Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tribute to Egyptian Baha'is: National Treasure Hussein Bikar

Mr. Hussein Amin Bikar (Bicar) was born in Egypt on 2 January 1913 near a serene fishing port named Anfoushi in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. He was raised by a modest family that, in spite of its hardships, did its best to support his education.

After graduating from Cairo's legendary Faculty of Fine Arts in 1933, he became a teaching assistant that same year, then a Lecturer and later Director of the Photography department. He subsequently became a Professor in the Painting Department, and ultimately its Chair.

In 1944 he began his career in journalism when he became, with Ahmad Sabri, Mustapha Amin and Ali Amin, one of the founding fathers of the prestigious Akhbar el-Youm newspaper.

In 1952 he was instrumental in starting a weekly children's magazine titled SINDBAD, for which he was--along with "Sarookhan" and "Rakha"--its main cartoonist and illustrator. This magazine enjoyed huge success in Egypt and the Middle East, and was the only children's magazine in that part of the world for several years. Many children would eagerly await its arrival in train stations across the country before it got to news stands.

He was also one of the founders of Cairo's Helwan Wax Museum. Over the years, Mr. Bikar had taught thousands of students at the Faculty of Fine Arts and became Egypt's most celebrated painter. His talent and artistic excellence became recognized worldwide.

Mr. Bikar was honored with several awards including, the State Merit award in 1978, the Merit award in 1980, and culminating with the most esteemed Mubarak (Presidential) Award in June 2000. He donated the full LE 100,000 of his prize to the Children's Cancer Hospital.

Mr. Bikar became attracted to the Baha'i Faith in the 1930s and accepted it shortly after as his religion. He became a staunch supporter of its Institutions, and upholder of its principles. He also served on its key administrative functions. In the 1980s He was repeatedly interrogated and arrested simply because he was a Baha'i.

In 1985 Mr. Bikar was arrested along with several other co-religionists, and released after the interference of Egypt's President, but still had to defend himself in courts until his ultimate vindication.

On one occasion in the 1990s, he was at Cairo's International Airport ready to leave on a vacation to England to visit family, when he was prevented from leaving the country with no explanation given. With great humility and acceptance, he simply turned around and went home. This one of several experiences exemplified his life, patience and unparalleled humility.

Mr. Hussein Bikar lived in a modest apartment in Zamalek (a suburb of Cairo) with his wife, surrounded by some of his original paintings. He led a life of austerity and simplicity, and he was very kind to anyone who had come to associate with him.

In his later years, despite his fading eyesight and health problems, he continued to contribute regularly to prominent magazines. He also maintained his weekly philosophical column which was always accompanied by a relevant caricature in Egypt's official newspaper Akhbar el-Youm.

After a struggle with cancer, Mr. Hussein Bikar passed away in November 2002 shortly before his 90th birthday. The whole nation mourned his passing, and for several weeks there were daily reports in the press, radio and television regarding his persona and his exemplary contributions to Egypt's culture and heritage. He was identified as one of Egypt's National Treasures.

Mr. Bikar's life testifies to the goodness of Egyptian Baha'is who have been valuable assets to their nation. They suffered persecution for no logical reasons, but in-spite of these challenges they continued to love their country with complete loyalty. They have always promoted harmony, tolerance and acceptance. They served their fellow citizens very well, they contributed to the success of society, they nourished its culture and have been always law-abiding and exemplary citizens.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Defenders of Baha'is in Egyptian Press

Among the plethora of recent publications regarding the Baha'i Faith in the Egyptian Press, yesterday, 25 June, three interesting articles appeared in WATANI (My Homeland) newspaper.

This paper describes its mission as follows: "Watani is an Egyptian weekly Sunday newspaper published in Cairo. The word Watani is Arabic for “My Homeland”. The paper was founded in 1958 by the prominent Copt Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995), who strove for the establishment of a civil, democratic society in Egypt, where all Egyptians would enjoy full citizenship rights regardless of their religious denomination. This remains Watani’s objective to this day, leaning neither left nor right on the political level, but following its own clear course in the press field. Those in charge of Watani view this role as a patriotic all-Egyptian vocation, especially following the increasing marginalisation of the Coptic role, issues and culture within the Egyptian society over the past half century. Watani is deeply dedicated to offer its readers high quality, extensive, credible press coverage, with special focus on Coptic issues, culture, heritage, and contribution to Egyptian society."

