I don't know if this question is too imprecise to be answerable; if people think so, let me know and I'll delete it...

From the outside, Islam has quite a... reputation. Firstly, I should note that I am non-Muslim and directly know a good number of Muslims - all of whom are perfectly friendly, but I get the distinct impression that they are pretty liberal by comparison with their peers/family, bordering on "cultural Muslims" (if you see what I mean).

More generally, and I have to be brutally honest, Islam has a reputation as being a bit volatile, sexist, aggressive, leaning towards genuine threats and violence - most typically towards anyone whose views conflict with Islam (secularists, people supporting the rights of homosexuals, feminists, ex-Muslim apostates, people who think that freedom-of-speech includes the right to criticize religion, etc). I think we can agree there are plenty of high- and low-profile examples of this type of behavior.

Islam also describes itself as a religion of peace, so this strange duality is makes me curious.

My question, then: does Islam have a view on its external reputation?

  • is the reputation truly an unfair portrayal, and undeserved?
  • is it the views of a tiny minority unfairly being used to represent the whole? (or, conversely, would most Mulsims support reactions such as, say, the physical threats and violence towards papers over "those cartoons", even if they wouldn't participate)
  • is it simply not a concern, with the external reputation an irrelevant factor given the desire/necessity to worship (and defend?) Allah in the manner instructed?
  • or...?
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    I think the question should be made to be a lot more specific. It's a political question, everyone will have different answers. Of course Muslims are going to say that the reputation is undeserved. And of course, people are going to have varying opinions on how to approach; you'll have the an extreme 1% of some people condoning violence over an insult, and another extreme 1% who support total pacifism in response to violence. I've never really seen any weight to the "Islam as a religion of peace" argument, because wars of liberation are a Sunnah.
    – Muz
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 23:40
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    I would like this question be kept open and answerable, in fact this is a chance to prove whether Islam is violent or peaceful (although the genius answer may take time to come, because the community is still fresh). This question is not off-topic because people interested in Islam want to get an answer, hence they should have one. Also I would like to ask @MarcGravell not to accept an answer before about a year or two (if he really should accept one, as the question is likely to turn into community wiki). Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 5:26
  • See this answer regarding the remarks of being "sexist".
    – G. Bach
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:09

4 Answers 4


This is a really broad question and it is one that is discussion-provoking. And it's hard to answer comprehensively in a short amount of space. Especially in this month when time is at a premium and many Muslims try to focus exclusively on worship. Having said that, I will take a stab at addressing just a few of the points:

Yes, of course, there is such a "reputation" today of the deen of Islam in pretty much the whole world now. One must admit that this reputation exists in the minds of many people due to the medium through which they receive information - modern media, in many of those cases, which focuses on negative here-and-now events. These impressions of volatility, aggression, etc. form with repeated exposure to substandard reporting and incomplete context. By the same token if the focus were on Muslims who were kind, charitable, generous, this perception may not be the way it is today. So a lot of this is circumstantial. Any community and its members can be demonized with sufficient media attention. In fact a recent poll established that (American) Muslims were less likely to see violence as an acceptable solution to a problem than other communities. Given that this position arises out of theology and not politics, it is likely to be similar to positions of other Muslim communities. Also check the book "What a Billion Muslims Really Think" published based on the results of an extensive worldwide survey by Gallup to see statistically the views of Muslims all over the world. What you will find will stand in stark contrast to this "perception." So yet again, a deeper, scholarly, and academic look at things shows the reality of the situation.

A lot of this also comes from trying to apply Western (I don't use this term geographically) notions of what is right and ethical to peoples with different notions of what is right and ethical. I can decide that X is a horrible thing, but it would be unfair of me to apply that standard to a people where X is not a horrible thing to do, and then paint those people as being horrible and backward and oppressive (of course, not everything is relative - Murder without right is never bad in one place and good in another). Getting upset about religion is not cool in some lands, and in some lands it's natural. Some action X is seen as volatile in one land, and part of every day life in another. Plus these notions of what is right and ethical change from generation to generation - 50 years ago, gay marriage was not the litmus test for human rights.

