As of 18 February 2008, the fatwas discussed here are no longer posted on the altafsir.com website. Instead the link given below to what was the apostasy fatwas now takes the reader to a page which states ‘No questions were asked concerning this topic.’ (in Arabic)
The Apostasy Fatwas and
‘A Common Word Between Us and You’
15 February 2008
By Mark Durie
Introduction and Summary
A Common Word Between Us and You is an open letter from the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought of Jordan. Dated 13 October 2007. It is addressed to the Pope, and other Christian leaders, and is signed by 138 Muslims leaders from around the world. This letter invites Christians to agree together with Muslims on principles of love for God and one’s neighbour, for the sake of harmony, justice and freedom of religion.
These notes, offered here, document how the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute has several fatwas ‘legal verdicts or edicts' posted on its website, which condemn people to death who have left Islam, specifically including Muslim-background Christians. If they are not killed, then these so-called ‘apostates’ are to be treated as legal non-persons, having no rights before the law. One of the fatwas identifies a Jordanian Christian man by name as an apostate.
There is a contradiction in the actions of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute. On the one hand the Institute is inviting Christians to come together with Muslims based on principles of love and mutual respect, but on the other hand it is passing a death sentence on some Christians simply because they have changed their religious beliefs away from Islam. This contradiction and lack of reciprocity should be pointed out by Christians in interfaith dialogue with Muslims; the Aal al-Bayt Institute should be requested to remove such hate-inciting statements from its website; and Christians who have signed letters welcoming the ‘Common Word’ letter without reservation should withdraw their signatures.
The letter to Christians known as A Common Word appears to affirm loving one’s neighbour, and states ‘…justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour’. However one should consider carefully whether the signatories of A Common Word have the same understanding of ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘justice’ as their intended Christian audience. How can one learn more about the people who wrote and signed this letter?
The Royal Aal al-Bay Institute, which produced the Common Word letter, is engaged in interfaith dialogue with Christians, and information about these activities can be found at acommonword.com, the web site for the Common Word project. If the reader accesses this site, and follows the link entitled THE GREAT TAFSIR PROJECT they will be taken to altafsir.com. This is another site maintained by the Institute, a repository of Islamic knowledge. This material comes highly commended. On the home page of altafsir.com there is a commendation by Ahmad Al-Tayyib, the rector of Al-Azhar University:
We were delighted by viewing this site wherein we found a sea of knowledge copiously flowing with works of exegesis and the fundamental references and sources in this primary field of the Islamic Sciences and Heritage.
The home page also states:
ALTAFSIR.COM is a completely free, non-profit website providing access to the largest and greatest online collection of Qur’anic Commentary (tafsir or tafseer), translation, recitation and essential resources in the world.
This is a very popular site. At the foot of the front page of altafsir.com, a message reported in February 2008 that a total or more than 2.6 million ‘unique visitors’ had accessed the site since 2006.
It is entirely appropriate for Christian readers of A Common Word to study the teachings contained on altafsir.com, so that they can gain a deeper understanding of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute’s activities. However some may find this difficult because most of the site’s resources are – quite understandably – in Arabic. Nevertheless, for passages that are in modern rather than classical Arabic, Google’s Arabic translator, found here, can help address this problem.
“Ask the Mufti”: the Chief Scholar of the Aal al-Bayt Institute’s edicts on Apostasy
There is a collection of fatwas on the altafsir.com site which deal with the subject of apostasy from Islam (ridda). At the time of writing (February 2008), they could be found here.
These fatwas are posted in a section of the site called ‘Ask the Mufti’. They were written by the Chief Scholar of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, His Excellency Shaykh Sa‘id Hijjawi, who was formerly Grand Mufti of Jordan from 1992-2007, and before that Mufti in Oman. A brief CV of the Grand Mufti can be found here, which also has a further link through to more biographical details. Among his many activities as one of the leading jurists of the Middle East, Shaykh Sa‘id Hijjawi has been a participant in high-level, international interfaith dialogue meetings with Christians.
