him hereafter. The only apostates executed were those who combined other crimes with apostasy. In sum, we notice that Al-Qardawi's view on apostasy is flexible, and to some extent represents a common and moderate view of Muslims. Al-Qardawi based his views on the Quran, the Sunnah, and the Islamic tradition. Although he differs from the advocates of traditional penalties by suggesting other forms of punishment, he never deviates from the tradition because he still follows the tradition of Omar, Ibrahim An-Nakha', and Atthouri.