By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service, www.assistnews.net
EGYPT (ANS, June 22, 2016) — To convert away from Islam is “treason” that should carry the death penalty, according to Sunni Islam’s topmost religious authority.
“The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in Sharia,” Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib declared on Egypt television last week, as reported by World Watch Monitor (www.worldwatchmonitor.org). .
Al-Azhar is a major ideological force behind the propagation of Islam in non-Muslim countries. Al-Azhar University is a university in Cairo, Egypt. Associated with Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo, it is Egypt’s oldest degree-granting university and is renowned as “Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university.”
“An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed,” el-Tayyib stated, reiterating Islam’s traditional position during a June 16 episode of a daily TV program featuring him.
World Watch Monitor explained the ‘Good Imam’ TV program is broadcast every day during the Muslim month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, intense worship and increased zeal across the Islamic world. Shown over Egypt’s state TV, it is also broadcast by several private satellite channels across the Arab world and Muslim diaspora.
World Watch Monitor said that in Islam, “apostasy manifests itself as crime … that has to incur a disciplining punishment.”
“[Preaching] apostasy stems from a hatred against Islam and a premeditated desire to work against it. As such it constitutes in my belief high treason and a departure from the community and what it holds sacred,” the official portal of Al-Azhar quoted el-Tayyib as saying.
Started over a millennium ago as a centre of Shiite power, Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque has since become renowned as “Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university.” Currently, it serves as a main ideological and logistical backer of worldwide Islamic missionary work.
“The broad consensus of Islamic theology, including the Prominent Scholars of [Sunni Islam’s] Four Schools, judge apostasy to be criminal,” el-Tayyib said. “They are all in agreement that an apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.
“One is to employ dialogue and debate in the hope the apostate would repent, which in itself speaks for a measure of flexibility in that an apostate is not killed outright,” el-Tayyib said, describing converts from Islam as “blind at heart” for leaving “the Religion of Original Nature.”
In el-Tayyib’s home country of Egypt, where Sharia is not fully implemented, converts to Christianity are not sentenced to death. Other charges are often levelled against them to keep them in jail for lengthy periods of time, as in the current case of Mohammed Hegazy, imprisoned since December 2013. Mohammed Hegazy was the first Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to seek official recognition of his conversion from the Egyptian government.
Hegazy, is an Egyptian convert from Islam who goes by the Christian name Bishoy Armeya Boulo. He was sentenced to five years in prison on June 18, 2014 after he filmed clashes between Muslims and Christians in central Egypt. He is accused of filming a demonstration without obtaining government permission, a misdemeanor crime that typically carries a maximum sentence of six months. Bishoy served six months while waiting for conviction after his Dec. 4 arrest.
World Watch Monitor reports the true reason for the extreme prison sentence most likely lies in Bishoy’s history. In 2007, Bishoy, then Mohammed Hegazy, petitioned the Egyptian government to change his official religious status, an unprecedented move in a thoroughly Islamic society. Bishoy converted to Christianity from Islam in 1999 at age 17. His public request to change his religious status generated death threats and forced Bishoy and his family into hiding.
After spending several years in hiding, Bishoy’s wife and two children were able to leave the country for asylum in Germany. Bishoy, however, chose to remain in Egypt, knowing that if he left, he’d never be allowed back in his home country. His own experience in hiding and being constantly followed by police made him passionate for the rights of converts to Christianity. He spends his days documenting abuses against Egyptian Christians and advocating for fair treatment.
When he was arrested, Bishoy was in southern Egypt filming clashes that resulted after Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi was ousted from office in July 2013. Hundreds of Christians were attacked, some kidnapped and thousands of churches and Christian businesses throughout the country were looted and destroyed.
Bishoy’s lawyer told World Watch Monitor that Bishoy is in good condition, though police have questioned him about his religious status, which is totally unrelated to the charge.
Bishoy and his lawyer have filed an appeal against the conviction.
World Watch Monitor stated that Liberal Muslim voices have found themselves cornered by Al-Azhar’s professed role as guardian of orthodox Islam. Last January, a TV presenter and researcher, Islam el-Behery, was sentenced to a year in prison for arguing against canonical texts of Islam on a number of issues, including apostasy.
World Watch Monitor reports it is the second time this Ramadan that a statement by Egypt’s religious establishment has caused widespread reaction among sectors of the Egyptian public, which is 90 percent Muslim.
The online news outlet said that preceding the start of the Muslim fasting month, the country’s fatwa issuing authority (Darul-Ifta) said on June 6 that to eat or drink in public during Ramadan “cannot be included within the realm of personal freedoms, but is a type of anarchy transgressing the sanctity of Islam.”
According to the online report, the Grand Imam stressed that “in the Islamic world, apostates are not being strung from the gallows in public squares,” and stated that the issue was being handled with “a flexible theology that emphasizes creativity of thinking based on Sharia’s ethos.”
World Watch Monitor reported the published statement by el-Tayyib concluded by blaming the West for “repelling people away from Islam,” describing concerns over women’s issues, apostasy, and Jihad as “defamation of Islam and Muslims.”
Photo captions: 1) al-Azhar University in Cairo (Courtesy World Watch Monitor). 2) Mohammed Hegazy (Courtesy World Watch Monitor). 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia.
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