Muslim Convert Requests Religion Change on Egypt's ID Card
First petition of its kind to be heard in the Egyptian courts
Mohamed Ahmed Hegazy
For the latest updates on this case see: Egyptian Convert in Hiding After Lawyer Backs Out, Egyptian Islamists Join Case Against Convert to Christianity, and Tempers Flare into Melee at Egyptian Convert’s Hearing
From Advocates For The Persecuted
August 5, 2007 - An Egyptian who embraced Christianity has filed an unprecedented court case in Egypt's Administrative Court requesting a change of his religion on his national identity card and other official papers. Mohamed Ahmed Hegazy, 25, said he embraced Christianity when he was 16, but he could not legally change his religion on his ID card.
All Egyptians are required to produce this card when requested. Egyptian law only allows the listing of one of three “heavenly” religions on this card: Christianity, Islam, or Judaism.
According to local sources, Mamdouh Nakhla, president of The Word Centre for Human Rights, in Cairo, said he filed the case on Hegazy's behalf against the Minister of the Interior on August 2. It is the first petition of its kind to be heard in the Egyptian courts, he said.
Hegazy said his wife has also converted to Christianity, and is four months pregnant. The couple desires their child's identity to be legally listed as Christian on the child's official papers.
Hegazy and his wife married according to Islamic rules, as both were formerly Muslims. Egyptians with Islam listed as their religion on their official papers can only be married legally under an Islamic religious ceremony in Egypt. Following the legal ceremony, the couple had a Christian wedding ceremony in a church.
Egypt's constitution has a linkage to Sharia. Sharia is a system of societal law based upon the teachings in the Koran. Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution says the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence. This requirement was added on May 22, 1980.
According to the documents filed in court case #35647, Hegazy embraced Christianity, then went to the country's Civil Records department to have a new ID card issued stating Christianity was his new religion, but was refused. The petition says the legal reasons for his case are derived from Article 40 of Egypt's constitution, which states that all citizens are equal in rights and obligations without any discrimination due to gender, origin, language and belief; and Article 46, wherein the State guarantees the freedom of belief and practice in worship and religious rituals.
The petition also says Civil Records refusal to change Hegazy's ID card goes against Islamic interpretation, too.
Hegazy's case comes right after the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, who is Egypt's official religious advisor, ruled that Muslims are free to change their faith as it is a matter between an individual and God.
The Washington Post forum on the Internet published the Mufti's answer to the question: "Can a Muslim person embrace another religion?” He said yes, and last week clarified his original statement again, restating in similar terms: “Choice means freedom, and freedom includes the freedom to commit grave sins as long as their harm does not extend to others.”
While Gomaa said it was a “grave sin” when Muslims commit apostasy by converting to another religion, he also said corporal punishment should only be used if their actions endanger society.
When some newspapers interpreted his statement as an endorsement of freedom of religion, Gomaa further commented: “Some members of the press and the public understood this statement as a retraction of my position that Islam affords freedom of belief. I have always maintained the legitimacy of this freedom and I continue to do so,” he said. “I discussed the fact that throughout history, the worldly punishment for apostasy in Islam has been applied only to those who, in addition to their apostasy, actively engaged in the subversion of society,” he said.
“The distinction is important as many clerics in the Muslim world have claimed that death is the automatic punishment for apostasy regardless of whether the individual is a threat to society or not,” said the Middle East Times in the article, “Egypt mufti reaffirms Muslim freedom of faith choice,” published July 26, 2007.
Hegazy's request for a change of religion on his national identity card comes one month after Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court overturned a previous ruling that had denied Coptic citizens the right to regain their legal Christian identity after having embraced Islam, and ordered an appeal schedule to be heard Sept. 1, 2007.
Editor's note: For updates and background on Mohammed Hegazy's case, please see the following links:
January 25, 2008: Tempers Flare into Melee at Egyptian Convert’s Hearing
December 4, 2007: Muslim Converts to Christianity Could Die at Hands of Attackers
October 10, 2007: Egyptian Islamists Join Case Against Convert to Christianity
August 9, 2007: Islamic Experts Call for Mohammed Hegazy's Death
August 8, 2007: Egyptian Convert in Hiding After Lawyer Backs Out,
August 5, 2007: Muslim Convert Requests Religion Change on Egypt's ID Card