I've Moved!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Permission Denied

In January of this year, I first brought you the news about Maher El-Gohary, a Christian man of Muslim background who had petitioned the government of Egypt to recognize his change of religion on his official identification card. At that point, he had followed the procedure outlined in Egyptian law for a person to request a change in his official religion, but his request had been denied because it is not allowable in Islam for a Muslim to convert to any other religion. In February, I told you of how opposing lawyers tried to convince the judge to order El-Gohary's death for apostasy and of how El-Gohary was beaten when he tried to obtain and file paperwork to allow his lawyer to represent him. Since February, quite a bit has happened in this case . . .

The judge required El-Gohary to obtain two documents to prove his conversion. He was required to present a certificate of baptism and a letter of acceptance into the Coptic Orthodox Church. Both of these documents were very difficult for El-Gohary to obtain. Most priests in the Middle East will not baptize--or at least will not acknowledge publicly that they have baptized--a former Muslim for fear of retaliation against themselves, their families, or their congregations. El-Gohary traveled to Cyprus to obtain his baptism and certificate of baptism. Then Father Matthias Manqarious, a Coptic priest, issued a certificate of conversion or letter of acceptance to El-Gohary, and the Coptic Church endorsed the certificate--the first time that the Coptic Church has issued such a letter and taken an open stand in support of converts' rights. This action took an immense amount of bravery on the part of Father Manqarious and the church leadership. Father Manqarious himself now has been the target of death threats, along with El-Gohary, who went into hiding.

In April or May--I'm not sure which--the State Council chimed in. The State Council is "a consultative body of Egypt's Administrative Court," as described by Compass Direct. The council sent a report to Judge Hamdy Yasin to express their opinion on El-Gohary's case. According to this report, El-Gohary's "audacity" in filing this case causes a threat to social order and violates sharia, upon which Egyptian law is based. According to this report, all Christians are infidels, those who seek to leave Islam are apostates, and apostates face the death penalty.

Then it was time to appear in court again. This past Saturday, 13 June, was the big day. Judge Hamdy Yasin was to issue his ruling. The hearing took only 10 minutes. Yasin's decision: permission for El-Gohary to change his official religion is denied.

One of El-Gohary's lawyers pointed out that the judge who had requested certificates of baptism and acceptance from the church refused to accept the very certificates that he had requested "because the remit of the church is to deal with Christians, not to deal with Muslims who convert to Christianity; this is outside their remit" (Compass Direct). I find it interesting that the judge does not define converts as Christians, even though most people would define a Christian as someone who accepts or converts to Christianity. The same lawyer believes that Egyptian judges may fear to allow conversion from Islam to Christianity because "they’re afraid that if they allow it, then all Muslims will become Christians . . . They know there are many converts, and they will all officially become Christians” (Compass Direct). The assumption is that the judge ordered El-Gohary to obtain these documents because the judge believed it would be impossible for him to do so, and the judge therefore would not have to make a decision. However, El-Gohary did obtain the documents, the judge was forced to make a decision, and he decided against El-Gohary's right to convert.

El-Gohary and his lawyers do plan to appeal. So does Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, the first Egyptian Christian of Muslim background who tried to change his official religion. His request was denied early last year, I believe, and he, his wife, and his young daughter are in hiding. According to Compass Direct's article dated 12 September 2008, Hegazy and his family had been forced to move five times in eight months when their whereabouts became known to those who would kill them for apostasy. Hegazy's own family has threatened to kill the couple, and his father is trying to get custody of their daughter so that she will be raised as a Muslim. Hegazy still plans to fight (legally) for his rights and the rights of other converts, but the violent reaction to his conversion does not bode well for other public converts in Egypt, such as El-Gohary.

This information, about both El-Gohary and Hegazy, has raised some questions in my mind. How is it that followers of "the religion of peace" advocate violence against those who peacefully choose to leave that religion, and that there is no public outcry by peaceful Muslims against those who advocate violence? How is it that a country that guarantees the "freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites" in Article 46 of its constitution actually prohibits the majority of its citizens from choosing beliefs and religious rites that differ from those of their parents? When will those in power realize that its refusal to officially recognize conversions doesn't mean that the conversions never happened? Or do the government's representatives actually believe that these self-proclaimed Christians are, in reality, Muslims--merely because the government says so?

Another interesting piece of information that I learned today: an Egyptian representative sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council:

Egypt is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body made up of 47 states responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. On April 18, 2007, in its written statement applying for a seat to the Human Rights Council, the representative of Egypt to the U.N. stated that if elected it would emphasize promoting cultural and religious tolerance, among other human rights. (last paragraph, this article from Compass Direct).

Shouldn't religious tolerance include the granting of the freedom to change one's religion?


  1. Thanks for the update - prayers for their safety go out to all involved.

  2. Gosh this makes me love the USA.


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