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According to this source:

According to Islamic law apostasy is punishable by death, imprisonment or confiscation of property and blasphemy is punishable by death. Conversion from Islam to another faith is also considered as a serious offence under Islamic law. Individuals who have committed blasphemy or converted from Islam have three days to withdraw their behaviours or face punishment. Children of ‘apostates’ are still considered Muslims unless they reach adulthood without returning to Islam, in which case they may also be put to death [Society-based targeting, 1.2].

Is this true?

Hypothetically if a Shari'a country also has a freedom of religion right (without a restrictions clause) how would the conflict be resolved between the two?

3 Answers 3

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There is no single answer under Shari`ah law, for example because apostacy is not a single thing, and because there are multiple schools of interpretation. This article gives a fairly detailed analysis. This other article focuses on statutory implementations of the prohibition against irtidād and its punishments. In Brunei, Section 112(1) of the Syariah Penal code allows execution for a Muslim who declares himself non-Muslim and does not repent, and Iranian law also apparently allows the death penalty. Presumably the same holds of current Afghanistan.

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Yes, but ...

"Shari'a Law" means the same as "Common Law" or "Civil Law": it tells us nothing about whether the ancient punishments are part of that nation's law or, if such laws are on the books, whether they are enforced. All of these legal systems have, at some time in the past, had capital punishment for religious deviancy.

As of 2021, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen have the death penalty for apostasy. In addition, Pakistan has the death penalty for blasphemy, which includes apostasy.

In total, there are 17 countries where apostasy is a criminal offence and 83 which criminalise blasphemy (with 6 having the death penalty). Since only 50 countries worldwide are Muslim-majority, some of these laws are from non-Shari'a legal traditions.

Nevertheless, some countries where the death penalty is still on the books don't actually implement it, whether under a formal moratorium or as a de-facto policy. Even in countries that still have and use the death penalty, official execution for apostasy is rare: there have been no reported cases since 1998 and only four between 1985 and 1998. However, the mere existence of the punishment can and does lead to extra-judicial murders on that basis.

Blasphemy and apostasy laws are more commonly used as tools of suppression by authoritarian regimes where imprisonment or the threat of it is usually sufficient.

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  • what about life imrisonment ? I guess that's what it would be commuted to
    – user49663
    Apr 20, 2023 at 5:20
  • @IndianLawDropout some islamic countries do have it, others don't.
    – Trish
    Apr 20, 2023 at 8:25
  • @Trish is appostacy an unforgivable offence in that what if someone reconverts
    – user49663
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:32
  • @IndianLawDropout That is jurisdiction dependent. You'll have to read the countries laws to see what they are, there is no general single answer.
    – Trish
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:35
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Solid answers by user6726 and DaleM answer the first part of the question ("Is this true?"). This answer addresses the second part of the question:

Hypothetically if a Shari'a country also has a freedom of religion right (without a restrictions clause) how would the conflict be resolved between the two?

The death penalty is generally reserved, in places that have it, for apostasy to conversions away from Islam, rather than simply adhering to a faith other than Islam by a person who has never been a Muslim. Apostasy is conceptually similar to the secular crime of treason (which is also punishable by death), in that it can only be committed by people who owe allegiance to the sovereign against whom treason is committed.

Islamic law recognizes the right of "people of the book" who have never converted to Islam, including Christians, Jews, "Sabians", and in some interpretations, certain other faiths, to engage in the free exercise of their religions on a subordinate basis to an established Islamic religion in places subject to Islamic law. Not all religions are entitled to this deference. Some relevant sources in Islamic law arguably also reserve for god rather than men, the task of punishing people for not being Muslims:

Several verses in the Quran are commonly understood as identifying the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians as People of the Book. Thus for example Sūrat al-Māʾida 5:68–69, which mentions these groups along with the Muslims ("the believers") as being safe from fear and grief:

Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “O People of the Book! You have nothing to stand on unless you observe the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord.” And your Lord’s revelation to you ˹O Prophet˺ will only cause many of them to increase in wickedness and disbelief. So do not grieve for the people who disbelieve. Indeed, the believers, Jews, Sabians and Christians—whoever ˹truly˺ believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.

Sūrat al-Baqara 2:62 is similar to this, but there is also a verse (Sūrat al-Ḥajj 22:17) which lists the same groups in another context, that of how God will judge them on the Day of Resurrection, but now adding two more groups to the list:

Indeed, the believers, Jews, Sabians, Christians, Magi, and the polytheists—Allah will judge between them ˹all˺ on Judgment Day. Surely Allah is a Witness over all things.

