Blasphemy and Apostasy in Islam:

Debates on Shi’a Jurisprudence

Mohsen Kadivar

Translated by Hamid Mavani 
Preface by Gianluca Parolin

In Translation: Modern Muslim Thinkers, Series Editor: Abdou Filali-Ansary

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, April 2021 (in association with Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, London, United Kingdom)

411+xviii pages

  • ISBN: 9781474457576

Take a front-row seat to the debate on blasphemy and apostasy in Islam

Is it lawful to shed the blood of someone who insults the Prophet Muhammad? Does the Qu’ran stipulate a worldly punishment for apostates? This book tells the gripping story of Rāfiq Taqī, an Azerbaijani journalist and writer, who was condemned to death by an Iranian cleric for a blasphemous news article in 2006.

Delving into the Qu’ran and Hadith – the most sacred sources for all Muslims – Mohsen Kadivar explores the subject of blasphemy and apostasy from the perspective of Shi’a jurisprudence to articulate a polarisation between secularism and extremist religious orthodoxy. In a series of online exchanges, he debates the case with Muhammad Jawad Fazel, the son of Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarānī who issued the fatwa pronouncing death penalty on Taqī. While disapproving of the journalist’s writings, Kadivar takes a defensive stance against vigilante murders and asks whether death for apostasy reflects the true spirit of Islam.

Key Features

  • Presents a back-and-forth debate between modern two Shi’a jurists (one conservative, one reformist) that locates the exact points of controversy surrounding apostasy and blasphemy
  • Engages with the broader subjects of religious freedom and human rights, addressing both secular and religious interests
  • Articulates the secular–religious divide and proposes a pluralistic solution, making a case that apostasy and blasphemy are non-existent in the Qur’an
  • Packed with translations of primary sources, including fatwas and interviews, that allow English-speaking readers to understand the arguments advanced by both parties in the debate



  1. Literature Review of Religious Freedom and Apostasy in Contemporary Sunni Islam
  2. Literature Review of Religious Freedom and Apostasy in Contemporary Shi’i Islam
  3. The Genealogy of the Book’s Ideas and Its Merits

Part I: Apostasy and Blasphemy

The Background of the Treatise

  1. Legal Ruling on Assassination by Lankarānī Sr. and Statement of Delight by Lankarānī Jr. at its Implementation
  2. Objections to the Fatwa of Assassination – by Kadivar
  3. Response to Doubts Surrounding Apostasy – by Lankarānī Jr.

Treatise on Refuting the Punishment for Apostasy and Blasphemy – by Kadivar

  1. Issuing a ruling on the death penalty by a process that falls outside the sphere of a competent court will engender lawlessness and anarchy
  2. Claiming the validity of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy is based on one deficient ‘isolated report’ (khabar al-wāḥid).
  3. Refuting the claim that most of the hadiths on apostasy are ‘mutawātir’
  4. Refuting the claim of consensus (ijmā‘) and the necessity to implement the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy
  5. No one, during the time of the Prophet, Imam Ali, and the other Imams, was sentenced to death solely for apostasy
  6. The Absolute Cessation of the Ḥudūd Punishments or those that Necessitate Death Penalty and Injury, and Suspension During the Time of the Imam’s Occultation
  7. ‘Isolated reports’ (khabar al-wāḥid) are non-probative in matters of critical importance
  8. Issuing fatwas on killing an apostate or a blasphemer weakens and tarnishes Islam
  9. Alteration of the subject of apostasy and objecting to the perpetual applicability of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy
  10. The incompatibility of executing an apostate or a blasphemer with explicit Qur’anic verses

Appendix 1. A Further Clarification to Lankarānī Jr.’s Position

Appendix 2. Rāfiq Taqī in His Own Words and in the Words of His Defenders

Part II: Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech – by Kadivar

  1. Islam: Between Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech
  2. Letter of Censure to the Jurists Who Issued the Latest Judgement on Apostasy
  3. Insulting the Prophet is a Form of Hate Speech
  4. Request for Clarification from the Jurists Who Defend ‘Suffocating the Religionists’

Appendix 3: Imam[Ali]: Political Leader or Exemplary Role Model – by A. Gharavī

Glossary; Bibliography; Index
About the Contributors


Iran, Jurisprudence, Islam, Religious Freedom, Islamic Law, Sharia