The Christian Broadcasting Network


What is the Law of Apostacy?

"Apostasy" is not a word we hear much today. What, in fact, does it mean? According to Webster, an apostate is one who forsakes his religion, creed, or political party for another. In our pluralistic society, the word smacks of bigotry and judgmentalism, and conflicts with the ideals of multi-culturalism, human rights, religious freedom, and the like. In the church as well, we tend to shy away from the word, even though we do not lack for those who are "apostate" for all intents and purposes.

In Islam, by contrast, the word is still in vogue. Islam claims to be din wa-dawla, that is, both religion and state, and apostasy therefore has political overtones. A non-Muslim is free to accept or reject Islam, but a Muslim is NOT free to forsake Islam; that is a crime equivalent to sedition, and punishable by law. In classical Islamic Law, the man loses all civil rights, his marriage is annulled, he is put to death unless he recants within a specified time (the woman is imprisoned until she recants), his body may not be buried in a Muslim cemetery, the reward of his good deeds is lost, and he is doomed to eternal hell-fire. When the Muslim World was ruled by colonial powers, however, Islamic Law more or less fell into disuse and the Law of Apostasy was infrequently applied.

What about today, now that the Muslim world is once again politically independent? Most Muslim countries have adopted more or less Western-style constitutions, which, whether from UN or other Western influence, often include specific guarantees of religious liberty. Is then the criminalization of apostasy a thing of the past? Far from it! Earlier this year, a Palestinian Christian jurist who teaches Law in Europe wrote an article which shows among other things that, despite the constitutional guarantees, the Law of Apostasy is still very much in effect.

A country's penal code, for example, may say nothing of a penalty for apostasy, but the Law of Apostasy is still applied. In Islamic Law, any Muslim may drag an apostate into court, and if nothing is done, some legal authorities permit him to take the Law into his own hands to execute sentence. Muslim governments, under increasing pressure from radical Islam, are often loathe to bring such killers to justice. Thus, one way or another, people are increasingly being killed for apostasy. Not only is the martyrdom of Christians of Muslim background on the rise, but the definition of apostasy is being stretched to include anything radical Muslims consider an attack on Islam, whether or not the person has embraced another religion. Many a Muslim thinker has been assassinated for "apostasy" because he displeased some radical Muslim group.

What does the New Testament say about apostasy? Interestingly, the word occurs only in Acts 21:21 and 2 Thess. 2:3, where it is translated "turning away" and "rebellion." Nowhere is it considered a crime punishable by law for the simple reason that Jesus made the realms of God and of Caesar separate. Now there was a truly revolutionary idea.

Arab World Ministries (Source)


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