Senior Cleric for Mainstream American Muslim Group: Islamic Punishment for Apostasy is Death
Dr. Hatem al-Haj, a senior committee member for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA), confirmed in the below fatwa from July 2011 that the Islamic punishment for apostasy is death. A couple of things stand out about this fatwa.
First, this fatwa was taken down from AMJA's website as far back as October 2011, along with other fatwas on the same topic, possibly in response to an article written by Andrew Bostom highlighting the rulings in that same month. (See the fatwa on archive.org, while the link on AMJA's website is broken.) So either AMJA changed their minds about the penalty for apostasy or they do not want non-Muslims to read what they really think on controversial topics.
Second, the question that leads to the fatwa is tellingly not asking what the ruling is on apostasy, but rather how to explain this ruling to others, including non-Muslims. While Dr. al-Haj confirms that the penalty for apostasy from Islam is death, he also recommends that when explaining this to others, you should start with the caveat that this is something which should only be carried out in a Muslim country through the court system.
AMJA likes to hide behind that caveat, but at the same time they encourage Muslims in the United States to use the American legal system in order to establish Islamic law (see here and here). So it is fair to assume that Dr. al-Haj and AMJA would like to eventually make death for apostates the law of the land in the United States as well.
Answer: Praise be to Allah, and peace be upon the Apostle of Allah.
I think you should begin by explaining that this is one of those things which is entrusted to the judicial systems in Islamic countries, and not to individuals in these countries or any others. Then make clear that the courts will examine these situations and decide them based on several factors.
But the ruling in the shari'a is death for men (who commit apostasy) according to all four (mainstream) schools (of Islamic jurisprudence). It is the same punishment for women according to most of the schools, but according to the Hanafis it is only imprisonment. This is according to the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH): "Whoever changed his religion, kill him"; and also, "It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that I am Allah's apostle, except for one of the following three: a murderer, an adulterer, and one who leaves his religion and separates himself from the community."
This firm ruling is not the only option for the imam, for he can rule otherwise, if there is benefit (in doing so). The evidence for this is the apostasy of some in the time of the Prophet (PBUH), on whom the ruling was not carried out. For (the Prophet) said the following about those who apostatized from the Muslims and joined the Quraysh: "Whoever departed from us and went unto them, Allah has banished."
This is not something that was invented by Islam, but rather the ruling on the apostate is also in the Law of Moses (PBUH). The following is from the Book of Deuteronomy: "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you. If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the Lord thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again."
It is well-known that those who worshiped the calf were ordered to be killed. In the Book of Exodus 32:28, it mentioned the killing of 3,000 of the Levites for their apostasy: "And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men."
In explaining this issue to non-Muslims, you need to be wise and honest. May Allah help you.Allah Almighty knows best.
Hatem AlHaj, July 23, 2011