A Grand Mufti is the highest religious authority in a Sunni Muslim nation. He is called upon to issue edicts (fatwas) on legal questions. These may be requested by individuals, or by courts. The collected corpus of his edicts form an authoritative legal resource.
Shaykh Hijjawi is one of the signatories of A Common Word, and as the Chief Scholar of the Aal Al-Bayt Institute, which produced the letter, we can assume that he not only endorses the letter, but may well have helped compose it.
There are sixteen separate fatwas (in Arabic) relating to apostasy by Shaykh Hijjawi on altafsir.com. Some of these, such as No’s 3 and 5, refer explicitly and in considerable detail, to how Christians who have left Islam are to be treated.
One fatwa, No. 13, is especially interesting. It is dated from 1996, and mentions a Jordanian Christian by name. In this fatwa a legal inquiry is presented by someone whom the Grand Mufti refers to as ‘a respected lawyer’. Evidence is tendered that the accused has returned to Christianity after having been a Muslim. He is claiming his right to become a Christian, on the grounds that Jordan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. What is the Grand Mufti's verdict? In reply he rules that, if the evidence reported to him is proven, the man could be judged an apostate, and any Muslim who is aware of the matter has the right to prosecute him before an Islamic court.
This fatwa is significant because it demonstrates that, according to the Grand Mufti, there is no freedom of religion for Muslims to choose whether to believe in Islam, and no human rights for Christians who have left Islam.
Verses of the Qur’an, as well as hadiths (traditions) of Muhammad are cited by the Grand Mufti to support his rulings: some of these authorities are reproduced below.1
Here are some of the points made in the Grand Mufti’s fatwas. (The pronoun ‘he’ is used to refer to the apostate, following the Arabic, although the penalties apply to both men and women):
If a Muslim rejects Islam, he is to be declared an apostate.
Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers. (Sura 3:58)
Apostasy must be proved by the actions or declarations of belief of the apostate.
To be declared an apostate, someone must be an adult (having attained puberty), and be in their right mind.
Someone who is coerced to renounce Islam overtly, while remaining a believer in their heart, cannot be declared to be an apostate:
Whoever disbelieves in God after [having affirmed] his faith — except for him who is compelled, while his heart is at rest in faith — but he who opens up his breast to unbelief, upon such shall be wrath from God, and there is a great chastisement for them. (Sura 16:106)
Before an apostate is sentenced, he must be invited to repent and come back to Islam:
Say to the disbelievers, that if they desist, that which is past will be forgiven them; but if they return, the way of [dealing with] the ancients has already gone before! (Sura 8:38)
The punishment for apostasy is death, mandated by Allah when he said ‘sedition (fitna) is graver than slaying’:
They ask you about the sacred month, and fighting in it. Say, ‘Fighting in it is a grave thing; but to bar from God’s way, and disbelief in Him, and the Sacred Mosque, and to expel its people from it – that is graver in God's sight; and sedition is graver than slaying.’ They will not cease to fight against you until they turn you from your religion if they are able; and whoever of you turns from his religion, and dies disbelieving – their works have failed in this world and the Hereafter. Those are the inhabitants of the Fire, abiding therein. (Sura 2:217)
The death penalty is also supported by clear sayings of Muhammad (hadiths):
The prophet said ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.’2
Muhammad gave three reasons for which the killing of a Muslim is a legal act: infidelity after belief, adultery after marriage, and murder (defined as the illegal killing of another).3
The sentence for apostasy must be passed by the Muslim ruler.
If the apostate is not put to death, other rules apply:
His marriage is annulled by virtue of his apostasy.
He cannot inherit the wealth of any of his relatives – whether they are Muslims or not – because the apostate is legally regarded as dead.
None of his actions after apostasy has any legal validity (as the apostate is a legal non-person).
An apostate cannot be remarried, whether to a Muslim or a non-Muslim.
He cannot be a guardian for anyone else, so he loses custody of his children, and an apostate father has no say over his daughters’ marriages.
