This is a fatwa issued in 1978 by the al Azhar seminary in Cairo.
Al Azhar is part of the mainstream of Sunni Islam. Its edicts, direction and rulings are considered to be highly authoritative. Its membership encompasses all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.
The ‘advice’ given here cannot be dismissed as having been given by a fringe extremist body. It is advice sanctioned by the most prestigious mainstream seminary in Sunni Islam.
Translation of the fatwa:
In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful
A question from Mr. Ahmed Darwish who presented the question through Mr. (Blanked out) of German nationality:
A Muslim man of Egyptian nationality married a Christian woman of German nationality. The two spouses agreed that the aforementioned Muslim man would enter the Christian religion and join the Christian creed.
1. What is the ruling of Islam regarding this person’s situation?
2. Are his children considered Muslims or Christians and what is their ruling?
All praises are due to Allah, lord of all the worlds. And peace and blessings be upon the greatest of all messengers, our master Muhammad and upon his family and companions all together. As for what follows:
We inform that he has apostatized after having been in a state of Islam, so he should be asked to repent. If he does not repent, he should be killed according to the sharia.
As for his children, so long as they are small they are Muslims. After they have attained maturity, if they remain in Islam then they are Muslims. If they leave it, then they should be asked to repent. If they do not repent, they should be killed. And Allah knows best.
President of the Fatwa Committee of Al-Azhar
Seal of the Committee
September 23, 1978
•This man should be asked to convert back to Islam. If he doesn't, he should be killed.
•Since his kids are still young, they are considered Muslim. Once they hit puberty, if they stay Muslim, they're fine; if they convert to Christianity, they're asked to revert to Islam; if they refuse, they should be killed. And Allah knows best.
This is a ruling that represents the orthodox Sunni position on apostasy. Some people claim that with some legalistic pedantry this position can be altered and made circumstantial, or that depending on certain factors, is not punishable in this world, only by Allah in the afterlife. Some suggest that ‘mercy’ shown to ex-Muslims is contingent on them repenting.
Nevertheless, this fatwa represents how ex-Muslims face immense levels of theologically sanctioned hate, prejudice and persecution.
It demonstrates how there are deep internal ethical flaws within Islam regarding freedom of conscience.
And it provides a glimpse into the fear and horror that prevents ex-Muslims from speaking freely, and the social pressures that ex-Muslims face.
Whilst Islam avails itself of the principle of freedom of worship and belief in secular societies, and evangelises itself through the practise of ‘da’wah’, it also contains a deeply immoral taboo against leaving Islam.
This teaching results in true freedom of conscience being stunted. It defines leaving Islam as a crime of such immensity that fear, silence and violence prevail and define the experience of ex-Muslims, dissenters and critics of Islam.
This teaching and the social taboo and persecution sanctioned by it, is antithetical to values of free conscience, free expression, secularism and liberalism.
Confronting this teaching begins with speaking out and breaking the silence about its persistence.
Those who claim that Islam is ‘perfect’ and seek to snuff out the exposure of this teaching and social attitude seek to snuff out the most important and precious of all our freedoms – of free conscience and free expression, and the primacy of the individual over the collective community and the cruel writ of supposedly divine authority.