Egypt's highest civil court ruled Saturday that 12 Coptic Christians who had converted to Islam could return to their old faith, ending a yearlong legal battle over the predominantly Muslim state's tolerance for conversion.
The court overturned an April 2007 ruling by a lower court that forbade the 12 Muslims from returning to Christianity on the grounds that Islamic law would consider that apostasy.
There is no Egyptian law against converting from Islam to Christianity, but in this case tradition had taken precedent. Under a widespread interpretation of Islamic law, converting from Islam is apostasy and punishable by death — though the state has never ordered or carried out an execution on those grounds.
Judge Mohammed el-Husseini sidestepped the issue by saying the 12 should not be considered apostates since they were born Christian, said a judicial official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The judge also ordered the Ministry of Interior to list converts' former and current religious status on identification cards, which the government body had previously refused to do.