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Advisory on Freedom of Religion and Apostasy in Islam

Freedom of Religion & Apostasy in Islam

Religious Advisory

by Islamic Religious Council of Singapore

1 Islam establishes the freedom of religion as a right for every individual. This is based on the following Quranic principles:1

Which means: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqarah, verse 256)

Which means: “Whoever so wishes, let him believe, and whoever so wishes, let him disbelieve.” (Al-Kahfi, verse 29)

2 The jurist Ibn Ashur includes the protection of the freedom of belief as one of the five main objectives of the Islamic law (Maqāṣid al-Sharī‘ah).2

3 The Prophet Muhammad exemplified this teaching in his lifetime. He did not enforce Islam on anyone, including his family members but brought people to the fold of Islam through his message of social justice, equality of humankind before God and other enduring values to humanity such as compassion and kindness. He engaged others on Islamic teachings and belief through good words and deeds, and through exemplary conduct and virtuous mannerisms. In his covenant (social contract) with the inhabitants of the city of Madinah, the Prophet allowed non-Muslims to remain in their faith and accepted everyone as members of the same community.3


4 As to those who decided to leave Islam, the Prophet did not implement any form of punishments. In a hadith narrated by Al-Bukhari, a Bedouin who had pledged allegiance to the Prophet withdrew his pledge a day after he made it. The Prophet . left him alone and did not order any form of punishments on the individual.4There are many other instances of those who left Islam but were not punished by the Prophet .

5 Notwithstanding the facts mentioned above, there are other religious texts which may seem to suggest that religious freedom is not in line with the teachings of Islam. Such narrations must be understood in the right context as a literal reading will lead to confusion and a misguided application of the rules of Islam.

6 A more holistic view of the Prophetic narration will bring us in understanding the underlying reason of the capital punishment. Traditional scholars such as al-Shawkāni, alluded that in viewing the Prophetic narrations in totality, it refers to those who become active opponents to the community i.e., rebellion (al-Hirābah).5

7 Contemporary Muslim scholars such as Ramadan Al-Būti, Ahmad al-Raysūni, Habib Al-Jufri, and Muhammad Imārah, explained that the hadith should be understood in light of the Quranic principle of freedom of religion and in relation to all other hadiths on the subject. Their conclusion is that this hadith was in relation to those who left the Muslim community and conspired with the enemy to destroy Muslims. There are also other hadiths (narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim) where the Prophet spoke of both the act of leaving the religion and the political crime of treason. For example, Abdullah Ibn Masud reported that the Prophet applied legal punishment for “the one who leaves his religion and separates from the community” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim). Al-Būti also explains that such legal punishment is only carried out if there are other associated crimes such as rebellion (al-Hirābah), as this significantly undermines and threatens the harmony and stability of society.6 This is a view held by earlier jurists such as Ibn Rushd and al-Shirāzi.7 According to Shaltut, the hadith only applies when there is aggression and assault against Muslims.8

8 The Maliki jurist al-Baji states that apostasy is a sin which carries no hudud i.e., capital punishment but the discretionary punishment of ta'zir.9 According to Sufyan al-Thawri and al-Nakha’i, those who leave Islam should be brought back to Islam through persuasion consultation, and encouragement.10


9 In light of the Islamic principles and juristic views on the matter explained above, Office of the Mufti wishes to emphasise that freedom of religion is the general rule in the Quran and a fundamental principle in Islam. The treatment of apostasy as a crime punishable by death came about later during the period where Islam gained political ascendancy and was not a general ruling for all apostates.

10 The sin of leaving the religion is purely between the individual and his Lord,11 and hence capital punishments do not apply in a situation where treason or rebellion does not exist.


11 September 2021


[1] Scholars listed 200 Quranic verses that allude to the freedom of belief. Al-Ghazāli, Al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah baina Ahl-Fiqh wa Ahl Ḥadith, pg. 126. Al-Alwani, Ishkāliyyah al-Riddah wa al-Murtaddin, pg. 99.

[2] Ibn ‘Ashur, Maqāṣid al-Sharī‘ah al-Islāmiyyah, vol. 2, pg. 130.

[3] Al-Bayhaqī, Maʿrifat al-sunan wa’l-āthār, vol. 12, pg. 250. See also, Ibn Kathir, Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, vol. 3, pg. 366.

[4] Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. hadith 7209.

[5] Al-Shawkāni, Nailul al-Awtār, vol. 7 pg. 10. Al-Zaila’i, Nasbu al-Rāyah, vol. 4, pg. 335.

[6] Al-Būtī, Ḥurriyyah al-Insān fī Ẓil al-‘Ubudiyyah lillāh, pp. 85-87.

[7] Ibn Rushd, Bidāyah al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyah al-Muqtaṣid, vol. 2, p. 383; See also, Al-Syirāzī, al-Muhadhab, vol. 5, p. 206.

[8] Maḥmūd Shaltūt, al-Islam: ʿAqīdah wa Sharīʿah, p. 281; See also, al-Sarkhasī, al-Mabsūt, vol. 10, pp. 98-124.

[9] Al-Bājī, al-Muntaqā Syarḥ al-Muwaṭṭa’, vol. 5, p. 282.

[10] Al-Ṣan’ānī, al-Muṣannaf, vol. 10, p. 166.

[11] Quran: 2:217, 3:86-88, 3:91, 4:137, 5:54, 9:74, 16:106.