Then it is said: Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them, nor guide them to any way of deliverance (4:138).
This verse proclaims that everyone has been given the choice to accept Islam of his own free will. Every door for entry into the circle of Islam is open for every person. It has also been proclaimed that it is possible for everyone to depart from Islam by any of the doors that provide entry into Islam and to proclaim his disbelief and his apostacy. Thus as the doors of entry into the circle of Islam are open for everyone, the doors of egress from Islam are also open. After a person departs from Islam the question arises, is it possible for him, under the teachings of Islam, to repent and to return to Islam? This verse lays down that if a person who has believed in Islam announces that he has turned away from Islam and denies God and the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and thereafter God Almighty provides him with the opportunity to believe once more, and having believed again he re-enters the circle of Islam there is nothing to stop him from doing so. The doors of his entry into the circle of Islam are open to him as they were open to him the first time. He becomes a Muslim again. Thereafter if he is again overtaken by misfortune and announces that he has turned away from Islam and denies God Almighty and the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, he is free to do so a second time, and is not subject to any restriction, for there is no compulsion; there is freedom of conscience and freedom of belief. If he disbelieves again and goes on advancing in disbelief and does not repent, Allah would not forgive such a one, nor would guide him to any way of deliverance. He would achieve no spiritual success.
Again it is said: Those who disbelieve after having believed and continue to advance in disbelief, their repentance would not be accepted. Those are they who have gone utterly astray (3:91).
The immediately following verse clears up that which has not been expressly set out in this verse. It says: From anyone of those who have disbelieved, and die while they are disbelievers, there shall not be accepted even an earthful of gold, though he offer it in ransom. For them there shall be a grievous punishment, and they shall have no helpers (3:92). This makes it clear that repentance and the opening of the door of God’s mercy in this context mean repentance in this life.
All this makes it quite clear that Islam has guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of belief, and has announced in the plainest terms that so far as faith is concerned everyone is answerable to God Almighty alone. The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, was commanded to proclaim that he had not been appointed a keeper over the people, nor had he been made responsible for them. No one has been made responsible for another’s faith. Everyone is responsible for himself. No one can be compelled to become a Muslim, nor can anyone be expelled from Islam by compulsion.
There is no compulsion whatever in Islam. So far as the Holy Quran is concerned there is no text, no verse, not a single word that prescribes any worldly, political or administrative punishment for apostacy. There have been cases in Muslim history in which a person became an apostate, murdered Muslims and was guilty of armed rebellion. Allover the world a murderer forfeits his life, and armed rebellion is put down with the use of force. If a person is guilty of apostacy, that is to say, voluntarily announces his repudiation of Islam and takes up the sword to kill Muslims, murders them and is punished with death or is suppressed by the sword, it does not at all mean that he is put to death because of his repudiation of Islam. The penalty for the offences committed by such people, irrespective of their apostacy, is death. In such a case it cannot be said that they are punished for their apostacy. Their punishment would have been the same even if there had been no question of apostacy.