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Preserving The Freedom For Faith: Reevaluating the Politics of Compulsion

Asalamu alaykum,

This is an interesting article written by a dear friend of mine Sh. Abdullah bin Hamid Ali. I would encouarge all to read it, think and comment.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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  • Assalaamualaikum,
    I thought Sk Abdullah makes a very compelling case that stays true to Islam's nature, and what the Prophet pbuh practised in terms of giving as much leash to difficult people as reasonably possible, with the hope that they would become sincere Muslims in the future.
    It would have been informative and more objective to have a similar scholarly document that speaks for the other side. I do not know if the scholars who prescribe death as the punishent for apostasy use other ahaadith in light of those ahaadith's context to justify their ruling. Such information would serve as a counterbalance for the discussion.
    However, Sk Abdullah's thesis is more appealing especially when it offers the apostates/deviants the opportunity to be amongst the righteous and Inshallah, repent, so long as they do not try to subvert the community openly. Being tolerant (within the limits the thesis explains) is far more effective in reforming than punishment is, and this seems to be closer to the Islamic way of dealing with people, IMHO.

  • Wa alaykum as-salam.

    Jazakh-Allah khair, Imam Suhaib Webb.

    I have grappled with this issue, and I have come to the conclusion that it goes against the Quran to compel ANYONE to believe in Islam. Anyone would includes apostates, since they are–after all–people. Had Allah [swt] wanted them to be believers, then He would have made them believe. We cannot force what Allah [swt] did not do.

    I will read the article and comment, insha-Allah.

    Fi aman Allah

  • On a completely unrelated note: I was thinking about it, and I think Imam Suhaib Webb should “abandon” the name “Suhaib” and go back to William Webb. It's much more catchy!

    More importantly, once Imam Suhaib returns from Egypt, he will be a daiee in America; he is as American as they get. We need Non-Muslims to know that we are indigenous. The Sahabah did not change their names when they converted to Islam, unless those names had a bad meaning. “William” means: will, determined, resolute. Very good meaning. I know Imam Suhaib would already know that the Sahabah did not change their names, but I am thinking that maybe he changed his name when he converted to Islam long time ago, and at that time he may not have known.

    Anyways, Imam Suhaib may have other personal reasons for wanting to stick with the name “Suhaib”, but I just wanted to put this out there. I know it's not the topic of this post, but don't know where else to post it. (Speaking of which, the blog should have an open thread like MM has one!)

    Fi aman Allah,

  • Salam

    I'd actually like to get Imam Suhaib's comments on this. For me, this is one of the most difficult issues I face in dawah.

  • A brother challenged me by asking where in the Quran it says it is wrong to do what Allah [swt] did not do. Here is the relevant verse:

    “If your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers?” (Quran, 10:99)

    Tafseer al-Jalalayn says about verse 10:99:

    “And if your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Would you then compel people, to do what God did not will that they do, until they are believers? No!”

  • Usually we edit such comments because of the obvious ignorance involved. However, we started realizing that it was this same brother's comment that we kept editing. I'm saddened by such comments and fail to see how someone claiming to be a salafi could exhibit such jahili behavior. Nor how someone who talks so hard, doesn't even have the guts to put is name up there and face Sh. Abdullah like a man. Anyone interested in this person's identity need only search one or more of the popular forums. Self righteousness is, at times, a greater trial than fisq.


  • Brother Suhaib,

    Why are you referring to people to articles that promote a modernistic view? Who from the classical scholars said what Abdullah Ali said?

  • Is this another fruit of fiqh of 'tayseer'. Or, fruit of fiqh of minorities? I mean this really is becoming like a slippery slope…slowly everything will end up being 'relative' through such machinations. I skimmed through it, and admittedly the article actually makes a very cogent argument. But I see the following problems with it:

    a) Ustadh Abdullah chooses to argue about Islam and apostacy in a paradigm which is alien to 'islam', which of course is a direct effect of 'fiqh of minorities' becoming the dominant jurisprudential framework.

