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Salman Rushdie was accused of being an apostate after the publication of his book The Satanic Verses.
Apostasy ( ) is the formal religious disaffiliation or abandonment or renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one's former religion. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatizes. The word derives from Greek αποστασία (apostasia), meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "stand", "standing". The term is sometimes also used to refer to renunciation of a belief or cause by (generally facetious) extension of the religious connotation, such as in reference to a political party or a sports team.

Apostasy is generally not a self-definition: very few former believers call themselves apostates and they generally consider this term to be a pejorative. Many religious movements consider it a vice (sin), a corruption of the virtue of piety in the sense that when piety fails, apostasy is the result. Unlike apostasy, heresy is the rejection or corruption of certain doctrines, not the complete abandonment of one's religion. Heretics claim to still be following a religion (or even to be the "true believer"), whereas apostates reject it entirely.

Many religious groups and some states punish apostates. Apostates may be shunned by the members of their former religious group or worse. This may be the official policy of the religious group or may happen spontaneously. A church may in certain circumstances respond to apostasy by excommunicating the apostate, while some Abrahamic scriptures (Judaism: Deuteronomy 13:6-10) and Islam: al-Bukhari, Diyat, bab 6) demand the death penalty for apostates, although capital punishment for any offense is no longer permitted under Judaism.

Hinduism, on the other hand does not recognize the existence of apostasy. The Vedas which form the basic pillars of Hinduism say "Truth is One, but sages call it by many names.", which, in principle, rejects the existence of difference between religions.

Sociological definitions

The American sociologist Lewis A. Coser (following the German philosopher and sociologist Max Scheler ) holds an apostate to be not just a person who experienced a dramatic change in conviction but “a man who, even in his new state of belief, is spiritually living not primarily in the content of that faith, in the pursuit of goals appropriate to it, but only in the struggle against the old faith and for the sake of its negation."

The American sociologist David G. Bromley defined the apostate role as follows and distinguished it from the defector and whistleblower roles.
  • Apostate role: defined as one that occurs in a highly polarized situation in which an organization member undertakes a total change of loyalties by allying with one or more elements of an oppositional coalition without the consent or control of the organization. The narrative is one which documents the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate's former organization chronicled through the apostate's personal experience of capture and ultimate escape/rescue.
  • Defector role: an organizational participant negotiates exit primarily with organizational authorities, who grant permission for role relinquishment, control the exit process, and facilitate role transmission. The jointly constructed narrative assigns primary moral responsibility for role performance problems to the departing member and interprets organizational permission as commitment to extraordinary moral standards and preservation of public trust.
  • Whistleblower role: defined here as one in which an organization member forms an alliance with an external regulatory unit through offering personal testimony concerning specific, contested organizational practices that is then used to sanction the organization. The narrative constructed jointly by the whistleblower and regulatory agency is one which depicts the whistleblower as motivated by personal conscience and the organization by defense of public interest.

Stuart A. Wright, an American sociologist and author, asserts that apostasy is a unique phenomenon and a distinct type of religious defection, in which the apostate is a defector "who is aligned with an oppositional coalition in an effort to broaden the dispute, and embraces public claimsmaking activities to attack his or her former group."

Apostasy in law

International law

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, considers the recanting of a person's religion a human right legally protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "The Committee observes that the freedom to 'have or to adopt' a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views [...] Article 18.2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert."

Law by country

  • Iranmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Saudi Arabiamarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Nigeriamarker - illegal in twelve states (death penalty)
  • Qatarmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Sudanmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Mauritaniamarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Afghanistanmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Somaliamarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Yemenmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Pakistanmarker - illegal (death penalty)
  • Malaysiamarker - illegal in five states (fine, imprisonment, and flogging)

Apostasy by religion


In addition to the Jewish tradition inherited through the Old Testament, Christian governments, sometimes with the approval of the Church, have punished both apostates and heretics individually and in campaigns such as the Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I instituted the punishment of death for apostasy in the very first law of the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), his code that formed a basis for several European countries' laws for many centuries.


In Islam, apostasy is called "ridda" ("turning back") and is considered to be a profound insult to God. A person born of Muslim parents that rejects Islam is called a "murtad fitri" (natural apostate), and a person that converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a "murtad milli" (apostate from the community).

According to most scholars, if a Muslim consciously and without coercion declares their rejection of Islam and does not change their mind after the time given to him/her by a judge for research, then the penalty for male apostates is death, and for women, life imprisonment. However, this view has been rejected by a small minority of modern Muslim scholars (eg Hasan al-Turabi), who argues that the hadith in question should be taken to apply only to political betrayal of the Muslim community, rather than to apostasy in general. These scholars regard apostasy as a serious crime, but argue for the freedom to convert to and from Islam without legal penalty, and consider the aforementioned Hadith quote as insufficient justification for capital punishment. Today apostasy is punishable by death in the countries of Saudi Arabiamarker, Pakistanmarker, and Iranmarker, and is illegal in all other Muslim countries, though not subject to the death penalty.