I hate playing the victim card, but one has to point out that in mainstream reporting today when the perpetrator is Muslim, it is always their religion that is seen to motivate them. Muslims cannot have any nuance to them - they cannot have political or social or economic motivations - it must all be religiously motivated. Muslims cannot have psychological conditions or just be simple criminals - they must be doing it because of their religion. True, sometimes these perpetrators explicitly claim inspiration from religious texts, but as a serious scholar of current affairs one must question their motivation for doing so. How much of it is just a convenient cover for what they're doing or to justify it to other people?

Muslims really love God and His Messenger and His Message - this is something that people who've been secularized have a hard time understanding. It is something that's very close to their hearts, as close or closer than their families. When they perceive an attack on Islam or on fellow Muslims, they take it to heart and wish to defend it, as anyone would with something they love. Try telling an Apple fan that Apple products are inferior. Or a Bieber fan that Bieber's music stinks. Then think about that for something that is far more consequential. This is not to excuse violent reactions (these are personal failings on the part of people who have not internalized Islamic notions of restraint and forbearance) but it explains where they come from. Aggression is a base human response - Islam came to tame it. Anger and impulsive response is not the way of the Muslim, there are plenty of textual citations for this claim. Of course when the focus is on the proportion of the population that hasn't internalized these notions, then the perspective of the relative proportions is going to be skewed ("where are all the nice Muslims?? Why don't I see them on TV??")

To answer your question at the end - it's probably all three of the options you presented. Sometimes I take a few steps back and wonder how a deen that 1) prescribes the worship of the Creator alone 2) enjoins justice and good deeds to humanity above all 3) tells human beings they are accountable for all their actions 4) tells human beings that nothing distinguishes them apart from their piety and closeness to their Creator 5) other similar things ever got caught in this negative feedback cycle. These are the main points, the core, by which a person should judge Islam. The other things are just distractions from this message.

Strictly theologically and jurisprudentially speaking there is no basis for violence against someone who insults Islam in a non-Muslim state. I don't know what kind of laws a modern Islamic state might have for this. One of the objectives of shari'ah is to preserve and facilitate the practice of Islam. So I imagine that open mockery or blasphemy is not something that will be tolerated in the public domain (just as every community has its taboos, this is ours). However this doesn't necessarily mean that debate or criticism and such must be outlawed - they just need to go about it in a different way. Look up John of Damascus.

Practically speaking, most of the Muslim world in the East still lives in a culturally communal mindset - something like this is seen an as insult to the community and it must be dealt with as a community - and another community is seen as responsible for the sins of one of its members (parts of the West seem to be stuck at this as well). Notions of freedom of speech and individual protections are not part of the culture yet (but theologically speaking there is broad room for these notions and in fact an encouragement). And this isn't restricted to Muslim societies - try mocking a Hindu deity in India and see how far you get. Or try mocking Jesus (pbuh) inside Vatican City. Or try mocking Buddha in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, or Thailand. I don't think they'll be eager to uphold your free speech rights just then.

Lastly, this external perception is not really a concern. From the beginning Islam made enemies of those who stood to lose economically and politically from its message of egalitarianism and service to God and humanity, and this will be the case until the end of time. A Muslim's job is to individually submit to God, and collectively spread the message of Islam, and that's it. The rest is up to God. Despite this negative perception you bring up, literally thousands of people become Muslim all over the world every month.