The first article was authored by Dr. Nabil Muhammad Mustapha titled, "Is Baha'i a Religion?" The article refuted many of the accusations made by Islamists who have been claiming that the Baha'i Faith is not a Divine religion. Dr. Mustapha used several historical facts, logical arguments and Theological proofs confirming the Divinity and authenticity of the Baha'i Revelation. The full text could be accessed here.

The second one was authored by a Muslim writer, Dr. Saad el-Din Ibrahim, Profssor of Political Sociology at the American University in Cairo, titled, "Baha'is or Egyptians?" He spoke of a recent trip he made to western Europe and North America, and that Egypt was frequently in the news, not because of its political and scientific progress, but rather because of its social, religious and civil rights challenges which have been flooding the world's media. After addressing a separate matter, he went into great detail discussing the complex struggle of the Egyptian Baha'is. He outlined the current conflict, the history of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, its legal battles, and the challenges facing it. In particular, he questioned the reasons for the current heightened acuity of attacks on Baha'is after over a century of their relatively accepted presence in the country. He spoke of the contributions the Baha'is have made to Egypt, and criticized the intolerance towards them. The full article is linked here.

The third article, which was authored by Mr. Amin Abu'l-Fotouh Batah and Mr. Raouf Isshaaq Tawfik, spoke of a critical period in the history of the Baha'i Faith during the exile journey of the Holy Family and the Bab'i followers from Tehran until their final destination in Acre (Akko), Palestine. It also described Baha'u'llah's declaration of His station and mission while in Baghdad at the Ridwan gardens, on 29 April 1863. They commented on the festivities surrounding that important event and all the dignitaries and religious leaders who had participated in the celebrations. The full text of this article could be found here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Baha'is of Egypt: Documented Threats Escalating

A book calling for killing the Baha'is in Egypt was just published and distributed to bookstores and newspaper stands across the country.

The book is authored by Dr. Khaled Abdel-Halim el-Sayouty, under the authority and direction of the Ministry of Islamic Endowment, and the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Egypt, and sold for a bargain price of one Egyptian Pound. It is dated June 2006 and consists of 104 pages. It is titled, "Baha'ism - its Beliefs and Colonial Goals", and includes statements made by al-Azhar's Islamic Research Ecclesiastical College clearly calling for the killing of Baha'is.

On page 99, it states the following (translated): "al-Azhar urges those in authority in the Arab Republic of Egypt to stand firm against this wrongful congregation which is against the Faith of God and the public order of this society. The judgement of God must be executed against it, the law it deserves must be enforced and must be interred with the dust [dirt] heaped over it together with its teachings. This is protection for all citizens from its apostasy, and its beliefs that are deviant from God's straight path. Those who have committed crimes against the truth [rights] of Islam and their nation, must disappear from life so they will not dare estrange themselves from Islam."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Baha'is in Egypt: The Quiet Dignity

The Egyptian Baha'i community, in spite of the several challenges to its existence, managed to thrive from the time of its inception until 1960 when the sudden Presidential Decree #263 put a stop to all its functions and activities. The decree stated: "all Baha'i Assemblies and Centres" are "hereby dissolved, and their activities suspended. Individuals, bodies and institutions are warned to refrain from any activity." Several senior Baha'is were arrested, humiliated and interrogated. A well documented narrative of the history of the Baha'i community of Egypt could be found at this link.

All Baha'i properties were immediately confiscated. It included a 17,000 square meters parcel of land on the banks of the Nile, intended to become the site for building a Baha'i House of Worship for North East Africa. Other properties included the National Headquarters building in Cairo, a Villa in Port-Fouad that housed the Baha'i Centre for the Port-Said area, a Baha'i Centre structure in Ismailia, a summer school site in Alexandria, all Baha'i cemeteries, and all Baha'i funds and other assets. Even, books, supplies, photographs, valuables, chairs, desks and bookcases were confiscated. To this day, the Baha'is are still awaiting the return of their properties.

This old photograph shows the delegates to the National Convention posing at the front steps of the Baha'i National Headquarters in Cairo, two years before the storm. It was one of the properties confiscated by the government in 1960. It was taken away for use by the Ministry of Interior. Later after much neglect, this dilapidated building became one of the centres for the ruling national party, as is shown in this recent colour photograph published on 15 June 2006 in the Egyptian "el-Wafd" newspaper (See comments for details).

