A Shi`ite Muslim Pronouncement on Apostasy

Source: The following Shi`ite pronouncement on apostasy in Islam appeared in Kayhan International, March 1986.


In Islam, apostasy is a flagrant sin and guilt for which certain punishments have been specified in fiqh (Islamic law).  Apostasy means, to renounce the religion or a religious principle after accepting it.  In other words, one’s departure from Islam to atheism is called apostasy.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; revolutionary Iranian Shi’ite Islamist


A person who abandons Islam and adopts atheism is called an apostate. There are special laws concerning apostates in the Islamic fiqh.  In this lesson, we will be familiarized with them.  With regard to the above-mentioned points, we will continue to discuss the issue of apostasy and apostates in the following parts: (There follows an outline.)

1. Types of apostasy: As it was mentioned, apostasy means to return from Islam to atheism and polytheism.  That is why it can also be called “reaction.”  Therefore, from the standpoint of Islam and the Islamic fiqh, reaction is to actually give up Tawhid (monotheism) and return to atheism and polytheism.  Reaction is to abandon monotheism and take up paganism, idolatry and materialism.  Reaction is to return from faith and knowledge to ignorance.  Therefore, the exact examples of reaction in the current world, especially Muslim-inhabited regions, are apostate materialists, Marxists, and polytheistic capitalists and Zionists who have abandoned Tawhid and resorted to Trinity and racism.  Heretical groups in the Muslim world, such as Ba`athists and the likes of them are reactionary and apostate.  Because by denying the genuineness of Islam, or many of its rules, they have practically become apostate and contracted the fatal disease of apostasy and reaction.

Apostasy has two types: one is “voluntary” apostasy and the other is “innate” apostasy.  Therefore, there are also two types of apostates: voluntary apostates and innate apostates who are treated according to different rules. In the jurisprudential book of Tahrir al-Wassilah voluntary and innate apostates are defined as follows:

“An apostate, that is, one who abandons Islam and takes up atheism, may be of two types:

a. Voluntary apostate: a person whose parents, or either of them, were Muslim at the time of his or her development in the mother’s womb and who takes up atheism after growing up.

b. Innate apostate: a person who is born of atheist parents and who accepts Islam after growing up, but returns to atheism later.”[1]

2. The way to prove one’s apostasy: After the meaning of apostasy and its two types have been clarified, this question may come to mind: How can a person’s apostasy be proven?

In response, I should say that, since Islam is an easy religion, it has adopted an easy and untroubled manner in this connection, which does not involve any slander and accusation. Here, before anything else, the judge attaches importance to the confession of the accused person. Whatever the charged person says about himself or herself, the judge takes it as an evidence. If the charged person confesses to his apostasy, his word will be accepted; if he denies the charge of apostasy and claims Islam, again his word will be taken as valid.

Tahrir al-Wassilah reads so in this regard: “Apostasy is proven in two ways: First, the person himself confesses to his apostasy twice. Second, two just and truthful men bear witness to the person’s apostasy. But women’s testimonies do not prove apostasy in any case; either they bear witness individually, in a group or beside a man.”[2]

There should also be several conditions or prerequisites in a person charged with apostasy to be convicted of this guilt. These conditions are: adulthood, wisdom, free will, and intention. Therefore, apostasy does not apply to children, lunatics, and those who have been forced to pretend it. Also, apostasy does not apply for a Muslim who utters a blasphemous word or commits a blasphemous act neglectfully or jokingly and without intention, or in a coma, or in anger; that is to say, he is still a Muslim and considered a Muslim.

“If a person utters or does something indicative of apostasy, and he claims that he was compelled to do so, or did not have real intention and uttered it unconsciously, his or her claim is accepted, even though there is already ample proof of his having done a blasphemous act.”[3]

3. The punishment of apostates: The punishment that Islam has considered for voluntary and innate apostates differ.

a. Voluntary apostate: If this apostate is a man, the following punishment will be imposed upon him: “His wife is separated from him (that is, she becomes forbidden to him) and, as though her husband is dead, she should not marry another man for a certain period of time and after that period, she can marry someone else if she wants.

