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Apostasy in the Bible and the Koran

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is entitled to freedom of religion. One may leave his religion and adopt another one or one may have no religion at all. One’s religious beliefs and practices are a matter of one’s own personal choice. Article 18 of this internationally accepted document says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

This concept of freedom of religion is found in the Koran as well as in the Bible. In the Koran, it says:

There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein. (Koran 2:256,257, Pickthall)


Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. Lo! We have prepared for disbelievers Fire. Its tent encloseth them. If they ask for showers, they will be showered with water like to molten lead which burneth the faces. Calamitous the drink and ill the resting-place! (Koran 18:30, Pickthall)

The Bible, likewise, permits one to choose whether he wants to worship and serve God or not. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses set before the children of Israel a choice. He told them that their choice had benefits or consequences depending on what they choose.

15 Behold, I have set before thee this day life and death, good and evil. 16 If thou wilt hearken to the commands of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His ordinances, and His judgments; then ye shall live, and shall be many in number, and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all the land into which thou goest to inherit it. 17 But if thy heart change, and thou wilt not hearken, and thou shalt go astray and worship other gods, and serve them, 18 I declare to you this day, that ye shall utterly perish, and ye shall by no means live long upon the land, into which ye go over Jordan to inherit it. 19 I call both heaven and earth to witness this day against you, I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: choose thou life, that thou and thy seed may live; 20 to love the Lord thy God, to hearken to His voice, and cleave to Him; for this is thy life, and the length of thy days, that thou shouldest dwell upon the land, which the Lord sware to thy fathers, Abraam, and Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, LXX)

Jesus, in the Gospels, never told His followers to coerce someone into accepting the Gospel. These were His instructions regarding those who rejected His teachings:

And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:14,15, NKJV)

Jesus basically told His disciples to leave them and stop talking to them. If they choose eternal damnation, that is their free choice to do so. In Revelation, it says that the Holy Spirit and the Church (the bride) invite people to eternal life, but the choice lies with “whosoever will” and is not a coerced decision. It is a free choice.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17, KJV)

However, there are those who leave the community of believers or who start practicing idolatry. There are instructions in the Old Testament regarding what to do to the idolaters. The punishment is stoning to death.

And if there should be found in any one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God gives thee, a man or a woman who shall do that which is evil before the Lord thy God, so as to transgress His covenant, and they should go and serve other gods, and worship them, the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which He commanded thee not to do, and it be told thee, and thou shalt have enquired diligently, and, behold, the thing really took place, this abomination has been done in Israel; then shalt thou bring out that man, or that woman, and ye shall stone them with stones, and they shall die. He shall die on the testimony of two or three witnesses; a man who is put to death shall not be put to death for one witness. And the hand of the witnesses shall be upon him among the first to put him to death, and the hand of the people at the last; so shalt thou remove the evil one from among yourselves. (Deut. 17:2-7, LXX)

One must realize that this type of punishment was already being practiced for certain offenses in ancient times. What God was doing was simply regulating the already existing practice of stoning to death. The witnesses were to be the first to stone the idolater. So, if anyone bore false witness regarding someone practicing idolatry, he would in effect be guilty of murder. If his witness was true, then he would not be guilty of murder. He would simply be performing his duty to God and the community of believers.

Idolatry, however, continued to be practiced by some ancient Israelites without any punishment being inflicted upon the idolaters by other members of the community. (See Judges 2:13; I Samuel 7:3,4; II Chronicles 15:8.)

In the Gospels, we receive the commandment from Jesus not to pass judgment on others.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1,2, NKJV)

He told the Jews who wanted to stone a woman for adultery to let the one without sin cast the first stone.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7, NKJV)

Both in the Old and New Testaments there is the teaching that everyone is guilty of sin.

For there is not a man who will not sin. (I Kings 8:46, LXX)

For there is not a righteous man in the earth, who will do good, and not sin. (Ecclesiastes 7:21, LXX)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23, NKJV)

Even in the Koran, it says that we would all be guilty before God if it were not for His mercy. If God were not patient and forbearing towards us, no one on earth would be left alive.

If Allah were to take mankind to task for their wrong-doing, He would not leave hereon a living creature, but He reprieveth them to an appointed term, and when their term cometh they cannot put (it) off an hour nor (yet) advance (it). (Koran 16:61, Pickthall)

The sin of idolatry includes the sin of greed or covetousness. St. Paul calls a covetous man an idolater.

For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5, NKJV)

Sins can be committed in one’s heart as well as outwardly. Even the Koran teaches this.

