Apostasy is the formal abandonment of one’s religious beliefs, or embracing religious opinions that are different or contrary to one's previous beliefs. The individual who commits apostasy is referred to as an apostate, while the action of renouncing one’s beliefs is referred to as is apostatizing. Sociologists use the term "apostasy" to refer to opposition to one’s former religious belief or practices. The word is also sometimes used metaphorically to refer to the rejection of a political idea or a sports team. Few former believers call themselves apostates because of the negative implication of the word, and therefore it is not a "self-definition." The United Nations Commission on Human Rights protects the right to religious renunciation.
Criminalization of Apostasy
Apostasy has historically been considered a criminal offense in various societies. In some cases, it is likened with crimes such as treason, mutiny, and desertion. As of 2014, apostasy is criminalized in 25 countries, but no country in the Americas or Europe have any laws regarding the renunciation of one’s religious belief. In Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, and Brunei, apostasy is illegal and punishable by death. In some countries such as Jordan, Kuwait, and Oman, apostates may have their marriages annulled, lose child custody, or may even be jailed for life. However, in other countries, apostasy is not illegal but those who apostatize may be expelled or denounced by family members. Between 1985 and 2006, a total of four people were executed in the Muslim world for apostatizing Islam.
Christians understand apostasy as willfully falling away from the Christian truth. Therefore, the rejection of Christ by a Christian is considered apostasy. According to Christians, there are at least three dangers that may lead to one committing apostasy: temptation, deception, and persecution. The concept of apostasy is found throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Images such as falling away, rebellion, turning away, and adultery have been used to connote a willful denunciation of the faith.
In Islam, apostasy is referred to as ridda, while an apostate is referred to as murtadd. One becomes a murtadd if he or she verbally denies the principles of Islam prescribed in the Quran, or deviates from Islamic beliefs. If a person is born to Muslim parents but later renounces the religion, they are referred to as murtad fitri, while one who converts to Islam but later rejects the religion is called murtad milli. In several instances, the Quran condemns apostasy but does not prescribe any punishment. The concept of punishment for apostasy is only covered in Islamic literature.
In Buddhism, there is no consequence of punishment for apostasy, as followers are allowed to reject or renounce their belief in Buddhism whenever they wish. Hinduism also grants its followers the freedom to choose their faith on the path to God.
Notabe examples of apostasy date back thousands of years. Additionally, there are also instances of apostasy in recent times. However, few cases are documented, and have only been documented due to the wide publicity and controversies surrounding them. One recent notable apostate is Meriam Yahye Ibrahim Ishag, who converted from Islam to Christianity, which is a crime punishable by death under Sudan’s Islamic Law. Her marriage to a Christian man from South Sudan was also considered an act of adultery. She was sentenced to death, but the sentence was not carried out.