“In addition to this, the property of a male apostate is divided among his lawful heirs. In this division, they won’t await his death and his property is distributed among them while he is still living; of course, his debts are first repaid (and the apostate himself is executed). The repentance of a voluntary apostate is not accepted and has no effect in regaining his property and wife. His inward repentance will be accepted by God (that is to say, the other worldly chastisement will be lifted from him).

“In some cases, a voluntary apostate’s apparent repentance is also accepted and as a result his prayers and worship will be accepted, his body will be clean and touchable again; he will be allowed to gain new property through legitimate ways such as trade, work, and inheritance. He can also marry a Muslim woman or marry his former wife again.”[4]

This is the punishment of a male voluntary apostate. As you observe, Islam considers him a dead person and issues the rule of the dead about his property and wife.

The words of the great Faqih Imam Khomeini indicate that, if a voluntary apostate repents, he will be relieved of death punishment. However, some of the earlier Faqihs such as Allamah Helli believed that a voluntary apostate should be executed immediately and that his repentance was not acceptable.[5]

Imam Khomeini’s statement in this regard is based on common law and rationality. Some of the former Faqihs like Eskafi and Sahib al-Massalik were of the same opinion. Concerning the documents invoked by the opponents of this opinion, Sahib al-Massalik says: “… Reliable jurisprudential documents generally indicate that an apostate’s repentance is acceptable, and any different interpretation of these documents is doubtful.”[6]

A similar statement has also been narrated from the Sunnis. For example, Taliha Ibn Khowailad Assadi, a well-known apostate in the early years of Islam, who was defeated after apostasy and rebellion against Muslims, repented after some time (and thus was pardoned). In the Nahavand battle, he was one of the commanders of the Muslims’ army and was killed in that battle.[7]

But the punishment of a female voluntary apostate is as follows: “Her property remains in her ownership and is not transferred to her lawful heirs, unless she dies. (A female apostate is not executed on charges of apostasy.) She is separated from her husband without any need to remain unmarried for a certain period, of course if no intercourse has taken place between her and her husband. But if they have had sexual intercourse, she should remain unmarried for a certain period as of the moment of her apostasy just as if she were divorced. If the woman repents in the middle of the period of remaining unmarried, she will become the wife of her former husband without any need to hold marriage ceremonies again.”[8]

Therefore, a female apostate is never executed but is imprisoned.

b. Innate Apostate: An innate apostate is treated in this way: “His or her property is not transferred to the heirs as a result of apostasy. An innate man or woman is separated from his or her spouse as a penalty for apostasy. In case of repenting before the expiration of the period that the woman has to remain unmarried, they will again belong to each other. But if repentance is uttered after the expiration of this special period, they will no longer be each other’s wife and husband.”[9]

An innate apostate is not executed if he repents. This is a matter agreed on by all faqihs (Islamic jurists).

4. Apostate’s Repentance: The case of an apostate’s repentance has become clear and, therefore, there is no need to explain it again.

5. A View of the Qur’anic Verses About Apostasy: There are many verses in the Glorious Qur’an and numerous narrations in Islamic historical and narrative books that help us have a deep understanding of the phenomenon of apostasy. Let us take a look at some of them:

1. “O you who believe! Whoever from among you turns back from his religion, then Allah will bring a people, He shall love them and they shall love Him, lowly before the believers, mighty against the unbelievers, they shall strive hard in Allah’s way and shall not fear the censure of any censurer; this is Allah’s grace, He gives it to whom He pleases, and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.”[10]

2. “… And they will not cease fighting with you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can; and whoever of you turns back from his religion, then he dies while an unbeliever – these it is whose works shall go for nothing in this world and the hereafter; and they are the inmates of the fire; therein they shall abide.”[11]

3. “Surely (as for) those who return on their backs after that guidance has become manifest to them, the Shaitan has made it a light matter to them; and He gives them respite.