    b) One could of course argue that circumstances are now different, but there is a fundamental problem with this argument: should we settle for a situation which would put us in such circumstances where we have to 'rethink' parts of shari'ah that have never been a matter of 'question' through out the history? If so, then should it be 'definite' or 'temporary'. If it's the former, and that is the understanding I get, then this is where I strongly disagree- we are opening the gates to undermining shar'iah just because circumstances require it. If only Ustadh Abdullah were to hint that this is only a temporary response or that this only my opinion which doesn't hold much weight, then his view would have been more acceptable. But to say this is the way forward, then it only leads to 'end of shari'ah'.

    c) With all due respect, I don't believe and neither should anyone else that Ustadh 'Abdullah has the authority to put 1400 years of scholarship on the pedestal and 'claim' that they made a mistake on this issue and “I'm right”.

    Nonetheless, a thought provoking read. Jzakum Allahu khairan.

  • Asalamualaikum wrt wb,

    The punishment for apostasy in Islam is not for lack of belief, if that were the case than the hypocrites and disbelievers would also be punished. Rather, it is for creating Fitnah and distortion in the moral fabric of society and causing danger to the stability of the Islamic government. All legal systems have a right to protect themselves. See Dr. Buti's book on Jihad in Islam.

    And Allah knows best.

  • Asalamu alaykum,


    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Are you suggesting that scholars turn their back on fiqh al-taysir and move towards fiqh al-t'asir? I'm not sure I understand that logic as it goes against, what many scholars refer to as the “spirit” of Sha'riah? Allah says, “Allah intends ease for you; and He does not intend hardship for you” and “Allah want's to lift the burden from you.” Also, the authentic statement of the Prophet [sa], “The religion is ease.” Certainly we should pay heed to the words of al-Shattibi who stated, “The mufti treats the questioner like a doctor treats the sick. He does not neglect him, nor does he over medicate him… he carries in between towards balance.”

    It was al-Thawri who said that ease and dispensation are from the faqih and burdening and hardship are the crafts of the common man

    I know this what we are taught in the Dar al-Ifta program, what I was trained upon in Masjid al-Azhar with Mufti Muhammad Sad and learned from a host of other great teachers such as Sh. Ahmed Taha al-Rayan. Recently, in our Usol al-Fiqh class, we covered the axiom, “Ease take precedence in ifta.”

    Perhaps you are alluding to by those statements of those who do not follow the proper methodology, nor are qualified to engage the law. If that is so, then we are in agreement.


  • Asalamu alaykum,

    I'm not sure i gather what is meant by “modernist” perhaps you could expound on it? Sh. Abdullah was trained in the college of Shari'ah in Qayrawin. In fact, he was the first American to graduate from there. Let's move beyond simple labels akhi and offer some objective advice.

  • Wa alaykum as-salam, Ustadh Abdullah.

    Thank you very much for your input. I wait anxiously for your article on Ijma, since I think that is the key to the entire debate. Since the Quran is definitely on our side on this issue (i.e. freedom of religion)–and because the hadeeths have in alternate narrations the mention of declaring war on Allah and His Messenger–our opponents (for lack of a better term) in this debate are therefore left to rely on Ijma as their trump card. So your article on this would be very interesting.

    I also think that the opponents (again, for lack of a better term) rely on the fact that so many thousands and thousands of scholars supposedly said the same thing. But the truth is that most of them were simply upholding the opinion of those before them, without doing INDEPENDENT Ijtihad. As you mentioned, the need to do INDEPENDENT ijtihad on the issue only arise very recently. Prior to that, people were just following what those before them said, so that's why “thousands” say the same thing. Also, their belief in ijma would make it impossible for them to give a counter-opinion to what is already established as inerrant.

    Jazakh-Allah khair.

    Fi aman Allah,

  • Brother Suhaib, I think you know what I mean by “modernist”. If Abdullah bin Hamid (who is an enemy of Salafis, wow what a dear friend of yours) can cite for us classical scholars (providing authentic citations and references) who say that only apostates who fight against the Muslims are to be killed then great. But if we see that we have no record of any respected classical scholar agreeing with him, then why on earth should we go with this modern view?

    It's not like the issue of apostasy is a modern issue requiring modern ijtihaad (like let's say stocks and shares), rather it has been something discussed for over a millenium. No new evidence has popped up. Hence, if the classical scholars have agreed on this issue why are modernists coming up and challenging it?

