Egypt to rule on apostasy – 1 July 2007
Although there is no legal means for Egyptian Muslims who have converted to Christianity to register a change in religious status, this prohibition has yet to be tested in the courts
By Elizabeth Kendal
Thursday, June 28, 2007 Egypt (ANS) – A hugely important appeal is presently being considered by Egypt ‘s
This apostasy case has had virtually no coverage in English language media. The appeal, which bears striking similarity to Lina Joy’s appeal in Malaysia, has been filed by 45 Copts (Egypt’s indigenous, traditionally Christian people) who had either converted to Islam for various reasons or been deemed Muslim on account of their parents’ conversion to Islam. These 45 Copts want to officially return to their Christian faith and be legally recognised as Christians on their national identity cards.
For Copts, this process of re-conversion to Christianity requires a court ruling. In more tolerant times the courts have been lenient towards the Copts and ruled to permit the re-conversion. But on 24 April 2007 these 45 Copts discovered that the times have definitely changed, because for them permission was denied. They decided to appeal.
During the 18 June appeal, the Copts’ attorney, Coptic lawyer Naguib Gabriel, decried the fact that through the ruling of the lower court, “the government is forcing people to embrace beliefs against their free will. It is forcing them according to their official papers to belong to a religion they don’t believe in.” Meanwhile the attorney for the government argued that the initial verdict issued on 24 April by Judge Muhammad Husseini was “completely consistent with the principles of Islamic sharia law”.
Egypt ‘s Islamic scholars have been divided, with moderates advocating that apostasy should only be prohibited for those born Muslim; and fundamentalists maintaining that Islam decrees that any apostate should be executed. Egypt ‘s Interior Minister Habib el-Adly takes the fundamentalist view and has publicly supported the initial ruling. Compass Direct reports, “The interior minister insisted that Islam, as the state religion of Egypt , demands that any Muslim man who abandons his faith should be killed. But a Muslim woman ‘apostate’ should only be imprisoned and beaten every three days until she returns to Islam.”
Compass Direct notes: “Although there is no legal means for Egyptian Muslims who have converted to Christianity to register a change in religious status, this prohibition has yet to be tested in the courts.”
But there can be little doubt that the prohibition on Muslim conversion to Christianity will be tested in the courts soon. Escalating Islamic radicalisation and intolerance, and the amazing and dynamic growth in Arab Christianity are destined to clash in the courts eventually. In the face of rising repressive intolerance, Arabs will demand their right to liberty. Let the debate begin!