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Apostasy and Death Penalty

OurIndonesia – I heard that several Muslim leaders in Indonesia have been considering the possibility of enforcing death punishment upon Muslim who leave Islam and convert to other religion (apostate). In the past, the Melaka Empire/ Malacca Sultanate under Sultan Muzaffar Shah’s reign (1450-1458) prescribed death penalty for Muslim who commits apostasy based on Melaka Constitution: Undang-Undang Darat Melaka, Undang-Undang Melayu, Undang-Undang Negeri dan Pelayaran (Laws of Melaka, Malay Constitution, the Maritime Laws of Melaka).

Article 36 of the constitution mentioned, “death penalty must be applied upon the apostate”. This exclusive view is based on a hadith (prophet Muhammad’s sayings) , “man baddala dinahu faqtuluhu” (Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.).

A question arises: is it possible to punish a Muslim who commit apostasy based on the above hadith? The answer is certainly not. Unlike the Melaka Empire which refers to the Islamic jurisprudence, the modern and democratic Indonesia is based on Pancasila and 1945 Constitution (UUD ’45), which guarantee the right to exercise freedom of religion in Indonesia.

Anyone who convert religion is not a criminal and therefore not to be punished. Hence, prescribing death penalty upon Indonesian Muslim who commit apostasy violated the 1945 Constitution and UU RI No. 39/1999 on human rights which guarantee full freedom for every citizen whether to take or leave any religion.

Besides, the above hadith canot be simply used as justification, since it is doubtful from every aspects. Status of this hadith is ahad (which has been narrated by few people) instead of mutawaatir (which has been narrated by a number of people in every level of the chain such that it is impossible for all of them to make a mistake or error).

Imam Abu Hanifah argued that dalalah or the meaning of hadith ahad is zhanni (non-definite or indecisive) instead of qath’I (conclusive or decisive). Khudlari Bik, an expert of principle of Islamic jurisprudence (ushul fiqh), explained that hadith ahad cannot abrogate the general verses of Quran. While the general verses of Quran is qathi, hadith ahad is zhanni therefore Tajuddin al-Subki in Jam`u al-Jawami argued that the zhanni cannot abrogate the qath`i.

Meanwhile, no single verse of Quran declare that apostates should be killed. Allah would certainly have included this important penalty in the Quran if he wanted it performed. In fact, Quran clearly guarantees freedom of religion. Jawdat Said observed that the above hadith is dla’if (weak), since it conflicts with the fundamental Islamic teaching: namely freedom of religion. Hence, the dalalah or justification of hadith is weak and therefore cannot abrogate the general principle of Quran which support freedom of religion.

Furthermore, Jamal al-Banna questioned about the integrity of the narrator of hadith. The chain of narration ended on Ikrimah, whose hadith narration often rejected by Imam Muslim. Imam Muslim quoted from ikrimah only a hadith on pilgrimage, which he narrated together with Sa’id bin Jubair.

Sahih Muslim (Muslim’s hadith collection) did not mention hadith on death penalty for the apostate. It is reasonable because Ikrimah was known as a liar (kadzzab) among the experts of hadith. Doubt on the existence of hadits goes on, since the narrators including Ikrimah had never explained about sabab al wurud, or in which context and what for the Prophet stated that.

Apart from that, even if the hadith does really exist, history indicated that prophet Muhammad had never kill the apostates. Several classical literatures mentioned that in the days of prophet Muhammad, at least twelve Muslims reverted from Islam, like al-Harits bin Suwaid al-Anshari, and moved away from Medina to Mecca.

Ubaidullah bin Jahsy, for instance, went to Habasyah where he converted to Christian and died as Christian. However, during his lifetime, the Prophet did not command his companions to chase them although they committed apostasy.

People who want to enforce death penalty for Muslim who commit apostasy do not realize the defects of the above hadith. Hopefully, as this explanation arrives before them, their eagerness to kill the apostate will be reduced.