    I suggest Abdullah bin Hamid challenges simple people like Bassam Zawadi who demolished this argument in 5 very simple five steps before he could even think of challenging real scholars.

    Kind Regards,

    Abu Musa Al Romani

  • lol @ “Kind Regards” . What exactly was kind about your post?

    It is truly not possible for the opponents on this issue to refrain from insults, i.e. “you modernist!”

  • Asalamu alaykum,

    While Sh. Abdullah and myself differ on a host of issues, we were blessed to meet face to face, sit, talk and get human. From that day, I knew that he was not the enemy of the salafs [are you referring to the same one's who have declared their hatred for people like Sh. Abdullah talk, dress and act like Najidis, or are your referring to the method of the salaf which is free from Saudi undertones] and agreed to differ, but maintain our brotherhood.

    Western Muslims are going to have to learn to quit throwing tantrums every time someone doesn't agree with them. Again, accusations of modernist leanings don't hold water in the science of Jarh wa t'adil. As you know better than me akhi, there is no Jarh based on one's madhab. Scholars utilized such principles in order to encourage a deeper more respective set of constructs for criticizing others. Calling each other names and throwing sand at each other is not going to get us far. I have not seen anything in the Usol that says the scholars of our age are binded by Mid evil legal articulations. I certainly respect your right to criticize Sh. Abdullah's arguments, but fail to see the benefit of taking shots at him and going under the belt to make a point.


  • Salaam alaykum Shaykh Abdullaah,

    First, jazakallaahu khayran for your contribution to this discussion, it is greatly appreciated, and may Allah subhaana wa ta'aala bless you with more knowledge and the highest level of Paradise. Aameen.

    There's much to read (and re-read) and reflect upon in your article, and I will do so in the coming days, insha'Allah. I had a question about some points made, and was looking for further clarification. The article states the following:

    “Hanafis even go further to uphold the view that even though a male apostate is to be killed, a woman apostate is never to be killed.11 This is also the view expressed in the jurisprudence of Imam Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq upheld in the Shiite Twelver tradition. If this is so, it would mean that according to these two schools apostasy is not a general category that is applicable to everyone. This suggests that there is some other consideration that dictates this gender distinction, which I argue is that men who defect to the opposing armies pose a greater danger to the national security of an Islamic polity. Interestingly, Ibn Rushd captions one section in a chapter dedicated to apostasy with the question, “What is to be done with the apostate if seized before he wages war?” He also places the discussion of apostasy under the chapter related to punishments for organized bandits (hiraba), which implies a connection between rebellion and apostasy”

    References 11 and 13 are both from Bidaayat an Mujtahid by Ibn Rushd. I reviewed further and read the following in the translation of the book by Imran Ahsan Nyazee Khan, which states the following:


    An apostate, if taken captive before he declares war, is to be executed by agreement in the case of a man, because of the words of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him), “Slay those who change their din”. They disagreed about the execution of a woman and whether she is required to repent before execution. The majority said that a woman (apostate) is to be executed. Abu Hanifa said that a woman is not to be executed and compared her to an originally non-believing woman. The majority relied upon the general meaning implied (in the tradition). One group held the deviant opinion saying that she is to be executed even if she reverts to Islam.

    Asking the apostate to repent was stipulated by Maalik as a condition prior to his execution, on the basis of what is related from 'Umar. One group of jurists said his repentance was not acceptable.

    If the apostate becomes a muharib first, then an apostate, he is to be executed because of hiraba, and is not required to repent, whether his hiraba occurs in the Muslim territory or later when he crosses over to the dar al harb, except when he becomes Muslim again.

    When the apostate muharib converts to Islam after he is captured, or before it, they differ about his hukm. If his hiraba has occurred in the dar al-harb, then, according to Malik, his situation is like that of any harbi who converts to Islam, he is not held liable for what he did during his apostasy.

    If his hiraba has occurred in the dar al-Islam, then his conversion to Islam absolves him of the liability to the hukm of hiraba only and his hukm is like that of an apostate for the offenses committed by him during his apostasy in the dar al-Islam prior to conversion to Islam.