The hadith has been used both by supporters of the death penalty as well as critics of Islam. Some Islamic scholars point out it is important to understand the hadith in proper historical context. The order was at a time when the nascent Muslim community in Medina was fighting for its very life, and there were many schemes, by which the enemies of Islam would try to entice rebellion and discord within the community. Clearly any defection would have serious consequences for the Muslims, and the hadith may well be about treason, rather than just apostasy. It must also be pointed out that under the terms of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, any Muslim who returned to Mecca was not to be returned, terms which the Prophet accepted. Despite this historical point, Islamic law as currently practiced does not allow the freedom to choose one's religion.

The Qur'an says:

The Hadith (a collection of sayings attributed to Muhammad and his companions) includes statements taken as supporting the death penalty for apostasy, such as:

  • Kill whoever changes his religion.

  • The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a Pakistanimarker Islamic scholar, writes that punishment for apostasy was part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form by Muhammad (he uses term Itmam al-hujjah), hence, he considers this command for a particular time and no longer punishable.

In 2006, Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert from Islam to Christianity has attracted worldwide attention about where Islam stood on religious freedom. Prosecutors asked for the death penalty for him. However, under heavy pressure from foreign governments, the Afghan government claimed he was mentally unfit to stand trial and released him.

Islam Online, a website, contains a fatwa dated 21 March 2004 and ascribed to 'IOL Shariah Researchers' says:

  • "If a sane person who has reached puberty voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be punished.‏ In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed." No one besides the caliph or his representative may kill the apostate. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (for arrogating the caliph's prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).


The term apostasy is also derived from Greek ἀποστάτης, meaning "political rebel," as applied to rebellion against God, its law and the faith of Israel (in Hebrew מרד) in the Hebrew Bible.

Other expressions for apostate as used by rabbinical scholars are "mumar" (מומר, literally "the one that is changed") and "poshea yisrael" (פושע ישראל, literally, "transgressor of Israel"), or simply "kofer" (כופר, literally "denier" and heretic).

The Torah states:

Deuteronomy 13:6-10:
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which [is] as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; [Namely], of the gods of the people which [are] round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the [one] end of the earth even unto the [other] end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

The prophetic writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah provide many examples of defections of faith found among the Israelites (e.g., Isaiah 1:2-4 or Jeremiah 2:19), as do the writings of the prophet Ezekiel (e.g., Ezekiel 16 or 18). Israelite kings were often guilty of apostasy, examples including Ahab (I Kings 16:30-33), Ahaziah (I Kings 22:51-53), Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:6,10), Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:1-4), or Amon (2 Chronicles 33:21-23) among others. (Amon's father Manasseh was also apostate for many years of his long reign, although towards the end of his life he renounced his apostasy. Cf. 2 Chronicles 33:1-19)

In the Talmud, Elisha Ben Abuyah (known as Aḥer) is singled out as an apostate and epicurean by the Pharisees.

During the Spanish inquisition, a systematic conversion of Jews to Christianity took place, some of which under threats and force. These cases of apostasy provoked the indignation of the Jewish communities in Spain.

Several notorious Inquisitors, such as Tomás de Torquemada, and Don Francisco the archbishop of Coria, were descendants of apostate Jews. Other apostates who made their mark in history by attempting the conversion of other Jews in the 1300s include Juan de Valladolid and Astruc Remoch.

Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in then Palestine, held that atheists were not actually denying God: rather, they were denying one of man's many images of God. Since any man-made image of God can be considered an idol, Kook held that, in practice, one could consider atheists as helping true religion burn away false images of god, thus in the end serving the purpose of true monotheism.

New religious movements and alleged cults

Controversies over new religious movements (NRMs) have often involved apostates, some of whom join organizations or web sites opposed to their former religions. A number of scholars have debated the reliability of apostate and their stories, often called "apostate narratives".

One camp that broadly speaking questions apostate narratives includes David G. Bromley, Daniel Carson Johnson,Dr. Lonnie D. Kliever (1932 - 2004), Gordon Melton , and Bryan R. Wilson . An opposing camp less critical of apostate narratives as a group includes Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi , Dr. Phillip Charles Lucas Lucas, Phillip Charles Ph.D. - Profile, Jean Duhaime , Mark Dunlop , Michael Langone , and Benjamin Zablocki.

