Freedom to choose and practise one’s faith without restriction is a fundamental right, which Islam has guaranteed to everyone.
The Holy Quran clearly states: “There should be no compulsion in religion” (2:257) and also “It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe and let him who will, disbelieve” (18:30).
Despite such empathic statements that abiding by or recanting Islam is a choice, which lies only in the hands of the individual, time and again, individuals are punished for denouncing Islam.
Recently, in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, 27-year-old Meriam Yehya Ibrahim was sentenced to death. She is now in jail with her 20-month-old son and newborn daughter. Meriam’s ‘crime’ is that she has supposedly renounced Islam, accepted Christianity and married a Christian man.
Meriam denies this charge of apostasy and has firmly declared that she has always been a Christian. She has determinedly decided to hold her ground and not renounce the Christian faith. Meriam has been sentenced to death because Islam supposedly deems apostasy to be a punishable crime.
Apostasy in Islam
There isn’t a single verse in the Holy Quran nor any saying or action of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), which can be interpreted as suggesting death for apostasy. In fact, although the subject of apostasy has been brought up several times in the Holy Quran, no mention has ever been made of its punishment.
The Holy Quran (3:145) states: “He who turns back on his heels shall not harm Allah a whit” –– a clear indication that apostasy has no need for punishment.
Similarly, Chapter 2, verse 109, states: “Whoever takes disbelief in exchange for belief has undoubtedly gone astray from the right path” –– again no mention of a punishment. Chapter 4 verse 138 further states: “Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the right way.”
Here, although there is mention of divine wrath, there is no mention of any kind of punishment which should be imposed by individuals or the state.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never ordered anyone to be killed for apostasy; the few capital punishments that occurred during his time were a result of treason and colluding with the enemy in matters of the state.
Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Spiritual Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, rightly stated in his book Murder in the name of Allah: “The advocates of the bigoted, inhumane doctrine of death upon apostasy never visualize its effect on international and inter-religious human relationships. Why can they not see that according to their view of Islam, adherents of all religions have a fundamental right to change their faith but not so the Muslims, and that Islam has the prerogative of converting others but all adherents of different faiths are deprived of any right to convert Muslims to their faith? What a sorry picture of Islamic justice this presents!”