Will Morocco Inflict the Death Penalty for Apostasy?
The Supreme Ulema Council of Morocco plans to issue a fatwa decreeing the death penalty for apostasy, according to Moroccan news website Lakome. This council, which consists of religious Muslim scholars (ulema) appointed by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, is considered the highest religious government institution in Morocco.
Lakome reports that this information was made public earlier this week by the Moroccan daily newspaper Akhbar Al Youm. The Council recently voiced its opinion on freedom of religion, claiming that the death penalty should be applied to Moroccan Muslims who convert from Islam. According to another Moroccan website Medias24, this issue was discussed all day long this past Tuesday on Moroccan radio.
Both Lakome and Medias24 reported that this fatwa was requested by and sent to the Interministerial Delegation for Human Rights of Morocco, led by Mahjoub El Haiba. However, Mr. El Haiba denies having received any fatwa or notices on apostasy. The Supreme Ulema Council is led by secular King Mohammed Vl of Morocco, a country recognized as being one of the most moderate of Muslim countries.
At present, there is no death penalty for apostasy in Morocco....not yet. Islam is the state religion, according to Article 3 of the 2011 Moroccan Constitution. Therefore, it should not come as a shock when apostasy or anything that runs counter to Islam, aka Sharia Law, is punished.
The Western notion of human rights and freedom of religion cannot be guaranteed in a country that declares Islam as the official religion, and in a country that ensures the King "sees to the respect for Islam" as per Article 41 of the Moroccan Constitution. Laws that do not conform to Sharia cannot be upheld forever in a country like Morocco that has accepted the Cairo Declaration, which places Sharia Law above all other systems of law.
Apostasy is not officially considered a crime under Morocco's criminal and civil codes. However, attempting to convert a Muslim is illegal, according to Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code: "anyone who has impeded or prevented one or more persons from worship or from attending worship services of any religion may be punished by six-months to three-years imprisonment, and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams."
Not surprisingly, atheists and Christian proselytizers and converts in Morocco who speak out, are harassed, attacked, face death threats, expelled or imprisoned for periods longer than three years. Moroccan atheist blogger Kacem El Ghazzali, a believer in freedom of expression, was forced to leave Morocco two years ago due to death threats made against him for his views against Islam. Whatever happened to the second half of Article 3 in Morocco's Constitution that "guarantees to all the free exercise of beliefs"?
Given the rise of Morocco's ruling Islamist party (Justice and Development Party) that diminished the power of the King, and the alleged fatwas of Morocco's Supreme Council of Ulemas that call for the death of Muslim apostates, one can only ponder the role of Islam in government with great concern. It is only a matter of time before Morocco becomes just another North African country that accedes to the demands of Islam.
Cynthia Yacowar-Sweeney is a Montreal-based freelance writer. She monitors and comments on Mideast media reports and the rising threat of radical Islam in the West.