Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

“Deserting” Islam as a religious identity illegal in Egypt

In a final appeal heard by the Supreme Administrative Court ruling last week, 45 Coptic Christians were denied their attempt to reclaim their Christian identities after officially converting to Islam. Of the 45 plaintiffs, half were adults when they changed the required religious section on their national identity cards from Christian to Muslim, and the remainder were children whose Coptic parents had become Muslims.

“This [refusal] says that the government is forcing people to embrace beliefs against their free will,” Coptic lawyer Naguib Gabriel said. “It is forcing them according to their official papers to belong to a religion they don’t believe in.”

In the initial court ruling on April 24, a lower court declared there was a “huge difference” between giving freedom of belief and “manipulating” this freedom by changing from one religion to another. “Muslims have not forced anyone to believe in Islam, so they are not allowing anyone to desert Islam and leave it,” the court was quoted as saying.

Egyptian Christians, who might feel pressured to convert to Islam to receive employment incentives, marriage options and custody of their children in divorce cases, can easily change their religious status to Muslim by producing a formal certificate of conversion from Al-Azhar [Egypt’s official Islamic establishment]. Coming back to Christianity, however, requires a certificate from the Coptic Patriarchate and a court verdict—a process that takes at least two years, according to Gabriel.

Egypt’s Muslims are not permitted to leave their religion for any other faith. In a memo to the lower court on May 1, Interior Minister Habib el-Adly insisted that Islam, as the state religion of Egypt, demands that any Muslim man who abandons his faith should be killed, and a Muslim woman “apostate” should be imprisoned and beaten every three days until she returns to Islam.

Pending an expert legal opinion requested from a state commissar, the court said it would announce its final verdict July 1. The verdict will not only directly affect citizens from a Christian background, but also Egypt’s Baha’i community and a growing number of Muslim converts to Christianity.

For the full article, click here .


Post a Comment

<< Home