Conversion (isl.)

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(Arab. Irtidad an al-Islam, Turk. Din Değiştirme)

Where conversion is concerned, the Islamic tradition makes a distinction between the act of joining Islam (ihtida) and that of leaving it (irtidad): to accept Islam means that someone is converting to Islam by voluntarily reciting the profession of faith. There is a fundamental connection between conversion and freedom of religion: if one is at liberty to confess his or her faith in a particular religion, he or she must also be conceded the freedom to turn away from this religion. As history shows, however, no religion has ever taken a positive view of the change from one religion to another. In the Islamic tradition, the penalties brought to bear in the case of a conversion can even extend to the death penalty; here, however, the reasons are less of a religious and more of a political nature. The Qur’an does not enumerate any earthly penalty for an individual who falls away from Islam; it does, however, mention a penalty in the afterlife (2:217; 3:86–90; 4:137). In questions of faith, Islam places weight in the will of the individual and leaves him or her – while referencing consequences in the afterlife – the liberty to decide. This is documented in the following verse: ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so.’ (18:29). During the time the Prophet spent in Medina, it came to pass that children of Islamic families that had previously been Jewish or Christian were forced by their parents to convert. Whereupon the verse ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.’ (2:256) was revealed (cf. Abu Dawud; Tabari). The Qur’an is quite clear about Muhammad’s instructions to invite people to the religion without any exercise of pressure or force (50:45; 88:22). ‘The Prophet was called upon: [Prophet], call [people] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching.’ (16:125), and the same behaviour was expected of the faithful as well (29:46). This is why the Prophet did not punish people who had fallen away from Islam (cf. Ibn Hanbal). In the view of a majority of Muslims, the task of adjudication and punishment is God’s alone; people are not authorised to mete out punishments in this regard (cf. Abu Dawud). This is why, over the course of their lives, people may not only accept different religions but can also decide against faith in any religion at all. A decision such as this is a function of one’s own convictions alone. Although Islamic theologians generally take the view that he or she who decides against Islam has made the wrong decision, there is basic acceptance that one does not interfere with decisions of this nature, which are the responsibility of the individual him- or herself. Even today, however, there are still some Islamic states in which this view is not acknowledged.

İsmail Hakkı Ünal

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