Friday, September 29, 2006

Egyptian Baha'is Demand Their Rights Again

Another article was published in the daily independent newspaper "Nahdat Misr" (Rise & Renaissance of Egypt) on 21 September 2006, entitled "We want nothing more than the religious section [on ID cards]." The subtitle was "They said that it is incomprehensible that a five-year-old child remains without a birth certificate just because he is a Baha'i."

The article states: "the last few months were not the beginning of Egypt's era for the Baha'i [Faith], the repeated flow of information confirms that the age of the Baha'i [Faith] in Egypt exceeds the period of a century...." It goes on to say, "we have not heard a single voice from the Baha'is in Egypt since the dissolution of the Baha'i Assemblies by the late president Gamal Abd el-Nasser in the fifties [1960]...."

Later on after reporting on the usual false accusations that the "Baha'is are linked to the United States and Israel," he reported statements made by Dr. Basma Moussa, an Egyptian Baha'i and a surgeon at Cairo University, that "the recent movement by the Baha'is should be looked at in the context of implementing their citizenship rights after being cornered [left with no options], and all their livelihood affairs came to a halt as a result of the government's actions preventing them from obtaining official ID documents...."

He then reported her statement that "it is not comprehensible that a five-year-old child remains without a birth certificate just because he is a Baha'i." and that "the recent movement has nothing to do with foreign influences, proven by the fact that the Egyptian Baha'is did not resort to taking their case to the world community, but rather pursued the legal avenues within Egypt's court system in order to obtain their rights...." She later clearly objected to the baseless and false accusations that have been circulating in the Egyptian media and the misinformation campaign propagated against the Baha'is in Egypt.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Egypt: Al-Azhar On The Defensive

In response to the International Religious Freedom Report released by the US Department of State, al-Azhar's top clergy are attempting to justify their position in the persecution of Egyptian Baha'is which was clearly addressed in the report as a violation of human rights.

This defense was published on 28 September 2006 in "Nahdat Misr" (Rise & Renaissance of Egypt) newspaper, entitled "American arrows [implanted] in the heart of al-Azhar...."

Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour
, a member of al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council, criticized the US report by stating that: "al-Azhar's position on Baha'is is very firm, and since it does not recognize the Baha'i Faith as a divine religion, therefore Baha'is cannot be persecuted." Implying that as far as al-Azhar is concerned, Baha'is have no rights since they do not belong to one of "the three recognized religions."

He also stated that "the report serves the soldiers [the loyals] of the United States in the region, adding, "we would not accept the interference of anyone in our internal affairs, even if it is the United States."

He stated: "Baha'i is not a religion in order for us to persecute it."

Now in response to these statements:

1) It is not up to al-Azhar or its clergy to determine whether or not the Baha'i Faith is a Divine Religion. The Baha'i Faith's divinity and legitimacy have long been established and recognized worldwide. al-Azhar is in no position, does not have the knowledge, nor has the authority to make such determination.

2) If we follow the same logic used by al-Azhar to justify its position towards the Baha'i Faith, then the millions of Muslims living in Western Countries would have no rights whatsoever, and their persecution would be justified (free for all) since Islam is not recognized by Christianity as a divine religion. But we know that this is not how they are being treated in countries where Christianity is the majority. They have their full civil rights, they are recognized as Muslims and they are free to worship and to propagate their religion.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Egypt: Another Revealing Interview With Sheikh Al-Azhar Tantawi

Another interview was conducted with Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, published in "al-Watany el-Youm" (The Homeland Today) newspaper on 19 September 2006. The interview was triggered by the recent conflict regarding the Pope's statement. However, the interview went farther from this subject and narrowed on the plight of the Baha'is in Egypt.

The interviewer asked the Sheikh: what was his opinion regarding the proposal of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights to eliminate the religion section from ID Cards?

Tantawi responded by stating that "they have no right to do so...religion section must remain, as it does not cause any discrimination...we have nothing to do with human rights...that section is necessary, necessary, necessary."

The next question was: "what is the use of it as you have asserted its necessity?"

Answer: "its usefulness is for the goal of its presence [on ID cards] so we can clarify the description of the human [individual] on official documents. There is no harm that could be done to anyone in showing his religion, so why do we eliminate it? The religion section must not be changed regardless of those who request that, as the human [individual] has the right to write in his religion in the specified section [on ID cards]."

Next question: "even if he is a Baha'i?"

Answer: "yes, he writes in it "Baha'i," there is no objection to that as long as this is his belief and had taken it for himself as a belief. Therefore writing Baha'i in the religion section liberates any other religion from him and prevents some from being linked to any of the other divine religions that are innocent [free] of them."

Next question: "does this mean recognizing it [Baha'i] as a religion?"

Answer: "Baha'i is not a religion, but writing it as a belief in the religion section is a real possibility as there is no harm in it, but it is a necessary distinction as they are outside of the divine religions."

Next question: "Your eminence are seeing Baha'i as "outside Islam," but after that you also speak of freedom of belief. Don't you find in this a contradiction?"

Answer: "freedom of belief is the right for all, and not for only one. What is meant by freedom of belief is that every human has his own belief, and is only accountable to God."

Earlier on in the interview when Tantawi was asked questions regarding the reaction to the Pope's statement, he said: "...the UN Security Council must expeditiously produce a legislation that forbids accusations directed at religions...."