“That is because they say to those who hate what Allah has revealed: We will obey you in some of the affairs; and Allah knows their secrets.

“But how will it be when the angels cause them to die, smiting their backs.

“That is because they follow what is displeasing to Allah and are averse to His pleasure, therefore He has made null their deeds.”[12]

4. “O you who believe! If you obey a party from among those who have been given the Book, they will turn you back as unbelievers after you have believed.”[13]

5. “And Muhammad is no more than an apostle; the apostles have already passed away before him. If then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least, and Allah will reward the grateful.”[14]

As you observe, these verses have approached apostasy from different aspects and meditation upon them will shed light on many issues.

6. Answer to a Controversial Question: In connection with the subject of apostasy and the punishment that the holy religion of Islam has considered for it, the narrow-minded or the enemies of justice and truth may attempt to create doubt in the people’s minds by raising a question and taking advantage of it opportunistically in their anti-Islamic propaganda. This is the question: Do the Muslims not claim that Islam is the religion of the freedom of belief and creed and that there is no compulsion in choosing one’s opinion? Then why has Islam considered such heavy penalties and punishment for apostasy?

The answer to this irrelevant question is this: Yes, Islam and the Glorious Qur’an have denied compulsion and coercion in belief, and the Exalted God says so in the Glorious Qur’an:

“There is no compulsion in religion” (Surah Baqarah, verse 256). But the issue of apostasy differs from the free adoption of an opinion or belief.

In other words, I should say that from the viewpoint of the Islamic fiqh, there is a skeptic who is seeking the truth and there is also an obstinate apostate. These two are basically different from each other.

A skeptic is one who does not want to take up a creed and follow a religion in a hereditary way. He or she is doubtful and hesitant of what parents and family or society have inculcated upon his or her mind about God and Islam, and doubts whether they are true or not. That is why he doubts and thus embarks on studying and searching for the discovery of truth and reality.

Not only is this doubt not reproachable and bad from the viewpoint of Islam, but it is also praised. Because the Glorious Qur’an reproaches ancient nations for having imitated their ancestors in religion and creed. Even research facilities should be provided for the searching and studying of a skeptic out of the Muslims’ public treasury. Because the root of this doubt lies in honesty, sincerity, and knowledge. Doubt is a very good passageway, but a very bad place to stop in.

However, apostasy is a matter of treason and ideological treachery, which originates from hostility and hypocrisy. The destiny of a person who has an inborn handicap is different from the destiny of one whose hand should be cut off, due to the development of a dangerous and infectious disease.

The apostasy of a Muslim individual whose parents have also been Muslim is a very infectious, dangerous, and incurable disease that appears in the body of an ummah (people) and threatens people’s lives, and that is why this rotten limb should be severed.

An apostate is an adversary who has penetrated the Islamic ummah as the faith column of the enemy of Islam and Muslims and who has taken advantage of his natural situation.

Apostasy is escape from the pattern of creation and nature and that is why the word “voluntary” has been adopted for such an apostate and that is the reason why the punishment of a voluntary apostate is heavier than that of an innate apostate. Can the penalty of escaping from the path and pattern of nature and creation be anything other than annihilation? This is the same thing that has been crystallized in the penal code of Islam.

The anti-apostasy punishments of Islam are proper laws to rescue mankind from falling into the cesspool of treason, betrayal, and disloyalty and to remind the human being of his ideological commitments. A committed man should not violate his promise and vow, especially his promise to God. All the punitive laws of Islam have a similar goal. For example, they ask, why is a thief’s hand cut for stealing five hundred or one thousand tomans? This is the denial of the value of the human being! But the fact is that a thief’s hand is not cut off for the sake of a hundred or a thousand tomans, but his hand is severed for having deprived the human society of security. In other words, a thief’s hand is cut for the revival of human values.

An objective and real proof of the fact that apostasy always has a treacherous and warlike nature and revolves around high political and social positions indeed, and not around the free adoption of a belief, as it is alleged, can be seen in the events of the early days of Islam.