After the banning of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, its followers were placed under constant surveillance, its activities came to a halt, and the Baha'is were permitted to worship only in the privacy of their homes. Some Baha'i university students were harassed, interrogated and abused, and their grades were altered. The Baha'is were allowed to celebrate their major Holy Days in public parks as shown in this photograph taken in 1965 in Alexandria.

These men, who exude dignity and peace, were frequently harassed, and followed by secret agents everywhere they went, to the extent that they came to personally know their watchers and greet them with a smile in the mornings on their way to work. Some of them even got to know the agents by name and invited them to a coffee or a cup of tea. Many of these gentlemen were frequently arrested, temporarily banished, interrogated and tortured. But they had always maintained their Quiet Dignity!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Egypt's Baha'is: World Press Outcry for Humanity

(AP photos x 2: M. Al-Sehety)

This, soon to expire, tarnished ID Card may be the only proof this man has left to document his identity in a traditionally restrictive society. When it expires by the end of this year, this man will be living in the shadows, in constant fear for his family and himself. Today, an AP story syndicated by Mariam Fam hit the media across the globe. To name a few, it spread from Minneapolis to Monterey, from Syracuse to St. Louis, from Forbes to the Washington Post, and from Yahoo to ABC International.

This touching human story will stroke a very tender chord in the hearts of those who have the courage to read it. It describes the struggle of an Egyptian Baha'i and his family in their attempt to survive in a controlled society, without proper official identity documents. As this has been a developing story, previous posts had clearly described the details of this serious issue. In short, Egyptian Baha'is are deprived of obtaining Government-issued ID cards as well as all other official documents, including death certificates, unless they recant their religion and declare one of only three choices given to them, namely: Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

This man, his wife and their two sons were born in Egypt and of Egyptian ancestry. They have been law abiding, and exemplary citizens, who have served their country just like other productive and respected members of society. Based on the standards of the Egyptian society, this highly intelligent and accomplished man has, in spite of a lifelong discrimination and persecution, managed to reach one of the most respected positions in the country. He is currently a full Professor at the Faculty of Engineering in Egypt's prestigious Cairo University, where he has been for several decades educating thousands of Egyptian students.

This man has repeatedly stated during several interviews, "I am an Egyptian. I was born in Egypt...and I would not leave Egypt," but what he did not say is more alarming than what was said: in Egypt a person's religion, in most cases, is easily recognizable by the individual's name. This man's name is Labib Iskandar [Alexander] Hanna, in Egypt it is definitely a name of Christian origin--a minority population in Egypt. As it is not unusual in that society, those who do not know him will discriminate against him because they assume that he is a Christian, and those who know him will discriminate against him because they are aware that he is a Baha'i!

Despite all his suffering, he still made that statement, quoted above, "I am an Egyptian. I was born in Egypt...and I would not leave Egypt." We should be all in awe of this man's courage and nobility of character--at least in part because of what he did not say!

Why should any society in today's world systematically discriminate against such people? How, in God's name, could they be a threat to anyone? The accusations against the Baha'is in Egypt have been always entirely false and baseless. Any Egyptian with a sense of understanding and fairness, as we had seen recently, recognizes the abhorrent treatment the Baha'is have been subjected to in Egypt. Many more voices must cry out for justice!

In order to read what this man has said, you may click here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

French Catholic Press Follows Egyptian Baha'i Struggle

On 18 June 2006, a leading French Catholic newspaper "la-Croix" [the Cross] reported on the state of affairs of the Baha'is in Egypt. The report was based on a press release from "AFP" (Agence France Presse) which included several interviews. The following is a translation of the French language article. It was published before the scheduled Egyptian Supreme Court session of 19 June 2006. It should be noted that the following is simply a translation, and is not intended to attest to the accuracy of the original article's content:

Cairo, 18 June 2006 (AFP) – Judicial battle over the recognition of the Baha’is in Egypt.

A judicial battle will re-open Monday in Egypt in front of the Supreme Court over the small minority--religious and philosophical--community of the Baha’is that wants to be recognized as a religion--a right that is denied by the Islamic authorities.

