Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ردة, riddah or ارتداد, irtidād, an apostate from Islam is a murtad (Arabic: مرتد)) is commonly defined as the abandonment of Islam by a Muslim, in word or through deed.[1][2][3][4] It includes not only explicit renunciations of the Islamic faith by converting to another religion[1] (or abandoning religion altogether),[1][5][6] but also blasphemy or heresy,[7][8] through any action or utterance implying unbelief, including those denying a "fundamental tenet or creed" of Islam.[9]

While classical Islamic law calls for execution of those who refuse to repent of apostasy from Islam, the definition of this act and whether and how it should be punished, are disputed among Islamic scholars[10][6][11] and strongly opposed by Muslim (and non-Muslim) supporters of the universal human right to freedom of faith.[12][13][Note 1]

As of 2014, there were eight Muslim-majority countries where apostasy from Islam was punishable by death,[16][17][18] and another thirteen where there were penal or civil penalties such as jail, fines or loss of child custody.[19] From 1985 to 2006, only four individuals were officially executed by governments for apostasy from Islam mostly from unrelated political charges,[Note 2] but apostates have suffered from other legal and vigilante punishments -- imprisonment, annulment of marriage, loss of rights of inheritance and custody of children.[21][19] Mainly, loss of life has come from killings by "takfiri" insurgents (ISIL, GIA, Taliban).

Until the late 19th century, the vast majority of Sunni and Shia jurists held that for adult men, apostasy from Islam was a crime as well as a sin, an act of treason punishable with the death penalty,[6][22] often (depending on the school of law) after a waiting period to allow the apostate time to repent and to return to Islam.[6][23][24][25] But to protect against abuse, exemption was granted to those who were originally forced to embrace Islam, or who apostasized out of fear, or (according to the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i schools) who repented.[26][27] In addition, early Islamic jurists developed legal standards to limit the harsh punishment to apostasy of political kind,[28] which in a religious society is similar to high treason.[29][30]

According to classical Islamic law an apostate can only be killed if there are two just Muslim eyewitnesses or they self confess according to some schools both is required. Jurists allowed flexibility in applying the death penalty,[29][31][6] allowing judges to interpret the apostasy law in different ways,[29] which they did sometimes leniently and sometimes strictly.[31] In the late 19th century, the use of legal criminal penalties for apostasy fell into disuse, although civil penalties were still applied.[6]

In the contemporary Muslim world, public support for capital punishment varies from 78% in Afghanistan to less than 1% in Kazakhstan;[Note 3] among Islamic jurists the majority continue to regard apostasy as a crime whose punishment is death.[23] Those who disagree[10][6][33] argue its punishment should be less than death, should be left to God,[12][34][35][36] (human punishment being inconsistent with Quranic injunctions against compulsion in belief),[37][38] or should be enforced only if apostasy becomes a mechanism of public disobedience and disorder (fitna).[Note 4] Secular critics[40][41] argue that the death penalty or other punishment for apostasy in Islam is a violation of universal human rights and an issue of freedom of faith and conscience.[12][13]