Monday, July 31, 2006

An Egyptian Baha'i: In Search Of Recognition (Cont. 2)

Mustapha had filed his lawsuit in January 1950, requesting a salary adjustment that would reflect his family allowance dating back to his wedding date of 20 march 1947, and another cost of living adjustment dating back to the birth of his son on 1 January 1948. He had also requested to be reimbursed for the cost of the lawsuit.

The litigation was highly publicized and continued until a judgement was reached in June 1952. Several issues were raised during the trial. In particular, after obtaining a "Fatwa" from Sheikh al-Azhar, the government counter-attacked by accusing the plaintiff of apostasy. It even went as far as demanding Mustapha's execution and the imprisonment of his wife for allegedly marrying an apostate. The government defense also asserted that his marriage must be nullified and that his son was illegitimate.

Mustapha's legal team argued that the Egyptian Constitution guaranteed him the right to freedom of religious belief, that Egypt was a co-signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that he was entitled to equal treatment under the law. The court responded by asserting that the United States was also a co-signatory to the same declaration but has been discriminating against blacks, therefore Egypt was under no obligation to apply its principles.

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)

The court used the trial to viciously attack and misrepresent the Baha'i Faith, and had maneuvered, in various ways, to try to implement the punishment for apostasy on Mustapha and his family. It called for his execution, the imprisonment and the beating of his wife until her death, and the killing of his son on reaching the age of maturity, since the Shariah law declared that the son of an apostate should also be considered as an apostate unless he recants.

So far in this case, Mustapha had simply requested that he should be given a family allowance and cost of living increase after the birth of his son. Instead he had been declared an apostate, his marriage was considered null and void, and his son was declared illegitimate and also deserved to be killed!

To be continued....

Friday, July 28, 2006

On Egyptian Baha'is: A Visit To An Egyptian Baha'i Family الشرق الأوسط بهائيو مصر: زيارة الى أسرة مصرية بهائية

In response to popular demand, here is an article published on 16 June 2006 in Arabic on the BBC website. It is yet another human story about an Egyptian Baha'i family. An interview with Dr. Basma Mousa, who is a professor of surgery at Cairo University.

It describes how this family has been surviving in Egypt. It explores some of the history of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, as well as the current issues regarding ID cards and the recognition of Baha'is in Egypt. The interview was carried out while a television program regarding the Baha'is was in broadcast. The article shows a picture of the Shrine of the Bab and the gardens in Haifa. It also shows a picture of a portion of an old Egyptian birth certificate of one of their children with the parents' religion documented as "Baha'i."

The radio interview with this family was broadcast on BBC Radio three times, including an Arabic prayer that was chanted by Dr. Basma's mother. Then the prayer alone was broadcast on BBC twice afterwards.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On Egyptian Baha'is: Middle East Online

"Baha'is are Awaiting the Recognition of their Religion by the Egyptian Government"

Middle East Online ميدل ايست اونلاين

"Egypt: Baha'is are in the Eye of the Storm"

This article was published in "Middle East Online" on 26 July 2006 describing the current state and struggle of Egyptian Baha'is. It discussed the book published under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Endowment that had viciously attacked the Baha'is. The article also elaborated on the ID Card issue and the pending Supreme Court session, scheduled for 16 September 2006, that will hear the Egyptian Government's appeal regarding the lower court's ruling allowing the Baha'is to register their religion on official documents.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Egypt: An Open Letter From A Baha'i To His Homeland

An article written by Yousef Shaaban was published in "Watani el-Youm" (My Homeland Today) on 25 July 2006, reported on an open letter from Dr. Labib Iskandar Hanna, a Professor at Cairo's Faculty of Engineering, representing the Baha'is. The title reads: "We are not using foreign influence on Egypt--and our religious classification [on ID Cards] is our right as given to us in court."

The article goes on to state that the Baha'is are sure that they will prevail in the Supreme Administrative Court when the government's appeal will be considered regarding the ID Card matter. This court session is scheduled for 16 September 2006.

He also affirmed that Baha'is are not using any outside pressure on the Egyptian Government to recognize the Baha'i Faith since it had been already determined by the highest Egyptian legal authorities in 1925 that the Baha'i faith is an independent religion, which had also been sanctioned by Sheikh el-Azhar. Additionally, the Supreme administrative Court had already ruled in 1983 that Baha'is were entitled to document their religion on official documents.

Hanna also indicated that the United nations had recognized the Baha'i Faith as a free-standing and independent religion. He clarified that the lawsuit was brought about because the civil registry had only allowed three religions for ID Cards (Islam, Christianity & Judaism), and that--alone--is unacceptable to the Baha'is, "as we are also entitled to register our religion."

In an open letter to "Watani el-Youm", the Engineer Labib Iskandar said: "we are an Egyptian minority, the children of this dear homeland, who are enduring a deplorable attack (as if it was the Day of Judgement) because the administrative court had simply given us our rights and allowed us to document our religion in ID Cards."