The Baha’is, who have been present in Egypt for 150 years, deem the fight to obtain the new ID card crucial. It is an indispensable document, which forces the mention of the bearer’s religion.

The Baha’i Faith is a part philosophical, part religious movement and it descended from Bab'ism which was founded in Persia by Mirza-Ali Mohammad (1819-1850), whose tomb in Haifa (Israel) is the religion’s principal Holy site.

After having obtained, in April, a favorable judgement from an administrative tribunal in Cairo [sic], the judgement was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court as the Government was pressured to [appeal] by Muslim extremists.

“According to the authorities, we do not exist. We simply ask to be treated like any other Egyptian citizen and want to be able to write our religion on our official documents” says Labib Hanna, Professor at Cairo University. (AP photo: M. Al-Sehety)

The fate of the Baha’is, about 2000 of them, threatens to turn into a nightmare with the arrival of these new ID cards that will become mandatory by the end of 2006, and will be needed for access to education, employment and healthcare.

On these ID cards only “Muslim”, “Christian” or “Jewish” is allowed.

"The Egyptian Constitution allows freedom of religious belief” underlines Gamal Abdel Aziz, director of an Egyptian NGO (The Arab Network for Human Rights) adding that “in a situation such as this, the Baha’is will be left with no identity”

“I cannot renounce my country or recant my religion. I cannot do either one” says Mr. Hanna.

Until now the Baha’is were able to obtain hand-written ID cards through some semi-official channels.

They meet privately to worship during their 19-day feast that marks the first day of each Baha’i month, which is celebrated within their community.

They were sometimes arrested in Egypt, but usually not as persecuted as in Iran since the institution of its Islamic Republic in 1979. Now the Bahai’s [in Egypt] have been attacked viciously since April.

They have been accused in the press of being a “deviant cult” as compared to Islam, of disturbing the public order, or also of being agents of Israel as their pilgrimage sites are in Israel.

“The government has to gather all its forces to fight and destroy the Baha’i rites and all its other evil and destructive doctrines” proclaims Gad el-Hak Ali, former Sheikh of al-Azhar, in a fatwa appearing in the Egyptian press recently.

A head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdel Moneim Fotouh declared: “we cannot allow believers of a non-recognized religion to write-in their religion’s name on an official document.”

During a stormy debate in the Egyptian Parliament in the spring, Maher Akl, a Representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, the principal opposition force, even called for "the liquidation [killing] of all the Baha’is," as is also stated on the Brotherhood’s internet site.

“All this is proof that religious tolerance is constantly degrading in Egypt” commented Mr. Hanna, “the campaign against us by the government and some religious authorities only serves to give more exposure to our rightful claim” he added.

P.S. On 19 June 2006, the same newspaper published a follow-up article on the outcome of the Supreme Court's session, indicating that its decision was tabled until 16 September 2006. The article was titled: "Report on the trial regarding the recognition of the Baha'i religion in Egypt."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Egypt's Baha'is: Rise of Support in Official Press

Just one day after the anxiously anticipated 19 June Egyptian Supreme Court's session regarding the civil rights of the Baha'is in Egypt, a major article appeared in the highly respected weekly newspaper "al-Kahera News" [Cairo News], a publication of the Government's Ministry of Culture.

The article is authored by an independent writer named Muhammad Shebl. He introduces it as "another round on Islam and freedom of belief." Using quotations from the Koran, he warns the public that, "according to Islamic law, they cannot force the Baha'is to convert to Islam." He writes that "God had created man and wanted him to be free, then He gave him a mind to discern for himself, and that God postponed man's accountability until the eternal world. If some people hate their fellow human beings for their beliefs while in this world, it will anger God as if they had committed a great sin and offended Him. If God had wished to force all humans to worship Him in a certain way, He would have done so, but He allowed them the freedom to choose so that He can hold them accountable."

Mr. Shebl also states that "if the Baha'is were apostates [as they have been accused of being by Islamists], then their punishment should remain pending until Judgement Day."

The author, repeatedly, stresses the importance of freedom of choice for every human being, and that it is not up to anyone, except God, to judge the beliefs of others. He also points out that Muslims cannot only limit their recognition to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, but rather they should recognize and tolerate all other religions including Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, etc....

