Overcoming Abandonment in Egypt: Part 1
By Claire Evans
06/13/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Bustling villages are commonplace in Upper Egypt. Amidst the expansive desert, Muslims and Christians squeeze into the thin ribbon of fertile land along the Nile. Although most villages in Upper Egypt are home to both Muslims and Christians, very few Christians live in the predominantly Muslim village of Abo Helal. The few who live there struggle to maintain an existence. The three local churches are merely a presence, with no activities beyond a Sunday service.
With no spiritual support and Islamic hardliners as neighbors, many local Christians experience intense social pressure to convert to Islam. Doing so has enormous repercussions for the families they leave behind.
Salma knows this all too well. Although life wasn’t easy when she married Ramy 28 years ago, they were happy. Together, they had three children, two boys and a girl. Ten years into their marriage, however, everything changed. Her husband was working as a driver and decided to expand his business by hiring a Muslim assistant.
A friendship between the two families started to blossom. Dina, the assistant’s wife, began spending several hours at Salma’s house each week. She would often chat with Ramy. Salma thought nothing of their casual conversations. Her mother, however, was worried and confessed to Salma, “Dina is making me uncomfortable, she acts as if she lives here.”
Salma thought the insinuation was absurd. After all, Ramy was Christian and Dina was Muslim. According to Egyptian culture, a Christian man could not enter into a relationship with a Muslim woman, especially a married one, without risking his life. She continued to disregard notable oddities. Salma recalled, “One day, I woke up and got out of my house to buy our breakfast food and when I got back, I noticed that Dina was taking a shower in the bathroom and then she moved freely in the house. It was too weird for me, but I was trusting in my husband.”
She was completely unaware of the scheme Dina and Ramy had devised.
In 2004, Dina planted drugs on her husband and subsequently reported him to the police. He was arrested soon after, opening the door for Dina to divorce him. It wasn’t long before Ramy followed suit. Two years later, he converted to Islam, divorced Salma, and married Dina. Shock rippled through the abandoned Christian family, but their challenges had only just begun.
Local Muslims doubted the sincerity of Ramy’s conversion. “Ramy owned papers by which he can prove that he is Christian, and also owns papers by which he can prove that he is a Muslim at the same time,” explained Salma. The Muslim Brotherhood took notice, broke into his house, and beat him. The police eventually got involved, resulting in Ramy being jailed for three years.
The pressure on Ramy had widespread implications on Salma and the children. The culture of shame made navigating the village difficult. The pressure was overwhelming. Their eldest son, deserted by his father, sought escape through drugs. His addiction eventually landed him in prison, although at the time of his arrest he was “not carrying any kinds of drugs. He was just wearing his clothes and had nothing else except his ID [and] wallet,” said Salma. Meanwhile, she was doing all she could to provide for her children, but the stress was giving her health issues.
After getting out of prison, Ramy and Dina moved away from Upper Egypt. He attempted to pressure Salma into sending the children to come live with him, but she refused. The children were concerned that they would be forced to convert to Islam if they went to live with their father. Salma’s daughter was especially worried. She told Salma, “Mama, if you left me to go with my father, I will be like his Muslim wife.”
Salma’s refusal enraged Ramy, who retaliated by selling their house. They were left homeless and penniless, unsure about how to survive.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.