And why would they think that? Because they would be following the orders of Muhammad himself: “If anyone changes his religion, kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57).
Here is a brief account of the life of Peter El-Gohary since converting, and since the Egyptian court denied his right to be legally recognized as a Christian. “A Christian on the run in Egypt,” by Jeffrey Fleishman for the Los Angeles Times, August 22:
Reporting from Alexandria, Egypt – It is a clear day along the coast, but in a bungalow off the beach, Maher El Gohary sits behind a locked door with an open Bible and a crystal cross, suspicious of every voice and sandal scraping past outside.
He and his daughter, Dina, live like refugees, switching apartments every few months, not wanting to get close to neighbors. Gohary’s life has been threatened, his dogs have been killed, and it’s been suggested that he’s insane or possessed by spirits.
He is a man this Muslim nation cannot fathom: a convert to Christianity.
“Islam is the only thing Egyptians are 150% sure of. If you reject Islam, you shake their belief and you are an apostate, an infidel,” he says. “I can see in the eyes of Muslims how much my conversion has really hurt them.”
Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who represent about 10% of the population, have a history that veers from coexistence to violence with the Muslim majority. Bloody clashes recently erupted between Copts and Muslims over land disputes and restrictions on churches.
But converts, such as Gohary, are even more unsettling. Islamists believe that Muslims who forsake their religion should be punished by death.
Gohary wants to be called Peter and refuses to yield. He has filed a lawsuit asking an Egyptian court to officially recognize him as a Copt by changing the denomination on his national ID card from Muslim to Christian. The court ruled against him in June, finding that Gohary’s baptism documents from the Coptic Orthodox Church were “legally invalid.” The verdict is on appeal.
The case highlights the religious and political complexities that drive modern Egypt. The nation often seems at battle with itself as it attempts to balance the ideals of a democracy with laws steeped in Islamic principles.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the constitution, but fatwas and religious edicts from clerics subject converts from Islam to persecution and threats. The government treads uneasily, not wanting to anger religious conservatives who stubbornly guard Islam’s grip on society.
Converts such as Gohary “should be killed by authorities,” says Abdul Aziz Zakareya, a cleric and former professor at Al Azhar University. “Public conversions can lead to very dangerous consequences. The spreading of a phenomenon like this in a Muslim society can cause many unwanted results and tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
A tall man in blue shorts and rimless glasses, Gohary, 56, looks as if he is ready to walk the beach. But he and Dina have just moved to the three-room bungalow. Their suitcases are still packed; the only thing hanging on the walls is a clothesline. Listening for noises outside, Gohary speaks of how years earlier the teachings of Jesus, especially parables on forgiveness and loving your enemy, changed his life.
“In Islam, if you steal your hands are cut off, but in Christianity you can be forgiven,” he says. “This compassion is what attracted me.” […]
Gohary is reportedly the second Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity who has tried unsuccessfully to have his religious identity officially changed. The first, Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, went into hiding after his home was set ablaze. Religious statistics in Egypt are often manipulated and unreliable; estimates on converts to Christianity range from several thousand to hundreds of thousands.
Early this year, the courts showed a degree of religious tolerance by ruling that members of the minority Bahai faith could be issued ID cards that didn’t identify them by religion. They previously had the option of only Muslim, Christian or Jew. Gohary’s lawyer, Nabil Ghobrial, says judges are more hostile toward converts and are ignoring the law and ruling on “their personal religious beliefs.”
Says Gohary: “I’m not so much afraid of the government anymore. It’s conservative Muslims who worry me. Some of them believe whoever kills me is rewarded. When I go to court, I’m surrounded by police protection.”…