The High Religious Committee of Morocco has retracted a previous ruling that apostasy from Islam is punishable by death and says that Muslims may now change their religion.
Previously the committee, which holds the responsibility of issuing Fatwas (Islamic rulings), had stated that defection from Islam merited the death penalty. Now however, the committee has retracted its position, Morocco World News reports.
In a document titled The Way of the Scholars the committee defines apostasy not as a religious issue but a political one.
"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," it says.
Apostasy is described as something thatin the earliest period of Islam was punishable for its political consequences – those who fled Islam might disclose the secrets of the nation to its enemies. The context of apostasy and its punishment, the committee suggests, was predominantly pragmatic and political. Such tensions are no longer relevant to most cases of apostasy, it says.
The committee noted too that in various instances the Quran speaks of apostasy being punished in the life to come, but not in this present life. For example, it says (2:217): "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 said that the prophet Mohammad, during the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, followed the tradition that anyone who renounced Islam must be allowed to return to Quraich, Islam's greatest enemy at the time.
Christians represent a small minority in Muslim-majority Morocco. Moroccan Christians have previously spoken up for their faith and challenged the harsh anti-apostasy laws, despite the threat of persecution.
Late last year the US State Department released its annual report on religious freedom, which included serious concerns about harsh and dangerous laws against blapshemy and apostasy in certain parts of the world, which are used to target vulnerable religious minorities.