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Freedom of Belief Vs. Punishment for Apostasy



Reply Date

Aug 07, 2017


What is the punishment for leaving Islam according to the Quran and Hadith? I know it's death, as set forth by many Muslim controlled governments but is this part of Islam? If you want to convert/change to anything else, is killing the acceptable solution or is there a formal process to leave Islam?If it isn't there, why is the conclusion death by Muslim governments? Apostasy is considered a crime and I am trying to figure out why it is such a big deal?



Freedom belief apostasy

Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you for your interest in Islam.

We highly appreciate your keenness to know the truth about a very controversial issue that has filled the pages of many publications in the past few years.

Freedom of Religion is a Basic Human Right

First, we have to state some basic principles that Muslims address when this issue is raised. Freedom of religion is one of the very basic human rights in Islam.

Choosing a certain religion should be based on full conviction. No coercion should be practiced on anyone to embrace a certain belief system.

One is entirely free to choose for himself the religion he likes.

Proof from Quran

The Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God (Allah), clearly states that:

Let there be no compulsion in religion… (Quran 2:256)

In another verse we read what means:

Say, ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so.’… (Quran 18:29)

Read what Prophet Shu`ayb told his people:

His people’s arrogant leaders said, “Shu`ayb, we will expel you and your fellow believers from our town unless you return to our religion.” He said, “What! Even if we detest it?” (Quran 7:88)

Prophet Shu`ayb (peace be upon him) blamed his people because they thought that compulsion would force him to leave his religion.

Read also what Prophet Nuh (Noah) told his people:

He said, ‘My people, think: if I did have a clear sign from my Lord, and He had given me grace of His own, though it was hidden from you, could we force you to accept it against your will? (Quran 11:28)

Prophet Noah recognized that compulsion can’t be the way of presenting Islam to others.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never compelled any one to accept Islam. He fully understood the divine message which reads:

Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. So can you [Prophet] compel people to believe? (Quran 10:99)

Muslims throughout the ages never forced any one to leave his religion and embrace Islam. Muslims are urged to call people to Islam with wisdom and good admonition. We read in the Quran what gives the meaning of:

[Prophet], call [people] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided. (Quran 16:125)

This is how Islam should be presented to people of other faith communities.

What Is An Apostate?

For Muslims, the issue of religion is very important. It has to do with their identity. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly.

Islam is not only a belief system; it is a way of life that every Muslim should embrace in his daily life.

Taking religion lightly was the habit of some Jews as we read in the Quran what means:

Some of the People of the Book say, ‘At the beginning of the day, believe in what has been revealed to these believers [the Muslims], then at the end of the day reject it, so that they too may turn back. (Quran 3:72)

It is for this reason that the issue of leaving Islam and embracing another belief system is hotly debated.

Apostasy is the general term that is used to indicate that someone has left his/her religion and adopted another one. Deciding on this issue is very serious in Islam. Not all people are qualified to define a person as an apostate or not.

Competent scholars who have deep knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are the ones who decide on the issue of apostasy.

Major and Minor Apostasy

As I mentioned earlier it is controversial issue. The common and most accepted view on the punishment of apostasy is that there are two types of apostasy; major apostasy and minor apostasy.

Major apostasy is when one leaves Islam then damages the image of Islam and calls others openly to leave Islam.

Even more dangerous is when they call for others to harm Muslims! This type of apostasy is very dangerous as it poses a threat to the Muslim community.

If he decides to leave Islam and launches war against Islam and Muslims, he is to be punished.

But if he decides to leave Islam in peace, he is left without punishment. This is the second type of apostasy, i.e. minor apostasy.

When the punishment of apostasy was applied, it was not applied for leaving Islam only but other crimes were committed along with it.

Killing is NOT Justified

Let there be no compulsion in religion. This is the key point in issues related to freedom of belief.

Killing someone merely for leaving Islam is not the right procedure in Islam.

Killing cannot be justified because someone has changed his/her belief. If Allah wants to take his/her life for this, He wouldn’t have created him/her in the first place.

So how should we take the life of someone whom Allah has created and given him/her a free will to decide for themselves?

Islam Is a Total Way of Life

On a personal level, I sincerely advice you that if you are thinking of embracing Islam and the issue of apostasy stands as a hindrance to taking this decision, please make up your mind and take the decision and embrace Islam and you will discover its beauty.

Islam is very comprehensive. Its teachings cover all walks of life. Islam focuses on one central issue, i.e. the Oneness of God the Creator.

Allah has laid down rules to regulate one’s relation with his family and society at large.

Our religion, Islam, is about peace, tolerance, love, mutual respect, cooperation, social justice, tranquility, and equality.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.


This is from AboutIslam’s archives and was originally published in July 2016.

Satisfy your curiosity and check out these other helpful links:

Why Is Apostasy a Sin?


Why Does Islam Want to Force People to Remain Muslims?


Compulsion in Religion: Why Two Interpretations?


About Dr. Mohsen Haredy

Dr. Mohsen Haredy: Executive Manager and Editor-in-Chief of E-Da`wah Committee in Kuwait

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