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    Haven't read it yet, this answer needs formatting (lists, bold, italic, etc..) so that it becomes more readable and attractive. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 8:01
  • @Mr.TAMER Sorry - it's not very conducive to that kind of formatting. It's more of a thought dump than anything else. Maybe I'll delete it. Don't know yet. This whole question and all it's answers will be borderline :)
    – Ansari
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 8:07
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    I don't agree that any extra formatting is needed; a wise and thoughtful answer - thank you. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 10:28
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    "And this isn't restricted to Muslim societies - try mocking a Hindu deity in India and see how far you get. Or try mocking Jesus (pbuh) inside Vatican City. Or try mocking Buddha in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, or Thailand. I don't think they'll be eager to uphold your free speech rights just then." For one thing, those aren't capital offenses in any of those countries, as opposed to the blasphemy laws in a number of Muslims-majority countries. For another, the appropriate reaction isn't to tolerate this everywhere, but to reject it everywhere.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:04
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    "I hate playing the victim card, but one has to point out that in mainstream reporting today when the perpetrator is Muslim, it is always their religion that is seen to motivate them." Polls show that Muslims are motivated by their religious beliefs to a number of unethical mental/behavioral patterns, and statistics indicate a significant correlation for this as well. "Strictly theologically and jurisprudentially speaking there is no basis for violence against someone who insults Islam in a non-Muslim state." I think jihad would fall squarely in this category.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:06

Because this is a fairly 'big' question, I'll try to keep my response concise and directly address the point with minimum detail, as opposed to if you broke it down into smaller questions.


The earliest Muslim wars of conquest were out of self-defense, in the sense that "the best defense is a good offense". The first wars throughout the Arabian peninsula, was because the Arab polytheists opposed the Prophet Muhammad's assertive expansion of Islam. Many were defensive, except in the case of violated treaties.

The Ridda wars was the suppression of various revolutions that occurred right after Muhammad's death. Some refused to pay Zakat (which was a major source of income for the nation), some outright attacked, or were said to plan to attack. I mention this only because the Byzantines and Persians were directly funding militants and sending mercenaries to weaken the Arabian nation.

The Byzantine and Persian conquests that followed were a response to this hostility.

Many of those who lived in the conquered regions actually welcomed the Arabian forces, because of the freedom of religion, lowered taxes, and promises of protection. (B. Rosenwein, 2004). Religious tolerance may sound difficult to believe among Muslims today, but note that the original Muslims suffered for decades under religious persecution and were very welcoming of a tolerant world.

Their wars were not done out of greed and desire for power, but out of the wish to expand Islam and overthrow those who were strictly against Islam. They have attempted to peace out those wars when they felt that their opponents were no longer a threat. The original Caliphs would take minimum wage, dress poorly, and avoided being treated like kings. Hence why it was considered sinful to wear silk and gold.

(Source: Dr. 'Ali Muhammad Muhammad As-Sallaabee, 2007. Abu Bakar As-Siddeeq. KSA: Darussalam. A very good, concise, academically accurate book which also explains it in the form of a story.)

But it should be kept in mind that history is written by the victorious, and the Shiah also have their own perspective of the story which looks poorly upon the early Rashidun Caliphs.

There are of course, many other Muslim conquests, but these were the ones sanctioned by Muhammad and the Caliph Abu Bakr, and would probably be the closest to the original Islamic teachings. It is not an aggressive religion, but one that will rise to arms if threatened.


In Islam, terrorism is not a Sunnah. The early Muslim armies were told to respect the bodies of the enemies, to avoid damaging the lands of the territories they conquered or sieged. Their wars were utilized as a means of spreading Islam.

They wanted to win the hearts and minds of the people. Note that most of their greatest leaders at this point, such as Umar al-Khattab and Khalid al-Walid, were once their worst enemies. ('Ali Muhammad, 2007)

The Arabian form of unconventional warfare rose from Muhammad's military strategy to minimize damage by hitting only the important points. Assassination and espionage was part of the Islamic war book, but focuses on core figures, not civilians.

While terrorism follows similar covert operation methods, the philosophy behind it has been lost after a few centuries, and terrorism by killing innocent civilians goes against Islam's methods.


Yes, polygamy and wife beating is mentioned in the Quran. But just because it was recognized, does not mean that it is condoned, and some people take these verses out of context to do what they like.

And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah - then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful. (Quran 4:129)

Islam actually encourages monogamy.

