KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Civil group G25 stressed today that it neither condones nor encourages Muslims from leaving the faith as it is a major sin in Islam, and they must be persuaded as much as possible from doing so.

However, the group said those who insist on leaving Islam must not be charged with a criminal offence, as the Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of worship to each citizen of Malaysia, including Muslims.

“If they insist, and especially if they are converts to Islam, they should be allowed to do so as the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not only for non-Muslims, but to all Malaysian citizens,” it said in a statement.

The group made of former top-ranking civil servants compared the situation to other Muslim-majority countries, such as Morocco, which does not make apostasy a criminal offence, as it interprets “apostasy” as a matter of treason.

It said that apostasy was punishable by death during the times of Prophet Muhammad, as those who did so, would desert for the enemy’s side and oppose the Islamic state.

“That was the political situation at that time, and it was not a religious doctrine. Because apostasy was linked to treachery (unlike solely becoming an apostate) and is considered high treason, it was reasonable back then to punish it with death,” it said.

On Saturday, G25 released its report titled “Administration of Matters Pertaining to Islam”, based on extensive research on the background and history of Islamic administration over the years.

Laws on apostasy among Muslims differ according to states, with heavy prison, fine, or caning sentences in some after very long period of “rehabilitation”.

Kelantan and Terengganu’s hudud enactments prescribe death for apostates who fail to repent, but cannot yet implement it due to restriction in federal laws.

In its latest report on religious restriction, US-based think tank Pew Research Centre ranked Malaysia as having “very high” government restriction on religion, with a worse score compared to 10 years before.