Apostasy and Verse 256 of Al-Baqarah

In response to recent attack on the Islamic law for apostasy, some prominent Muslims and major Muslim Organizations are taking a compromising stance. As most of those who have issued a statement on this topic have used the famous verse of Soorah Al- Baqarah (2:256) that says, “There is no compulsion regarding Deen”, the following provides the proper message and perspective for this verse.

Anyone who sincerely reflects on the functioning of this universe finds that everything is bound by the laws of nature that are all being consistently followed without any exception or deviation. These laws of nature are the commands of Allaah that have been pre-programmed in the nature of everything from a sub-atomic particle to the greatest galaxy. In addition, every living thing has also been pre-programmed through instincts. They are all forced to follow their natural behaviour consistently and perfectly because of their being pre-programmed though laws of nature and instincts. The reason we are able to utilize those creations of Allaah SWT for our benefit is because of their consistency in their functions and behaviour thus programmed in their nature. In fact, it is this pre-programmed behaviour of the universe that sustains life on the earth; maintains the ecology in a state of balance and equilibrium; and makes all natural systems function harmoniously. Thus, we can say that the laws of nature and instincts are commands of Allaah which are obeyed by all creations and it results in balance, equilibrium and sustainability of the universe. In Islamic terminology we can say that the whole universe follows Islam (Submission) and is Muslim (Obedient) to Allaah because it has been pre-programmed to be that way through laws of nature and instincts promulgated by Allaah SWT. The fruit of Islam is peace, harmony and justice.

However, in addition to their being bound by the laws of nature and instincts, Allaah decided to give human beings free will and freedom to make choices and means to execute those choices. Because freedom can be used properly or abused, while giving people freedom to act, Allaah also prescribed Islam for them so that they can establish a just, peaceful, caring and loving society voluntarily while exercising their freedom of choice. This has been stated in the Qur-aan as follows:
Is it then other than Allaah's Deen{footnote}Allaah’s Deen means a lifestyle paradigm and system mandated by Allaah

{/footnote} that they seek while everything else in the universe submits to Him as a Muslim, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him shall they be returned?

Aali-‘Imraan 3:83

Although Allaah could have forced all people to become Muslim by pre-programming them like He did all other creatures in the universe, that is not what He wanted. He wanted to give people the opportunity to prove themselves if they voluntarily choose to submit to the Creator through Islam and as a result establish peace, justice and goodness on the earth or if they opt to rebel by following non-Islamic ways (ways of Taaghoot) and thus spreading injustice, exploitation, waste, animosity, hatred and bloodshed in the world. The following verse describes the decision of Allaah of not using His authority and power to force people to follow Islam, but rather let them use their intellect to come voluntarily to Islam:
There is no compulsion regarding Deen. The reality is that the right way has become distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Taaghoot and believes in Allaah, he indeed has grasped the most trustworthy handle that never breaks. And Allaah is Hearing, Knowing. Al-Baqarah 2:256

Now that Allaah SWT has not compelled people through pre-programming to live by the Deen of Islam, it is up to people to use their common sense and rational power to believe in Allaah and thus benefit from the strong support of the truth and Allaah’s guidance that will lead them to the eternal success without breaking. If people choose not to believe in the realities about Allaah, they will not be forced because that will defeat the purpose for which they have been given freedom by Allaah. That is a simple, straightforward message of this verse.

Some people take this verse out of context and misinterpret it to mean that the rules of Islam cannot be enforced. They think that if a person claims to be a Muslim but violates the teachings of Islam, he should not be pressured to follow them. Nothing can be more ridiculous than this claim.

The fact that Allaah does not force people to become Muslims does not mean that those who choose to become Muslims should not be expected to follow its rules and regulations. Those who voluntarily accept Islam must follow its teachings or stop claiming to be Muslims. This is simple and straightforward logic. People are free to join or not to join an army. But once they join, they have no choice but to strictly follow the rules and commands. If they violate those rules, they will be punished and forced to obey. People are free to join or not to join a law school or medical college, but if they decide to join they must follow the curriculum and all other regulations to qualify and practice their profession. They cannot be allowed to do whatever they want. The same way, Allaah does not want to compel anyone to become a Muslim, but if one does become a Muslim, he has no choice but to live by its rules and practices.

This freedom is so important that Allaah SWT wants people to think clearly and rationally before calling themselves Muslims or converting to Islam. As such, Islam is the only religion that abhors blind faith. It wants people to have a rational faith that makes sense to them and that their intellect is fully satisfied with. Even those born in Muslim homes must make a conscious choice when they come of age. Before coming of age, they are not accountable. But once they come of age and make a conscious choice to accept Islam as their way of life, that is when they are held accountable for their deeds.

Allaah wants people to take their time, think hard and not accept Islam until it makes sense to them. However, once a decision is made on the basis of a rational thought process and a person declares to be a Muslim, there is no going back. In Islam, faith is a serious matter. One does not change it as a person changes clothes. One cannot play games with it. No one is forced to become a Muslim, but once he does, he is subject to the Islamic law including that about apostasy. This is crucial considering that many enemies of Islam played games with it to discredit it. These games were alluded to in the following verse:
A faction from the People of the Book say: “Believe in the morning what is sent down to the believers, then reject it at the end of the day; perhaps they go back on their religion. Aali-‘Imraan 3:72

This refers to a game that was played by the Jews of Madeenah to discredit the Prophet and Islam. They prepared a corpse of volunteers who would come to the Prophet, pretend to accept Islam and announce their acceptance so that it was well known. Then later on, they would renounce it, quoting some pre-determined excuses and accusations on the Prophet and Islam. The Jews could play this game more effectively than others because they were already known in the society for their knowledge of the Book and God. The purpose of this game was that it gave them an opportunity to get to know the fresh new Muslims who did not have a chance to properly understand Islam and get to know the Prophet, and then encourage them to renounce Islam by creating doubts in their minds. It also gave them ammunition to discourage anyone who was contemplating to become Muslim from accepting Islam by pointing out their own disappointments.

Considering these devious plans of the enemies of Islam, the Prophet made it a law that turning back from Islam should be treated as an act of treason -- a capital crime. Although he did not have to use it, it prevented the games of the enemies. As well, it ensured that only the sincere people who had done their homework and were fully convinced of the truth of Islam converted to Islam.

This law is still valid. It is an Islamic law applicable to those who have taken an oath accepting the whole Islam by reciting Shahaadah. It does not in any way contravene the verse about no compulsion regarding Deen. The verse, as shown in the previous paragraphs, is about people’s accepting of faith. It does not prohibit the application of Islamic laws on those who took an oath to that effect through Shahaadah. The law about apostasy is not overruled by this verse. All those Muslims who are quoting it to prove otherwise are misquoting a verse of the Qur-aan -- improperly and without relevance.

As far as the recent case in Afghanistan is concerned, it should be discussed in the light of many other factors that are relevant to the current state of the affairs of the Ummah and the specific circumstances of the case, instead of being apologetic about a legitimate law or quoting a verse out of context.

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