Those who wait in watch for you, and, if a victory comes to you from God, say, ‘Were we not with you?’ but if the disbelievers have some luck, they say, ‘Did we not gain mastery over you, and did we not defend you against the believers?’ God will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection, and God will never grant the disbelievers a way over the believers. (Sura 4:141)
An apostate must not be prayed for by Muslims after their death, and must not be buried in a Muslim cemetery.
If a male apostate repents and comes back to Islam, and wishes to resume his marriage, he must remarry his wife with a new ceremony, and provide a new dowry for her.
The apostate’s wealth and possessions are to be entailed upon an heir. If the apostate repents and returns to Islam, he receives his wealth back. If he dies while still apostate, his wealth is inherited by his Muslim heir, but only the amount which he had at the time of his apostasy. Any wealth which has accrued after he left Islam is considered fay4 (and thus the collective property of the Muslim community).
Implications for dialogue
It does not seem to be the case that the signatories of A Common Word understand concepts such as justice, loving one’s neighbour and ‘freedom of religion’ in the same way that most Christians would.5 The Chief Scholar of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, who was a highly prominent signatory of the Common Word letter, is calling for Christians who have converted to Islam to be killed, or else they should be deprived of their rights and treated legally as ‘dead men walking.’ Indeed, because these fatwas are available over the internet, the former Grand Mufti and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute are effectively calling for the death of Christians day after day, and will do so until this material is taken down from the site. [See report at the head of this article.]
Christians — and many others as well — will regard this as a moral inconsistency. How can anyone invite Christians to affirm loving one’s neighbour and freedom of religion, and at the same time promote the killing of Christians, just because they have left Islam? If freedom of religion means anything, it means the right to choose what one believes. This is an excellent issue to raise in interfaith dialogue with the signatories of A Common Word.
It is also worth asking how peace can be achieved in this world as long as violence is promoted as the way to resolve religious differences.
Christians who wish to enter into dialogue with Muslims on the basis of the invitation offered to them in A Common Word should ask the Aal al-Bayt Institute to take the apostasy fatwas off its website, and offer an public apology to former Muslims for inciting hatred and violence against them. This would be a most welcome sign of good will, and demonstrate a commitment to universal values of reciprocity, love for one’s neighbour and freedom of religion.
Finally, the Christian scholars and leaders who have signed letters welcoming A Common Word should consider withdrawing their signatures.
1 The English translation of the Qur’an used here is that produced by the Aal al-Bayt Institute. This can also be found on altafsir.com.
2 Sahih al-Bukhari 9.84.57.
3 ‘The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: … for murder; a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and the one who reverts from Islam …’ (Sahih al-Bukhari 9.83.17.)
4 Derived from a root meaning to ‘return to a good state’ or ‘restore’, fay is reported by the great Arabic lexicographer Lane to mean ‘the possessions of the unbelievers, as accrues to the Muslims’ without war, or after the cessation of hostilities. This bloodless booty is what Allah has ‘restored to the people of his religion, of the possessions of those who have opposed them, without fighting, either by the latter’s quitting their homes and leaving them vacant to the Muslims, or by their making peace on the condition of paying a poll-tax or other money or property to save themselves from slaughter.’ (Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon. Vol 6, p. 252, citing Al-Azhari, a tenth century Arabic lexicographer.)
5 In a 2008 ruling in an Egyptian court, Judge Muhammad Husseini found that it violates the law for a Muslim to leave Islam. In his ruling, Husseini cited Article II of the Egyptian constitution, making Islamic religious law the ‘source’ of Egyptian secular law, as the basis for his conclusion. Since Islam is the ‘final’ and ‘most complete’ religion, Muslims already have full freedom of religion and are not allowed to return to the ‘less complete’ Christianity or Judaism, the ruling said. Following this logic, freedom of religion means a Christian may become a Muslim, but a Muslim cannot become a Christian. This way of thinking is alien to most Christians’ understanding of freedom of religion. (WorldNetDaily report, February 1, 2008 here).