    The disciples of Malik, however, differed in this with some, who took into account the day of offense, saying that his hukm is the hukm of the apostate, while others, who took into the time of the hukm, said that his hukm is like that of a Muslim.

    They disagreed within this topic about the hukm of the magician, with Malik saying that he is to be executed as a disbeliever, while others said that he is not to be executed. The principle is that he is not executed unless he becomes an apostate.


    The discussion above in Bidayat an-Mujtahid doesn't seem to corroborate what was stated in the paper – Ibn Rushd's discussion appears to cover an apostate and an apostate who is also a muharib, and how he should be dealt with due to this “dual status”, if you will, and not because, as the paper states, to imply a connection between rebellion and apostasy. the discussion seems to indicate the polar opposite – that there is no connection between the two except to decide how to deal with a person who either possesses both statuses. In fact, the very first sentence in the discussion clearly states if he declares apostasy before declaring war, he is to be executed as an apostate, and later states if he becomes a muharib first, then an apostate, he is to be killed for being a muharib.

    I also have the same question related to the implication that the hanafi school (didn't research the jafari school) – in bidayat an-mujtahid, the only reason we see that hanafis differed was because they were compared to nonbelievers in some sense, so with this reason explicitly stated in the reference provided, how can one then conclude a connection the school saw some connection between apostates and defecting to enemy armies.

    Given the references provided, I am not able to see the conclusions offered – further clarification would be greatly appreciated.


  • As Salamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah, Brother Siraj

    Before starting, I'd like to say to everyone that since I do not regularly blog on topics like this one in particular realizing how much time can be wasted for going tit for tat, everyone needs to know that I do not have regular plans to weigh in on this matter. Those who feel convinced by my argument, alhamdulillah. Those who don't, that's fine with me too.

    After that, as for your inquiries, Brother Siraj, to understand how this topic is relevant to what I stated in my paper, you must understand firstly that the popular understand among Muslims is that execution is a corporal penalty (hadd) for the crime of apostasy, when in fact most scholars do not classify it as such. Otherwise, we would see apostasy mentioned in the books of fiqh under the chapter of the hudud. As for Ibn Rushd's work, the very fact he chose not to discuss apostasy under the chapter of the hudud, but under the chapter of hirabah highlights this exact point. This implies in itself that brigandage (hirabah) is closely connected with the ruling. He discussed it in Kitab al-Hirabah under the section entitled Hukm al-Murtadd (the ruling of the apostate).

    After that he begins with the section entitled, “What is to be done with the apostate if he is seized before he wages war?” Perhaps the reason you could not see the connection as I do is that the translator you quote from gives a translation that I consider to be incorrect. For instance, your translation says,

    “If the apostate becomes a muharib first, then an apostate, he is to be executed because of hiraba, and is not required to repent, whether his hiraba occurs in the Muslim territory or later when he crosses over to the dar al harb, except when he becomes Muslim again.”

    The part that says, “If the apostate becomes a muharib first, then an apostate” in the Arabic says, (wa amma idha haraba al-murtaddu thumma zuhira 'alayhi) should be translated as “As for when the apostate wages war and is later captured…” The translation you quote from is misleading, since it never says that he becomes an apostate first and then becomes a muharib. Furthermore, it makes no sense to say afterwards, “… then an apostate…” because if he is already an apostate, how can he become an apostate again?

    Another point about the passage is that it says, “…and is not required to repent.” This is also a mistranslation, because according to the scholars the apostate is always required to repent. Rather, the correct translation should be “…he is not asked to repent.” That is because he is guilty of hirabah, which is a crime punishable by law regardless of a person's return to Islam.

    As for the matter of the Hanafis, I never said that the Hanafis suggest that the reason a distinction is made between a man and a woman is that a man's defection poses a greater threat to the national security. This is completely my thesis and justification.

