Khalid Zaheer
“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i
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Dealing with an apostate

Question:
If a muslim becomes an atheist what is to be done? I had an argument with my brother regarding this. He argued that muslims are supposed to fight against them, or rather kill them. He based his argument on the fact that when some people refused to pay Zakat after the Prophet's death, one of the Khalifas fought a jihad against them. By not paying the Zakat they had broken only one tenet of Islam, so those who become atheists should be fought against and killed. I argued that since Islam teaches tolerance towards different beliefs, it would be better to recite the Qur'an to them and leave them alone because it really is between them and Allah. Please comment.

Response:
The popular Muslim understanding is that an apostate -- the one who renounces Islam after being a Muslim -- should be killed. This understanding is based on a hadith which says much the same thing. However the Qur'an mentions quite clearly that there can only two reasons why an individual's life could be taken: If he is a killer of another human or if he is guilty of creating disorder in the society (5:32). Apostasy doesn't come under either of the categories. The hadith will thus have to be understood in the light of the Qur'an. We know from the Qur'an that the people of Quraish and the other immediate addressees of the message of the prophet, Allah's mercy be on him, were faced with a clear verdict from God Almighty: To believe or to perish even in this world. It seems that the hadith is describing the application of the same law, that is if from amongst these immediate addressees of the prophet a person believes and then disbelieves, he too deserves to be kiled. This hadith would in that case not be applicable to the apostates of the later times.

My own experience is that many of the young people of our times get influenced by atheism at some stage. In most of the cases, thankfully, it is a temporary phase. It happens because of three reasons: i) It is sometimes considered fashionable to be an atheist; ii) some people react to the attitude of religious people by declaring themselves atheists; and iii) atheism allows an individual to satisfy his desires without being bothered by the feeling that God is going to punish him. The arguments for atheism, which are primarily negative in nature and quite hollow in logic, are presented to satisfy oneself about a decision that is taken on other than intellectual grounds. The solution doesn't lie in reacting sharply to the unfortunate victims of this disease. That is only going to add to their aversion towards religion. They need to be prayed for and shown the right attitude to enable them to rediscover the God Who is right there within their hearts.

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