RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE LAW OF APOSTASY IN ISLAM

MAHMOUD AYOUB*

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE LAW OF APOSTASY IN ISLAM

Courtesy: Islamochristian = Islamiyat Masihiyat, Vol. 20, 1994, pp. 75-91

SUMMARY: After determining what constitutes apostasy (riddah), defined as “all act of rejection of faith committed by a Muslim whose Islam had been affirmed without any coercion”, the Author looks at the understanding of riddah in the Qur’an and Tradition. From this study he concludes that there is no real basis for the riddah law in either of these sources. When he turns to Shi’i hadith tradition the A. finds greater severity on the part of the Imams after’ Ali. This he would attribute to the fact that they were dealing with theoretical questions, since they did not wield political authority. The attitude to apostasy grew harsher as relations between different faith communities worsened. In the final section of his essay the Author examines juristic rulings (ahkam). He touches on the conditions for apostasy (sound reason, freedom of choice), opportunity for repentance, and the special situation of women. He shows that the measure of uncertainly in truly establishing the crime acts as a protection against application of the maximum penalty. In conclusion the Author affirms that apostasy became a political problem with the advent of colonialism and the rise of Christian missionary activity.


* Mahmoud M. Ayoub, born in 1935 at Ayn Qana (South Lebanon), is professor of Islamic Studies at the Department of Religion, Temple University (U.S.A.). Among his many works are: Redemptive Suffering in Islam A Study of Devotional Aspect in Ashura in Twelver Shi’ism, and the first volume of The Qur’an and its lnterpreters (a projected ten volume series). Dr. Ayoub has a special interest in Muslim-Christian issues.