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (Quran 4:34)

Wife-beating is an absolute last resort, and forbidden if unjustified.

All these are not explicitly forbidden, because there may be cases where they are necessary. The only verse on polygamy in the Quran mentions marriage in the context of charity.

As for separating men and women, it is only because it is a sin to 'approach fornication'. Muslims throughout the world have very different views on 'approaching' fornication, some claim that simply looking at the face or an SMS is sinful, others may draw the line at following each other into a bedroom. It is more of cultural conservatism than strictly religious.

Homosexual rights

Wikipedia covers all sides of Islamic rulings on LGBT better than I could.

Death penalty for apostates

There is another question that covers this. But generally, in context, it seems to apply in the case of treason.


Islam does make claims and have solid traditions on certain controversial topics.

But most of the rest is dependent on Muslim culture. You'll find that Muslims in the West and far East may have drastically different opinions and levels of conservatism compared to those in the Middle East. Many will grasp at anything for recognition of their political beliefs, which often involves trying to reinterpret religion to that way.

If you wish to find examples of large group of Muslims who think negatively, you'll find them somewhere in the world, but they must always be compared to Muslims in the rest of the world in order to get a clear perspective.

In the end, Islam simply calls on its followers to worship Allah and Allah rewards those who do good and prohibit evil. It is when people commit greater evils under the justification of 'prohibiting evil' that these things happen.

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    WOW! Really good answer indeed. So generally what you are trying to say is that because the Quran is somehow hyperbolic (you can interpret it in many ways), there are people who use that in bad ways. Generally Islam is a peaceful religion?
    – Eugene
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 12:27
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    @Eugene Every religion is can be interpreted in bad ways - just take one verse out of context of the rest of the text. It's always a test to read the context of something before deciding. I can't really say it's "peaceful", because it strongly encourages fighting injustice and self-defense. But it actually discourages Muslims from fighting for personal gain... in fact, an unprovoked insult on a non-Muslim is a sin.
    – Muz
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 2:46
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    Muslim wars of conquest were out of self-defense, in the sense that "the best defense is a good offense". So by your own logic, every offense can be labeled as defense.
    – user
    Commented Nov 11, 2013 at 17:28
  • @user Definitely true. You can see that the modern war in Iraq and Israel-Palestinian conflict labeled as defensive. It's up to the person who declares war to declare their Casus Belli and the wars under Abu Bakr and Umar's were pre-emptive strikes or recovering territory. I might be missing a Rashidun war or two which were conversion or territorial, so check my facts. Of course there are plenty of Islamic countries that did more offensive wars, but they're further removed from the original teachings of Islam, under Prophet Muhammad and companions.
    – Muz
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 11:48
  • "But generally, in context, it seems to apply in the case of treason." - if you consider saying "Islam is not true because of X Y and Z" in public to be treason.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:01

Islam is not volatile rather SOME Muslims are, and the reason are more or less in history as opposed to theology or even ideology.

Today Muslims are sitting on a lot of oil in the middle east, diamonds in Africa and opium in Afghanistan. Even after all these resources you would imagine them to be happy people.

But one thing we forget that the world is after these resources. So instability and confusion is the key to get these resources.

So it is this volatile mix of natural resources, local/world politics, local customs and a lot of dishonesty by Muslims and non Muslims for personal gains that has created this chaos.

If you remove all this from the equation, you are left with Muslims of the West. Many are indeed better muslims than their eastern counter parts based in knowledge and reason.