Forsake the outward sin, and the inward; surely the earners of sin shall be recompensed for what they have earned. (Koran 6:120, Arberry)

Therefore, since we all sin whether within our hearts or in deeds and words, no one is qualified to pass judgment on someone else and no one is qualified to cast the first stone at an idolater.

The practice of stoning people to death was abrogated by Jesus. (See John 8:7; Koran 2:106.)

In the New Testament, apostates were not stoned to death. They simply were disfellowshipped or else they were allowed to leave of their own accord.

But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. (I Corinthians 5:11, NKJV)

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. (I John 2:19, NKJV)

In the Koran, there is no punishment prescribed for apostates, except for the punishment awarded to them by God after they die.

Whoso disbelieveth in Allah after his belief – save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with the Faith – but whoso findeth ease in disbelief: on them is wrath from Allah. Theirs will be an awful doom. That is because they have chosen the life of the world rather than the Hereafter, and because Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk. Such are they whose hearts and ears and eyes Allah hath sealed. And such are the heedless. Assuredly in the Hereafter they are the losers. (Koran 16:106-109, Pickthall)

The Bible, likewise, says that there are eternal consequences for apostates.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8, KJV)

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (II Peter 2:20-22, NASB)

The Koran says the apostate has “chosen the life of the world rather than the Hereafter.” The Bible says that the greedy Christian has abandoned the faith.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (I Tim 6:6-10, NASB)

Greed and covetousness which are forms of idolatry can result in a believer’s apostasy. St. Paul warned the Christians in the church in Corinth not to be deceived into thinking that one can enter the Kingdom of God without abandoning idolatry and covetousness.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9,10, NKJV)

People who want to continue in idolatry might receive a strong delusion from God so that they do not want to change their beliefs.

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (II Thessalonians 2:11,12, KJV)

The Koran, likewise, speaks about God sealing the hearts of unbelievers.

As for the disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom. (Koran 2:6,7, Pickthall)

Satan, whom St. Paul calls “the god of this world,” is instrumental in blinding people to the truth of the Gospel.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (II Corinthians 4:3,4, NKJV)

So, since people who are disbelievers or apostates have become blinded to the truth, believe a lie due to a strong delusion that God has sent on them, and have sealed ears and hearts, one should leave the judgment of apostates to God and not inflict any temporal punishment on them.

Another passage in the Koran which deals with the subject of apostasy is in the Fourth Surah. It says:

O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto His messenger, and the Scripture which He revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His angels and His Scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray. Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them unto a way. (Koran 4:136,137, Pickthall)

Here, it says that we should believe in God, His messenger, the Scripture which He has revealed to His messenger (the Koran), and the Scripture which He revealed aforetime, that is, the Bible. Furthermore, we must believe God’s angels, the other messengers of God (Moses, David, Solomon, St. John the Baptist, Jesus, etc.), and the Last Day. Otherwise, we will “wander far astray.”

Some Muslims want to stone apostates thinking that that is the true Islamic punishment for apostasy, but the whole idea is rendered absurd by Koran 4:137. If someone believes, then disbelieves, that person must be stoned according to their way of thinking. However, the verse says “then (again) believe” indicating that the apostate would still have to be alive after having been stoned to death. Then, the apostate disbelieves and increases in disbelief. The Koran says, “Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them unto a way.” No temporal punishment is indicated in these verses. They lack forgiveness from God. Therefore, the punishment for apostasy is from God on the Day of Judgment and not from man.

It says in the Koran that we should believe in God’s messengers. St. John the Baptist is one of God’s messengers. He is among the righteous.

And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias. Each one (of them) was of the righteous. (Koran 6:85, Pickthall)

(And it was said unto his son): O John! Hold fast the Scripture. And We gave him wisdom when a child, and compassion from Our presence, and purity; and he was devout, and dutiful toward his parents. And he was not arrogant, rebellious. Peace on him the day he was born, and the day he dieth and the day he shall be raised alive! (Koran 19:12-15, Pickthall)

St. John the Baptist was a “prophet of the righteous.”

And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from Allah lordly, chaste, a prophet of the righteous. (Koran 3:39, Pickthall)

St. John the Baptist said these very important words when Jesus came to him for baptism.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV)

According to the Koran, St. John the Baptist is “a prophet of the righteous” and therefore a messenger of Allah. The Koran says that if we do not believe the messengers of Allah, we will “wander far astray.” St. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Therefore, it is important that we believe what St. John the Baptist said about Jesus. Otherwise, we will “wander far astray.”

I have pointed this out so that one can see that there is more than one way that one can become a disbeliever or an apostate. Here are a few videos about this subject of apostasy by some Muslim religious leaders and scholars.

