Coverage of this article was also published in Arabic in Egypt's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and Al-Arabiya website.
The Washington Post describes the Grand Mufti as follows: "Since 2003, Dr. Ali Gomaa has served as the Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt, a position of religious authority second only to the Sheikh al-Azhar. As one of Islam’s most respected scholars of Islamic law, Dr. Ali Gomaa oversees Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s highest body for delivering opinions on religious law. Details"
In that section of the Washington Post the Grand Mufti stated the following when he addressed religious freedom question:
Freedom of Religion in Islam
The essential question before us is can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can, because the Quran says, “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion,” [Quran, 109:6], and, “Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve,” [Quran, 18:29], and, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error,” [Quran, 2:256].
These verses from the Quran discuss a freedom that God affords all people. But from a religious perspective, the act of abandoning one’s religion is a sin punishable by God on the Day of Judgment. If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment. If, however, the crime of undermining the foundations of the society is added to the sin of apostasy, then the case must be referred to a judicial system whose role is to protect the integrity of the society. Otherwise, the matter is left until the Day of Judgment, and it is not to be dealt with in the life of this world. It is an issue of conscience, and it is between the individual and God. In the life of this world, “There is no compulsion in religion,” in the life of this world, “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,” and in the life of this world, “He who wills believes and he who wills disbelieves,” while bearing in mind that God will punish this sin on the Day of Judgment, unless it is combined with an attempt to undermine the stability of the society, in which case it is the society that holds them to account, not Islam.
All religions have doctrinal points that define what it is to be an adherent of that religion. These are divine injunctions that form the basis of every religion, but they are not a means for imposing a certain system of belief on others by force. According to Islam, it is not permitted for Muslims to reject their faith, so if a Muslim were to leave Islam and adopt another religion, they would thereby be committing a sin in the eyes of Islam. Religious belief and practice is a personal matter, and society only intervenes when that personal matter becomes public and threatens the well-being of its members.
In some cases, this sin of the individual may also represent a greater break with the commonly held values of a society in an attempt to undermine its foundations or even attack its citizenry. Depending on the circumstances, this may reach the level of a crime of sedition against one’s society. Penalizing this sedition may be at odds with some conceptions of freedom that would go so far as to ensure people the freedom to destroy the society in which they live. This is a freedom that we do not allow since preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms. This was the basis of the Islamic perspective on apostasy when committed at certain times and under certain circumstances.
After reading this, one must ask the following questions:
1) What is the definition of a "religion other than Islam?"
2) It is a known fact that Egypt recognizes three religions only (Islam, Christianity & Judaism). What is the status of other religions then? Are these teachings and interpretations applicable to them? How about Hindus, Buddhists and Baha'is?
3) As the quotations from the Qur'an, included by the Grand Mufti, give no reference whatsoever to which religions a person is free to choose, Who is to decide then that only certain religions are to be acceptable for the individual choice of belief--without falling into the trap of being accused of "a crime of sedition against one’s society?" Why should there be any restrictions on personal freedom of belief in this age? Don't these restrictions violate the individual freedoms guaranteed by all international declarations of human rights, including those of Egypt's own constitution?
4) As 51% of the world's population does not belong to any of the three recognized religions in Egypt, what is the proportion of these world adherents that would be considered "to undermine the stability of the society" as stated by the Grand Mufti?
5) Who would make that judgement, i.e. a determination that a group of adherents is attempting "to undermine the stability of the society" and what criteria are to be used to make that determination?
6) Do his statements imply that Egyptian Muslims are free to convert to Christianity, Judaism or any other religions that are deemed not "to undermine the stability of the society" without any fear for their civil and human rights, or without a threat to their life?
I am sure that there are many other questions to ask, and I suspect that the readers would be eager to express their opinions and questions regarding this in the comment section of this post.