    In other words, what I am saying is that Imam Abu Hanifa made this distinction. His students transmitted this distinction to us. The reason his students give for his view was that he was using another hadith “…Do not kill a woman or a child…” to specify the generality of the hadith, “Kill anyone who changes his religion.” I argue that it is within reason to conclude that the scholars of the traditional schools, who have historically spent considerable effort to validate the views of their Imams by any argument plausible, have in fact simply transmitted to us views of their predecessors without serious consideration of other factors that may have led to their Imams taking such views. It is established fact that the usul of the Imams were inferred and codified by their students and later scholars of their schools, not the Imams themselves. (See Muhammad Abu Zahra to get a better understanding of that). I argue that it is just as much a possibility that Imam Abu Hanifa being a champion of qiyas felt that men posed the danger that I expressed in my paper, which in fact led to his view that women should not be killed for apostasy. But, madhhab fanaticism and the tribal zeal to defend one's Imam has historically led to some ugly polemics known by any of those among us who has read the earlier works on usul and fiqh.

    Beyond that, I do thank you for your respectful inquiry,and hope that I have shed a little more light on my point here. The most important thing at the end of the day is to understand that this is not a matter that has been a point of Ijma' from the earliest of times even if most of our 'ulama have continued to transmit this to us from the earliest generations. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri's view is significant; just as we do need to consider what the ratio legis is for killing an apostate. If it is kufr, no kafir has the right to live. If it is something else, we need to define what that is. I have attempted to do so. Speaking about this matter also has no relationship to other matters of our penal code, and should not be understood as a suggestion that we should not uphold the punishment for illicit intercourse (fornication, adultery, sodomy, etc), theft, and other things. Those are public infractions with a considerable effect on public morality and the public order. Apostasy is a crime only against God, and only when it is coupled with rebellion against the state does it become a matter where execution should be considered by the governors of an Islamic polity. Atleast this is what I am arguing.

    If we want to simply regurgitate what has been handed down to us blindly without questioning the reasons for such things, I guess we also need to get back to calling for the re-institution of slavery, since all of our traditional books make mention of slave ownership and consider slaves to be in the same category as animals that one owns. We should also be saying that men are naturally more intelligent and better than women, since this is what the traditional scholars have said historically. Yeah, let's talk about that too.

    If we all really think about it and are sincere in our introspection, we will all find some area where we would be considered a “modernist.” Let's not be hypocrites. Let us judge ourselves before we judge others.

    Other than that, I doubt that I will have anything else more to say directly on this forum. I'll just say that you can continue to look for more works like this from me that challenge the popular paradigm.

    Was Salam

  • no need to attack my person brother…i was not comparing the Ustadh…rather I was saying his words were very similar to that of Irshad Manjis in that they both mentioned the “elite” and the “Mullahs”…..not to mention that the only reason I said what I said is in order to get more clarification so that type of comparison can not ever be made…for example the brother below who called Ustadh Abdullahs view as “modernist”….so you simply misunderstood my intention.

  • Jazakh-Allah khair, Ustadh Abdullah.

    I think this part was key:

    “If we all really think about it and are sincere in our introspection, we will all find some area where we would be considered a 'modernist.'”

    There is a difference between a person who is a modernist revisionist overall and the one who simply has one or two opinions that just happen to agree with the modernists. Who said that the modernists have to be wrong about EVERYTHING?

    The way I see it, there are three groups:

    1) Modernist-revisionists: They make canonical texts mean what they want them to mean, in order to please the kufaar. In other words, they come up with their views first, and THEN read the texts and make the texts conform to their own views.

    2) Blind traditionalist followers: They make the canonical texts mean what the classical scholars said about them. In other words, they read the views of the classical scholars first, and THEN read the texts and make the canonical texts conform to the views of the classical scholars.

    3) Truth-seekers: We read the texts and let the texts speak for themselves, no matter if it is angers the kufaar or if it does not conform to the classical scholars.

    Fi Aman Allah,

  • Walaykum as salaam Shaykh Abdullah,

    Jazakallah khayr for offering your clarification and insights, they're greatly appreciated, and I look forward to reading more of your research papers, insha'Allah.

    I had further questions, but I understand you'll be busy, so khayr, I'm happy with the time I received and greatly appreciate that as well.


  • “…so the type of comparison can not [sic] ever be made.”

    So it is a form of intellectual intimidation?

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