Mr. Shebl supports his statements and arguments with several quotations from the Koran that are clearly balanced and tolerant. He calls for cessation of the hatred campaign conducted by Islamist fundamentalists, and reminds people of the Islamic teachings propagating unity of humankind just as the Baha'is have been promoting all along.

In spite of the campaign of discredit propagated by Muslim fundamentalists, this, and many other recent articles in the mainstream Egyptian press, clearly illustrate a wave of tolerance and acceptance by those who are capable of shaping public opinion in the country. It is also apparent that this wave represents the voice of Egypt's silent majority who remains the hope for a bright and peaceful future.

N.B. Arabic readers can access the full text by clicking on the two images of the newspaper, which had to be cut for scanning purposes. Also, please click here for the "pdf" link.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Egypt's Baha'is: Supreme Court Delays Decision

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court convened today, 19 June 2006, to hear the Government's appeal of the lower court's ruling that has granted the Baha'is their rights to enter their religion on government issued ID cards and all other official documents. The lower court's ruling was seen to imply the recognition of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. Five Islamist attorneys urged the Supreme Court today for a quick judgment against the Baha'is. The Government's attorneys, however, have not made their demands known to the court in its highly anticipated session today.

The Supreme Court has, therefore, adjourned without making any decisions regarding the Government's appeal, until it reconvenes again on 16 September 2006.

Egypt's Supreme Court in Cairo

More to come!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Baha'is Persecuted in Egypt: Just Published

This is an article that was just published today in the Egyptian newspaper named "WATANI" [My Homeland]. The article speaks for itself.

The second article, in Arabic, is titled: "Baha'ism between truth and false accusations." Its subtitle indicates that it is a conversation with two Baha'is regarding their deprived civil rights in a country with abundant waving of the banners of freedom.

Tomorrow, 19 June 2006, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court reconvenes to decide on the Government's appeal of the lower court's ruling, which granted the Baha'is their rights to enter their religion on government issued ID cards and all other official documents.

This critical court case is being watched by Human Rights Organizations around the world.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Egypt: Tolerance Could Lead to Renewed Greatness

Egypt prides itself in its past glories and its unparalleled ancient civilization. Egyptians are among the most generous, kind and hospitable human beings that could be found anywhere. They are known to be fun-loving and peaceful. Egypt has produced renowned authors, thinkers, inventors, artists, musicians, humanitarians, prominent scientists, and Nobel laureates. Hundreds of thousands of highly educated Egyptians have left their homeland for search of freedom from persecution and intolerance--a huge loss to the country's badly-needed human resources.

The first brain surgery ever performed was during Egypt's ancient glory. Some of those surgical instruments, seen in reliefs on temple walls, continue to be used today worldwide. Among many other innovations, the functioning of the cardiovascular system was first described in the ancient Alexandria University, with its famous library that was the source of all knowledge at the time, until it was burned by those who intended to retard civilization.

There is a significant component of the contemporary Egyptian society known to be tolerant and impartial. However, there remains an insular segment of society with enough legislative influence and authority who continue to hinder Egypt's progress towards an open and free society.

If Egypt could only free itself from the shackles of intolerance to religious and other minorities, it could leap forward and unleash its concealed potential to join the world's leading societies in progress, prosperity and innovation. There were definite glimpses of enlightenment in modern Egyptian history that propelled the country forward in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and it is also quite apparent that many of Egypt's current free thinkers are truly enlightened and tolerant.

Egypt is now in a unique position to prove to the rest of the world that it could, again, become a beacon of light for progress through tolerance and acceptance.

Religion must not be the cause of division and regress, but rather the source of unity and progress. Our religious beliefs are between us and God. Since they are our own personal responsibility to our creator, they should not be interfered with or held accountable to any other human being or civil authority. Society cannot, and should not dictate our religious beliefs or the method by which we worship. After all, when we leave our physical body, each one of us will be held personally accountable to God. Neither the entities of society nor the government will be there to answer for us. Why then should they control our beliefs now?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Egypt: Baha'i Civil Rights To Be Decided In Court

Egypt's Supreme Court

After a stormy session on 15 May, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court is scheduled to reconvene on 19 June 2006, to hear the government's appeal to reverse the lower court's ruling that has granted the Baha'is their civil rights. This case is being watched closely worldwide as it would have a huge impact on the civil rights and freedoms of many Egyptian citizens.

