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Apostasy Laws of Malaysia Are Not Only Inconsistent With the Constitution of Malaysia but Also With the Principles of the Quran

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

20 January 2020

Apostasy is not a punishable crime according to the Quran. The holy book does not prescribe any physical punishment for leaving Islam. But over the years, a section of Islamic jurists have spread and strengthened the belief among the Muslims that Islam prescribes death for apostasy. Based on these opinions of the jurists, Malaysia’s constitution also has provided for various punishments for apostasy.  The punishment varies from physical punishment to imprisonment though the Malaysian constitution (Article 11. 1) also guarantees freedom of religion.

Recently, G25 group of former civil servants of Malaysia opposed the Apostasy Laws of the country and said that it was inconsistent with the Federal Laws.  They argued that the Quran did not support any punishment for apostasy as it was an issue between a Muslim and God.  But the clergy of Malaysia have criticized their stance.  A member of the Shura Council Mohammad Khairuddin said that the group wanted to destroy Islam while Mufti Wan Islam said that the G25 did not understand the true meaning of freedom of religion.  He said that in Islam there was nothing like absolute freedom. According to him, Freedom of Religion did not include Freedom to leave Islam.

From the views of the Malaysian clergy it is evident that Malaysia’s apostasy laws are influenced by the views and ideas of Muhammad Qutb on the issue. Like some other Islamic scholars Mohammad Qutb was also a supporter of death sentence for apostasy.  According to him, apostasy was a collective issue and not an individual issue. He believes that apostasy is not an issue between man and God but it is a crime against Islamic society. In his book, Islam Aur Jadid Maaddi Afkar (Islam and the modern materialistic thought) he tries to establish the idea that apostasy is not a personal issue of an individual but a crime against the Islamic society.  Therefore, apostasy should be punished with death.  In support of his belief, he quotes two Hadith which calls for death for the apostate because he does not find any verse in the Quran that prescribes death to the apostate. However, he does not give reference of the Hadith so that it can be verified.

All the verses of the Quran that deal with apostasy declare apostasy a grave sin against God but do not prescribe death or any physical punishment in the world. The verses warn that the apostates will be subjected to severe torment in the Hereafter. Here are the verses.

“Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way”.(Al Nisa: 137)

“As to those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- never would be accepted from any such as much gold as the earth contains, though they should offer it for ransom. For such is (in store) a penalty grievous, and they will find no helpers.” (Al-e-Imran:91)

The above quoted verses do not speak of any punishment for the apostate, rather they ask Muslims to ignore them and even hope that the apostates will repent and come back to the fold of Islam. The Quran gives them the time to repent and make amends.

Interestingly, he believes that there is no compulsion in matters of faith (La Ikraha Fid Deen. Baqarah: 256)) but to him this verse of the Quran only applies to a non-Muslim and not to an apostate. Here is an excerpt:

It is not permissible for a Muslim to turn Kafir after believing in Islam because Islam prescribes death for an apostate. Apparently, it comes under individual freedom but in reality apostasy is not an individual issue.”

He goes on to say, “Of course, a non-Muslim has the freedom to have his own belief. No one has the right to interfere with his belief, not even within the borders of an Islamic state. However, persons leaving Islam and becoming apostates will be punished.”

To prove that apostasy is a collective issue, a crime against the Islamic society, he presents the following argument:

“Turning apostate after believing in Islam does not merely mean that a man has changed his belief but it means that he violates and disturbs a complete and established system.  Islam is a practical system based on faith and an entire society is based on that faith.  All the laws of Islam are simultaneously based on the interests of both the individual and the society, therefore, apostasy is not an individual issue but it is such a collective issue which affects the whole society.”

This shows through hairsplitting Mohammad Qutb tries to turn an individual issue into a collective issue, rather a crime though the Quran declares apostasy an issue between God and man and not a punishable crime in the world. The stand of the clergy of Malaysia is the same as taken by Mohammad Qutb. The clergy of Malaysia and Mohammad Qutb both believe that Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and other religious community have the right to profess their religion but apostates don’t have the right to leave Islam.

Therefore, the Apostasy Laws of Malaysia are a violation of the Quranic injunctions and based on the personal views of some Islamic jurists like Mohammad Qutb. 

S. Arshad is a regular columnist for


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