Islam has experienced many an apostatic upsurge during the course of its history. The most powerful of them was the one that manifested itself among the Arab tribes soon after the Prophet’s death. By this we mean the mightily rebellious movement that was nipped in the bud by Caliph Abu Bakr through his matchless courage and strength of will. The then, again, the second great onslaught of apostasy within Islam was the widespread swing towards Christianity with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain. This stole into other countries too that were then under the demonation of the Western Christian powers, and was actively supported and encouraged by Christian missionaries. Apart from these well-known episodes, there are also some stray instances such as that of a few faint-hearted Muslims going over to some other faith in India. But such cases have been very rare, and the fact is that with the exception of the large-scale conversion of Muslims to Christianity in Spain, if it can be described as an apostatic movement, the general opinion of Islamic historians is that the Muslim millat has never seriously had to encounter a general threat of apostasy.
Whenever an incident of this nature took place in Islam it always produced a two-fold reaction within the Muslim society: intense resentment and anger against the erring party, and the termination of social relations. Anyone who had the misfortune to renounce the Faith was the subject of the unqualified contempt and resentment of the Muslims and he automatically ceased to be a member of the Islamic society in which he had been born and brought up. All contacts and relations between an apostate and his kinsmen became non-existence immediately. The walking over from the fold of Islam into that of another faith meant indeed the walking over from one world into another. The entire family of the apostate would turn its face against him. Now, neither bonds of kinship, marriage, brotherhood nor inheritance remained. A larger wave of apostasy would produce international repercussions and arouse at once the self-protective instincts of Islam and the Muslims. Intellectuals, religious leaders and preachers of the Islamic country where such a thing occurred would array themselves as a united whole against the calamity. They would probe into its causes and draw pointed attention to the virtues and superior merits of Islam. A current of agony and disgust would run through the entire body of the Muslim society that was immediately concerned with it and shake it up at all levels. The elite as well as commoners would make it their own thought and concern. Such was the way in which incidents of apostasy would react upon the consciousness of Muslims although these were neither widespread nor of much consequence in life.
Now, however, the Islamic World has been confronted for some time with a threat of apostasy which casts its shadow from end to end. In its dimensions and vigour it has by far superseded all previous threats. No country is safe from its sinister influence. But, country is a far cry. There are, in fact, very few families which can claim to have been left unaffected by it. This is an apostasy that has come into the Muslim East in the wake of political domination by the West, and it has posed the most serious challenge to Islam since the days of the Prophet.
What does apostasy mean in Islamic terminology? The exchanging of one faith, of one spiritual creed for another; the refutation of the teachings the Prophet (peace be upon him) brought into the world, the rejection of the ideals and precepts that have been continuously attributed to him and are accepted in Islam positively as truths. And what course does an apostate adopt? He denies the Divine Apostleship of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Companions) and adopts the creeds of Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism or becomes an atheist and rejects Prophecy, Revelation and the concept of the Hereafter. This was the sense in which the people of former times understood the term apostasy. Anyone who abandoned his Faith took the way of the Church if he adopted Christianity, and of the Temple if he accepted Hinduism, and so on. His apostatic deed would be there for everyone to see; there would be no concealment of it. Fingers would be raised at him and the Muslims would cease to associate with that person. In brief, such apostasy was not hidden from public view.
Europe introduced into the East concepts and ideologies that were based on the repudiation of the fundamentals of spiritual belief and the rejection of an Omnipotent Power holding sway over the entire universe, of that Supreme Consciousness which brought the world into creation and in Whose hands lay its dispensation. (Beware! It is He Who both create and it is He alone Who rules): concepts which had their origin in the denial of the Unknown, the Supernatural, Divine Revelation, Apostleship and transcendental values— this was the common feature of all the branches of thought brought by the West no matter whether they dealt with biology and evolution or with ethics, psychology, politics or economics. However varied their field of study, they all had as their meeting ground a materialistic approach to man and his world, and an interpretation of phenomena along materialistic lines.
These ideals and concepts invaded the East and penetrated deep into the inner recesses of its soul. This Western materialistic philosophy has undoubtedly been the greatest religion preached in the world after Islam. It is the greatest religion from the point of view of the extensiveness of its scope, the profoundest religion from the point of view of the depth to which its roots go and the strongest religion from the point of view of the capacity it possesses for conquering the hearts and minds of men. Educated and intelligent sectors in Muslim countries have simply been bewitched by it: they delightfully drink it in and eagerly assimilate it. They have become a follower of the new faith almost in the same way as a Muslim follows Islam or a Christian follows Christianity, to the extent that they now adore it with all their hearts revere its ideals and swear by the greatness of its founders and torch-bearers. They propagate its teachings, denounce the creed that may run counter to it and forge links of brotherhood and fraternity with other followers of this new faith. Thus, this new faith has become a sort of international family.