Details of the buildup and full coverage of this critical case are fully described in Baha'i World News Service.

Front steps of Egypt's Supreme Court

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Egypt's Baha'i Situation: Voices of Reason

Recently, in spite of the intense campaign of opposition to the Egyptian Baha'is spearheaded by the followers of the fundamentalist movement (Muslim Brotherhood), there were several calls in the Egyptian media--by the voices of moderation and reason--for civility, equity and justice.

Yesterday, three independent authors published extensive articles in "" (Cairo News), a weekly paper published by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

The first one was written by Talaat Radwan titled, "Narrow thinking and blind prejudice: a brotherhood representative declares war on Baha'is and calls for killing them because they are apostates." The author explains how the Muslim brotherhood parliamentary representative described his proposal that "the Baha'is be taken to Kasr-el-Nile bridge, with the older ones carrying their young, and after chanting a nationalistic song, would be given the order by their leader to all jump into the Nile!" In a very intelligently written article, the author dissects the ills of the Egyptian society, including poverty, corruption, terrorist attacks, deterioration of educational standards, etc...and shows the reader how the public opinion has been diverted from its own misery, and how their attention is being forced to focus on a peace-loving and innocent group of citizens [the Baha'is] which deserves to be well treated and accepted into the Egyptian society as equals.

A second article written by Kamal Ghobrial titled, "The constitution gives them the right: Baha'is request the right not to have to lie [being forced to indicate a different religion than theirs on official documents], but did not ask for permission to practice their religion in public...." Here, the author discusses how important it is for the Baha'is to be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to the freedom of religious belief, and practice of their religion without any interference from an archaic society. He also discusses their struggle in courts in order to be granted their rights. He speaks of the essential need for tolerance in the Egyptian society, and describes the spiritual principles of the Baha'i Faith that are in total agreement with the teachings of all Divine religions, including the ten commandments. He explains that the Baha'is should be treated according to the accepted standards of human rights.

The third article written by Bayoumy Qandil titled, "the Baha'is are Egyptians: No one should be allowed to deprive them of any of their citizenship rights." The author shows that the Baha'is--regardless of what Egypt thinks--belong to a recognized, widespread global religion exceeding five million in number. He also emphasizes that Egypt in this modern era should follow the principles of free society as was introduced by the French revolution with its known banners of liberty, equality and fraternity for every human on this earth (link to "les droits de l'ohmme").
He speaks of the parallel with the middle ages, whether in the east or in the west, with their oppressiveness, immorality, and warring brutality. He reminds us that Egypt has signed the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 (link to Universal Declaration of Human Rights). He affirms that Egyptian courts must adhere to that obligation, as well as apply the guarantees for freedom of religious belief and practice as provided in Egypt's constitution. He then refers back to those declarations from the French revolution, later adopted by the United Nations, with their influence on the rest of the world: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

A close-up of the United Nations Charter with the Egyptian delegation in the background at the signing ceremony in San Francisco. (Credit: UN Photo # 24479)

All these independent, learned and enlightened authors refute the inaccuracies which were promoted by an aggressive campaign of disinformation that has been propagated recently among the Egyptian public. They clearly describe and confirm accurate information regarding the teachings, history and principles of the Baha'i Faith. They all conclude that the Baha'is in Egypt--regardless of what the Muslim religious establishment thinks or publicly declares--deserve the right to their absolute freedom and full rights to citizenship in their own country.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Egypt: Anti-Baha'i Campaign Intensifies

As the country is preparing itself for the 19 June 2006 Supreme Court session regarding the recognition of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, the Egyptian media has been busy reporting several news articles about the Baha'i Faith itself as well as the preparation of the public for this upcoming important court session.

Today, Saturday, 10 June, there were several articles about the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, two of them were in "el-Masry el-Youm" (The Egyptian Today). The first article discussed in some detail the early history of the inception of the Baha'i Faith after the Bab'i movement, as seen in the eyes of the writers of that article. It also reports that in 1975, the Bahai's lost a lawsuit brought by 43 Baha'i plaintiffs against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, requesting that the 1960 Presidential Decree outlawing the Baha'i Faith be reversed on constitutional grounds. The authors named all the plaintiffs in their article, and wrote that the Bahai's lost the lawsuit and were ordered to pay 30 Egyptian Pounds in costs. A response written in Arabic refuting the inaccuracies and misrepresentations found in the article could be seen here.

