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Book Review
Apostasy doesn't carry death penalty in Islam
Reviewed by S Ubaidur Rahman

Book: Tabdili-e-Mazhab aur Islam
by Maulana Inayatullah Asad Subhani
Idara Ihya-e-Deen, Bilariya Ganj, Azamgarh (UP, India)
Pages: 108, Price Rs 30


Several myths have taken root in the Muslim society over the ages, and there have not been many efforts in the past to clear these doubts. Instead, there has been a sort of effort to strengthen these myths and misconceptions. These wrong interpretations of Islamic teachings have taken their toll on the Muslim society and have strengthened a misplaced perception that Islam is a symbol of obscurantism, does not tolerate and answers everything with sword.

And there is no bigger misconception-strengthened with misinterpretation of Islamic thoughts over the years-other than the belief that Islam doesn't tolerate apostasy. Ulama have tried to strengthen it through their emphasis and several leading Muslim reformists have failed to tackle the issue. This misconception has also presented Islam as a medieval and killer religion. Islam baiters have time and again tried to carry the point by pointing out that Islam orders the killing of a person if he reverts to other religion from Islam.

And there was none who could answer this widely held belief as well as put forth a convincing argument about the misinterpretation of Qur'anic teachings by ulama.

Maulana Inayatullah Subhani, author of acclaimed books like Muhammad-e-Arabi, Nuqush-e-Rah and Haqeeqat-e-Rajm is among rarest of rare people who have tried to go against the wind. In his latest book he alleviates all these doubts and answers such questions with great ease. Maulana, an authority on Qur'an in the country who has also recently published his commentary of Qur'an in Arabic, titled Al-Burhan Fi Nizamil Qur'an has always tried to take up issues of importance that have been neglected by the ulama so far. His book Haqeeqat-e-Rajm was widely criticized by the ulama as he had tried to clear doubts against the punishments prescribed by Islam for different crimes.

Tabdili-e-Mazhab Aur Islam has been written in such a captivating style, that it does not allow the curiosity of reader to wean away from the book. Written as conversation between several people who raise questions and the Maulana answers them, the book sufficiently removes doubts shrouding the question of the punishment of a person who deserts Islam. It is widely believed that Islam prescribes death penalty for a person who commits apostasy. 

Inayatullah Subhani says that neither Islam forces any person to embrace Islam nor it forces him to remain within its fold. He writes 'apostasy has been mentioned several times in Qur'an. It also describes the bad treatment that will be meted out for committing apostasy, but it never talks of punishment for the crime in this world.' Maulana mentions three ayaat (verses) from Qur'an on apostasy (Al-Baqara 217, Muhammad 25-27 and Al-Maida 54 )and then says that none of these ayaat prescribes any punishment for that though these ayaat pass strictures on the people who commit it. He mentions several other ayaat on the same issue and then concludes that none of these ayat prescribes either death penalty or any other punishment for apostasy in this world. He then adds that had there been some punishment in Islam for apostasy there was no reason as to why the issue was mentioned repeatedly in Qur'an but no punishment was prescribed.

Maulana says one hadith is mentioned in this regard. And its misinterpretation has caused all this to happen. The hadith, Man baddala Dinahu faqtuluh (kill him who changes his religion). 

Maulana says that this order has been made to look general and permanent, though it was said in a particular circumstances for a particular group. Maulana writes that this order was made to counter a scheme prepared by Jews of Madinah. They had planned that some of them embrace Islam for some time and then return to their old religion. Then some other people do the same. It was aimed to create restlessness among Muslims against their own leadership so that the strong Muslim unity should start crumbling. Maulana says that it was made clear in Qur'an in (Aal Imran 72-73).

Maulana writes that to counter this planning the Prophet (SAW) ordered his companions to act in such a manner. Despite this order lengthy investigations were made to ascertain that the case was true and the person concerned was given adequate time to explain before the punishment was carried out. 

Maulana Subhani says lack of clear grasp of Qur'an misguided even leading ulama. Otherwise it was not difficult to understand the hadith. Qur'anic teachings on the issue were not kept in mind.

He emphasizes that people who were awarded death penalty for reverting to other religions from Islam during either the time of the Prophet (SAW) or during the reign of his caliphs were not given the punishment for the crime of apostasy but for the fact that they were at war with Muslims and Islamic government. 

Maulana Subhani rues that punishment that was prescribed for certain people under special circumstances was made to look a general order. He says that it was the order for people who posed threat to Islamic state and became at war with Islam and not for any person who reverts to other religion.

The book is captivating and doesn't allow the reader to leave it till the last. Despite being on such a topic he has made it a point to keep it interesting till last. But as they say there is nothing perfect so is the case with it. The author or the editor in an enthusiasm to translate different words in English has made glaring mistakes in this respect. Even English words used in the book have been tried to be retranslated, giving it a bad look. That is all.

It is a perfect book on the issue and tackles an issue that was shrouding under suspicion and clears all doubts on the topic.

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