Following are excerpts from a debate on apostates in Islam, which aired on Al-Risala TV on November 5, 2007.
Sheik Tareq Al-Sweidan: We have a question for the viewers at home, not in the studio, and they can respond with a text message. What is the best way to deal with apostates who converted from Islam? You have three possible responses. The first is through dialogue only. The second option is killing them, and the third option is to leave it up to the legal system. Enter your votes, send in your answers, and the results will appear on the screen. As for the young people with us in the studio, you can participate in a survey on which we will base our discussion with our guests. You've heard one opinion, and my question is very simple: Does a Muslim have the liberty to change his religion or not? Does a Muslim have the liberty to change his religion?
Al-Sweidan: If a person converted out of conviction, should he be declared an infidel?
Abir: First, he should be allowed to repent. We should explain his error to him, and if he is adamant on rejecting this and insists on his interpretation, he should be allowed to repent and have the opportunity to...
Al-Sweidan: And afterwards, he should be pronounced an infidel?
Abir: I believe he should be.
Al-Sweidan: Thank you, Abir. Let's move to Fatima. What's your opinion?
Fatima: In my opinion, he should be declared an infidel. Why is there a problem with declaring people to be infidels?
Al-Sweidan: I'm not saying there is, I'm just asking a question.
Fatima: He should be declared an infidel. The Koran divided people into Muslims, infidels, and the People of the Book. So there is a group of people who should be declared infidels.
Gamal 'Allam: With regard to matters of faith, the Sunni scholars have agreed that some acts lead to the excommunication of a person. If a person commits any of these acts, he is considered an infidel. The first case is denying something that is irrefutably part of Islam.
Gamal 'Allam: Another case is when a person forbids something that is irrefutably permitted. If Allah permitted something, and along comes somebody and forbids it...
Al-Sweidan: For example, some Muslim countries forbid polygamy.
Gamal 'Allam: Someone who forbids polygamy is an infidel, who should be excommunicated, because he is defying Allah in his right to forbid and permit.
Gamal 'Allam: Whoever rules according to a law other than the law sent down by Allah, and who does so out of full awareness and conviction...
Gamal 'Allam: If he believes that his law is equal to the law of Allah, he is comparing Allah to human beings, and thus, he is an infidel. If he believes his law to be better than the law of Allah, then he prefers the creature over its Creator, and thus, he is an infidel.
Gamal 'Allam: Anybody who calls people to worship him...
Al-Sweidan: Obviously, like Pharaoh.
Gamal 'Allam: Yes, anyone who called upon people...or who claimed he was the son of God, or that he...
Al-Sweidan: This is obvious.
Gamal 'Allam: One is considered an infidel if one curses Allah, His messenger, or the Koran, or who mocks the Prophet's family.
Gamal 'Allam: Whoever mocks Muslim men or women because of their religion...I don't mean a person who has a dispute with someone, and says to him: You mock me as a Muslim, you are an infidel. I mean a person who mocks or curses a Muslim because he prays...
Al-Sweidan: In other words, he mocks the religion.
Gamal 'Allam: He mocks one of the religious rites. For example, a person who mocks a woman for wearing the veil...
Gamal Al-Bana: Whoever says: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah" is a Muslim. End of discussion. It is not our place to delve into the details of his belief. In addition, heresy and faith are, first of all, up to Allah, and secondly, they are personal issues.
Al-Sweidan: Before the break, I asked our audience for their views on this important issue. Does a Muslim have the liberty or the right to change his religion? The results are as follows: 24% said: "Yes, he has the right to change his religion." 76% of the people said: "No." Let's hear some opinions and then I will return to out guests.
Audience member: Sir, if you become an apostate, your punishment is death. There is a great problem that most of us, 70% of us, are Muslims because they were born to Muslim fathers and mothers. Before a person converts to Islam, he has the liberty to choose, but remember that if you want to convert from Islam, you will be punished by death. So you have the liberty to choose, but on the condition...
Al-Sweidan: That's not liberty.
Audience member: It has conditions...
Al-Sweidan: What you are saying is: You have the right to become an apostate, but I will kill you.
Audience member: That's right. I won't tell him not to.
Al-Sweidan: What can be worse than being killed?
Audience member: That's why he will not become an apostate.
Al-Sweidan: I'd like to give the floor to Dr. Gamal again. 76% of the young people here believe that a Muslim does not have the right to change his religion. How do you respond to that?
Gamal Al-Bana: That is very saddening. This result indicates a lack of knowledge regarding the essence of Islam, which is faith and liberty. If belief is not based on awareness and conviction, it is worthless. As the Koran says: "If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed." In other words, every Muslim has the right to change his religion as much as he likes, and nobody is allowed to stand in his way, because this is a question of freedom of conscience, and it is forbidden to intervene in matters of people's conscience. Talk to him, persuade him, hold a dialogue with him, but do not force him. You presented three options: Dialogue, killing, or the legal system. What do the legal system or killing have to do with people's conscience?
Gamal Al-Bana: That is very sad. Most of you are young and do not believe in freedom.
Gamal 'Allam: I’d like to salute our young men and women for their natural and healthy belief and for their religious zeal. At the same time, it was sad to hear Mr. Gamal Al-Bana calling for "freedom of thought," but let me make a correction – what he is calling for is "freedom of heresy" in Muslim countries.
Gamal Al-Bana: "Let him who want believe, and let him who want reject."
Al-Sweidan: If a person wants to go to hell, who are we to say "no"?
Gamal 'Allam: Let him go to hell.
Gamal 'Allam: Islam is the only religion that begins with the imperative "Read." It is the only reasonable and convincing religion.
Al-Sweidan: But what if a person is not convinced?
Gamal 'Allam: Then there is something wrong in his head.
Al-Sweidan: That's what you think, but isn't he entitled to have something wrong in his head?
Gamal 'Allam: Anybody who is insane should go to a mental asylum, or else if he is insane, his head should be removed so that it does not contaminate the heads of others.
Al-Sweidan: We all agree that whoever violates the law must be punished. Nobody is disputing that. We are talking about a matter relating to one's belief, not about violation of the law.
Gamal 'Allam: If this belief pertains to that person only, there would be no problem. The problem is that he is harming me, you, and Muslim society...
Al-Sweidan: No, if he wants to become an infidel, he is free to go to hell. This does not harm me in any way. Take, for example, Salman Rushdie, who became an apostate. Good riddance. He did not affect me in any way.
Gamal Al-Bana: I believe that the freedom of thought and belief is absolute, because this freedom of thought leads to freedom of political opposition, which established democracy and got rid of kings and tyranny. It also led to freedom of the sciences, which has led progress, and freedom of justice, which led to fair treatment for laborers and women. Freedom of thought is indivisible, and the most important element of freedom is one's belief, because it has to do with one's conscience. Therefore, it cannot be restricted in any way.