The last named group, "the polytheists" (the mushrikūn, lit. 'those who associate'), are the opposite of the first named, "the believers" (the Muslims). What is less clear, however, is the status of the groups mentioned in between, who now also include the "Magi" (al-majūs), that is to say, the Zoroastrians (who are named only once in the Quran, in this verse). This was a matter of dispute among medieval Muslim scholars, who questioned whether the Zoroastrians had a clear prophet and scripture, as well as whether their doctrines on the nature of God and creation were in accordance with those of Islam and the other religions recognized as having received a revelation. Ultimately though, most Islamic jurists granted the Zoroastrians partial status as a People of the Book, while still disagreeing on the extent to which legal privileges such as intermarriage with Muslims should be allowed.

From the Quran, 98th Surah Al-Bayyina - the clear proof, those who reject the truth from among the People of the Book and polytheists are described as the worst of all creatures, and are destined for hell.

Similarly, some faiths in the Middle East and South Asia with some overlap with Islamic views, that are a stretch to consider Muslim in a rigid or fair minded evaluation, are sometimes deemed as a matter of tolerance and religious convenience by local authorities as sects of Shi'ite Islam, for purposes of religious toleration.

Countries in which Islamic law is enforced by the government typically enshrine it as an entrenched principle of their legal system, similar to the status of the U.S. Constitution in U.S. law, which is supreme over all other secular laws, domestic and international. This was done, for example, in the pre-2021 constitution of Afghanistan (before the Taliban regained power) and in the drafting of the current constitution of Iraq.

So, the most obvious way, although not the only way, to reconcile freedom of religion found in a constitutional right or human rights treaty of a country, and the requirements of Islamic law, in a country where Islamic law is the supreme law of the land, is to allow freedom of religion as fully as possible consistent with Islamic law's requirements.

In that approach, Muslims are not free to cease to convert away from Islam, or to otherwise engage in blasphemy. But "people of the book" are not required to convert to Islam, and differences of opinion about Islam that don't rise to the level of blasphemy such as those found in different schools of Islamic theology should be tolerated.

A historical example of how this notion of religious freedom could play out in practice is the effort made by Muslim communities in France during World War II to hide and shelter Jews from the Nazis, without treating them as genuine converts to Islam for their own religious law purposes, even though the Nazis were deceived into believing that the sheltered Jews were really Muslims.

Also, the death penalty that is justified for apostasy under many interpretations of Islamic law, or even any other particularly harsh penalty is not necessarily required under Islamic law, even when members of a religious faith are not "people of the book" with limited religious freedom under Islamic law (who may therefore be punished for practicing their faith in Islamic law). This is true even though an Islamic leader may be justified in conquering people of these faiths in order to convert them under Islamic law.

The history of the Islamic world reflects many instances in which people who are not people of the book have been tolerated by Islamic leaders in light of practical realities and considerations, even though Islamic law did not demand their tolerance.

In the same vein, while Islamic law does not forbid polygamous marriage, a couple of Islamic majority countries have forbidden it as a matter of secular law. These countries concluded that it is not inconsistent for secular law to ban conduct for secular reasons even when it is not a violation of Islamic law to do so, in much the same way that Islamic countries still have traffic laws even though Islamic law does not forbid driving though stop signs or going faster than a posted speed limit. As applied to the freedom of religion, while Islamic law does not require accommodation of the faiths of people who not "people of the book" it also doesn't affirmatively require that Muslims persecute such people in most cases (except some kinds of blasphemy).

So there are approaches to interpreting Islamic law that can afford considerable substantive freedom of religion to non-Muslims, and to different kinds of Muslims within non-blasphemous Islam, even though it is not as expansive a view of freedom of religion as the U.S. First Amendment provides - particularly as applied to Muslims who want to convert to another faith.

Another final point is that the majority view in Islamic theology is that adherence to Islamic law and the Islamic faith is a matter of overt actions and not internal sincerity. The leading view is that if you fulfill your outward religious duties like praying five times a day, observing Ramadan, honoring Islamic dietary restrictions, and not making public blasphemous statements, that you are still a "legitimate Muslim in good standing" so to speak. This is true in the leading view, even if in your heart of hearts and internal monologs with yourself, you have deep doubts about Islam or even actually don't believe that God exists at all. Theologically, in Islam, the leading view is that actions speak louder than words or thoughts.

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