Sunday, April 17, 2005
Hundreds of Egyptian Christians demonstrated in a monastery demanding the return of a young lady whom they say was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. While not claiming that forced or coercive conversions of Christians girls did not happen in the past, I still believed that the girl’s story would be similar to other stories we heard before about Christian girls who converted to Islam for one reason or another.
Upon checking Arabic news websites, I discovered that the young lady was married and had a child. She ran away from home with a Muslim guy she fell in love with and then converted to Islam in order to marry him. She presented her conversion papers to court which ordered that she be divorced from her Christian husband. According to Egyptian civil law that is based on elements derived from Islamic law, a Muslim woman cannot marry or stay married to a Christian man and hence the young lady got a divorce by a court order.
This incident has 2 important angles: a Christian angle and another angle that has to do with Egyptian law or simply the Islamic law that our courts follow in civil affairs. Before presenting the 2 angles, it is worth mentioning that in Egypt the religious establishment has a huge legal say in civil affairs such as marriages.
First the Christian angle. Here the majority of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox church that bans divorce. The only cases that can result in divorce are when a partner commits adultery or changes his/her denomination or converts to another religion. For example, I know several orthodox Christians who had to become protestants in order to be granted a divorce. The ban on divorce has caused tremendous problems and heartaches for many people, especially women.
I believe Pope Shenouda, the leader of the Egyptian orthodox church, can do his people a huge favor by allowing divorce. Many anguished women who discovered that they can’t live with their husbands any longer will be saved from depression or running away with Muslim men and causing huge sectarian problems! The orthodox church insists that divorce in banned in Christianity. This is pure nonsense because such an issue is open for debate and the Biblical verses on marriages are open for various interpretations and re-interpretations. After all, the protestant church allows divorce and they are the ones who take the Bible so literally.
The second angle has to do with the unjustness of the Egyptian civil law or Islamic law towards the Christians. Here in Egypt, a Christian who converts to Islam is welcomed by police protection but a Muslim who converts to Christianity is welcomed by police brutality. Therefore, a Muslim man can “snatch” a Christian woman from the Christian herd but a Christian man cannot “snatch” a Muslim woman from the Muslim herd. Why aren’t the rules of the game equal, many Christians ask.
Pope Shenouda’s divorce law is not the Bible and Islamic law is not the Quran, both are open for debate even if both parties claim that their laws are based upon the two sacred books. We can’t depend upon laws that were instituted thousands of years ago and apply them today while others in NASA are thinking about invading Mars.