Friday, March 09, 2007

Yes, Women Can Become First-Class Citizens in Egypt

In celebrating International Women's Day on 8 March, the following interview with an Egyptian Baha'i woman was published earlier this week in Copts United as a component of the magazine's coverage of this important occasion. On the index page the article was given the following title: "Religions came for humans and not to manufacture countries. The world now needs the Baha'i Faith."

Basint Moussa is the journalist conducting the interview, and Basma Moussa (no relation) is the person interviewed for this article.


[TRANSLATION FROM ARABIC]

[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets [ ].]

Dr. Basma Moussa in a dialogue for “Hiya wa Huququha” [Her and her rights]

4 March 2007

Basint Moussa

“I am a woman and a Bahá’í; nonetheless, I feel I am a first-class citizen” is a phrase I heard at one of the seminars. I gazed, astonished, at the lady who said it, telling myself: “How can this lady feel this way? Doesn’t she know that we are a male-dominated society that glorifies men? Doesn’t she know that we live in a country that has an official religion and only recognizes three religions, its official religion being of a higher status than the other two?” Because of my strong belief that every individual has his reasons for what he says, I requested to meet with her so that I could learn more about her and how she thinks. Of course, I did not forget to ask her about the secret of feeling like a full citizen. Here with us today is Dr. Basma Moussa, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Faculty of Dentistry, Cairo University.

** Dr. Basma, your specialty is surgery. Some perhaps would consider that it is not easy for a woman to work in the field of surgery?

The surgeon should certainly be calm and collected and be able to deal with developments that suddenly arise in the operating room. These capabilities are found in some women and men, and not exclusively in men. Woman is capable of coping with difficulties better than man, and there are many examples that attest to this, but I will only mention one: pregnancy. For nine months (almost a year), woman bears many difficulties, whereas man may not be able to carry a bag, placed on his abdomen, for more than two hours, let alone nine months. Thus, the fact that woman has her own functional and psychological characteristics does not mean that she is less capable of withstanding [difficulties]; on the contrary, those characteristics give her great strength.

** Then, what are the reasons for the discrimination against woman if she possesses all this strength and these capabilities?

The cultural education that has been planted in people’s minds that woman was created to serve man is what has given rise to all that we have referred to, and this is totally false. Added to this is the erroneous understanding of the revealed verses and religious laws and convincing woman of her obligation to observe these laws; so woman becomes part of what causes the problem and not a means for resolving it, and this is a real catastrophe.

** The youth of tomorrow are the children of today. What is your assessment of the situation of the Egyptian child, health-wise, psychologically and culturally, in this day?

We cannot deny that, compared to the past, there has been great advancement in health, in terms of caring for the child, but this advancement in health, albeit needing more support, is not met with attention and obvious interest in educating the child and building psychological strength within him. The greatest proof of this is in education; [our education system] does not engage the child in any creativity; rather, he is treated as if he is merely a recipient of academic information. This pattern of education creates people who lack the value of participation and, hence, collaboration and love.

** But there are those who consider that the role of the school is education and not the development of values such as love, collaboration and participation, as those are the responsibility of the family.

Education does not rest on the family alone, but it rather rests on several pillars, including the school, of course. We need the school to plant in the children a love for the homeland and a desire to collaborate with all people irrespective of any differences of opinion and religious belief. The society we live in produces people who, although they work together, do not collaborate or love one another; they simply see it as a job to gain money. This is a detestable individualism that reflects great selfishness. So if we learned in school to work with love, we would give a lot more than we would gain from this work, and our society would succeed and develop because its people would work and deal with each other with much love. This is what we need now: love to build our homeland, Egypt.

** How would you see the teaching of religion in Egyptian schools?

When I was a child at school studying Islamic education, not because I was forced to but because my roots are Muslim, the Christian students would leave the classroom in the religion hour and play in the school courtyard or have another lesson. In my opinion, this is a type of discrimination that the child perceives in his [everyday] life. In addition, the religion teacher would, for the most part, explain and teach based on his own understanding and not according to the religious education that should be followed. Therefore, I am of the opinion that comparative religion should be taught, that is, the child should know about all the religions and study them throughout his schooling and then choose what he wants to believe in. This is what I learned as a Bahá’í; we teach our children all the religions because the source of all these religions is one, as Bahá’u’lláh said: “ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch”. In England, for example, they are considering adding a subject called “morals” [behavior], which would include the nine world religions--a "world religion" [would be defined as] the one in which more than half a million people believe.