In a recent article, which was published in a separate paper "el-Ghadd" (Tomorrow) and written by a Baha'i from Jordan, balanced views and corrections to some of the articles in the media were provided.

The second article in "el-Masry el-Youm" illustrates a different type of journalism that reports only, and without interpretation or opinion. It is titled: "Baha'ism subject of 'Today's Sermon' in Port-Said mosques." The article states the following: "Baha'ism is Friday sermon's subject in all Port-Said mosques, which was based on a manifesto produced by the Ministry of Religious Endowment (Awqaf) # 56 for the year 2006, with the goal of alerting the citizens to the truth about this non-Islamic congregation."

The article continues: "The manifesto, which was distributed to all the Imams [leaders] of mosques and directors of Religious Endowment in Port-Said, affirmed to them that the Baha'i Faith contradicts Islam and defaces its teachings, and is considered as a clear Zionist conspiracy to destroy religious beliefs. The manifesto also clarifies that the Egyptian authorities took on that Faith in three edicts (fatawi): on 11 March 1939, 13 April 1950, and 25 March 1968, and produced a Republic's [Presidential] decree # 263 of the year 1960 dissolving all Baha'i Assemblies [Institutions] and Centers that were present in Egypt."

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it."
--George Santayana

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Egyptian Baha'i Rights: "ID Cards" and "Race Laws"

On May 4, 2006, the primary topic debated in the Egyptian Parliament was the right of the Baha'is to be recognized on official documents. The ruling party and the opposition, in a historical first, were in agreement to appeal the court's decision granting Baha'is the right to indicate their religion on all official documents, including ID cards. My previous post titled "Egyptian Baha'is and ID Cards" addresses this question in some detail.

Considering the heated, hateful and angry debate that occurred on that day--which was aggressively orchestrated and conducted by several fundamentalists--the most ominous and frightening statement was made by a Ruling Party Member, Dr. Zainab Abdel-Magid Radwan, a highly educated leader. She is a Professor at the Faculty of Science at Cairo University, Member of the Egyptian National Council for Women, Member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights and former Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies at Fayoom University.

Dr. Radwan favored allowing the Baha'is to be recognized on official documents and ID cards for one important reason! She stated: "There is an interest in them being known rather than being unknown so that they do not succeed in infiltrating the ranks of society and spreading their extremist and deviant ideology."

Doesn't this remind us of the Nuremberg Race Laws announced in 1935 in Nazi Germany? All Germans were required to carry ID cards. The government added a special identifying mark on ID cards carried by the Jews with a red "J" clearly stamped on their cards. They even forced those with names that were not recognized as clearly Jewish to insert a middle name: "Israel" for a man, and "Sara" for a woman.

Credit: USHMM # 03098

To one's horror, Dr. Radwan went further and stated that "Baha'is have names that are similar to ours and could not be identifiable as Baha'is, therefore we must indicate their religion on their ID cards so we can know who they are." Alternatively, it was also recommended that "Baha'i" would be indicated on the ID cards, but not under the religion section, so that Baha'is could be identified, but not recognized as followers of a religion!

How clearer could their intentions be?

The real question is: why, in today's society, any Nation would want to classify its citizens according to their religion? What is the real reason for this? And what is next?

We only need to look back in history!

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it."
--George Santayana (1863-1952)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Baha'i Faith: Early Days In Egypt


The Baha'i Faith had spread to Egypt shortly after Baha'u'llah had declared that He is the Promised One of all ages. As the Baha'i Faith had established its early roots in that land, it did indeed influence many enlightened Egyptians and had attracted many of the society's notables and thinkers, resulting in rapid growth of its community. However from the mid 1920s on, the Baha'is of Egypt have endured numerous court battles, oppression, harassment, imprisonment, degradation and discrimination. In spite of these recurrent challenges, the Baha'i community was still able to thrive and grow, and its Institutions had matured and became well established until the Presidential Decree of 1960 that had dissolved its Institutions, confiscated its properties and essentially imposed a ban on all its activities. The leaders of the Baha'i community from all corners of the country were also arrested and interrogated. The following is a summary of the historical events of that early period of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt.

