Morocco’s Human Rights Minister: Leaving Islam Is not Punishable by Law

Mustapha Ramid, Minister of State for Human Rights

Rabat – Morocco’s Minister of Human Rights Mustapha Ramid said that Morocco does not criminalize apostasy in state-owned channel 2M’s televised “Hadith Ma’a Al-Sahafa” (Discussion with the Press) program on Sunday, April 14.

Although the penal code does not criminalize conversion from Islam, Ramid said, it especially criminalizes those who try to “shake” other people’s faiths or convert them into religions other than Islam.

“The victim [who converts] in this case is not culpable,” he explained.

He noted that the criminal code especially focuses on proselytizing that exploits people’s “fragility”  and “needs.” He explained that the law criminalizes those who target minors or poor people and talk them into leaving Islam for another religion.

Under the Moroccan Penal Code, Article 220 states, “Anyone who, through violence or threat, restrains or prevents one or several persons from worshiping or attending worship, is punishable by imprisonment for six months to three years and by a fine of 200 to 500 dirham [about $20 to $50].”

Ramid further argued that if one converted to another religion from Islam out of conviction, the law does not have a case in preventing them from professing another faith.

He said the law has its basis on the Qur’anic verse 18:29: “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.”

Moroccan Ambassador to Rome Hassan Abouyoub, stated at a forum that the Italian National Associated Press Agency (ANSA) held that apostates in Morocco do not risk the death penalty and that apostasy is not a crime under Morocco’s Penal Code.

However, the Ulema, the highest body of religious scholars in Morocco, issued an Islamic edict, known as a fatwa, in 2012 declaring that apostasy is punishable by death.

After the fatwa triggered outrage, the Ulema, formally called the Mohammadia League of Scholars, denied that it was making rulings like terrorist groups, which some had said.

The council explained that apostasy does not refer to those who leave their religion for another but what it called political “traitors,” those who desert their groups in favor of the “enemy.” The Ulema quoted a traditional saying of the prophet, known as a hadith, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” They described an apostate as “the one who leaves his religion and abandons his people.”

A source within the Mohammadia league denied the council had made a “retraction,” as some called it. He stated that only five scholars held the opinion that apostasy refers to political treason, and they did not reflect the overall opinion of the council.