Islam is neither a religion of peace, nor a religion of war, peace or war each may be the right choice for each specific case, although there are some general guidances as well among which are:

  1. Do not start the war.
  2. A problem solvable by speech should not be tried through war.

One thing that is over-clear in Shia Islam (I don't know about the Sunni Islam, maybe Sunni Muslims want to complete my answer) is that there are sins about which both the doers and the doeths are responsible, the doers for doing the sin and the doeths for remaining passive or mis-reactive. For example people during a colonialism shouldn't submit themselves to the authority of the outsiders, they should fight for their rights in anyway possible for them otherwise would be responsible, remaining silent (still not as passive, but fighting e.g. by boycotting the colonizer's goods and etc) may be forgiven or not. Actually, if they have enough power to fight, i.e. 1/10 of that of their enemies or at least 1/2 of them --according to Quran-- then it would be of course unforgivable as Jihad is already Vajib: (Al-Anfal:65,66)

O Prophet! rouse the Believers to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the Unbelievers: for these are a people without understanding.

For the present, Allah hath lightened your (task), for He knoweth that there is a weak spot in you: But (even so), if there are a hundred of you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred, and if a thousand, they will vanquish two thousand, with the leave of Allah: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. [Abdullah Yusuf Ali]

Returning back to your question:

Islam has a reputation as being a bit volatile, sexist, aggressive, leaning towards genuine threat and violence - most typically towards anyone whose views conflict with Islam (secularists, people supporting the rights of homosexuals, feminists, ex-Muslim apostates, people who think that freedom-of-speech includes the right to criticize religion, etc). … Does Islam have a view on its external reputation?

I try my best here to show some aspects of Islam and that's you who should judge if the reputations are correct or not, albeit not only upon my writings.

1. First let me say that Islam is different than Muslim's beliefs and behaviors. Allah has ordered us to look at his prophet as one good symbol:

Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. (Al-Ahzab:21)

as Allah quotes from him:

"And I am commanded to be the first of those who bow to Allah in Islam." [or probably translated more accurately as: I am commanded to submit myself to Allah more than any other person do, i.e., precess all the others and be the foremost] (Al-Zomar:12) -- (and similar to that in Al-Ana'am:163)

you want to learn about Islam you should study Quran (the prophet's miracle, albeit the original text and not similarly its translations) and the prophet's story of life, his sayings and behaviors. Only be warned that Quran has a key, stated in (Aal-e-Emran):

He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.

2. Then let me say something about the genders in Islam, their rights and rules. First have a look at this question. Men and women are certainly not the same and, therefore, it is not so wise to ask them equal tasks or admit equal rights for them, women being more sensitive and emotional, less bodily powerful, more flexible with respect to the conditions of living, more attention absorbing, less stronger in difficulties, better communications with children, and etc., however, these are all statistical. It is stated in Quran that human being is created in pair (And [have We not] created you in pairs; Al-Naba':78), that is, men for women and women for men, then why these much restrictions on their relations?

  • to keep the families safe (family is the first community in which a human child is treated)
  • the parents of each child should be known for at least two specific reasons (1. those who are Mahram to the child should be known as marriage between two Mahram's is forbidden; 2. legacy has its own rules and for that the child's parents should be known); this is partly the reason why men are allowed to have four wives whereas women can have only one husband at a time (the mother is always known but the father not!)
  • men lose less in rapes than women lose, sometimes not compensable at all, so although men are commanded to control their sights but also women are commanded to wear Hijab, Hijab is partly to keep the women safe (so is a private rule for them) and partly to keep men away from incitation as much as possible, so that the atmosphere be more pleasant and salubrious. More focus on work in offices, less divorce, safer families, better treaded children, better future societies, less children with no known parents, less crimes and etc. NOTE. In Islam Hijab starts from nudity (between a wife and husband) to wearing only the special points (for Mahram's like parents, children, aunts and uncles, and some others) to the complete wearing of all body except some exceptions, without any incitation inductions in others who is to communicate with "she the human" and not "she the beautiful girl" or "she the body" or else. Hijab in western country also exist (except for nudists maybe) but with some differences: in Islam Hijab is largely w.r.t. people around somewhat (but obviously not completely) irrespective of the situation, whereas in western countries clothing is w.r.t. situation almost (but again not completely) irrespective of the people around, e.g. clothing in universities, in parties and in sea shores are different although people be the same around. Although the top limit of clothing is different between Islam and many western and eastern countries, but the question is that who is qualified to determine this limit, God the creator or the psychologists (trying to discover human what they are, studying it as a blackbox) and youths (living by their right and wrong wishes)? Certainly this limit has been lowered a lot in the western and eastern countries in the few past decades, maybe due to internet and satellites and movie making industry.
  • even people of the same gender, which are considered also Mahram w.r.t each other, are not allowed to relate with each other in an offensive manner, be it seeing or touching or speaking and etc., be it between women alone or between men alone. This clearly reject the rights for homosexuals in Islam. The story of the prophet Lot (PBUH) in Islam specifically mention the homosexuality as a big sin, also see here for some probable scripture from bible about this behavior. Let me add something, until a few decades before homosexuality was considered a psychological disease, then it was omitted that you may think it be based on a mere scientific reasoning but I think it be mere political (zionism, freemasonry).
  • and …