Mirza Abu'l-Fadl

Prior to 1895, Baha'is in Egypt were Persian merchants who had settled in Cairo and Alexandria. In July 1895 a preeminent Persian Baha'i scholar and author, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani (1844-1914) arrived in Cairo. As a lecturer at al-Azhar University, the foremost Institution of higher learning in the Muslim world, Abu'l-Fadl became an instant attraction to several enlightened students who had surrounded him to immerse themselves in his profound knowledge and understanding. Subsequently about thirty of them declared their belief in Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God and became the first group of native Egyptian Baha'is.
These early Egyptian Baha'is were instrumental in developing the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. (Ref.1)

Mirza Abu'l-Fadl was then befriended by a number of writers and magazine editors who had written about him in the Egyptian media and had published his writings as well. In the subsequent years he traveled extensively to Europe and then America where he remained between 1901 and 1904, during which he had lectured, authored and taught widely. He later returned to Egypt and remained there until his passing in 1914 in Cairo where he was buried. Some of his most important works are: Baha'i Proofs and Fara'id (The Peerless Gems).

By the early 1900s, Cairo became the publishing centre of Baha'i books that were authored in Arabic, and Egypt became the transit point for western Baha'i pilgrims on their way to Acre (Akko) in Palestine where the Baha'i Holy family was imprisoned.


After the passing of Baha'u'llah the founder of the Baha'i Faith, His eldest son Abbas Effendi, later titled Abdu'l-Baha, was appointed in his father's will as the leader of the Baha'i community. Abdu'l-Baha Abbas began visiting Egypt in September 1910 shortly after his release from imprisonment. During these visits, he spent a significant amount of time in Alexandria, Port-Said and Ismailia. In total, the time spent in Egypt by Abdu'l-Baha was approximately two years. As a result of these visits, many intellectuals and influential figures of the Egyptian society were attracted to his wisdom, learning and enlightenment. Among them were prominent figures such as Imam Muhammad Abdu'h and Gamal el-Din el-Afghani.

Gamal el-Din el-Afghani

Muhammad Abdu'h, a liberal Islamic reformer and teacher, had already spent some time with Abdu'l-Baha in the 1880s and was greatly influenced by his teachings. On Abdu'h's return to Egypt after his exile he was appointed as the Grand Mufti of Egypt, became a leading teacher at al-Azhar University, and became well recognized in Egypt as one of its greatest thinkers and reformers. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Egyptian Government's official gazette Al Waqa'le Al Masriyya before his exile in 1882. He had always extended warm welcome and respect for Abdu'l-Baha in spite of opposition by some of the more conservative and insular elements of the Egyptian society at that time. Over the years, he continued communication and correspondence with Abdu'l-Baha. Those early free thinkers had seen clearly that the teachings of Baha'u'llah would provide the necessary salvation for the ills of the Egyptian society. In addition to calling for political and language reforms, he also attempted to reform al-Azhar and the Islamic (Shariah) laws, but his plans, however, were undermined and opposed by those who were insular and hungry for leadership and power, both political and religious.

Imam Muhammad Abdu'h Khairallah

Many other Egyptians were attracted to Abdu'l-Baha during his sojourn there, leading to steady growth of the Baha'i community through the mid-1920s. In addition to those from the country's Muslim religious majority, others accepting the Baha'i Faith came from diverse backgrounds and different religious minorities such as Coptic Christian, Kurdish and Armenian. They were residents of several important cities, which were frequented by Abdu'l-Baha, such as Cairo, Port-Said, Alexandria and Ismailia. When Abdu'l-Baha passed away in 1921, the Egyptian press provided extensive coverage of his funeral and showed a great deal of admiration and respect for his person.

The influence, strength and prosperity of the Baha'i community in Egypt in those early days was so significant to the extent that the Egyptian Bahai's were able to participate in contributing funds towards the construction of the first Baha'i House of Worship in the west which was being built in Wilmette, Illinois north of the city of Chicago. The first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Egypt was formed in 1924, a sign of the maturation of that Baha'i community enabling it to elect the highest administrative body on a national level. Subsequently, several Local Spiritual Assemblies were also elected in cities were the Baha'i population was large enough to allow the establishment such local administrative institutions. (Ref.2)