Court Decision on Conversion a Setback for Religious Freedom

Press Release

29 April 2007

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today regretted the decision by the Court of Administrative Justice (CAJ) against the right of Christian converts to Islam to revert to their original faith. The EIPR described the decision as yet another setback for the legal protection of the right to freedom of religion and belief.

On 24 April 2007 the CAJ, under the presidency of Judge Mohamed Al-Husseini, found that the Interior Ministry is under no obligation to recognize the return to Christianity by citizens who had converted to Islam, even if they produce the necessary proof of their affiliation to Christianity as required by the Civil Status Law. The Court reasoned that such recognition would violate the prohibition against apostasy under Islamic Shari’a and constitute a “manipulation of Islam and Muslims”.

“Describing citizens’ change of their faith as a “manipulation of Islam and Muslims” reflects moral prejudice rather than legal reasoning,” said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “The right to freedom of religion, including the right to change one’s religion, is guaranteed under the Egyptian Constitution, the Civil Status Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, notably, Islamic Shari’a.”  

Last week’s decision constitutes a reversal of the CAJ’s position on the same matter, as reflected in at least 22 decisions issued between April 2004 and the retirement of the Court’s former president, Judge Farouq Abdel Qader, in September 2006. In all of these previous court rulings, the CAJ had found that the refusal by the government to recognize a citizen’s return to Christianity was “an unjustified interference on its part, and a coercion [of the plaintiff] to adopt a certain faith or religion against his wish.”

Moreover, the Mufti of the Republic, Dr. Ali Gom’a, had issued a fatwa on the matter on 27 December 2004. While the fatwa concluded that those who return to Christianity after their adoption of Islam were “apostates”, it went on to add that

the civil rights stemming from their conversion from the religion of Islam vis-à-vis the State and the social structure is a matter to be left to the Administration, according to an assessment of benefits and harms and of how this conduct is in accordance with   the Constitution and the applicable laws and of its impact on social security and national peace. All of these matters relate to civil life, for which the Administration is responsible regardless of the religious ruling on the matter.

The EIPR also expressed concern regarding the ongoing disappearance of Wafaa Kostantine since December 2004. The Coptic priest’s wife is reportedly detained by the Coptic Orthodox Church after she had expressed her wish to convert to Islam. The CAJ, also on 24 April 2007, dismissed a lawsuit challenging an alleged decision by security agencies to hand her over to the Church, saying that the Court lacked jurisdiction to summon Kostantine and compel her to reveal her faith.