CASABLANCA (SE): The High Religious Committee, which is in charge of issuing fatwas (Islamic rulings) in Morocco, released a book in 2012 which articulates its position that apostasy should be punished by death.
Drawing on a widespread jurisprudence tradition, the 2012 book argues that a Muslim who changes his or her religion should be punished with death.
However, in an about turn, the committee has released a paper in Casablanca entitled, The Way of the Scholars, in which it backtracks on its former position of killing those who apostatise.
In the publication, the High Religious Committee redefines apostasy as a political stand, which is more closely aligned with high treason, rather than being a religious matter.
The view that the apostate should not be killed in Islam is not a new one and can be found in the teachings of Sufyan al-Thawri in the first century AH (refers to the Islamic dating system of the Hijri calendar. On the Gregorian calendar it begins at 622AD).
Sufyan al-Thawri reviewed historical situations where the prophet, Mohammed, acted on the ruling, as opposed to the times he did not order the killing of the apostates.
He concluded that killings occurred for political purposes and were not decisions based on religion, as apostates could, theoretically, disclose the secrets of the then fragile Islamic nation to an enemy.
The High Religious Committee in Morocco gave a similar rationale for its change in position.
It released a statement saying, “The most accurate understanding and the most consistent with the Islamic legislation and the practical way of the prophet, peace be upon him, is that the killing of the apostate is meant for the traitor of the group, the one disclosing secrets… the equivalent of treason in international law.”
The High Religious Committee presented the prophet’s statement that “whoever changes his religion, kill him,” but interprets it in the light of another guideline, “The one who leaves his religion and abandons his people.”
The statement further explains that at the time of continuous wars against the Islamic revolution in Arabia, apostates represented a threat, as there was always the danger they would disclose secrets to enemies.
It goes on to explain that during the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Mohammed himself observed the provisions stating that whomever became a Muslim and renounced it, must be allowed to return to Quraich, the Muslim nations’ most powerful enemy at the time.
When a Bedouin decided to leave Islam after the treaty was signed, the prophet simply let him go.
Using Islam’s primary source of legislation, the High Religious Committee states that the Qur’an talks in many instances about apostasy and its punishment in the hereafter, without mentioning any punishment in this life.
It quotes Chapter 2 verse 217 as saying, “And whoever of you reverts from his religion (to disbelief) and dies while he is a disbeliever—for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the hereafter, and those are the companions of the fire, they will abide therein eternally.”
The document also explained that the famous Wars of Apostasy launched by Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the Muslim world’s first Caliph, were in line with his effort to keep the newly established state together and fight all sorts of internal divisions.
It strongly affirms that this was a decision based on political reasoning, rather than on religious motivation.