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Apostasy and Repentance; Will a Repentant Apostate Be Forgiven?

In Islamic terms, the apostate (murtadd) is one who has renounced Islam and chosen to be a disbeliever.[1]

The renouncement of Islam takes place when one denies one of the pillars of Islam (tawhid, prophethood and resurrection) or one of its clear subjects that all Muslims know and believe in, given that denying the subject is equal to and necessitates the denial of prophethood itself (meaning that one can’t be Muslim and not believe in it, such as the obligation of prayer, unlike other subjects that aren’t of such clarity and are sometimes even debated amongst Muslims), and that the person denying it is aware of the above mentioned necessitation.[2] It is necessary to know that the punishment for apostasy doesn’t apply to one who has turned away from religion but doesn’t announce it. Therefore, it is correct to say that the apostate is punished for an act that has to do with society, not merely because of some personal beliefs. The apostate violates others’ rights to have an Islamic environment in society and is a threat to the beliefs of normal people who aren’t religious experts and aren’t capable of answering all of their religious needs on their own. In the advent of Islam, a group of its enemies planned on falsely accepting Islam in the beginning of the day and turning away from it at the end of the day, undermining the faith of the believers and weakening their religious spirit as a result. Also, it is also very hard to prove apostasy, to the extent that this Islamic law was put to practice only a few times during the advent of Islam. Hence, one can say that the mental effect of this rule plays a far more important role in keeping the Islamic society healthy and clean than the punishment itself.

In Islam, there are two types of apostasy; milli and fitri: the fitri apostate is one whose parent(s) (one or both of the parents, making no difference) were/was Muslim during his/her conception, has accepted Islam after reaching puberty and then renounced it afterwards.[3] The milli apostate is one whose parents weren’t Muslim during his/her conception, has been a kafir (disbeliever) after puberty, and then embraces Islam and once again becomes a kafir afterwards.[4]In the case of the apostate being a female, regardless of being milli or fitri, she is first asked to repent and if she does so, she is freed.[5] In the case of the apostate being a male, if he is a milli apostate, he is first asked to repent, and if he does so, he is freed[6]. However, if he is a fitri apostate, there is a disagreement among the Shia scholars. Here, we refer to those scholars who believe that the repentance of a male fitri apostate is also accepted.

Ibn Junayd Iskafi (d. 382 AH), a well-known Shia jurist writes:

«إنّ الإرتداد قسم واحد و إنّه یستتاب فإن تاب و الاّقتل»

“Apostasy has only one type. The apostate is asked to repent; if he repents [then he is forgiven] or else, he is killed.”[7]

The same view is concluded from the following statement by Ibn Barraj (d. 481 AH):

«و إذا کان المرتد مولودا علی فطره الإسلام  … فان تاب لم یکن لأحد علیه سبیل»

“A fitri apostate … if repents, then no one is allowed to punish him.”[8]

Shahid Thani (911-955 AH) refers to the fact the general content of repentance-related Verses and narrations requires that it includes the repentance of the male fitri apostate as well.[9] Yet in another part of his Masalik al-Afham, Shahid Thani suggests that the most well-proved view is that the repentance of all types of apostates should be accepted. Also, Shaykh Mufid (d. 413 AH) writes:

«واتفقت الإمامیه علی ان أصحاب البدع کلهم کفار و إنّ علی الإمام أن یستتیبهم عند التمکن بعد الدعوه لهم و اقامه البینات علیهم فإن تابوا عن بدعهم و صاروا إلی الصواب و إلّا قتلهم لردتهم عن الایمان».

“According to all Shia scholars, those who bring about innovations in religion are disbelievers. Then it is the Imam’s duty to invite them back to Islam and provide them with arguments and ask them to repent. In case they repent [then they are forgiven], otherwise, they are killed for apostasy.”[10]

The supporters of this opinion, have argued with some Verses and narrations including the following:

إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لِلَّذينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ بِجَهالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِنْ قَريبٍ فَأُولئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَ كانَ اللَّهُ عَليماً حَكيماً

Acceptance of repentance by Allah is only for those who commit evil out of ignorance, then repent promptly. It is such whose repentance Allah will accept, and Allah is all-knowing, all-wise. (The Holy Qur’an, 4: 17)

وَ هُوَ الَّذي يَقْبَلُ التَّوْبَةَ عَنْ عِبادِهِ وَ يَعْفُوا عَنِ السَّيِّئاتِ وَ يَعْلَمُ ما تَفْعَلُونَ

It is He who accepts the repentance of His servants, and excuses their misdeeds and knows what you do.(The Holy Qur’an, 42: 25)

قُلْ يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلى‏ أَنْفُسِهِمْ لا تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَميعاً إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحيمُ

Say that Allah declares, “O My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah will forgive all sins. Indeed, He is the All-forgiving, the All-merciful.(The Holy Qur’an, 39: 53)

According to these Verses, acceptance of repentance by Allah (SWT) is not limited to one sin or another; rather, it is unconditional and includes apostasy as well.