After the demise of the Prophet of Islam (SAWA), most Arab tribes became apostate under the influence of their errant, arrogant, and idolatrous chiefs. These apostates were led by the false claimers of prophethood. Their first step after the Prophet’s death was to attack Medina and other centers of Islam. In the wars that the bellicose apostates waged against Muslims, fifty or sixty thousand people were killed and the number of casualties is unprecedented in Arab history.

Their most heinous ringleaders were “Ablaha ibn Ka`b” known as “Asswad Ghassi”; in Yemen “Mosailimah Kadhdhab” at Hadra Moat, and “Taliha Ibn Khowailad Assadi” in the Bani Assad tribe. These wars, and similar wars, which occurred later, show the tyrannical nature of apostasy and justify the necessity of a decisive combat against it.[15]

Another example, which is expressive of the insincere nature of the sinister phenomenon of apostasy, is the ruthless inhuman murder of faithful Muslims by Marxian apostates in Iran under the Shah’s regime under the pretext of “changing their ideology”. They committed these crimes as “revolutionary assassinations”. Yet, instead of assassinating the ringleaders of SAWAK (the Shah’s secret police), they murdered anti-Shah and anti-U.S. Muslims who worshipped God. This is the shameful face of apostasy.


  1. Tahrir al-Wassilah, vol 2, p. 367 (?), written by Ayatollah Imam Khomeini. The (?) indicates a problem in reading the text.
  2. ibid., vol. 2, page 496.
  3. ibid., vol. 2, page 495.
  4. ibid., vol. 2, page 367.
  5. Tabsarat al-Motammenin (?), new edition, page 179.
  6. Jawahir al-Kalam, vol. 41, page 608, new edition.
  7. Horub al-Raddah, pages 88 and 106, printed in Beirut, written by Muhammad Ahmad Bashmil.
  8. Tahrir al-Wassilah, vol. 2, page 367.
  9. ibid., vol. 2, page 367.
  10. Surah Ma`idah, verse 54.
  11. Surah Baqarah, verse 217.
  12. Surah Muhammad, verses 25, 26, 27 and 28.
  13. Surah Al-i Imran, verse 99.
  14. Surah Al-i Imran, verse 143.
  15. Refer to Horub al-Raddah written by Muhammad Ahmad Bashmil.

5 Responses to A Shiite Opinion on Apostasy

  1. […] On Tuesday, October 13, 2009, an ominous interim decision was reached in the case of 17 year- old Sri Lankan native, and Christian “apostate” from Islam, Rifqa Bary. Rifqa fled her Ohio community—notably, the radicalized mosque she was compelled to attend, which revealed and condemned her apostasy.  She sought refuge in Orlando, Florida, when Muhammad Bary, Rifqa’s father threatened to murder the young Muslim woman apostate—the consensus draconian punishment for “unrepentant” apostasy from Islam sanctioned by all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, Sunni and Shiite alike, to this day. (For irrefragable examples, see these contemporary Sunni rulings by Al Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt, the Mufti of Lebanon, and IslamonLine [here; here], website of the mainstream, immensely popular Muslim Brotherhood cleric, and Al Jazeera personality Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as well as this Shiite legal opinion published in Kayhan International, an official organ of the Islamic Republic of Iran). […]

  2. […] and Al Jazeera personality Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as well as this Shiite legal opinion published in Kayhan International, an official organ of the Islamic Republic of Iran). Pending determination of her parent’s immigration status-extant public access documentary […]

  3. […] Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and other prominent, mainstream Muslim clerics in Egypt [27], Lebanon [28], Iran [29], and Malaysia [30], has also mandated lethal punishment for apostates from Islam. Their […]

  4. […] Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and other prominent, mainstream Muslim clerics in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, and Malaysia, has mandated lethal punishment for apostates from Islam. These specific rulings on […]

  5. […] Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and other prominent, mainstream Muslim clerics in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, and Malaysia, has mandated lethal punishment for apostates from Islam. These specific rulings on […]

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