Cairo: Egypt's top cleric yesterday denied in a statement that he had said a Muslim can give up his faith without punishment.
Ali Goma'a, the mufti of Egypt, was quoted as saying in a posting on a Washington Post-Newsweek forum that Muslims are free to change their faith and this is a matter between an individual and God.
"What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished," Goma'a said.
The alleged fatwa coincides with an uproar over the case of 12 Egyptians who converted to Islam from Christianity and now want to re-embrace Christianity.
"There is a campaign by secularists to distort the image of Dr Ali Goma'a," a senior official in Al Azhar told Gulf News.
"He cannot deny punishment in this life for the apostate," said Mustafa Al Chaka of the Islamic Research Centre.