Waqar Akbar Cheema
Some modernists claiming to be ‘real Hanafis’ in their spree of lies suggest that ‘Ikrimah – the freedslave of Ibn ‘Abbas – is alone in narrating the well-known hadith about the punishment of apostasy,
من بدل دينه فاقتلوه
Whoever changes his religion, kill him.
Coupled with their baseless accusation that ‘Ikrimah was a Kharjite (an early extremist group) they argue that such a narration cannot be used to establish a ruling.
We have earlier seen that Imam Abu Hanifa and all the early Hanafi scholars unconditionally sought evidence with narrations of ‘Ikrimah.
In this short article we shall analyze the claim that ‘Ikrimah is alone in (a) narrating the hadith “Whoever changes his religion, kill him,” and (b) reporting the incident about ‘Ali – may Allah be pleased with him – killing apostates by burning them.
2. Narrations of the hadith “Whoever changes his religion, kill him” from companions other than Ibn ‘Abbas
Whereas ‘Ikrimah falls only in the isnad of the hadith when reported by Ibn ‘Abbas the hadith has been narrated through other companions as well. It has been reported from (i) Ma’adh bin Jabal, (ii) Abu Huraira, (iii) ‘Aisha, (iv) Mu’awiyah bin Hidah, and (v) ‘Ismah bint Malik as well. Moreover, it is reported though mursal narrations of (vi) Hasan al-Basri and (vii) Zaid bin Aslam.
None of these reports involve ‘Ikrimah as a narrator.
3. Narration of Ibn ‘Abbas through isnad other than that of ‘Ikrimah
Besides the abovementioned fact that the hadith has been reported by other companions as well, it has also been reported from Ibn ‘Abbas through isnad that do not involve ‘Ikrimah.
Al-Nasa’i records the following version:
حدثنا هشام، عن قتادة، عن أنس، أن ابن عباس قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «من بدل دينه فاقتلوه»
Hisham narrated from Qatadah who narrated from Anas that Ibn ‘Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”
4. Incident of ‘Ali’s burning of apostates
The subject hadith has comes down to us in the narration which has the mention that ‘Ali burned some of the apostates. The version in Bukhari goes as:
عن عكرمة، أن عليا رضي الله عنه، حرق قوما، فبلغ ابن عباس فقال: لو كنت أنا لم أحرقهم لأن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: «لا تعذبوا بعذاب الله»، ولقتلتهم كما قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: «من بدل دينه فاقتلوه»
Narrated ‘Ikrimah: ‘Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’”
The modernist pseudo-Hanafis suggest that by narrating this ‘Ikrimah meant to disparage ‘Ali as he is accused of belonging to an extremist group that opposed ‘Ali. This, however, is an absurd charge because the narration itself mentions ‘Ikrimah’s teacher Ibn ‘Abbas taking exception to burning of apostates. In fact al-Tirmidhi adds that ‘Ikrimah further reported;
فبلغ ذلك عليا، فقال: صدق ابن عباس
So this reached ‘Ali, and he said: “Ibn ‘Abbas has told the truth.”
An allegedly extremist person should have no covert interest in reporting that his alleged opponent meted out extreme punishment to certain people and once corrected he humbly accepted the point made.
Furthermore, ‘Ikrimah is not alone in reporting this incident. Al-Nasa’i records the following as well;
حدثنا هشام، عن قتادة، عن أنس، أن عليا أتي بناس من الزط يعبدون وثنا فأحرقهم، قال ابن عباس: إنما قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «من بدل دينه فاقتلوه»
Hisham narrated from Qatadah who narrated from Anas that Ibn ‘Abbas reported: ‘Ali came to some of az-Zutt who worshipped idols and burned them. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “But the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.’”
Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that ‘Ikrimah made up the narration to impugn the reputation of ‘Ali, or something.
5. Does this hadith apply to conversions to Islam or conversion between other religions
The most ridiculous contention of these modernists is that the hadith if accepted shall apply to those who convert to Islam or from one non Islamic faith to another. The ayah, “The religion in the sight of Allah is only Islam” (Qur’an 3:19) makes it clear that religion in such rulings means only Islam. Moreover, one version of ‘Ikrimah’s narration from Ibn ‘Abbas makes it abundantly clear;
من خالف دينه دين المسلمين فاضربوا عنقه وقال: إذا شهد أن لا إله إلا الله، وأن محمدا رسول الله فلا سبيل إليه إلا أن يأتي شيئا فيقام عليه حده
Whoever changes his religion against that of Muslims, smite off his neck. But when he testifies that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger he cannot be killed except when he does something that brings upon him hadd.
6. Other narrations proving the punishment of apostasy
One must also bear in mind that this hadith is not the only evidence for the punishment of apostasy in Islam as unanimously held by the jurists of all the schools of thought. Famous hadith mentioning three accounts on which a person may be killed is also definite evidence. Detailed evidence for the established Islamic position along shall follow in a forthcoming paper (in-sha’Allah!)
7. Summary and Conclusion
There is no basis for criticizing or taking exception to reports of ‘Ikrimah. Abu Hanifa, his students, and all the other major authorities have unconditionally sought evidence with his narrations.
‘Ikrimah is not alone in narrating from Ibn ‘Abbas the hadith “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas by others as well.
Ibn ‘Abbas is not alone in narrating this hadith. Five other companions and two of the tabi’in have also reported this hadith without ‘Ikrimah falling in isnad of any of their reports.
This hadith is not the only evidence for the punishment of apostasy in Islam.
The modernists’ rant around this hadith is devoid of merit and serves no real purpose in a serious academic discourse.
 Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 22015; classified as sahih by Shu’aib al-Arna’ut
 Al-Tabarani, Abu Al-Qasim, Mu’jam Al-Awsat, Hadith 8623; classified as hasan by al-Haithmi in Majm’ al-Zawa’id, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qudsi, 1994) Hadith 10572
 Through ‘Urwah:
– Al-San’ani, ‘Abdul Razzaq, al-Musannaf, (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1403) Hadith 18563
Through Shahr bin Hawshab:
– Al-Tabarani, Abu Al-Qasim, Mu’jam Al-Awsat, Hadith 9230; al-Haithmi mentions it involves a weak narrator, Majm’ al-Zawa’id, Hadith 10573
 Al-Tabarani, Abu Al-Qasim, Mu’jam Al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taimiya, 1994) Vol.19, 419 Hadith 1013; al-Haithmi mentions it narrators are all trustworthy, Majm’ al-Zawa’id, Hadith 10573
 Al-Tabarani, Abu Al-Qasim, Mu’jam Al-Kabir, Vol. 17, 186 Hadith 497; al-Haithmi mentions it involves a weak narrator, Majm’ al-Zawa’id, Hadith 10573
 Al-Nasa’i, Ahmad bin Shu’aib, al-Mujtaba min al-Sunan, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 4068
 Malik bin Anas, al-Muwatta, (Abu Dhabi, Moassasah Zayd bin Nahyan, 2005) Hadith 2726
 Al-Nasa’i, Ahmad bin Shu’aib, al-Mujtaba min al-Sunan, Hadith 4069
 Al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Isma’il, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 3017
 Al-Tirmidhi, Abu ‘Isa, al-Jami’, Translated by Abu Khaliyl (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) 1458