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Mohammed Beshoy Hegazy


Mohammed Hegazy is the first Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to seek official recognition of his conversion from the Egyptian Government.

Hegazy grew up in Port Saidmarker on the Suez Canalmarker in Egyptmarker. He converted to Christianity from Islam in 1998 and took the name Beshoy after an Egyptian monk.His wife, Um Hashim Kamel, also converted from Islam to Christianity several years ago, taking the name Katarina. They both have a daughter, Miriam who was born while in hiding.

He reports that he converted after starting "readings and comparative studies in religions," and finding that he was, "not consistent with Islamic teachings."

According to Hegazy, "the major issue for me was love. Islam wasn't promoting love as Christianity did."

Although Christianity is not illegal in Egypt, conversion to another religion from Islam is punishable by death under a widespread interpretation of Islamic law, though killings are rare and the state has never ordered or carried out an execution..

Theoretically, Egyptian law must be derived from Islamic law, according to a ruling several decades ago. Converts are often harassed by police, who use laws against, "insulting religion" or "disturbing public order" to justify legal action against them. Hegazy reports that after his conversion was discovered, he was detained for three days and tortured by police. In 2001, he published a book of poems critical of security services and was held for three months for sedition, disturbing public order, and insulting the president and was eventually released without charge.

In 2007, Hegazy sued the Egyptian court to change his religion from "Islam" to "Christianity" on his national ID card. He said he wants to do this so that his child can be openly raised Christian, be given a Christian birth certificate, and to be married in a Church. He also stated that he wants to set a precedent for other converts.

His first lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhlah filed the case, but then quit after Hegazy's conversion caused a major uproar. Hegazy's first lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhlah, told the AP he initially accepted the case because of an editorial last month by one of Egypt's highest Islamic clerics, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who wrote against the killing of apostates, saying there is no worldly retribution for Muslims who abandon their religion.

Gomaa's comments were sharply criticized by Muslim conservatives, who felt that he was opening the door for Muslims to leave their faith. Sheikh Gad al-Ibrahim told Al-Quds al-Arabi that "The Egyptian government should find Mohammed Hegazy and apply shari'a, giving him three days to reconvert and then killing him if he refuses". Sheikh Youssef al-Badri and Souad Saleh, a professor at Egypt's al-Azharmarker university where Egypt's top Islamic scholars work, agreed with Al-Ibrahim, openly challenging statements by Egypt's second highest religious authority last month that 'apostasy from Islam' should not be punished in this world. Gomaa later clarified his controversial statement by saying that only 'apostates' who "actively engaged in the subversion of society" should be punished.

However, with sharia enshrined as the basis of Egypt's legal code in Article 2 of the constitution, many Muslims see no distinction between apostasy and subversion. His second lawyer Ramsis Raouf Al-Naggar, has also refused to take up the case, as he had previously announced. Al-Naggar is pessimistic that the suit could be won because of all the conflict surrounding it. He said that Mr Hegazy had not given them the necessary church documents that could be used in court as evidence of his conversion to Christianity. Hegazy recently told reporters that he had found a new solicitor but declined to reveal the name for security reasons.

Hegazy raised a storm of controversy when pictures of him posing for journalists with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in the newspapers.

Fatwas have been issued by Muslim clerics calling for Hegazy's death. Under the same fatwa, Hegazy's daughter Miriam will be killed at the age of 10 if she does not choose Islam. Hegazy and his wife have decided to remain in Egypt and go ahead with the case, in spite of the various fatwas issued against him and his family.

He has received death threats by telephone. He and his wife have been ostracized by their families and are currently in hiding. Katarina's family have sworn to kill her because she married a non Muslim against the family's wishes.

Hegazy's family is just as angry with him. In a 2008 interview to a local Egyptian newspaper, Hegazy's father said, "I am going to try to talk to my son and convince him to return to Islam. If he refuses, I am going to kill him with my own hands."

Shortly after, Hegazy released this statement in response to his father:

On August 8, 2007, Egyptian police detained two Christian human rights workers, Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat after their organisation was involved in several controversial human rights cases, including that of Mohammed Hegazy. They were subsequently held without charge and had their detention renewed on August 21. The two activists are members of the Middle East Christian Association (MICA). A Canadian non-governmental organisation that applied for legal recognition with the Egyptian government in June, 2007, MECA has been involved in several controversial human rights cases since 2007.

According to their lawyer, Peter Ramses al-Nagar, the main reason for Mr Faltas' and Mr Ezzat's detention is their work with Christian convert Mohammed Hegazy. He reported that the media have been saying that Faltas and Ezzat were arrested because they are the main reason Mr Hegazy became a Christian. Faltas had conducted a high-profile Internet interview with Mohammed Hegazy only days before his arrest, sparking claims in Egyptian media that he had led the Muslim to Christianity.

During a telephone interview with an Egyptian talk show, Fawzy said that Islamic scholars had accused his organisation of converting Mohammed Hegazy to Christianity. "The first question they asked was whether we converted Mr Hegazy," Mr Fawzy told reporters. "I told them, 'We don't convert anyone; we are a human rights organisation. But even if we had, there is no law against that.'"

In February, 2008, an Egyptian judge, Muhammad Husseini of a court in Cairomarker ruled in an unprecedented case that a Muslim who converted to Christianity cannot legally change his religious status, although he may believe what he wants in his heart. Judge Muhammad Husseini said that according to sharia,Islam is the final and most complete religion and therefore Muslims already practice full freedom of religion and cannot convert to an older belief (Christianity or Judaism). Husseini also told the administrative court that "He (Hegazy) can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert.”

Judge Husseini based his decision on Article II of the Egyptian constitution,which makes sharia the source of Egyptian law. Hegazy has denounced the ruling as a violation of his basic rights. “What does the state have to do with the religion I embrace?” Hegazy questioned, according to the United States Copts Association following the ruling.

The convert’s defense team was also disappointed with the verdict. “The judge didn’t listen to our defense, and we didn’t even have a chance to talk before the court,” said Gamel Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) to U.S. Copts Association. An ANHRI representative said Hegazy still plans to appeal the ruling or possibly open a new case. Katarina also plans to file a petition for her right to change her religion to Christianity.

In Egypt, a child’s registered religion is based on the father’s official faith. Therefore, since Hegazy is officially Muslim, his daughter would not be able to enroll in Christian religious classes at school, wed in a church, or attend church services openly without harassment under Egyptian law.

However, in a different case in the same month, an Egyptian court ruled that 12 Coptic Christians who converted to Islam and then reverted to Christianity could have their faith officially recognised. This decision was reached on the grounds that the Copts should not be considered apostates for converting from Islam, because they had been born Christian. The decision overturned a lower court ruling which said the state need not recognise conversions from Islam because of a religious ban.

A lawyer for the 12 Coptic Christians described the case as a victory for human rights and freedom of religion. He said that it could open the door for hundreds of other Copts who want to revert to their original faith from Islam.

See also



References

  1. EGYPT – Jail time extended for Christian rights workers
  2. Egypt Rules Christian Convert Must Remain Legally Muslim
  3. Egypt to recognise Copt converts


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