كَيْفَ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ قَوْماً كَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إيمانِهِمْ وَ شَهِدُوا أَنَّ الرَّسُولَ حَقٌّ وَ جاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّناتُ وَ اللَّهُ لا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمينَأُولئِكَ جَزاؤُهُمْ أَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ لَعْنَةَ اللَّهِ وَ الْمَلائِكَةِ وَ النَّاسِ أَجْمَعينخالِدينَ فيها لا يُخَفَّفُ عَنْهُمُ الْعَذابُ وَ لا هُمْ يُنْظَرُونإِلاَّ الَّذينَ تابُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ ذلِكَ وَ أَصْلَحُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحيمٌ

How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after their faith and after bearing witness that the Apostle is true, and after manifest proofs had come to them? Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot. Their requital is that there shall be upon them the curse of Allah, the angels, and all mankind. They will remain in it forever, and their punishment shall not be lightened, nor will they be granted any respite, except such as repent after that and make amends, for Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.(The Holy Qur’an, 3: 86-89)

These verses are clearly about the apostates and their punishments, specially in the Hereafter. The last Verse, explicitly excludes those apostates who repent and make amends.

يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللَّهِ ما قالُوا وَ لَقَدْ قالُوا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَ كَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إِسْلامِهِمْ وَ هَمُّوا بِما لَمْ يَنالُوا وَ ما نَقَمُوا إِلاَّ أَنْ أَغْناهُمُ اللَّهُ وَ رَسُولُهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ فَإِنْ يَتُوبُوا يَكُ خَيْراً لَهُمْ وَ إِنْ يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللَّهُ عَذاباً أَليماً فِي الدُّنْيا وَ الْآخِرَةِ وَ ما لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِنْ وَلِيٍّ وَ لا نَصيرٍ

They swear by Allah that they did not say it. But they certainly did utter the word of unfaith and renounced faith after their Islam. They contemplated what they could not achieve, and they were vindictive only because Allah and His Apostle had enriched them out of His grace. Yet if they repent, it will be better for them; but if they turn away, Allah shall punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter, and they shall not find on the earth any guardian or helper.(The Holy Qur’an, 9: 74)

This Verse requires that the repentant apostate will enjoy “goodness” both in this world and the hereafter and there is no punishment for him neither in this world nor the hereafter.

وَ مَنْ يَرْتَدِدْ مِنْكُمْ عَنْ دينِهِ فَيَمُتْ وَ هُوَ كافِرٌ فَأُولئِكَ حَبِطَتْ أَعْمالُهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيا وَ الْآخِرَةِ وَ أُولئِكَ أَصْحابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فيها خالِدُون

And whoever of you turns away from his religion and dies faithless they are the ones whose works have failed in this world and the Hereafter. They shall be the inmates of the Fire, and they shall remain in it forever. (The Holy Qur’an, 2: 217)

The argument is that this Verse suggest that there is a punishment for the apostate provided that he “dies faithless”. This requires that if an apostate repents and “does not die faithless” there ill be no punishment for him.

Some narrations also mention repentance as an obstacle for punishment of the apostate without limiting that to a special type of apostasy:

الْمُرْتَدُّ … يُسْتَتَابُ ثَلَاثَةَ أَيَّامٍ

”As for the apostate … he is invited to repent for 3 days”.[11]

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع أَنَّ رَجُلًا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ تَنَصَّرَ فَأُتِيَ بِهِ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع فَاسْتَتَابَه‏

”ImamSasiq (AS) said: a Muslim converted to Christianity. He was taken to Imam Ali who invited him to repent.”

عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ وَ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فِي الْمُرْتَدِّ يُسْتَتَابُ فَإِنْ تَابَ وَ إِلَّا قُتِل‏

Imam Baqir (AS) and Imam Sadiq (AS) said: the apostate is invited to repent. If he repents [then he is forgiven], otherwise, he is killed.”[12]

Finally, according to some scholars such as Muhammad Jawad Mughniya, intellect also requires that the repentance of all apostates must be accepted. Interpreting Verse 217 of Chapter al-Baqara, he writes:

«یدل بالصراحة علی ان المرتد اذا تاب قبل الموت یقبل الله منه و یسقط العقوبة عنه و العقل حاکم بذلک».

“It clearly proves that if an apostate repents before his death, Allah (SAW) accepts his repentance and removes his punishment. Intellect also has the same ruling.”[13]



[1] Imam Khomeini, Tahrirul-Wasilah, vol.2, pg.366; Ibn Quddamah, Al-Mughni, vol.10, pg.74.

[2]Imam Khomeini, Tahrirul-Wasilah, vol.1, pg.118.

[3] Ibid, vol.2, pg.366; Some believe that one of the parents must be Muslim during the child’s birth (AyatullahKhu’i, MabaniTakmilatil-Minhaj, vol.2, pg.451) and others don’t consider announcing and embracing faith after puberty as one of the conditions (Shahid Thani, Masalikul-Afham, vol.2, pg.451).

[4] Imam Khomeini, Tahrirul-Wasilah, vol.2, pg.336.

[5] Ibid, vol.2, pg.494.

[6] See. https://www.islamquest.net/en/archive/fa289#

[7] Quoted from Masalik al-Afham, vol. 2, p. 451

[8]Al-Muhazzab, vol. 2, p. 552

[9]Masalik al-Afham, vol. 2, p. 451

[10]Awa’il al-Maqalat, p. 49

[11]Al-Kafi, vol. 7, p. 258.

[12]Al-Istibsar, vol. 4, p. 253.

[13]Al-Tafsir al-Kashif, vol. 1, p. 325.

This article was written by Hujjat al-Islam Sayyid Mostafa Daryabari and Dr. Morteza Karimi.

About Ali Teymoori

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