Some scholars have attempted to classify apostates of NRMs. James T. Richardson proposes a theory related to a logical relationship between apostates and whistleblowers, using Bromley's definitions, in which the former predates the latter. A person becomes an apostate and then seeks the role of whistleblower, which is then rewarded for playing that role by groups that are in conflict with the original group of membership such as anti-cult organizations. These organizations further cultivate the apostate, seeking to turn him or her into a whistleblower. He also describes how in this context, apostates' accusations of "brainwashing" are designed to attract perceptions of threats against the well being of young adults on the part of their families to further establish their new found role as whistleblowers. Armand L. Mauss, define true apostates as those exiters that have access to oppositional organizations which sponsor their careers as such, and which validate the retrospective accounts of their past and their outrageous experiences in new religions, making a distinction between these and whistleblowers or defectors in this context. Donald Richter writes that this can explain the writings of Carolyn Jessop and Flora Jessop, former members of the FLDS church who consistently sided with authorities when children of the YFZ ranchmarker were removed over charges of child abuse.

Massimo Introvigne in his Defectors, Ordinary Leavetakers and Apostates defines three types of narratives constructed by apostates of new religious movements:

  • Type I narratives characterize the exit process as defection, in which the organization and the former member negotiate an exiting process aimed at minimizing the damage for both parties.
  • Type II narratives involve a minimal degree of negotiation between the exiting member, the organization they intend to leave, and the environment or society at large, implying that the ordinary apostate holds no strong feelings concerning his past experience in the group.
  • Type III narratives are characterized by the ex-member dramatically reversing their loyalties and becoming a professional enemy of the organization they have left. These apostates often join an oppositional coalition fighting the organization, often claiming victimization.
Introvigne argues that apostates professing Type II narratives prevail among exiting members of controversial groups or organizations, while apostates that profess Type III narratives are a vociferous minority.

Other uses of the term

In popular usage, religious terminology like "apostasy" is often appropriated for use within other public spheres characterized by strongly-held beliefs, like politics. Such usage typically carries a much less negative connotation than the religious usage does, and sometimes people will even describe themselves as apostates. Authors Kevin Phillips (a former Republican strategist turned harsh critic of the Bush administration) and Christopher Hitchens (a former left-wing commentator turned enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War) are examples of people who are often described as political apostates.

The term "apostasy" is also used by several death and black metal bands to assert the fact that they are removed from, and against, religion.

Notable apostates

This is a list of some notable persons that have been reportedly labeled as an apostate in reliable published sources.



Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints

  • Flora Jessop in her book "Church of Lies" states she is considered an apostate. She was instrumental in press interviews advocating for the YFZ Ranch raid. She is an executive for an agency which assists others to leave the church though her reliability has been questioned by advocates for the FLDS.

See also


  1. Muslim apostates cast out and at risk from faith and family, The Times, February 05, 2005
  2. Rig Veda, Mandala 1, Sukta 164, Mantra 46
  3. Lewis A. Coser The Age of the Informer Dissent:1249-54, 1954
  4. Bromley, David G. The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements CT, Praeger Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  5. Wright, Stuart, A., Exploring Factors that Shape the Apostate Role, in Bromley, David G., The Politics of Religious Apostasy, pp. 109, Praeger Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  6. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4, General Comment No. 22., 1993
  7. [1] from "Leaving Islam : Apostates speak out" by Ibn Warraq
  8. Islam & Pluralism: A Contemporary Approach from
  9. Is Killing An Apostate in the Islamic Law? from
  10. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, The Punishment for Apostasy, Renaissance - Monthly Islamic Journal, Al-Mawrid, 6(11), November, 1996
  11. Islam Online
  12. Deuteronomy 13:6-10
  13. template.htm Introduction to the Thought of Rav Kookby, Lecture #16: "Kefira" in our Day from (the Virtual Beit Midrash)
  14. template.htm Introduction to the Thought of Rav Kookby, Lecture #17: Heresy V from (the Virtual Beit Midrash)
  15. Bromley David G. et al., The Role of Anecdotal Atrocities in the Social Construction of Evil,
  16. in Bromley, David G et al. (ed.), Brainwashing Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal, and Historical Perspectives (Studies in religion and society) p. 156, 1984, ISBN 0-88946-868-0
  17. Kliever 1995 Kliever. Lonnie D, Ph.D. The Reliability of Apostate Testimony About New Religious Movements, 1995.
  18. "Melton 1999"Melton, Gordon J., Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory, 1999.
  19. Wilson, Bryan R. (Ed.) The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Rose of Sharon Press, 1981.
  20. Beit-Hallahmi 1997 Beith-Hallahmi, Benjamin Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research, 1997.
  21. Lucas 1995 Lucas, Phillip Charles, From Holy Order of MANS to Christ the Savior Brotherhood: The Radical Transformation of an Esoteric Christian Order in Timothy Miller (ed.), America's Alternative Religions State University of New York Press, 1995
  22. Duhaime, Jean (Université de Montréal) Les Témoignages de convertis et d'ex-adeptes (English: The testimonies of converts and former followers, in Mikael Rothstein et al. (ed.), New Religions in a Postmodern World, 2003, ISBN 87-7288-748-6
  24. Dunlop 2001 The Culture of Cults
  25. The Two "Camps" of Cultic Studies: Time for a Dialogue Langone, Michael, Cults and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001
  26. Zablocki 1996 Zablocki, Benjamin, Reliability and validity of apostate accounts in the study of religious communities. Paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York City, Saturday, August 17, 1996.
  27. The Unreliability of Apostate Narratives
  28. Introvigne 1997
  29. Taslima's Pilgrimage By Meredith Tax, from The Nation

