Identity, Equality, Unity
The issue of apostasy in Islam is a very intricate and sensitive issue, hence should be commented on after comprehensive research and study.
Islam, Absolute Submission to the Creator of all, the Lord and Master of all, says that every child is born with the innate ability to recognise and believe in his Creator (SWT). This cognition has been placed in his nature by Allah (SWT).
وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنْفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ ۛ شَهِدْنَا ۛ أَنْ تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَٰذَا غَافِلِينَ
[Al-Aara’af 7:172] And when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their backs, their descendants, and made them bear witness against their own souls: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes! We bear witness. Lest you should say on the day of resurrection: Surely we were heedless of this.
Islamic traditions indicate, that after the creation of Adam (AS), all his progenies came out from his back in the form of some intelligent particles, and were addressed by the Lord and Master (SWT). They confessed to the Lordship of their Creator, Allah (SWT). Then, all of them were returned back to the loin and soil of Adam (AS), in order to come into this world gradually and naturally. Thus, human beings can observe the instinct for theism in the depth of their own selves, since they have confessed it in the world of pre-existence.
In Chapter 91 of the Holy Quran, Ash-Shams, verses 1-10, Allah (SWT) has explicitly mentioned that human soul has been blessed with the power to distinguish between right and wrong. But for the soul to function according to its innate nature it has to be provided with the surroundings, the conditions, which will enhance its spiritual purity. The soul is like a bulb which can give light, provided it itself is not surrounded with a thick cover or dust! Every human being has that light in his soul. However, those who keep it pure can enlighten their path with it, while those who allow the ‘spiritual dirt’ to accumulate on it, cannot see their path towards Allah (SWT). Infidelity (kufr) literally means ‘a cover’. The Prophet (SAW) of Islam emphasized the same thing when he said, “Every child is born with the believing nature, it is his parents who make him into an unbeliever.”
Therefore, the Islamic concept of governance is rule by the Divine Representative (AS) or his chosen appointees, because only they can provide the atmosphere, the conditions, where soul can nurture according to its inborn abilities! Thus He (SWT) sent so many Prophets (AS) and Messengers (AS), He (SWT) preserved The Message through the School of Imamate, and He (SWT) has provided innumerable signs in the nature which are a constant reminder of the Supreme Being of the Creator.
سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ
[Fussilat 41:53] We will soon show them Our signs in the Universe and in their own souls, until it will become quite clear to them that it is the truth.
Once it has been clarified that faith in Divinity is an inborn instinct, and it is the wrong upbringing and the incorrect social norms which restrict it from nurturing, now the question arises can it be forcefully imposed on others if one finds them not treading the Right Path!
Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran,
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
[Al-Baqarah 2:256] There is no compulsion in faith.
A very concise and distinct message! Acceptance of faith is the call of the heart. It cannot be imposed on anyone. The fundamentals of Islam (Usool-e-Deen) have to be accepted voluntarily, there is no imitation or following in them. Two diverse paths have been clearly presented, and it is up to every individual now to choose one of them.
قَدْ تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ
[Al-Baqarah 2:256] The Truth stands out clear from Error.
A Muslim can show the Right Path to others through deeds, the practices of Islam (Furoo-e-Deen), but cannot inflict it on others, cannot force non-Muslims to enter Islam if they do not want to, cannot implement Islamic Laws on them if they have not accepted Islam, cannot punish them for non submission to the Lord and Master (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW). Historically one can find many cases where non-Muslims rejected the call of Islam during Prophet (SAW)’s era, and during the apparent governance of Imam Ali (AS). They were allowed to exist on their faith. Many of them criticised Prophet (SAW) for his call to The Truth, but were not punished for this approach. Instead Prophet (SAW) and His True Companions and Progeny (AS) treated them kindly, and presented the real and humane face of Islam.
يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انْفِصَامَ لَهَا
[Al-Baqarah 2:256] Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks.
An Imam (AS) is ‘the most trustworthy hand-hold’, and is necessary in order to expound the injunctions and truths of the Islam, and to guide the people on the Straight Path. It is his duty to create Islam friendly surroundings, to appoint governors who can provide positive atmosphere for the progress of the soul. The duty of the Imam (AS) is to maintain the Traditions (Sunnah) of Prophet (SAW) alive, to explain the religious sciences and to externally guide the people. In the same way that he has the duty of guiding them outwardly, the Imam (AS) also bears the function of Walayah (Divine Authority) and the internal guidance of humans. The Divinely Appointed Imam (AS) directs man’s spiritual life and orients the inner aspect of human action towards Allah (SWT); Imam (AS) is the connection between the heavens and the earth, and is appointed by Allah (SWT) as the link between Him and the rest of the creations.
The above explanation is the ideal conditions which can be provided once someone has willingly entered the fold of Islam. The Divine Justice demands that when one has been created with the instinct to submit to One Lord, then the nurturing of those senses should also be done in Pure Divinely Approved Conditions, which only His (SWT)’s Wali (Divine Authority) can provide.
