This is indeed a great question that needs a response because the subject of apostasy is mentioned time and again in the media. The short answer to this question is an emphatic “no”. Let me explain further.
Apostasy, or denouncing one’s religion, is unfortunately taken as a punishable offense by many Islamic scholars, even though those who propound this view are unable to quote a single Quranic verse or Hadith to support it. The fact is that while recanting Islam is a sin, there is absolutely no worldly punishment prescribed by Islam for it. Islam places great stress on freedom of conscience, including the freedom to choose one’s religion, as one of the fundamental rights of all human beings. The 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). These verses prove that man is free to choose the religion that makes him happy, and that rejecting Islam is not a crime.
Unfortunately, the punishment of apostasy has now become death, even though this menacing concept does not claim a single Quranic verse as evidence. In fact, although the subject of apostasy has been brought up several times in the Quran, no mention has ever been made of its punishment. In verse 3 chapter 145 God 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. Nor is there evidence of such punishments in the life and practice of the Prophet Muhammad, the one to whom the Quran was revealed and who portrayed a perfect example of Islamic teachings. The Prophet 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.
The only punishment described in the Quran for denouncing Islam is that which rests with God Almighty: “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. (4:138)”. Nothing else is needed.