At the recent Sharia Workshop at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), I had a brief conversation with Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, head imam of the Islamic Center of Southern California on the topic of apostasy. It revolved around the Freedom Pledge letter that had been sent to him in 2009 by Former Muslims United asking 100 Islamic leaders in the US to sign a pledge that American apostates should not be harmed.
The question of apostasy is a serious issue in Islam. In most of the world, people are free to leave one religion and embrace another. In the US, for example, many Asian immigrants, as they have become assimilated into our society, have become Christians. Similarly, Christians are free to become Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists or whatever. My first cousin converted to Buddhism decades ago and is still a practicing Buddhist. Jews may also convert to Christianity or whatever else they please as did many German Jews in the decades prior to the Nazi takeover in Germany. (It did not save them from the Holocaust since the Nazis regarded them as a race.)
In the case of Islam, apostasy is forbidden and may be punishable by death. This is not some passage buried in the religious texts of a millennium ago and ignored. It still applies, and is part of Sharia law. Some Islamic scholars interpret it differently and require that in addition to the act of leaving the religion, the offender must also have spoken out against the religion-in essence become a traitor.
Nonie Darwish is a well-known Egyptian apostate living in America who publicly speaks out against the religion she left. As a result, there is a fatwa on her head- a clerical-issued order for her death. She heads an organization called Former Muslims United. (FMU) If you go to that website, which is linked on this blog, you can learn about apostasy (click "Apostasy from Islam").
The opinions of several Islamic experts on apostasy are described in Former Muslims United. One is Yusuf al Qaradawy, the Egyptian-born cleric, who is the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi is a vicious anti-Semitic cleric who has stated that his greatest wish is to die in battle fighting the infidel. He has also stated that the Holocaust was God's punishment against the Jews. Both of those videos have been posted on this site.
Another Islamic scholar, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, a prominent Pakistani religious leader (now deceased) also weighed in on the proper punishment for apostasy and is quoted in FMU. By the way, if you happen to visit the Islamic Center of Orange County, drop in the bookstore where you can purchase some of his works as well as at least one book by his American-born widow, who is now living in Pakistan and who totally rejects Western traditions.
Dr Jamal Badawi of the Fiqh Council of North America, who spoke at the LMU conference I attended, also has written on the subject of apostasy, and you can check out his comments on the aforementioned FMU section (Apostasy from Islam). Dr Badawi, like Imam Siddiqi, was a recipient of FMU Freedom Pledge letter, which he also never signed or answered.
Presently, there is a major public relations campaign being waged by organizations like the Islamic Circle of North America to promote Sharia law in America. They are holding public workshops and town halls to educate non-Muslims as to the benign nature of Sharia. Much of it is, in fact, benign. It is the punishment part for crimes against God (hudud) where the subject of apostasy comes in (as well as death for adultery). Those are where you might direct your questions.