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My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Imagine this:

You are born and raised in a country where there isn't all that much separation between religion and government. Your family is of the dominant religion, and you are raised in that tradition. In young adulthood, you are exposed to a different religion, and you believe that this minority religion is true. You convert. You don't hide your conversion, but you also don't take steps to change the religion listed on your government-issued identity card. You know that it is practically impossible for people whose official religion is the dominant one to change that official religion, even though the law says that it is allowed.

Fast forward in time. You're now 56 years old. The mismatch between your personal religion and your official religion has caused problems for your family. Your nephew is denied a government job because of your "double life." Your 14-year-old daughter is required to attend religious classes at school. Because you are officially of the dominant religion, she is required to attend those classes. She is prohibited from attending classes in the minority religion, even though that is the religion in which she was raised. In two years, she will be issued an identity card. The religion listed on her card will match the religion listed on yours, despite the fact that neither of you are part of that religion. She never was. Nevertheless, one day she will want to marry, and she will not be allowed to marry outside of her official religion. So if her official religion is the predominant one, she will not be allowed to marry someone of her own faith, unless her prospective husband also has a mismatch between his personal religion and his official religion.

So you decide to take steps now to change the religion listed on your identity card, in order to solve the problem for your daughter and to eliminate your "double life" that has been used to deny your nephew a job. You take the appropriate legal steps to make the change. According to the law, you should have to sign a paper, be issued the new card, and be done with it.

If it were that simple, you would have done it 30 years ago. In reality, only one person in your country who was born and raised in the dominant religion has been allowed to convert away from it, although people can convert to the dominant religion with no problem at all. (If they ever decide to revert to their original religion, though, they have problems.)

Your request to change your official religion is denied. Even though the law allows anyone to change from any religion to any religion, the constitution also says that the dominant religion is the law of the land. According to the laws of that religion, there is no conversion out of it. It simply isn't allowed. The judge concurs with religious law, despite the official, secular, law.

You appeal. Your lawyer cites a precedent--the aforementioned only case in your country's history in which someone born and raised in the dominant religion was allowed to change his official religion. Your lawyer intends to submit the official court records of that previous case in support of your own case. The judge refuses to acknowledge the existence of any legal documentation that it ever happened. Your lawyer argues. The judge has security escort your lawyer out of the courtroom.

Your case is suspended for an unknown length of time. It should eventually resume under a different judge. Your lawyer intends to file a complaint against the original judge. You have no idea how long this will take or if you will be allowed to change your official religion at all, much less in time to save your daughter from going through all of this herself one day.

What would you do? How would you feel?

This situation is happening right now. Read the full story here. For a related story, see this.


  1. 1- why we don't see such situations in non Muslim countries??
    2- why it only happen in Muslim dominant places??
    3- when this will happen in America and Europe?
    4- does it kinda happen now in UK?

  2. Will the final judgment be based on what's on your ID card, or what is in your heart? If He cannot be fooled by an ID card, why would religious people waste so much time and effort trying to dictate what's on the card, when the important thing should be to change hearts?

    To play word games to redefine religious freedom into something that negates the plain meaning of the words is not becoming for anyone who wishes to put forth a respectable image for themselves or their beliefs. There is no such thing as one-way religious freedom.

  3. Incidents like this should give those of us blessed to live in countries where freedom of religion is respected in theory and practice cause for much gratitiude. I hope and pray that Mr. El-Gohary's efforts are successful.

    I enjoy reading your blog - very insightful and well-written.

  4. Historically, America has prized non-interference of government in matters of religion. Unless there are major demographic changes in the American population, I see America moving more and more toward a secular society--or at least a publicly secular society, where no one talks about religion in public life, only privately or in their places of worship. I would prefer a society that isn't that secular, but it beats going down the path toward theocracy.

    I remember discussing, in a philosophy class, how to determine what a just society would look like and under what rules it would operate. The conclusion was that to create a just society, those establishing the rules would have to know that they were going to be placed into that society, and they would have no say in the position they would have. They couldn't know ahead of time if they would be rich or poor; powerful or powerless; Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or any other religion--or whether they would want to change their religion, their profession, or their socioeconomic status. Because they wouldn't know what position they would occupy, the people establishing the rules would strive to make sure that, no matter what position they were assigned, they had the best possible life, including the chance to improve their lot in life. I wish I could see what such a society would look like, but it will never be on this imperfect earth that is inhabited by imperfect people. I look forward to that in another life.

    (thank you, Harry)


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