** Comparative religion sounds good, but Dr. Muhammad Imarah once mentioned in a discussion that belief in a particular religion does not necessarily mean disbelieving in others. What would you comment on that?

I do not understand how an individual could charge others with heresy, because even disbelief in a particular religion does not mean heresy. To be an infidel is to disbelieve in God, not in religions. A Muslim disbelieves in Christianity or vice versa, but both believe in God. The Bahá’í Faith considers that all religions came for a particular period of time; therefore, the laws differed from time to time, but the spiritual teachings of all religions are the same. However, we focus on the laws, which are a source of disagreement, and forget about our common spiritual teachings. Science develops and changes with time, and the Word of God, which is [true] religion, changes according to the needs of the age in which we live. At one point it was Christianity and at another Islam. A Bahá’í believes in all of that, and the Bahá’í Faith is a continuation of natural evolution of religious laws; therefore, the world today needs it now.

** So, is your difficulty as Bahá’ís in Egypt with Islam or with the laws taken from Article 2 of the Constitution?

We, as Bahá’ís, do not have any problem with the beliefs of any previous religion; we have a problem with the interpretations which some give to religious scriptures. I do not understand how a State can have a religion, for a country is not a person. Religion is higher in its station than to just manufacture countries. Religion came to humans in order to add the new dimension needed in people's lives. Moreover, Article 151 of the Egyptian Constitution considers that the treaties that Egypt signs are under the power and authority of the law [to enforce them]. Egypt has signed many treaties on human rights. Where is the efficacy of this signature and its implementation in reality? Is this whole matter merely a signature [ink on paper]?

** After the recent ruling regarding the Bahá’í religion and the extent of the legality of embracing it in official identity papers, how is your life and that of your children going?

I have a passport which I need to renew, but I cannot do that because they will not enter my religion as Bahá’í. This will create many difficulties for me, as I am invited to many medical conferences outside of Egypt. I apologize and am embarrassed to explain the reasons, which may surprise some or may lead some to ridicule the mentality that exists in my country, Egypt. My son, who will be graduating from university, also does not yet have an identification card, and this will cause many problems for him.

** This is an extremely difficult situation, your not being able to travel outside the country and your son not having an identification card; some may say, just write “Muslim” and then do whatever you want in the privacy of your prayer chamber?

First of all, I believe in my right as an Egyptian to embrace whichever religion I choose. I am not a Muslim, so why should I claim to be one? My religion teaches me not to lie, and I do what I believe in, whatever the cost. I am confident that my country will admit one day my right to write down my religion. Change is part of life, and I am confident that the difficult current condition, which is worsening, will one day change.

** Let us return to an important question. Why do you feel that you are a full citizen in a society that has denied you so much?

God created me free and rational in a country that suffers from erroneous understandings in many matters. My role is to feel inside that I am not less than anyone else and that I am a citizen, and this positive feeling inside me will no doubt enable me to defend, with all my strength and using all legitimate means, my right as a citizen through the ordinances and laws that order our relationships as individuals within the society.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you Dr. Moussa for this uplifting interview, you make all women proud! Egypt should be very fortunate to count you as one of its citizens. It takes courage and determination to go against the mainstream and you are demonstrating both. Too few women realize how empowered they are to promote change in the world. The first and foremost tool is right there at their fingertip since they are in charge of the next generation: teach the children, tolerance and respect for all.

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  2. Dr. Basma truthfully conveys the spirit of this new age, and age where differences in religion, gender, race, culture, or social status are embraced in the spirit of understanding, compassion, appreciation, and unity.

    This positive exchange of views will only hasten the recognition that we are all "the fruits of one tree", "the roses of one garden", and "the waves of one sea".

    The interviewer, like the interviewee, has a shining spirit of faith that reflects through a loving, respectful, and exemplary attitude.

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  3. Thank you all for your comments. Unbridled courage is her hallmark....

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