He then gave the Egyptian Baha'is' point-of-view as follows:

"This lawsuit has nothing to do with the Egyptian Government recognizing the Divine origin of the Baha'i Faith, but it is clearly about allowing the law-abiding Egyptian Baha'is to obtain ID Cards just like all other Egyptians."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Egyptian Baha'is Defend Themselves In The Press

In response to a recently published book distributed to bookstores and newspaper stands across Egypt calling for killing the Baha'is, four Egyptian Baha'is were interviewed by "Sowt el-Omma" (Voice of the Nation) newspaper. The Baha'is were successful in showing the readers how the book had flagrantly violated all forms of human decency, civility and international law. One of the subtitles stated: "If every nation had killed those who had different beliefs and opinions--humanity would have disappeared from existence."

The book was 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 was dated June 2006 and consisted of 104 pages. It was titled, "Baha'ism - its Beliefs and Colonial Goals", and included statements made by al-Azhar's Islamic Research Ecclesiastical College clearly calling for the killing of Baha'is.

The Baha'is interviewed were Ms. Wafa Hendi Halim, her brother Dr. Raouf Hendi Halim, Dr. Basma Gamal Mousa, and Mr. Hussein Sabry. The article was published on 24 July 2006, and entitled "Outrage Among Baha'is Caused By A Book Published By The Ministry Of Religious Endowment Justifying Their Elimination."

The article presented the views of the Baha'is very clearly and honestly. It emphasized that based on legal precedents in Egypt, the Constitution and Islamic Sahriah, the Baha'i Faith has been officially recognized in Egypt. Also, the recent court decision of 4 April 2006 re-confirmed the rights of Baha'is to be recognized and treated equally.

It affirmed the need for Egypt to follow the rest of the world in recognizing the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion, and that the International Baha'i Community, a permanent member of the United Nation's Socioeconomic Council, had written a letter to al-Azhar offering its willingness to collaborate on its study of the Baha'i Faith.

The article was successful in defending all the accusations brought about in that book, eloquently dissected the current Baha'i situation, and presented a strong case for the necessity of official recognition of the Baha'i faith in Egypt.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Egypt: Another Strong Call In Support Of Religious Freedom

Egypt's 'Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies' had published a report entitled "Freedom of Belief in the Eyes of the Egyptian Press--the Baha'i Example." The report, dated 1 July 2006, discussed in great detail the Egyptian Press' coverage of the Baha'i Case in relation to the ID Card dilemma and all its accompanying implications. The report was critical of the bias against the Baha'is shown by some of the Egyptian press with its lack of properly-informed reporting. It also praised the press that was balanced and objective in its reporting.

Based on its research and findings, the Institute demanded the following:

1) the Institute renews its request for the omission of religious classification from ID Cards and Official Documents, 2) that the Press Union re-examines its professional ethical code and remind journalists of their duty to adhere the code of balanced journalistic reporting, 3) in cooperation between the Press Union and Human Rights Organizations, training should be provided to journalists on how to respect the principles of human rights during their journalistic work, 4) that newspapers representing political parties or movements must clearly declare in their reporting that their publications are forums for expressing the views of such parties or movements, and 5) that all Human Rights Organizations unite together in promoting freedom of belief in the Egyptian Society whether for Baha'is or for any others. The institute also affirms that this does not contradict Islamic teachings which state: "No compulsion in religion" and "One is free to believe or not to believe."

In regards to the qualities and responsibilities of the Press, Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith revealed the following:

"In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing."

On its website, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies describes itself as:
"[In]dependent research institution setting out from the values of tolerance and equal citizenship, and aspiring to contribute to human resources development in Egyptian and Arab societies, the center is committed to the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance ( Proclaimed and signed by the Member States of "UNESCO" on 16 November 1995 ), besides all international documents, covenants, conventions, and declarations relevant to human rights."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Egypt: EIPR Sues To Omit Religion From ID Cards

According to the daily newspaper "Nahdat Misr" (Rise & Renaissance of Egypt), a lawsuit was just filed in the Administrative Court by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The lawsuit is demanding the Egyptian Government to eliminate religious classification from ID cards. The article was published in today's edition of the newspaper.

The article also indicates that Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the President of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, will preside over a symposium which is scheduled for early August to work on the issue of omitting religion from ID cards. A previous post regarding the Symposium could be seen here.

The lawsuit is based on repeated complaints received by human rights organizations in Egypt regarding the obstacles encountered by Christians who became Muslims and later returned to Christianity, and regarding Baha'is who have been refused to enter their religion on official documents, and thus their inability to obtain ID cards.

The government refused previous proposals that had been put forth by the EIPR to omit religion from ID cards. The government based its refusal on the claim that documenting religion on ID cards would benefit its citizens in areas of inheritance, marriage, and burial rites.

Again, if a person's religion must be documented somewhere, then why not leave that to the religious authorities to whom the person belongs to provide such documentation? This process must be independent of the National ID Card system. Excuses for insistence on including religion in ID cards have been groundless.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Egypt: A Student's Struggle For Identity

A Baha'i high school student has been at the center of controversy over the recognition of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. Two articles were published recently in a newspaper named "al-Ra'y" (The Opinion) regarding her case. The first one was published on 3 July 2006, and the second was published on 10 July 2006.