There is another passage in the Koran that deals with the issue of apostasy. It is in the Fourth Surah.

Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way. They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): but take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks; – except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then Allah hath opened no way for you (to war against them). (Koran 4:88-90, Yusuf Ali)

Here, Muhammad tells the Muslims that the hypocrites whom God had upset because of their evil deeds should not be taken as friends until they repent and amend their ways (“flee in the way of Allah”). This is kind of like disfellowshipping as St. Paul said in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. (I Corinthians 5:11) It says that they will try to get the Muslims to “reject Faith, as they do,” but do not allow that to happen. Muhammad said that if they turn renegades, that is, start fighting against the Muslims, then “seize them and slay them wherever ye find them.” Here, killing those who reject faith is sanctioned only in self-defense in warfare. If the hypocrites or apostates join a group between whom and them there is “a treaty of peace,” the Muslims cannot fight them. If they approach the Muslims in peace “with hearts restraining them from fighting” the Muslims “as well as their own people,” then the Muslims are not allowed to fight against them. If they send the Muslims guarantees of peace, the Muslims are forbidden to fight against them. “Peace is better.” (Koran 4:128)

This passage is talking about killing apostates who have engaged in war against the Muslims. It is not talking about killing someone because of apostasy. God will judge the apostates at the Last Judgment after the resurrection of the dead.

According to Shabir Aly, a Muslim scholar, Koran 4:89 which I just cited in the passage above was used by ancient schools of fikh to justify the killing of apostates in Islam but he does not think that that verse is sanctioning that practice. (For those who are not familiar with Islam, the schools of fikh determine sharia law. There is more than one school of fikh. So, there is more than one version of sharia law.) Here are two videos where Shabir Aly talks about this passage and the subject of killing apostates.

Here is another lecture on this subject by a Muslim.

Despite these moderate voices on the subject of apostasy, there are still some who take a more hard-line extremist position on killing apostastes.

There is more than one view regarding the subject of killing apostates among the Muslims. I hope that the moderate view will prevail among the Muslims. We Christians do not kill those who apostatize from our religion.

One more thing to mention regarding this subject. I do not think that a Muslim who converts to Trinitarian monotheistic Christianity has really apostatized from Islam. In the Koran, Trinitarian monotheists are called “believers.” (Koran 30:2-5) There are Muslim commentators on the Koran who even acknowledge this fact. (Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall is one such example. Also read the annotations for Koran 30:2-5 in The Study Quran.) If a Muslim believes that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, would he not be believing what the Koran told him to believe? (Koran 3:39; 4:136,137; John 1:29) If he is baptized and receives communion with Christians, would he not be obeying the Koran? (Koran 3:84; 5:110,111; 43:63; John 3:3-5; 6:49-58; Matthew 26:26-29; 28:19,20; Mark 16:16; Luke 22:17-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26) So, I do not think that a Muslim has really apostatized after becoming a Christian.

To conclude, I would like to say that any forced belief is not a genuine belief. People need to be free to think and form opinions and beliefs without coercion. The Koran speaks about false faith. (Koran 2:8-12; 49:14-16) The Bible does also. (James 2:26) One does not acquire genuine faith through coercion. The Koran encourages people to gather evidence and use one’s mind when determining what to believe and what not to believe.

Bring your proof (of what ye state) if ye are truthful. (Koran 2:111, Pickthalll)

Most of them follow naught but conjecture. Assuredly conjecture can by no means take the place of truth. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. (Koran 10:37, Pickthall)

And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (Koran 17:36, Yusuf Ali)

Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts. (Koran 22:46, Yusuf Ali)

And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a guess, and lo! a guess can never take the place of the truth. (Koran 53:28, Pickthall)

A coercive belief system or religion is not only guilty of violating the 18th Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it also produces followers who are not genuinely sincere in the beliefs to which they are being required to subscribe. People need to be free to believe or disbelieve. Doubts concerning one’s faith can be healthy. People need to be able challenge beliefs. In this way, they can strengthen the ones they already have or grow in knowledge and wisdom. I never would have converted to Orthodox Christianity from Protestantism if I had never started challenging my long held Protestant beliefs. I was able to change my faith because I live in a country that permits people to change their faith. The radical Islamic extremists who want to coerce faith out of people and market their extreme versions of Islam are discouraging the use of reason and the establishment of facts gathered from research. Such things are encouraged by the Koran as the five verses cited above clearly show. Coerced religion is un-Islamic and I am an Orthodox Christian who can clearly see that.

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