Wednesday, June 08, 2005
You’re a Christian, you just finished reading The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism and you decided to become a Buddhist. You later join Richard Gere on a recreational tour in Tibet. After a while you become disillusioned with your new faith and decide to become a Christian again. Is this story possible? I believe the answer is yes. Well, it’ll be an impossibility if you’re an Egyptian in Egypt.
If you’re an Egyptian Christian who decided to become a Muslim for whatever reason, all what you have to do is inform the civil authorities and have your ID changed (our religions are mentioned in our ID). All good, all sound. A problem will arise if you decided to return to your former faith. The Egyptian constitution states that religious freedom is guaranteed and that Egypt is a signatory of the universal declaration of human rights that calls for the freedom to covert to any religion and the freedom to declare it publicly. However, Article 2 of the same constitution mentions that Islamic Law (unreformed Islamic law to be specific) is the main source of legislation in the country*. This entails that anyone who converts out of Islam should be subject to apostasy law that calls for his/her death.
I just read in a weekly newspaper that there are 42 known cases of former Christians who want to return to Christianity. The civil authorities refused to change their ID and so they sued the ministry of interior in court. The court issued a ruling in favor of a number of them asking the civil authorities to respect their choice and change their ID from “Muslim” to “Christian”. What made me laugh was that an attorney, probably a Muslim Brotherhood member, raised a case to annul the court’s decision! He cited that the decision contradicts with Article 2 of the constitution that should supersedes the other articles and the universal declaration of human rights. The government controlled religious establishment said that anyone who converts out of Islam is subject to apostasy law, however, nowadays the courts handle such issues! The weekly newspaper’s article lacked a lot of information as to what happened to the 42 persons or to those who had a favorable court ruling. This issue is very controversial here and I suspect that the paper didn’t want to get deeply involved into it.
So here the poor person is squashed between the civil authorities, the court that might or might not rule for his/her favor, and the attorney watchdogs who pop up and raise cases in higher courts to challenge any court decision they deem as unislamic. Here we’re talking about former Christians who want to return to Christianity. Muslims who were born as Muslim and wish to convert to Christianity are a completely different case! The whole point of this post is this: you cannot have full economic and political reform without religious reform. Reform that would make Islamic law compatible with the year 2005 and not 1005.
* President Anwar Sadat added this closure in the constitution in order to appease the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists so that he can use them in countering the communists and the remnants of the Nasser era.
My new name is BP, Big Pharaoh and not the oil company! GM is gone.
Chech out Egyptian Person, new Egyptian blogger writing in English.