Further reading

  • Bromley, David G. 1988. Falling From the Faith: The Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • Dunlop, Mark, The culture of Cults, 2001 [8046]
  • Introvigne, Massimo Defectors, Ordinary Leavetakers and Apostates: A Quantitative Study of Former Members of New Acropolis in France - paper delivered at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San Francisco, November 23, 1997 [8047]
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906). The Kopelman Foundation. [8048]
  • Lucas, Phillip Charles, The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy Indiana University press;
  • Lucas, Phillip Charles, Shifting Millennial Visions in New Religious Movements: The case of the Holy Order of MANS in The year 2000: Essays on the End edited by Charles B. Strozier, New York University Press 1997;
  • Lucas, Phillip Charles, The Eleventh Commandment Fellowship: A New Religious Movement Confronts the Ecological Crisis, Journal of Contemporary Religion 10:3, 1995:229-41;
  • Lucas, Phillip Charles, Social factors in the Failure of New Religious Movements: A Case Study Using Stark's Success Model SYZYGY: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 1:1, Winter 1992:39-53
  • Wright, Stuart A. 1988. "Leaving New Religious Movements: Issues, Theory and Research," pp. 143–165 in David G. Bromley (ed.), Falling From the Faith. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • Wright, Stuart A. 1991. "Reconceptualizing Cult Coercion and Withdrawal: A Comparative Analysis of Divorce and Apostasy." Social Forces 70 (1):125-145.
  • Wright, Stuart A. and Helen R. Ebaugh. 1993. "Leaving New Religions," pp. 117–138 in David G. Bromley and Jeffrey K. Hadden (eds.), Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  • Zablocki, Benjamin et al., Research on NRMs in the Post-9/11 World, in Lucas, Phillip Charles et al. (ed.), NRMs in the 21st Century: legal, political, and social challenges in global perspective, 2004, ISBN 0-415-96577-2

Testimonies, memoirs, and autobiographies
  • Babinski, Edward (editor), Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Prometheus Books, 2003. ISBN 1591022177; ISBN 978-1591022176
  • Dubreuil, J. P. 1994 L'Église de Scientology. Facile d'y entrer, difficile d'en sortir. Sherbrooke: private edition (ex-Church of Scientology)
  • Huguenin, T. 1995 Le 54e Paris Fixot (ex-Ordre du Temple Solaire who would be the 54th victim)
  • Kaufmann, Inside Scientology/Dianetics: How I Joined Dianetics/Scientology and Became Superhuman, 1995 [8049]
  • Lavallée, G. 1994 L'alliance de la brebis. Rescapée de la secte de Moïse, Montréal: Club Québec Loisirs (ex-Roch Thériault)
  • Pignotti, Monica, My nine lives in Scientology, 1989, [8050]
  • Wakefield, Margery, Testimony, 1996 [8051]
  • Lawrence Woodcraft, Astra Woodcraft, Zoe Woodcraft, The Woodcraft Family, Video Interviews [8052]

Writings by others
  • Carter, Lewis, F. Lewis, Carriers of Tales: On Assessing Credibility of Apostate and Other Outsider Accounts of Religious Practices published in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  • Elwell, Walter A. (Ed.) Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 1 A-I, Baker Book House, 1988, pages 130-131, "Apostasy". ISBN 0801034477
  • Malinoski, Peter, Thoughts on Conducting Research with Former Cult Members , Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001 [8053]
  • Palmer, Susan J. Apostates and their Role in the Construction of Grievance Claims against the Northeast Kingdom/Messianic Communities [8054]
  • Wilson, S.G., Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0800636759; ISBN 978-0800636753
  • Wright, Stuart. "Post-Involvement Attitudes of Voluntary Defectors from Controversial New Religious Movements". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23 (1984):172-182.
  • The Apostasy - When Did It Begin? From Bethel Church of God

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