Students in the Egyptian educational system are required to attend religion classes and be examined on the subject, just as in any other component of their curriculum. Only Muslim and Christian classes are offered. If a student does not belong to either religion, then he or she will be required to attend an examination on the subject of "Morals".

This courageous student named, Sarah Maher, attending a high school in the city of al-Minya in Upper Egypt, had to register for the final examinations required for obtaining the high school diploma. These examinations are organized and administered on a national level by the Ministry of Education. Sarah had registered for this important examination as a Baha'i, and thus her certificate of admission was printed with "Baha'i" as the candidate's religion. This allowed her to be examined on the subject of "Morals" rather than on one of the two allowed religion subjects.

An issue brought to light by the newspaper was that the Ministry of Education had acknowledged Sarah's religion and had in fact recognized the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion "more than once." Consequently, the newspaper questioned the Minister of Education, Dr. Yousry al-Gamal, to divulge whether or not other students in city centers such as 'Mahala el-Kobra' and 'Shobein el-Koum' were taking "Morals" examinations instead of "Religion" examinations?

One would question: why should a young innocent student be exposed to such a controversy? Is it not enough for her to endure the stresses of such an important transition in her educational career? If she were not a Baha'i, this would have never been an issue. But this is just another clear example of what Baha'is have to endure in an intolerant system, regardless of their age or status. Extremism appears to surpass reason and reality!

It is encouraging, however, to witness the support provided by this newspaper to an innocent young student. This free journalism will ultimately open the doors for progress in a society that is quite capable of untold greatness.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Egypt's NCHR Symposium: Elimination Of Religion From ID Cards

In the daily Egyptian newspaper 'Nahdat Misr' (Rise & Renaissance of Egypt), an article was published on 11 July 2006, announcing that Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has scheduled a symposium for early August 2006, to research the elimination of religion from Egypt's new national ID card system. The Council invited a number of leading thinkers, writers, and officials from the Ministry of Religious Endowment, Ministry of Interior, and the Church to attend this symposium and workshop.

The intention of the workshop/symposium is to have its participants research the opinions of all those concerned with the controversial issue of religion on ID cards. They will also research its implications regarding citizenship rights and its effects on Egypt. Another question to be addressed will be whether or not the Egyptian society would support the elimination of religion as an item on National ID Cards.

Ambassador Mokhles Kotb, the Council's Secretary General, stated that "the symposium will discuss several proposals introduced by its 'Citizenship Committee' regarding the elimination of the section on religion from the ID Card based on its study of the statements on civil rights provided in the Egyptian constitution and laws. Also the need to implement these guarantees in form, which would conform to the principles of human rights and the intentional standards regarding such principles."

Eleven more articles appeared in the same newspaper on 13 July 2006 discussing this important issue. The majority of the articles were supportive of the move to eliminate religion from ID Cards pointing out several benefits from doing so, such as: 1) reduction of discrimination, 2) not submitting to Islamic fundamentalism, 3) first step before several other steps in the direction of placing Egypt among modern countries that do not discriminate against their citizens because of their religious differences, 4) compliance with the constitution rather than submission to the interests of religious biases, 5) not having religion on ID cards should not cause problems with civil status matters, such as in marriage, divorce and birth certificates, 6) eliminating religion from ID cards may also necessitate the elimination of Article Two of the Egyptian Constitution stating that "the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence", 7) there may not be a reason for eliminating this item as long as all religions are recognized, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, and even Buddhist, as ordained in the Koran that there should be freedom of belief, stating "you have your religion, and I have my religion", 8) removal of religion from ID cards would admit Egypt into the modern age of democracy.

The few opposing the move provided no legitimate arguments, but stated: 1) that it is a conspiracy by America and expatriate Copts opposed to Egypt, 2) if religion is removed, the Egyptian public will not remain silent as Egypt is an Islamic country and will remain so, and it does respect other religious beliefs. However, "Eliminating religion from ID cards would allow apostates to escape their deserved punishment."

It is encouraging to see this forward move towards reason and progress, and hopefully such a symposium will become a forum for tolerance and understanding. If a person's religion, however, must be documented somewhere, then why not leave that to the authorities of the religion to whom the person belongs to provide such documentation? This process must be independent of the National ID Card system.

For further reading regarding the issue of Religion and ID Cards, refer to this previous post.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

An Egyptian Baha'i: In Search Of Recognition (Cont. 1)

In 1970, a book titled "Baha'ism between Shari'ah and Law" was published about Mustapha's litigation. Its author was Ali Ali Mansour, the Chief Justice of the Administrative Court who ruled on the lawsuit in 1952. At the time of its publication, Justice Mansour was holding the position of Chief Justice of Libya's Supreme Court, and prior to that, he was the Chief Justice of Cairo's Court of Appeals.

In his book, he was clearly biased against the Baha'is. He had documented in writing how he really felt about the Baha'i Faith and its followers. Except for the introduction, the 54 page book was a reproduction of his published court opinion of 1952.

