Muhammad Hegazy‘s case did not succeed. Without batting an eye about the sheer absurdity of it, the judge told a member of Hegazy’s legal team, ‘He can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert’.”
“Egypt: Another convert tries to change religious identification,” from Compass Direct News, August 7:
ISTANBUL, August 7 (Compass Direct News) — One year after the first attempt by an Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to change his religious identity, another convert this week became the second to make such a controversial legal request.
After 34 years of practicing Christianity, 56-year-old Maher Ahmad El-Mo”otahssem Bellah El-Gohary filed a case at the State Council Court on Monday (August 4) to replace the word “Muslim” on his identification card with “Christian.”
El-Gohary is the second person raised as a Muslim to make such an appeal to the Egyptian government after Muhammad Hegazy, who filed his case on Aug. 2, 2007. Hegazy”s case was denied in a Jan. 29 court ruling that declared it was against Islamic law for a Muslim to leave Islam.
“He can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert,” the judge had told the administrative court, according to a member of Hegazy”s legal team.
The judge had based his decision on Article II of the Egyptian constitution, which enshrines Islamic law, or sharia, as the source of Egyptian law. The judge said that, according to sharia, Islam is the final and most complete religion and therefore Muslims already practice full freedom of religion and cannot return to an older belief (Christianity or Judaism).
“I am so surprised by the Administrative Court verdict refusing the case of Hegazy,” said one of El-Gohary”s lawyers, Nabil Ghobreyal. “This is against all the international conventions as well as the [Egyptian] constitution and Islamic law, which guarantee the freedom of belief.”
Ghobreyal said that if his client could not claim his rights in Egypt, he was determined to take the case to the U.N. International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.
“No human has the right to choose the religion for someone else or to force him to embrace it, and no court has the right to order different religions in degrees,” Ghobreyal said.
Hegazy”s open declaration of conversion last August, the first of its kind in modern Egypt, caused public outcry. His father told the press that he would kill his son if he did not return to Islam. Since the court’s denial of Hegazy”s appeal, he and his wife have been in hiding with their baby due to numerous, serious threats on their lives.
“I wish for all converts to have one huge case, so that together we could show the world what is lacking in our rights,” Hegazy told Compass in an interview last week. Hegazy and legal experts have said that one case alone would not stand in court, but that many cases of converts should be filed concurrently in order to have any sway.
Impact on Daughter
El-Gohary accepted Christianity as a young man in his early twenties after becoming curious about the Bible. Through reading, he was convinced that the New Testament said the truth about Jesus. His family opposed his choice of faith and repeatedly pressured him to come back to Islam.
In an interview with Compass in November 2003, El-Gohary said that often he would come home to his farm in an undisclosed location to find his property vandalized. At that time he was considering leaving Egypt for the sake of his daughter.
“We want to live in a place with no persecution,” he had told Compass. He said he could make ends meet with his inheritance money, “but I”m afraid for my little girl, for her future. She loves Jesus so much.”
The convert has raised his 14-year-old daughter, Dina Maher Ahmad Mo”otahssem, as a Christian, and she has also embraced Christianity. When she turns 16 she must be issued an identity card designating her faith as Muslim unless her father can win this case on her behalf.
At school, she has been refused the right to attend Christian religious classes offered to Egypt’s Christian minorities and has been forced to attend Muslim classes. Religion is a mandatory part of the Egyptian curriculum.