This means that whoever turns back from his faith, that is to say, whoever, out of fear of the sword or being unsettled by opposition, announces that he abjures Islam, is an apostate. In the idiom of Islam an apostate is not one concerning whom someone else says that he has abjured Islam. There is no mention of any such person in the Holy Quran. It says that if a person announces voluntarily that he has abjured Islam and thereafter dies in his state of disbelief, the works of such a one will be vain in this world and the next and he will be an inmate of the fire wherein he shall abide. Thus the punishment of a person who voluntarily abjures Islam after having believed, is the same as that of a disbeliever who voluntarily abstains from accepting Islam. There is no mention here, or anywhere else, of any punishment for an apostate in this world which may be inflicted by human hands, politically or administratively.
The Holy Quran says: Surely, those who have turned away after guidance has been made manifest to them have been deceived by Satan who has beguiled them with false hopes (47:26). This means that a person who, out of weakness or misfortune, voluntarily proclaims that he abjures Islam and departs from it and thus, having entered the circle of Islam, goes out of it after having fully understood it, does so because of his having been beguiled by Satan with false hopes. He who abjures Islam relying on the false hopes held out to him by Satan and makes those hopes the basis of his conduct, cannot look forward to any good from God Almighty.
Then it is said: O ye who believe, whoso from among you turns back from his religion should remember that in his stead Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him, who will be kind and considerate towards the believers and firm and unyielding towards the disbelievers. They will strive hard in the cause of Allah, and striving against their own selves they will seek to mould their natures according to the pleasure of God in the light of the guidance of Islam. They will not at all take to heart the reproaches of the fault-finders. Their hearts will be filled only with the fear of God. This is Allah’s grace. He bestows it upon whosoever He pleases. Allah is the Lord of vast bounty, All-knowing (5:55).
Again it is said: Allah will not guide those who do not believe in the Signs of Allah, and they shall have a grievous punishment; this is followed by: Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed, excepting the case of one who is forced to make a declaration of disbelief while his heart rests securely in faith, but one who opens his mind wide to disbelief, on him is Allah’s wrath and he shall have a grievous punishment (16:105, 107). Here it is affirmed that faith is related to the heart and mind, for it is said: But one who opens his mind wide to disbelief. That which is related to the heart cannot be affected or changed by any material power or physical force. It is impossible that such power or force should be able to modify the conditions, feelings or emotions of the heart. The verse mentions the case of a person who denies God after having believed. A person believes in God Almighty, having comprehended the reasons in support of the truth of Islam and having observed the divine Signs which establish the truth and greatness of Muhammad, peace be on him, and yet he voluntarily affirms that he denies Muhammad, he is not one who makes such an affirmation under compulsion in consequence of some weakness. With regard to such a one who opens his mind wide to disbelief voluntarily after having believed and affirms that he denies God, the One and Unique, Who had sent Muhammad, peace be on him, and that he does not believe that Islam is a true religion, God Almighty says that on him will be His wrath and he shall have a grievous punishment. Such a punishment might overtake him in this life also, but the true recompense of conduct in this life is related to the hereafter.
Then it is said: Whoso seeks a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the losers. How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after having believed and who had borne witness that the Messenger is true and to whom clear proofs had come? Allah guides not the wrongdoers. Of such the punishment is that on them shall be the curse of Allah and of angels and of men, all together; there under shall they abide. Their punishment shall not be lightened nor shall they be granted respite; except those who repent thereafter and amend. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful (3:86-90).
Here it is affirmed that those who disbelieve after having believed, and having observed signs and evidence that the Messenger of God is true, and who announce that they have discarded faith and have adopted the ways of disbelief, would be punished by God Almighty in the hereafter; except such of them who repent and amend their ways in this very life. If after the affirmation of their apostacy their punishment, according to the Holy Quran, had been death, they would have had no time for repentance and amendment and this portion of the verse would have been meaningless. This verse shows that such people ought to be afforded the opportunity to repent and amend at any time before their death and to accept Islam and to come back into its fold and seek the forgiveness of God Almighty. If they are granted forgiveness, God, Who is Most Forgiving and Ever Merciful, would cover up their sins and, forgiving them, would bestow His mercy upon them and would admit them to the gardens of His pleasure. But if a person after having believed adopts the way of disbelief and is not granted any opportunity of repentance and amendment, that is to say, is not permitted to live out his natural life but is put to death and is deprived of the opportunity of repentance and amendment, the divine attributes of forgiveness and mercy that are mentioned in the verse would not come into play, in his case, and he would not be able to derive any benefit from them.