In his introduction, he claimed that the purpose of the lawsuit was not as much for its financial rewards, but rather it was intended to obtain a judgement that would legalize 'that religion' in Egypt and to make Baha'i marriages legal under the laws of the country. He also stated that the court had asked the plaintiff to provide it with the Baha'i Holy books, but instead of elaborating on the content of the material provided to the court, he repeated the usual false accusations that had been circulating in Egypt by enemies of the Baha'i Faith for several decades. He claimed that Baha'is, like Masons, meet secretly, he then wrote that the Masonic movement was an offshoot of Zionism!

He then went on describing his arrival in Libya in 1953, and his meeting with Dr. Gulick (sp?). According to his account, Gulick was an American working in Libya's seaport, who held a doctorate in comparative religion from San Francisco. He wrote that he was under the impression that Dr. Gulick was a Christian who had converted to Islam, who wanted to discuss Islamic laws with him, but later Mansour discovered that Gulick had been a Baha'i, married to Ms. Baheya Farag-Allah, an Iraqi Kurdish Baha'i.

He then stated that when he returned to Libya 15 years later, he learned that the Baha'is were very active there when they had been under the protection of its former Prime Minister. With the onset of the Libyan revolution led by Colonel Moammar al-Qadhafi in September 1969, there were demonstrations against the Baha'is, and the mob intended to kill the leader of the Baha'i community in Libya, Dr. Keldany Aany (sp?), a Persian who was ultimately exiled as the revolutionary government had "purified the country of the Baha'is." He then accused the Libyan Baha'is of having been secretly meeting in the American Air Force Base until the base was dismantled by Libya's revolutionary government. On closing his introduction, he stated that this was the "final dissolution" of the Baha'i Faith in the Arab Republic of Libya.

A very interesting introduction indeed, which raises several points:

It appears too coincidental that President Gamal Abdel-Nasser dissolved the Baha'i Faith in Egypt in 1960, and Libya's President al-Qadhafi, a revolutionary student and protege of Nasser, dissolved the Baha'i Faith as soon as he assumed power as Libya's President in 1969.

What was Justice Mansour's role in the dissolution of the Baha'i community of Libya?

Why would Justice Mansour publicly attack the Baha'i Faith in a book written, about an eighteen year old Egyptian lawsuit, while he was still Libya's Chief Justice?

How fair could Justice Mansour have been when ruling on the 1952 lawsuit?

Why would this lawsuit appear in the headlines again 54 years later, as it did in Egypt's "October Weekly" magazine article of 4 June 2006?

To be continued....

Monday, July 10, 2006

An Egyptian Baha'i: In Search Of Recognition

An article was published in the Egyptian magazine "October Weekly" on 4 June 2006 titled: "Baha'ism, the Constitution, and Human Rights." The article told the story of an Egyptian Government employee, a Baha'i, who in the late 1940s, had sued the government for recognition of his marriage as well as the birth of his son. The attached article was clearly slanted, representing the interpretations of the case and the following court rulings, by leading Muslim clergy, biased judges, and the media. It did not provide the readers with any views of those who were directly involved in these events.

The following narrative is based on facts that are directly reported by the family members involved in that case:

Mustapha Kamel Ali Abdalla (1912-1968) was born in Egypt's delta region. When he was a young teenager, his father and uncle converted from Islam to the Baha'i Faith. This conversion was not revealed to their family, but Mustapha became curious when he witnessed the change in his father. He would secretly borrow Baha'i books from his father's room, read them one after the other, and without his father's knowledge, return them to where they belonged. Not before long, he became convinced that this newly found Faith was right for him. He then, after some trepidation and fear, declared to his father his wish to become a Baha'i as well. This was in the early 1920s. In the following years he became a very active member of his Faith and was elected to numerous positions and functions in its administrative bodies.

In 1947 he was married, in a ceremony under the auspices of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Ismailia. His bride, Bahiga Khalil Ayad (1929-1979) was born to a Baha'i family in a town named Ismailia, near the shores of the Suez Canal. During that time Mustapha was employed in an administrative position by the Egyptian Railways, which was a governmental agency under the Ministry of Transportation.

Following his wedding, he applied to his employer for a marriage family allowance, to which he was entitled. This would have provided him with a modest raise in his salary. As requested, he submitted his marriage certificate to the government. In response to his request, the government denied him the raise stating that it did not recognize the Baha'i marriage certificate.

A year later, on the first of January, Mustapha and Bahouga had a son. Mustapha submitted a second request for a family allowance and for an additional allowance for his son, as he was entitled to. Again, after the submission of the Baha'i Marriage certificate and his son's birth certificate stating that his son was born as a Baha’i, the request was denied.

In response to this flagrant injustice, Mustapha hired two attorneys and sued the government agency. His attorneys were Saba Habashy Pasha, former Egypt's Minister of Justice, and Mr. Saad el-Fishaawy. The defendant, the government's Ministry of Transportation was represented by Mr. Galal el-Deen Abd el-Hamid. The judges were Justice Abd el-Magid al-Tohamy, Justice Ali Ali Mansour, and Justice Abd el-Aziz al-Beblaawy. The constitutional court was headed by Chief Justice Badawy Hamoudah.

To be continued....

