Saudi Islamic Scholars Debate Death Penalty for Ex-Muslims on TV

Saudi Arabian channel Rotana Khalijiah TV released a show where Saudi religious scholars discussed apostasy in Islam and its punishment.

Aired last March 2, the show presented sides from two Islamic scholars, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi and Abd Al-Rahman Abd Al-Karim.

Al-Ghamdi, the former head of the Mecca chapter of the Authority for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, argued that people are free to choose whether they will adhere to Islam and shouldn’t be forced to do so.

People who do not adhere to the Islamic faith are free to do so. They must not be coerced,” he said.

He also said the same thing regarding Muslims who left the religion. Apostasy is widely regarded as a hudud crime in many Muslim countries, where punishments under Islamic law are mandated and fixed by Allah as per Islam.

There are unambiguous verses in the Quran regarding their freedom to do so. Allah said [in the Quran:], 'There is no coercion in religion.” Al-Ghamdi said, citing the famous verse 256 of the second surah or chapter of the Quran.

This is an unambiguous verse, and it applies to an infidel before his conversion to Islam, as well as to people who converted and then became apostates. They are free to do so, as Allah made it clear in the verse, 'There is no coercion in religion,” he said, reiterating his previous argument.

"There isn't an explicit verse in the Quran saying that an apostate should be killed as a punishment for his apostasy." Al-Ghamdi concluded.

But Abd Al-Rahman Abd Al-Karim of the Saudi Fiqh Association has a different argument regarding the punishment for apostasy in Islam.

He claims that most Islamic schools of jurisprudence, such as the Shāfiʿī and Ḥanafī schools, agree that the death penalty should be the punishment for apostates of Islam. Abd Al-Karim also cited the Prophet Muhammad regarding apostasy.

"There has been consensus among Islamic jurisprudents about the punishment for apostasy. First of all, according to a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said: 'He who changes his religion — kill him,” Abd Al-Karim said, citing a hadith or saying attributed to the Prophet.

In addition, when some people renounced Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, [Caliph] Abu Bakr said: 'By Allah, I will kill those who renounced Allah's religion!' And indeed, he applied the [death] punishment in that case,” he also added.

Abd Al-Karim also said that punishments for crimes like apostasy are beyond question, adding that seven religious punishments are mentioned in the Quran, and anyone is free to doubt these punishments.

When the interviewer asked about the seven religious punishments in Quran, Abd Al-Karim mentioned “highway robbery, fornication, homosexuality, drinking alcohol, apostasy, murder, and theft.” He also said that the punishments for these crimes are mentioned in the Quran.

In 10 Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, apostasy or leaving Islam is punishable by death. In many other countries, converting a Muslim to a different religion is illegal, and apostates face social stigma and persecution frequently.

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