3. Then let me say something about the freedom of speech, commonly considered as a respected right of the human being. It is not strange for one to believe any misuse of the gifts given to him by Allah may be forbidden. For example, eyes are given to us to use them in the right way, but misusing it can be probably a sin. Among all the limbs given to us by Allah, eyes, ears, tongues and sexual organs are more probable to be misused, and among these tongue has a lot of misuses introduced to us: backbiting, lying, using smear words and libeling, abusive speaking, being earful, making joke of others and etc. . Who can ever allow what God has forbidden? Only people who are accustomed to misuse their tongues, or those who want be able to say anything wrong that they want may try to establish "freedom of speech" as a human right, otherwise they can say what they want and no one would be teased like now Muslims are teased of rude people not believing in anything but themselves and their own (dirty) politics. People have right to laugh at us and our beliefs and we should stay happy? Someone mock my father and I remain smiled is the reaction of a psychologically healthy person? Muslims respect their prophets more than they respect their fathers.

If thou dost question them, they declare (with emphasis): "We were only talking idly and in play." Say: "Was it at Allah, and His Signs, and His Messenger, that ye were mocking?"(Al-Tubah:65)

Freedom of speech is a respected right only if a question is asked to learn about something, be it God or the historic facts about our prophet and Imams, PBU. But there are times that someone ask not to learn but to make laugh of us, then the behavior against the questioner would be different as should be. To us most of the insults against Islamic values are just some (political, planned) examinations to see where is the Muslim's bearing threshold! Muslims be silent they would go further and further, but Muslims have proved to be zealous thanks to Allah, not allowing the United States and the global Zionism to reach their new world order that they intend.

Also in western countries they have given a controlled limited speech freedom, one can even make joke of Obama and think what a free country, but then he says something about zionism and one day all at once his body will be found in a river or else as if he was drunken and fallen in the river, or is introduced as a terrorist and the rest of story is clear. Introducing their counter ideas as terrorism and pretending like they are fighting for democracy (a mouthful phrase) are signs of freedom of Speech? Muslims are more honest in their beliefs, to be honest, I think.

4. Freedom of idea is accepted also in Quran, but let me clear the situation better. In Islam we are not created as free (in the sense that we are allowed to do whatever we may wish), but only able to make decision, with a piece of caution that be careful, you are responsible of your decisions, choosing among all the available options. We are not allowed to choose all the options, but only able to choose. We are not allowed both to believe in God and don't believe in God, or believe in badness of the sins and to deny them in our minds, we are only able to do such, but we should choose. Freedom of idea being accepted in Islam means no one is allowed to bothering someone with any different ideology (including the ones quitting Islam), however, there is yet two "but"s, (1) but as he is not allowed to have any ideology that he wish God may punish or forgive him depending on if he couldn't believe otherwise or wanted not to believe, (2) but this is true only as long as his idea remains in his mind and if it was stated then it will be a speech and not a personal idea any longer, it can have social effects now and so can be treated also by the society.

These were my personal answers with an eye open to Shia Islam, it is very probable that my explanations are lame or even partly wrong, so that maybe others would help complete it.


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