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Egypt's ID Cards: A French Baha'i Expatriate’s Dilemma

A French newspaper for expatriates, "le Petit Journal", just published an article describing the struggle of a French expatriate who now lives in Egypt. Its headline was "Baha'is: a community in need of recognition", and the article was entitled: "The Baha’is will have to wait again. Two months before they can find out if they will be allowed to write their religion on their official documents. The decision planned for last week has been tabled till next fall."

In this article, dated 26 June 2006, the author Guillaume de Dieuleveult, summarizes the Baha'i I.D. card dilemma. He quotes Herve Milewski a French Egyptian Baha'i stating: "on the space provided for 'religion' the computer gives only 3 choices: Muslim, Christian or Jewish. There is no option for leaving it blank and we cannot recant our religion. We would rather opt for having no official documents in spite of all the problems created [by not having one]. For example the birth of my daughter, which took place in Egypt, is not recorded in the Egyptian registry office." The favorable decree of 4 April 2006, even if its implementation was later suspended, has unleashed an outcry throughout Egypt. "For 2 months we have been the victims of a vicious campaign from the media," laments Herve Milewski, "we are being accused of all ills when our religion is a peaceful one, which asks from its believers obedience to the laws of the country they live in."

De Dieuleveult goes on to mention the difference in opinion towards the Baha'i Faith between the officials of al-Azhar who call it a "sacrilegious dogma" and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights who had rejoiced at the April decree that was "conforming to the Egyptian Constitution."

For the full article in French, click here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Wonderful Example of Inter Faith Collaboration

This post, just published by Barney Leith, describes how Inter Faith dialogue is taken up to the national level in Great Britain. Such collaboration must ultimately contribute to tolerance and understanding among various religious and ethnic groups. This example could benefit the rest of the world if it is taken as seriously by other nations.

Inter Faith Network for the UK - national meeting
Saturday, July 8, 2006
"Last Monday I was one of four Baha'is (one of the Baha'is is the Development Officer of the Scottish Interfaith Council, another Baha'i was representing the Bolton Interfaith Council, and I was representing the UK National Spiritual Assembly) at the annual National Meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the UK. The theme was Challenge and Opportunity: Changing Patterns of Inter Faith Engagement in the UK. To quote the programme blurb...."

For the complete article, click here!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Notice to Subscribers

Unfortunately during the process of redesigning the Blog to make it easier to read, all email subscriptions were lost. If you would like to continue receiving posts to your email address, please scroll down to re-subscribe to this site. Feedback regarding the clarity and readability of the current format would be greatly appreciated.

N.B. If you click on the orange icon, it will take you to a syndicated feed which is much easier to read....

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Egypt: Why Is Religion Ever Needed On ID Cards?

Amidst the attention being focused on the decision by the Egyptian government to prohibit the listing of the Baha'i Faith in the religion section of its national identification cards, thereby preventing Baha'is from obtaining the cards and gaining access to basic civil rights and social services, it is worth posing the question: why require the inclusion of a religion classification on government identification cards in the first place?

In a paper entitled "Group Classification on National ID Cards as a Factor in Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing," presented in November 2001 as part of a seminar series at Yale University, Jim Fussel sets forth a compelling argument against the inclusion of group classifications on national identity cards. Fussell describes in chilling detail the critical role that identification cards including group classifications played in crimes of genocide in Rwanda and Nazi Germany, stating that with respect to Rwanda, "[n]o other factor [than including the designation 'Tutsi' on national ID cards] was more significant in facilitating the speed and magnitude of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda."

The article goes on to assert:
"Group classification on national ID cards does not indicate a government will engage in massive human rights violations. Classifications on ID cards are instead a facilitating factor, making it more possible for governments, local authorities or non-state actors such as militias to more readily engage in violations based on ethnicity or religion. ID cards are not a precondition to genocide, but have been a facilitating factor in the commission of genocide. Additionally the presence of group categories on ID cards, used constantly in routine official and business transactions, can contribute to polarization that can lead to genocide or related crimes."

Thus another potential harm caused by the inclusion of religious classification on identification cards, in addition to the possible facilitation of governmental discrimination, is the discrimination that could arise from private citizens as a result of the use of these cards in routine business transactions.

It is interesting to note that Greece used to be among the handful of countries requiring that religion be listed on national identification cards, but eliminated the religion classification in July of 2000 in response to expressions of international concern, particularly from the European Union, demonstrating, according to Fussell, that "governments may be influenced by international and regional concern over the practice."

The article concludes with the following thought-provoking words:
"Over the past decade more people have come to recognize that genocide is not a rare, isolated or unique event, but instead is a crime that occurs with disturbing frequency. With that insight, the often repeated phrase "never again" can become a motivation not only for commemorating victims or punishing the perpetrators of past genocide, but also a basis for rejecting and condemning policies that make genocide more likely."

The Blog's owner would like to thank his son Victor for contributing this article.

US Congressional Hearing on Baha'is of Iran and Egypt

A congressional hearing was conducted on Friday, 30 June 2006 regarding the serious situation confronting the Baha'is of Iran and Egypt. The hearing was titled, "The Plight of Religious Minorities: Can Religious Pluralism Survive?" Participating in the hearing, which was before the Committee on International Relations, were: The Honorable Christopher H. Smith, The Honorable Henry J. Hyde, The Honorable John V. Hanford III, Ms. Nina Shea, Father Firas Aridah, Ms. Rosie Malek-Yonan, and Ms. Kit Bigelow. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States was represented by Ms. Kit Bigelow, director of its Office of External Affairs.

