Defection from Islam in context

A disturbing human rights dilemma


  • Christine Schirrmacher


Apostasy, conversion, change of religion, defection, blasphemy, Islamic law, Sharia, penal law, Muslims


After many years of nearly complete silence in Western media and politics, the issues of religious freedom and apostasy have finally raised attention. Especially in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s countries like Egypt have seen a growing flood of court charges against intellectuals, theologians, feminists, authors, secularists and converts, some of whom were later murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Cairo, Teheran and elsewhere. While many Muslims condemn such deeds with deepest conviction, others have vigorously applauded and claimed that Sharia law demands the death penalty for anybody who leaves Islam. What does Sharia really teach about apostasy? How does society perceive a conversion? Which consequences are potentially awaiting the convert? The article outlines the teaching of the Koran and the Hadith (tradition) as well as the opinions of the leading Muslim theologians of the formative period of Islam and today's practical implications for people turning their back on Islam.

Author Biography

Christine Schirrmacher

Prof. Dr. Christine Schirrmacher was habilitated in Bonn and is professor of Islamic Studies at the Universities of Bonn and Leuven. She studied Islamic Studies, History, German Studies and Comparative Religion in Giessen and Bonn and received her doctorate in Islamic Studies from the University of Bonn with a thesis on the Christian-Islamic controversy in the 19th and 20th centuries. She habilitated there with a study on the positioning of influential Muslim theologians of the 20th century on religious freedom, human rights, and apostasy from Islam.