In Islam, religious freedom is guaranteed for all people, so, no one should be forced to convert to Islam. Doctrinal and juristic differences are acceptable and tolerable so long as they do not conflict with the firmly established principles of Islam.
Apostasy is a crime punishable under the sharia and it is not a right guaranteed in the name of freedom. However, judging whether or not a person is an apostate should be the responsibility of those who are firmly rooted in knowledge, given the gravity of the resultant decisions. The punishment can only be executed by the judiciary, not from ordinary people. Moreover, the judiciary has to give some time before administering the punishment during which the apostate is to be warned and the obscurity around him eliminated.
On the issue of religious freedom, the Islamic Fiqh Academy issued the following resolution:
During its 19th session held in Al-Shariqah, Emirate, from Jumada Al-Awwal 1-5, 1430 A.H., corresponding to April 26 – 30, 2009 A.D, the Islamic Fiqh Academy affiliated to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), reviewed the submitted researches on the issue of religious freedom in Islamic sharia and its dimensions and regulations. After it felt the significance of debating this issue within the Academy to fulfill a pressing need inside and outside Muslim countries by proclaiming its position on this issue, given that it is regarded as a public Islamic and juristic reference; and after it has listened to the prepared researches on this issue and the discussions that were held about it, the Academy issues the following resolution:
First: Religious freedom is an established principle in Islamic Sharia that emanates from fitrah (state of natural innocence). In Islam, this freedom is coupled with responsibility, has shar`i regulations and is aimed at the realization of human dignity.
Second: Religious freedom is guaranteed in society and should be safeguarded against all dangers and incoming ideas and all forms of invasion; religious and otherwise, that aim at dissolving the Islamic identity of the Ummah.
Third: Muslims are committed to the Qur’anic principle that: (There is no compulsion in the religion.) (Al-Baqarah 2:256). Throughout history, Muslims exercised tolerance and acceptance of others who lived under the Muslim state. It is necessary, likewise, for non-Muslims to respect the Islamic particularities and all forms of impudence and insult to the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) and Islamic sanctities must be stopped.
Fourth: Jurisprudential and doctrinal diversity is a natural thing; whereas, for the Muslims to cooperate, despite their doctrinal differences, is a shar`i obligation that is ordained in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Islam calls for belief in the oneness of God and the unity of word on the basis of cooperation in what is agreed upon, while excusing one another where there are differences.
Fifth: There should be an end to the stirring of confusion regarding Islamic axioms and deeply-rooted principles and the planting of doubts from within the Muslim community about religious matters which are already regarded as common knowledge. Indeed, this poses a danger to the religion and to society. Certainly, deterrents should be placed against unacceptable approaches that are adopted by people who use religious freedom as a pretext in this respect. This should be done to protect the society and maintain its religious and intellectual integrity and prevent any exploitation by non-Muslims.
Sixth: A fatwa determining that a particular person is an apostate or a disbeliever should only be issued by competent and highly regarded scholars. The judiciary should abide by the conditions established by jurists in this regard: to ask such a person to repent and eliminate any obscurity before him within the adequate period of respite granted. This is intended to achieve the considered shar`i interest.
Seventh: Avowed apostasy constitutes a danger to the unity of the Muslim community and to the Muslims’ belief. It also encourages non-Muslims or hypocrites to use it as a means whereby to cast doubts. A person who does so deserves to be punished for apostasy, which is only to be meted out by the judiciary. This is to ward off the danger posed by such a person and to protect society and keep it safe. This ruling does by no means contradict religious freedom that is ensured by Islam for whosoever respects religious sensitivities and the society’s values and general order.
The Academy recommends the following:
Muslim rulers are called upon to provide the fundamental needs of the individuals in society, including responsible freedom, food, housing, treatment, education and employment opportunities, as well as other needs, the fulfillment of which protects the generation from material and other alluring influences that are usually employed for the propagation of ideas opposing Islamic values.