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford and Ms. Nina Shea from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also provided a detailed and powerful testimony regarding the situation of Baha'is in Egypt and Iran. A news story regarding this hearing has just appeared on the official website of the Baha'is of the United States at this link. A full video and transcript of the hearing could be seen by clicking on "View Webcast Video" for the June 30, 2006 session on the website of the US House of Representatives at this link. The prepared statement of Ms. Bigelow could be also seen at this link.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Egyptian Baha'i History: A Powerful Human Story

As a continuation of the previous post titled, "Recognition of the Baha'i Faith: Egypt's Past Role", a touching human story was well documented by a descendent of one of the families involved in those historical events of 1925 in a southern Egyptian village. To insure the accuracy of that account, it is posted here, in its entirety. Permission was granted by her son, the author of the narrative, for its inclusion in this post. This story, depicting the life of a devoted mother, perfectly illustrates the critical role women played in cementing together the Egyptian Baha'i community. The fruits of the sacrifices she made, the suffering she endured and the heroic contributions she offered, could be easily seen in her descendents who had been nourished by her example throughout their lives, and have continued to serve humanity in different capacities and at several locations around the world. This story also gives us a taste of the daily lives of Baha'is in Egypt who--without any justification--endure untold suffering, ironically because of beliefs that are consistent with all forms of decency, equality and justice.

Fatimeh Hafiz-Hassan (1924 - 2005)

Fatimeh Hafiz was born in 1924 in an obscure village in Upper Egypt that was later immortalized by Shoghi Effendi in his mighty chronology of the first century of the Baha'i Faith. Her father, Sheikh Hafiz, was one of the few villagers who embraced, some eight years earlier, a previously unheard of religion, called the Baha'i Faith. His action met the initial resentment and later fierce opposition of the entire village. Fatimeh's parents were married, by virtue of a traditional Muslim ceremony, one year before her birth.

When she was barely one year old, a great upheaval took place in her nascent family: The High Muslim Court of the Province, by instigation of the fanatic village Chief, ordered the separation of her parents, on the grounds that her father became an apostate who should not be allowed to continue living with a Muslim wife. The ruling, which also provided for the separation of two other couples, unwittingly declared the Baha'i Faith as a religion on its own that is totally independent from Islam, thus initiating the process of its emancipation and recognition in the heartland of Islamic orthodoxy.

After being forcefully separated from her husband by her relatives, Fatimeh's mother fled back to her husband's home and declared herself a Baha'i like him. This mother was later to play a major role as the head of a devoted Baha'i family, after the untimely passing of her husband in 1941, and in the many years that followed as the only Baha'i who remained in the village until her passing in 1969.

Fatimeh did not obtain any formal education, simply because there were no schools in the village, even for boys. The only education that she had, albeit being an instruction that shaped her life and set her on a glorious path of service, was the morals and ethics that were taught to her, both in word and example, by her parents, and few Baha'i tutorial classes that were conducted by a young village believer who was later to become her husband. Apart from melodiously chanting a good number of Baha'i prayers and some passages from the Holy Writings that she learned to recite by heart, Fatimeh could not read or write.

As it was the village custom of those days, girls would marry at a very young age. By the time she became an attractive girl of fifteen, tens of proposals from rich families were already rejected by her parents. They preferred, instead, to wed her to the only Baha'i youth in the village, Hassan M. Hassan. To give their union a distinct Baha'i identity, Fatimeh and Hassan obtained a Baha'i marriage ceremony in 1939, at the National Baha'i Centre in Cairo.

When they returned to the village, the newly weds were not a welcome sight to its people. They were even vilified by a mob that was aroused by a rumor that they went to Cairo to conduct a "church marriage"--a taboo in an entirely Muslim village. Undaunted by this new opposition, they forged ahead with their way in life, in spite of a business boycott that badly hurt Hassan's modest trading endeavors.

They were more than compensated to receive their first child in 1941. Fatimeh's spontaneous spiritual qualities of contentment, joy and care could make ends meets at times of financial difficulty. Occasionally, the couple would receive helpful gifts of crops and food from their loving parents, but this was soon to come to an end: Fatimeh's father died in a bout of plague that struck the village. His sudden death was catastrophic, as his family became the target of the wrath and vengeance of the same village Chief who led the attacks against the village believers fifteen years earlier. Angered at the divulgence by Sheikh Hafiz of the once concealed news of the plague to the higher health authorities before his death at a provincial hospital, the Chief decided to pitch the tents of the quarantine team, that was rushed by the health authorities in Cairo, right on the farmland of the deceased 'heretic'--an act that destroyed a crop that his widow and children direly needed. However, this courageous and enlightened act of Sheikh Hafiz must have saved hundreds of lives that would have perished had the epidemic was not thus contained. Instead of caring only for themselves, Hassan and Fatimeh had then to care for Fatimeh's widowed mother and her six young children. Hassan and his mother-in-law would labor in the family's land from dawn to sunset, while Fatimeh would be left home to tend to her younger siblings at home