Now the question arises if one is raised and nurtured as a Muslim in principled surroundings, where his soul is fully protected from infidelity and polytheism, where he is shown the Right Path constantly, either by the Imam (AS) himself, or his approved Guide, can he reject Islam, become an apostate (Murtadd)! Can he turn back from the creed of Islam, the Divine Unity and Prophet-hood of Mohammad (SAW)!
No he cannot! Once someone has accepted Islam freely, one has to fully submit to Allah (SWT).
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً
[Al-Baqarah 2:208] O you who believe! Enter into submission fully.
A believer declares that he has surrendered that right of decision making to Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW), because he has accepted that the Lord and Master is One and Only, and His True Messages have come through Mohammad (SAW), which include Code of Life.
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ
[Al-Ahzaab 33:36] It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision.
Apostasy or deserting of faith for a Muslim is the question of Jurisprudence (Shari’ah), and is governed by the Laws of Islam. Prophet (SAW), Imams (AS) or their Appointed Representatives can take an action against such deeds according to Divine Commands.
In Islam apostasy is treason against Allah (SWT)! The universe belongs to Him (SWT)! Islam, Absolute Submission is the message sent with Prophet Adam (AS), and is an Eternal Message! If someone quietly leaves Islam and continues his life in any other way he wishes, he might be temporarily pardoned, in the hope that one day he might return to the call of his innate nature! It happened in Prophet (SAW)’s times and in other Prophets (AS)’s era too, such incidents are recorded in Imams (AS)’s period also, and it is happening today too without any repercussions from the representatives of Imam (ATFS).
First debates, discussions, questions and study are encouraged. There are quite a few examples of such discussions by people like Ibn Abi ‘l-’Awjã’ during the days of Imam Jaffar as-Sadiq (AS) and Ishãq al-Kindi during the days of Imam Hasan al-Askari (AS) who were attempting to write an answer to the Qur’an! Many non-Muslims had lengthy debates with Imam Ridha (AS), wherein they openly criticised Islamic Fundamentals.
Ibn Abi ‘l-’Awjã’ once said to Muhammad Ibn Sanan, a companion of Imam Sadiq (AS), who was agitated at the apostolic comments of the former, “If you are of the company of Jaffar Ibn Muhammad (AS), it does not behove you to talk in the strain that you do, for his is not this mode of address, nor does he argue with us in such impropriety. He has heard more of our words than you have done, but he has never used any impropriety, nor has he ever retorted aggressively. He is very forbearing, dignified, reasonable and of mature intellect. He is never harsh, nor touchy. He listens to our talk very attentively. He invites our arguments, so much so that when we have exhausted our armoury and we think to have silenced him, he, with a brief resume, stultifies all our reasoning and dumfounds us, so that we are left without a plank to answer the arguments of the revered personage. If you are of his company, then talk to us in the same strain.” (Tradition of Mufaddal, Pearls of Wisdom from Imam Jaffar al-Sadiq (AS), recorded by ‘Allamah Majlisi (d. 1110 AH), in Bihar al-’Anwar, volume 3, page 57, chapter 4, tradition no. 29)
His (SWT)’s Law is applied only when idyllic Islamic society is provided, and that too if someone rebels against nature, and all other options to convince him otherwise have failed.
But if satanic agents create some situation where Imam (ATFS)’s representatives are forced to take action, the conditions change. If a situation arises where a born Muslim leaves Islam for nefarious purposes, starts condemning it and defaming it publically for material and political gains, writes books, speaks against it everywhere in especially arranged gatherings for the purpose, than he is a traitor! He lives on Divine Earth, and condemns His (SWT)’s Constitution to further the agenda of negative forces! So he becomes an apostate, with no hope of return! His one and only goal is to create mischief and gain materially through it, or he is a tool in the hands of satanic powers! Such cases have to be nabbed in the bud, and turned into an exemplary instance.
Regularly the so called super powers of the temporal world issues list of most wanted and offer huge rewards on their heads! Many a time bounties are offered for those whom they consider has committed treason against their state! If so called civilised people of the developed world declare every opponent an enemy, offers head money, kills them however and wherever they want without trial, why cannot the Creator (SWT) of all have the same law for someone spreading misguidance, and causing other humanity to go astray!
To conclude I will just summarise, the punishment of apostasy is not applicable on a non-Muslim. Only a born Muslim or revert who has submitted willingly, come under this jurisdiction, and for them too there are different punishments. First and foremost debates and discussions are used to help solve the doubts rising in the individuals head. But if the person goes public with the condemnation of Islam, and uses it for temporal gains, then extreme punishment is applied. But this too by those who are living under True Islamic conditions, which right now are geographically very limited! Because this is the case of mutiny against the Creator (SWT), and thus deserves extreme retribution!