Question from an atheist about Compulsion in Religion?

Question from an atheist about Compulsion in Religion?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Refuting the false superficial imagination of contradictions between Quranic verse 2:256 other Qur’anic verse 9:3 and hadith ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.


First let us quote properly all concerned verses and hadith before we delve into the detailed answer.

Here is how to reconcile the apostasy ruling with the hadith with these verses 2:256 and verse 9:3: –  

“Let there be no compulsion in religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood. So whoever renounces false gods and believes in Allah has certainly grasped the firmest, unfailing hand-hold. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”

Surah Al-Baqarah=chapter the Cow (2:256)

“A declaration from Allah and His Messenger ˹is made˺ to all people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger are free of the polytheists. So, if you ˹pagans˺ repent, it will be better for you. But if you turn away, then know that you will have no escape from Allah. And give good news ˹O Prophet˺ to the disbelievers of a painful punishment.”

 Surah At-Tawbah=Chapter the Repentance (9:3)

This Quranic verse is very explicit in that no one should be compelled in regards to his belief. Yet, Vast majority of Muslim scholars today espouse the ruling that apostates are to be put to death and cite this hadith:

Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.'” (Sahih)

Sunan Al-Nasai

The reconciliation is that one is a general ruling (عموم), while the other is about a specific case (خصوص), i.e., an exception.

A true contradiction would have existed if:

·        The hadith too had a generic scope, e.g., if it said “kill every non-Muslim” OR

·        The verse too had a specific scope, and the specified subject was the same group e.g., if it said, “let there be no compulsion for apostates.”

In the absence of the above, both laws supplement each other, and both are applied: people are not compelled to accept Islam, but those who leave Islam are compelled to return.

How does one reconcile between the Quranic verses and this hadith?

There are two different things here. Firstly, let me begin asking one question:-

“What is the punishment for treason in most countries?”

First Example:

In most countries (almost all) the punishment for treason is death. This would be for spying, attacking one’s own country etc. This applies all the more on the military at any time, even due peace periods.

In the time of the Prophet peace be upon him most people we drafted in the army. There is a Quranic verse that clearly frowns upon people that do not go for fighting along with the Prophet peace be upon him.

“O believers! What is the matter with you that when you are asked to march forth in the cause of Allah, you cling firmly to ˹your˺ land?1 Do you prefer the life of this world over the Hereafter? The enjoyment of this worldly life is insignificant compared to that of the Hereafter. If you do not march forth, He will afflict you with a painful torment and replace you with other people. You are not harming Him in the least. And Allah is Most Capable of everything.”

Surah At-Tawbah=Chapter the Repentance (9:38-39)

So, let us assume, the Prophet peace be upon him were to go to war and a person learns all the plans/ battle tactics and then goes and joins the disbelievers. This would amount to treason. Deserting the Prophet peace be upon him is apostasy.

This strict punishment also prevents a disbeliever from coming to the Prophet peace be upon him accepting Islam just to spy on the Muslims.

If you are not happy with the above example of punishment for treason is death if you are in an army etc. I will give you another example.

Second Example:

If you are conservative respectable father and with your wife you have many sons, obviously any sons born as a result of your relationship with your wife are your sons and your sons did not choose you as a father or your wife as a mum. Like a boy born to be Muslim family he becomes a Muslim. 

Imagine ONE of your sons start to say that he is not acknowledging you or his mum as his biological parents, refuse to respect both of you and start to call both of you illegitimate parents and prostitutes and start to spread rumors about you and your wife as prostitutes within the family and community. 

That rumors results in making many neighbors, and family friends to show up in front of your door asking to have free or even sex for a fee with you and your wife?

As a father what would you do to your son if you catch him? I will leave the answer for you. Imagine if a Muslim was born to a Muslim family and he denounce Islam and start to lie about Islam and Muslims, what Muslim should do about him if they catch him? Well in Islam we are saying If anyone wants to leave Islam AND he goes PUBLIC about it we give them the chance to repent otherwise we have punishment for that IF you go PUBLIC which means you are inciting HOSTILITY +HATRED+TREASON against Islam.

But if you want to leave Islam and NOT go public and mind your OWN Business and NOT inciting HATRED+HOSTLITY+TREASON, no Muslim is going to care about you since you are minding your own Business.

Third Example:

Nowadays in MOST Western countries that have legalised Gay marriage, they have made laws to CRIMINALISE straight people even parents from telling their kids to not be gays.

Now the evidence…

Evidence 1: Hadith Classification

Most of these hadiths are classified in the “Books of Fighting.”

Evidence 2: A more elaborate hadith

See the following hadith which elaborates more.

It was narrated from ‘Aishah that:

The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: “It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim except in three cases: An adulterer who had been married, who should be stoned to death; a man who killed another man intentionally, who should be killed; and a man who left Islam and waged war against Allah, the Might and Sublime, and His Messenger, who should be killed, or crucified, or banished from the land.” [Nasai Vol. 5, Book 1, Hadith 4053]

Evidence 3: Punishments to hypocrites who rejected Islam.

There is no evidence of these punishments being given to hypocrites among Muslims. Those hypocrites who were simply not practicing or were practicing being seen among people. If you read full of Surah 63 Munafiqeen=Hypocrites. It talks about people who accepted and rejected.

That is because they believed, then they rejected Faith: So, a seal was set on their hearts: therefore, they understand not. [Quran 63:3]

And in the same surah ahead after they reject, they went around telling people not to give money to the Prophet’s peace be upon him cause.

They are the ones who say, “Spend nothing on those who are with Allah’s Messenger, to the end that they may disperse (and quit Medina).” But to Allah belong the treasures of the heavens and the earth; but the Hypocrites understand not. [Quran 63:7]

So, they changed from belief to disbelief, but the fact that they had the opportunity to go around telling people not to give money to the Prophet’s (pbuh) cause implies that the same punishment did not apply to them.

So, based on all the above “death for apostasy” applies when there is a trace of treason involved. And among the exceptions is apostasy.

The evidence for apostasy is probably too broad to cover here, but in short:

·There are narrations to validate this from several Sahabah=Companions of the Prophet through various chains of transmission, including Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Ayesha, Abdullah ibn Masud, Ibn Abbas, Muadh ibn Jabal, Khalid bin Walid, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Jabir ibn Abd Allah etc. It is not an anomalous and singular narration as is sometimes depicted to be.

· There is Ijmah (consensus agreement between vast majority of Muslim Scholars) of the Muslim community on the issue. No orthodox or heterodox group has historically disputed this, except in the recent past. Opposing the view and actions of generations of Muslim caliphs and scholars would be following other than the way of the believers [4:115]

To clarify the following verse for the person asking, I advise them to READ the verse VERY carefully specially the bold words and read my below comment underneath the verse as well: –

“A DECLARATION from Allah and His Messenger ˹is made˺ to all people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger are free of the polytheists. So, if you ˹pagans˺ repent, it will be better for you. But if you turn away, then know that you will have no escape from Allah. And give GOOD NEWS ˹O Prophet˺ to the disbelievers of a painful punishment.”

 Surah At-Tawbah=Chapter the Repentance (9:3)

If you read the verse VERY carefully especially the bold words are Declaration= Verbal Statement, give good news and NOT kill them But RESPOND to them by force IF they attack Islam or Muslims, regarding the painful punishment it is MANILY on the day of judgment if they die as a disbeliever.

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Allah knows Best.

Prepared by Mohamad Mostafa Nassar

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Arrogance is not only a sign of insecurity, but also a sign of immaturity. Mature and fully realised persons can get their points across, even emphatically without demeaning or intimidating others.