I was reading an interview transcript with Dr. Chandra Muzaffar on “Violence, Human Rights and Other Religions”
Here is a portion that I found a good read:
HOW DOES ISLAM DEFINE APOSTASY? IS IT PERMISSIBLE FOR A MUSLIM TO CONVERT TO ANOTHER FAITH? HOW CAN LAWS AGAINST APOSTASY AND BLASPHEMY BE RECONCILED WITH THE KORANIC INJUNCTION OF “NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION”?
It is significant that the Qur’an — Islam’s supreme book of guidance and its primary source of law — does not prescribe any form of punishment for the apostate, a person who chooses to leave the religion. To be sure, it regards apostasy as a sin but the Qur’an does not view it as a crime. It says. “Those who believe, and then disbelieve, and then (again) disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them to the (right) way. (4:137). This suggests that while the apostate incurs God’s displeasure because he has committed a grave sin, we human beings have not been instructed to mete out any form of penalty. How the apostate will be punished, presumably in the hereafter, is God’s prerogative.
This Quranic approach to apostasy is consistent with its general tone and tenor which respects freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. “There is no compulsion in religion”(2:256) is one of the best known Qur’anic lines. This means that no one should be coerced to join the religion or to remain in it or to leave the religion. The Qur’an also makes that profound observation: “To you your religion and to me mine”. (109:6).
Even in the Sunnah — the Way of the Prophet — there was no evidence of anyone being punished for exiting the religion in a peaceful manner. If apostates were put to death, it was because they were part of a violent rebellion against the nascent Islamic state. In such circumstances the issue was rebellion and not apostasy per se.
However, as time went on, the jurists came to regard the act of apostasy itself as a crime which was punishable by death. They did not make a distinction between peaceful exit and violent denunciation of the religion through an assault upon the state. This thinking — which views apostasy as a terrible crime that should be punished through the law—is pervasive within the Muslim community or ummah.
It is a mindset that has to change. The Qur’an’s humane and compassionate perspective should inspire Muslims to adopt a different approach towards the question of apostasy.
Instead of punishing the apostate, he should be counseled with civility and kindness in order to persuade him to remain within the faith. If, after counseling, the apostate is still adamant about leaving the religion, he should be allowed to do so. He should have the freedom to embrace another faith or not to subscribe to any religion.
The first thing that came to my mind was that if the Malaysian government allowed Muslims to convert freely, will there be more Muslims looking to leave Islam? I just have a ‘feeling’ that there are many Muslims who are just ‘follow my parents and do what they tell me to’ Muslims. This does not just apply to Muslims, but also Christians, Hindus and Buddhists as well. I have met many, lived and worked with many who are such, and I myself was such a Hindu.
Nonetheless, I think the fact that Muslims that are looking to leave the faith are no so much afraid of the Islamic teaching that apostasy is sin, I think they’re more afraid of the false teaching (as I learn from Dr. Muzaffar above) that apostasy MUST be punishable by death *shivers*.
On the flip side, this ‘apostates must die’ teaching has had its effect on Malaysian Christians. Many just ‘brush off’ the idea of sharing the good news of liberty, justification and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ simply because they have it ingrained into their mind that ‘Muslims just won’t convert’. Unfortunate waste.
I’d love to be wrong on this.