In consequence of his misguided notion, the divine referred to above is compelled to take up the position that propagation of non-Islamic beliefs must be prohibited by law in an Islamic State, which again is an utter negation of freedom of conscience and belief. Islam is a missionary religion and claims that in all countries and among all peoples there should be complete freedom of conscience and belief, including the freedom to change one’s religion. If the view propounded by this particular divine were to be accepted, all the persecution to which the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and the early Muslims were subjected in Mecca during thirteen years of his ministry, would be deemed to have been fully justified, as Islam was a menace to the beliefs of Quraish and to their very mode of life.
Finding nothing in the Holy Quran to support his thesis, and having no answer to the clear and repeated affirmations of the Holy Quran in support of complete freedom of conscience and belief, this divine seeks to make Hadees and the alleged policy of the Successors of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, the principal prop of his outrageous theory. If the instances cited by him are carefully examined, it will be found that in everyone of them the apostate or apostates concerned had been guilty of rebellion or murder, or armed support of the enemies of Islam. These cases shall be dealt with later in the course of this exposition.
In truth for a person of average intelligence only a portion of a single verse of the Holy Quran should be conclusive that Islam does not permit any type of compulsion in matters of faith, whether it should be the case of presenting Islam to a non-Muslim and inviting him to accept it, or it should be the case of persuading one who has abjured Islam to revert to it. The direction of the Holy Quran in this respect is imperative: There shall be no compulsion in matters of faith (2:257). Matters of faith surely comprise change of religion. It is characteristic of the Holy Quran that whenever it propounds a principle it also sets forth the reason on which it is based. The portion of the verse here cited comprises both a direction and the reason for the direction. It may be interpreted as: There shall be no compulsion in matters of faith, inasmuch as faith is a matter of conscience and by its very nature conscience cannot be compelled. It may be possible to force a person to say that he believes but no one can be forced to believe. Therefore an attempt to force a person to believe is futile. If a person yielding to force, or a threat of force, or some kind of temptation, says he believes, while his mind is not convinced of the truth of that which he is compelled to acknowledge as true, he would not be a believer but only a hypocrite.
The verse just cited does not leave the matter merely at the stage of an implied reason as the basis of the directive set out in the verse. It goes further and affirms that guidance having been clearly distinguished from error, sane reason would naturally be inclined to accept the guidance and to reject the error. This is a grand principle which has been set out imperatively in the Holy Quran, and is not set out with such emphasis in the scriptures of any other faith. Yet unfortunately a body of Muslim divines continues to adhere to the utterly false notion that a Muslim who abjures Islam must be put to death. Human nature revolts against such a doctrine and there is no support whatsoever for it either in the Holy Quran or in the practice of the Holy Prophet or of his immediate successors.
Islam is a religion the followers of which are under obligation to constantly invite non-Muslims to its acceptance. The manner of such invitation is also set out clearly in the Holy Quran. It is said: Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and contend with them on the basis of that which is best. Thy Lord knows best those who have strayed away from His path, and He knows best those who are rightly guided (16:126). Indeed guidance is bestowed by God and the business of a believer is only to present Islam to non-Muslims wisely and with kindly reasoning. It is for God Almighty to bring about a change of heart. For instance, it is said: Whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his mind to the acceptance of Islam (6:126) ; and it is said: Surely, thou canst not guide whomsoever thou pleasest; but Allah guides whomsoever He pleases, and He knows well those who would be guided (28:57).