In spite of poverty and harsh life, Hassan and Fatimeh never compromised their Baha'i identity. Each time a child would be born to them, they would insist on recording the newly born as Baha'i, to the dismay of the notorious village Chief. Being an experienced teacher of Baha'i children classes himself, Hassan was so happy to have children of his own to whom he and his wife would teach moral and spiritual principles that shaped their future. Morning and evening devotions were regular events that brought the couple and their children together for spiritual sustenance. The family regularly hosted Nineteen Day Feasts and encouraged the few other village believers to observe Baha'i Holidays--all in a joyfulfull manner that would win the awe and admiration of neighbors and onlookers.

The couple decided to move in 1951 with their five children to a provincial town for better prospects of work and education. For eight years afterwards, the couple moved with their children from town to town for economic reasons, before ending up in Cairo by 1958--then with a total of nine children to care for. Hassan and Fatimeh were worn-down by a continuous need to cope with ever-changing living conditions, but the period of their financial difficulty was soon to come to an end. A few years thereafter, their elder children attained a certain degree of education that gave them suitable employment. They became able to share some of their parents' financial burdens. However, the future had in store for them a difficulty of a different nature: The Baha'i Faith was officially banned in Egypt in 1960.

Successive waves of official and public persecution were drummed-up, starting with the disbandment of Baha'i spiritual assemblies and confiscation of their premises and all other property. Then the Baha'i community itself was denied its basic civil rights and became the subject of other harassments. Five years on, the authorities started to arrest and prosecute some of the known believers under false allegations. Those carefully orchestrated lawsuits that were intended to 'wipe out' the Baha'i Faith from Egypt, were often accompanied by a nationwide defamatory campaign in the official media. However, and with the exception of once isolated case where a court martial was fraudulently set up for an innocent Baha'i policeman, none of those court cases produced a final indictment of any of the hundred odd Baha'is that were prosecuted. In each of such cases, notably those of 1965, 1967, 1970, 1972, 1984, and 2001, the Baha'is who would be spared arrest and imprisonment were to face the more formidable task of caring for the Baha'i prisoners, against official and public harassment and with insufficient financial resources.

This was the task that Fatimeh shared so sacrificially and audaciously during the 1965-1972 waves of persecutions. Citing the 1972 case as an example, where the defendants were remanded in the prison of Tanta, 80 km to the north of Cairo, Fatimeh had to care for her husband who was imprisoned, together with six of their children and a number of other close relatives. For a month and a half, she would start her day with a journey on the first train that leaves Cairo at dawn to Tanta, carrying the food that she cooked the night before. After delivering the food to the hostile and greedy prison-guards, she would remain roaming around the prison for any news, before she would return to Cairo by the sunset train. As soon as she reached home by late evening she would spend most of the night cooking, then slept for a couple of hours before jumping from bed in time to catch the next dawn train. Totally forgetful of her physical comfort and oblivious of the chronic ills that became her lot due to past difficulties, Fatimeh would beam with joy at the sight of any of the prisoners, giving them such words of encouragement that one could only read in historical texts such as Nabil's "Dawn-Breakers" or the Abd'ul-Baha's "Memorial of the Faithful". In addition to these burdensome duties, she would also assist and encourage other similarly afflicted Baha'i households, and make the necessary contacts with the lawyers to defend the innocent prisoners.

Fatimeh's fortitude and courage at that time won the admiration of friends and foes alike. At the victorious close of one of those imprisonment episodes, a prison guard hesitatingly approached one of the defendants whom he was about to release, incidentally one of Fatimeh's children, and asked in a low voice, "Do you know that lady who used to come here every day?" "Yes! She is my mother." The prisoner replied. "Is it so?" the guard exclaimed, "That lady can do what ten men combined would fail to do!"

By May 1974, another chapter of Fatimeh's ordeals opened: Her husband Hassan suffered a stroke that left him half-paralyzed for the rest of his life. For nineteen years she nursed her husband and cared for his needs, in her usual spirit of exemplary love and dedication, until his peaceful passing in 1993. The twelve years that followed afterwards saw Fatimeh change gradually into an aged and frail figure, yet without losing her joyful and radiant spirit. Succumbing to cruel arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer's, Fatimeh finally bore the mark of years that brought her the tests and tribulations that she had so heroically vanquished. Bedridden for four months and after a two-day coma, she opened her eyes and beckoned her grief-stricken children and grandchildren who were by her bedside. In her categorical simplicity and humility, she summed up her final will in two sentences that she could murmur:
"Forgive me for any trespasses that I might have committed!"
"Love one another the way I always loved you!"
Then she closed her eyes for ever, as her noble soul winged its way to Eternity. The time was shortly after 1.00 pm, on the 25th of March 2005, at her home in Cairo.

