A common misconception regarding Islam is that if someone leaves the religion of Islam, an Islamic State will punish them with death. This is simply not true. People always have the option to cease believing in and worshipping Allah in a Muslim land without being punished. Many people who left the religion of Islam in Muslim-dominated countries did so without being harmed. And many places of worship of other faiths can be found in Islamic countries today and in the past.
“And say, O Prophet, ‘This is the truth from your Lord. Whoever wills let them believe, and whoever wills let them disbelieve…” (Quran 18:29)
Islam clearly states that there is no compulsion regarding religion; therefore, an Islamic State cannot force anyone to convert to the Islamic faith or remain Muslim. The Holy Quran states:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion, for the truth stands out clearly from falsehood. So whoever renounces false gods and believes in Allah has certainly grasped the firmest, unfailing hand-hold. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (Quran 2:256)
It’s essential to stress that the act of leaving the Islamic faith is not the same as committing the act of apostasy in Islam. Whereas Islam does state that the punishment for apostasy is death, this penalty is assigned only to a particular type of apostasy: and one does not suffer this penalty simply because they left the fold of Islam. The act of apostasy, the commission of which can sentence an apostate to death, is given to those living in an Islamic land that publicly announces their apostasy, convincing others to leave Islam, the religion of God. It’s for those who call others to a new faith, misguiding people and leading them to hellfire, thus also leading to a great fitnah, trial, and tribulation for others.
The rights of an individual do not trump the rights of society. Islam does not tolerate the commission of any corruption in its society and has rules to protect the community from harm and disunity — and from those that cause doubt and uncertainty in the hearts of believers. Calling people to leave Islam can cause people to commit crimes prohibited in Islam, such as drinking alcohol, drugs, fornication, and other harmful acts to individuals and society. Apostacy, in short, is seen as a form of treason against the state.
The Islamic penal system aims to preserve five essential elements: life, intellect, family, property, and religion. To this end, Islam has implemented strict rules to live by through its religion and the prescription of the punishment for apostasy for the safety of society. Only an Islamic state can implement the punishment of apostasy; citizens cannot be vigilantes and take the law into their own hands. The crime must be done intentionally and implicitly, and not ambiguously.
At the time of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, apostates did exist, but Prophet Muhammad PBUH and the Muslims never executed any of them. Rarely have apostasy laws ever been implemented at all throughout history. The apostasy law is not unique to Islam; it also exists in Christianity and Judaism. A ruler in an Islamic State can elect to give the apostate a different sentence, such as a prison sentence. The apostate has the right to a court hearing and gets a three-day waiting period. He is allowed time to reflect on the situation, clear misconceptions, and repent. Those who assist the enemy of an Islamic State in battle are likewise subject to the death penalty. This is known as treason, and many nations today punish spies and anyone who plots to harm their own nation by way of their treason laws.
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