by Bill Muehlenberg

I have known of folks who were once adherents of Christianity but who have since turned their backs on the faith, renouncing it altogether. This is referred to as "apostasy." It has been defined as "the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle," or as "the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person".

While it is sad to see people deny or reject their former Christian faith, the good news is there are no severe consequences for it — at least in this life. Of course one day such people will have to stand before their maker, but for now, they can do as they please.

This is certainly not the case with Muslims who renounce their faith. Islam treats apostasy as a crime to be punished by death. This is just one of the many very real differences between Christianity and Islam. And these are not just some old religious squabbles which have no impact on folks today.


People are dying right now for the sin of apostasy just as they have been for the past 1400 years. Indeed, a new report has just highlighted what a very real problem this is, and how it is exclusively an Islamic problem. The annual Freedom of Thought report published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union found that 13 nations punish apostasy with the death penalty.

The 13 countries are all Islamic: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Says the report, "All of these countries, except Pakistan, allow for capital punishment against apostasy, while Pakistan imposes the death penalty for blasphemy — including a disbelief in God."

Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. To put it in a nutshell, Islam is a bad idea. That is why it has so many bad consequences and outcomes. Killing those who dare to leave the faith is just one of these very bad ideas.

But critics will want to defend Islam — as usual — and claim that this is just an aberration, an extreme, which is not true of "real" Islam. They will claim that Islam is a peaceful religion, and even say that Islam means "peace". Um no, it does not. The word means "submission".

And that is exactly what Islam requires of every person on the planet. They either submit, or as infidels they have two remaining choices: die, or become a dhimmi (a second class citizen). And for the Muslim who dares to leave Islam, there is one clear response: death.

As always with articles like this I had to go to my bookshelves and haul out a large pile of books: Korans, collections of the hadith, volumes on Islamic jurisprudence, and the like. Let me simply quote what is found therein concerning this matter.

I begin with the Koran and a few different translations of a crucial sura here — 4:89. It says this:

"They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes in the cause of God. If they desert you, seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them." (N. J. Dawood)

"They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they). But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks." (Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

"They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them." (M. M. Pickthall)

See also related passages about falling away: 2:217; 5:54; 9:66; 9:11-12; 9:73-74; and 8:21. As to reliable collections of the hadith, Bukhari of course stands out. Here are just several passages of his that can be mentioned here:

-Sahih Bukhari 52:260: "...The Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him'."

-Sahih Bukhari 84:57: [In the words of] "Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him'."

But again, critics may claim that these are ancient texts which have nothing to do with modern-day Islam. I wish that were the case but it certainly is not. Plenty of Islamic websites today are quite happy to discuss apostasy and the death penalty for it. Let me look at just a few of these. One site says this:

The duty of the Muslim community — in order to preserve its identity — is to combat apostasy in all its forms and wherefrom it comes, giving it no chance to pervade in the Muslim world. That was what Abu Bakr and the Prophet's Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) did when they fought against the apostates who followed Musailemah the Liar, Sijah, and Al-Aswad Al-'Ansi, who falsely claimed to be Allah's prophets after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Those apostates had been about to nip the Islamic call in the bud.

It is extremely dangerous to see apostasy prevailing in the Muslim community without facing it. A contemporary scholar described the apostasy prevailing in this age saying, "What an apostasy; yet no Abu Bakr is there to (deal with) it."

Muslims are to seriously resist individual apostasy before it seriously intensifies and develops into a collective one. That is why the Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-'ashriyyah, Al-Ja'fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.

And consider this brief video of Dr. Zakir Naik, a popular Indian Islamic preacher. When he is asked about the death penalty for apostasy, he makes it quite clear that this is indeed the appropriate response:

Moreover, all this is being openly taught here in Australia as well. Consider this:

A leader of a hardline Islamist group which campaigns for sharia law says Muslims who leave the religion should be put to death. Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Uthman Badar was frank when asked about the group's policy at a forum in Bankstown, in Sydney's south-west, on Saturday night. 'The ruling for apostates as such in Islam is clear, that apostates attract capital punishment and we don't shy away from that,' Badar said in the presence of children.

Then of course we could simply highlight the many cases of Muslims daring to leave the faith who have been killed for it. We see this occurring quite often sadly. As one recent article said about this:

It can be a life-threatening proposition to publicly state one's secularism or atheism. Bangladesh, for example, has seen several cases of secular bloggers being hacked to death with machetes. In Pakistan, a high-profile politician was killed by one of his guards for his opposition to blasphemy laws. Salmaan Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, had opposed the persecution of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam. The politician's son, Shaan Taseer, who has also spoken out against blasphemy laws, now fears for his life after a recent fatwa issued against him.

In Christianity if someone leaves the faith, a concerned Christian can and should pray for him. In Islam, if someone leaves the faith, they can easily find themselves killed by that faith's adherents. Try telling me again that there are no differences between these two religions.

Additional Reading:—Z110j2Uwxb

Bill Muehlenberg lectures on ethics and philosophy at several theological colleges in Melbourne, Australia. He blogs at CultureWatch. This article appeared May 16, 2017 on Culture Watch and is archived at
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