Fatimeh is survived by a large family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who owe their faith to their loving father and mother, and reside in Egypt, Canada, and Uganda. She will also be remembered by a Baha'i community that will continue to cherish her exemplary selflessness, sacrifice and, above all, her unwavering belief in the Faith that she had so stalwartly upheld and defended. In one of the many letters of condolences received, the following paragraph tells, in a nutshell, what Fatimeh's life was:
"We cannot forget her persistent instances of great courage at times of imprisonment, detention, and persecutions. We would invariably find her standing there, rushing for service, neither daunted by any opposition nor hampered by any barrier. Blessed is she! She is certainly now amidst her loving friends: her finding happiness among them, and them finding happiness with her--a perpetual happiness that will last as long as God's Nether and Higher Kingdoms endure."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Recognition of the Baha'i Faith: Egypt's Past Role

Delegates in Cairo circa 1940

Two historical events occurred in Egypt that eventually contributed to the official recognition of the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion. The first of which occurred in 1925, as a consequence of a fierce attack on Bahai's after the formation of the Baha'i Spiritual Assembly in the district of Beba located in the southern province of Beni Suef. The notary of the village of Kawmu's-Sa'ayidih initiated an action against three Baha'i men demanding that their wives be divorced from them on the grounds that the men had converted to the Baha'i Faith having been previously wed as Muslims.

The Appellate religious court of Beba annulled their marriages and condemned them as heretics for abandoning Islam. This decision was sanctioned and upheld by Egypt's highest ecclesiastical court in Cairo.

”” Alexandria Baha'is circa 1940

In order to enforce its verdict to divorce these men from their wives, the court declared most emphatically: "The Baha'i Faith is a new religion, entirely independent, with beliefs, principles and laws of its own, which differ from, and are utterly in conflict with, the beliefs, principles and laws of Islam. No Baha'i, therefore, can be regarded a Muslim or vice-versa, even as no Buddhist, Brahmin, or Christian can be regarded as Muslim or vice-versa."

This decision asserted the independence of the Baha'i Faith in the heart of the Islamic world, and led to its acceptance as an independent religion, and the official recognition of its elected Institutions initially in Egypt, Palestine, Persia, and the United States of America.

Ismailia Baha'is circa 1930

The second event occurred in the late 1930s in Ismailia, a town located in the eastern part of the country on the shores of the Suez Canal. In that city, the Baha'i community was well established, active and flourishing. It was also where the Muslim Brotherhood movement started in the 1920s by its founder and leader Hassan el-Banna. As is the case now, the Muslim fundamentalist movement was determined to violently oppose the Baha'i Faith, and was awaiting an opportunity to inflame the masses and justify its attacks on the Bahai's.

Ismailia Baha'is circa 1930

A prominent Baha'i named Muhammad Sulayman had passed away and his funeral procession was on its way to the cemetery. An angry mob surrounded the cortege with the intention to burn the body and then proceed to burn Baha'i homes. The police interfered and brought the body back to his home. Mr. Sulayman was later buried in the desert at the edge of the city late at night. The crowd's justification for the uproar was that the deceased was not a Muslim, and thus could not be buried in a Muslim cemetery.

As a consequence of that event, the Egyptian Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly requested the allocation of cemetery plots in the cities of Ismailia, Port-Said, Alexandria and Cairo. After complex negotiations and communications between the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the Grand Mufti of Egypt regarding whether or not the Baha'is could be buried in Muslim cemeteries, the Mufti wrote to the Ministry of Justice: "We are in receipt of your letter...dated February 21, 1939, with its enclosures...inquiring whether or not it would be lawful to bury the Baha'i dead in Muslim cemeteries. We hereby declare that this [Baha'i] community is not to be regarded as Muslim, as shown by the beliefs which it professes. The perusal of what they term 'The Baha'i Laws affecting Matters of Personal Status,' accompanying the papers, is deemed sufficient evidence. Whoever among its members had formerly been a Muslim has, by virtue of his belief in the pretensions of this community, renounced Islam, and is regarded as beyond its pale, and is subject to the laws governing apostasy as established in the right Faith of Islam. This community not being Muslim, it would be unlawful to bury its dead in Muslim cemeteries, be they originally Muslims or otherwise...."

As a result of this clear pronouncement by the highest ecclesiastical authority in the land and the Islamic world, the government granted two cemetery plots to the Baha'is, one in Cairo and the second in Ismailia. Subsequently the remains of the legendary Mirza Abu'l-Fadl were transferred to the Cairo Baha'i cemetery, and those of Mrs. E. Getsinger were transferred from the Christian cemetery to the Baha'i cemetery in Cairo. These transfers were carried out with great dignity and respect due to each one of these illustrious Baha'is.

Ismailia Baha'is & visitors circa 1950

These two landmark decisions, even though on their face appeared to present as great crises and challenges to the Baha'is, the first causing separation of married couples, and the second accusing the Baha'is of apostasy punishable by death, had caused the recognition of the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion. Those decisions contributed to the ultimate emancipation of the Baha'i Faith and its official acceptance worldwide as a free-standing world religion in its own right. Also, as a result of these severe tests and crises, the Baha'i Faith in Egypt became more widespread and its roots grew stronger than ever before.

Reference: God Passes By: pages 364-375 (Shoghi Effendi). Complete chapter could be accessed here.