The original newspaper publications have been added to this post in order to ensure its authenticity and accuracy. The online publication of the same article can be accessed HERE.

This interview and its publication have formally documented the current official stand of al-Azhar el-Sharif, represented by its eminent head Sheikh Tantawi, on the right of Egyptian Baha'is to enter their religion as "Baha'i" in the specified section of the newly government-issued ID Cards.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Egypt: Rose El-Yousef Returns With Its Own History

The second article in the promised series on Egyptian Baha'is was published on 25 September 2006 in Rose el-Yousef newspaper. As before, the writer relies heavily on sensationalism and contemptible journalism.

This time he recounts the history of a Baha'i Family which was headed by the late Mr. Hussein Ruhi. It is not clear how the author had obtained his information since he does not use any references to support his story. The only reference he makes regarding this, is a vague description of how he had obtained his information by deceiving Mr. Ruhi's son, who was described by the author as: "an elderly Mr. Hassan Ruhi...who cannot differentiate between dreams and reality...and who did not realize that his documents and photographs would land in the hands of a man the age of his grandchildren who loves writing and adores documents in order to satisfy his readers."

It is truly tragic to witness such journalism that is devoid of ethics and integrity!

The purpose of this post is to expose the writer's intentions and to make these articles available to those who would want to respond to the inaccuracies indicated in the publication. The comment section of this blog is entirely open for such responses and clarifications. In addition to posting comments on this blog, members of the families mentioned in the article might also want to write to the editor of Rose el-Yousef with their thoughts, responses and corrections.

The other article published in Rose el-Yousef on the same day, is a report on a study regarding the Baha'i Faith conducted by Mr. Sameh Sayyid who was commissioned by al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council. The "researcher" admits that the Baha'i International Community had written a letter to al-Azhar with copies to Egypt's President Mubarak and Prime Minister Nazif, offering to collaborate with al-Azhar in this study, but apparently the offer was ignored, and the study was conducted without any input from the Baha'i Institutions nor the input of any reputable scholarly and unbiased agency.

Of course the report exudes falsehood and the usual nonsense and misrepresentations--again nothing new! It also clearly illustrates the very poor scholarship and intellectual dishonesty exhibited by this "learned institution" and its so-called scholars and men of the law. All these accusations have been repeatedly addressed by authoritative as well as scholarly responses as can be seen (in English) HERE and (in Arabic) HERE. Other responses to al-Azhar (in Arabic) can be accessed HERE. Also, a letter which was written to Egypt's Minister of Justice prior to the completion of this "study" can be seen HERE.

This apparent "legal scholar" goes further to propose a solution to the ID Card dilemma with which the Baha'is have been faced. He offers that either the section on religion is left vacant or that it indicates "without religion." His justification is that the Baha'is as well as others who don't belong to the "three recognized religions" in Egypt "could be identified and treated accordingly." Here is another reminder of the grim past when people were selectively identified according to their religion so that they could be persecuted and rounded up whenever the need arises, as described in this previous post.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Egypt: Attacker Of Baha'is Attempts A Futile Offensive

The man that authored a book calling for killing the Baha'is in Egypt, which was published and distributed to bookstores and newspaper stands across the country, is now attacking the Baha'is again, but in an outrageous, irrational and twisted legal maneuver.

Dr. Khaled Abdel-Halim el-Sayouty, under the authority and direction of the Ministry of Religious Endowment and the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Egypt, authored a book entitled, "Baha'ism - its Beliefs and Colonial Goals", and includes statements clearly calling for the killing of Baha'is, and was sold for a bargain price of one Egyptian Pound. It was dated June 2006 and consisted of 104 pages.

On 24 July 2006, an interview with some Baha'is was published in "Sowt el-Omma" (Voice of the Nation) newspaper regarding the fact that they were terrorized by the publication of that book, which had sanctioned and called for the spilling of Baha'i blood in the name of Islam. The Baha'is who were interviewed had defended themselves, as was noted in this previous post.

As reported in the same newspaper on 25 September 2006, Khaled el-Sayouty, the author of the book, has recently hired an attorney and filed a complaint with Egypt's Attorney General alleging that he was defamed and that his reputation with the country's National Security Agency and the Presidency of the Republic has been damaged as he was presumed to promote hatred and terrorism.

He goes further to deny the exact words that he had already published in his book! Unfortunately for him the book has been released back in June and sold at news-stands and bookstores across the country.

On page 99 of his book, the author states 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."

Thanks to Ghanim (one of the commentators) who translated page 98 as shown below, which is what the author of the book had stated about the Baha'i Faith in the page preceding the one quoted above:

"[For] this Baha'i 'sect' and its likes of other deadly plagues of thought, the government should recruit all the powers it can muster, in order to stand against it and destroy it. That is because protecting the Islamic faith should rank no less [in its importance] than protecting the bodily ailments (physical sicknesses) that the government so promptly and readily rushes to remedy. Rather, protecting the faith is more important because in faith that is [still] healthy, lies purity of life, and the worship of God. If a nation loses its Faith, it loses its very identity and is overcome by its enemies. Egypt must remember that now and always it has protected Islam and the land of the Muslims since the time it [Egypt] entered the faith of Islam, and it had in the past recaptured Jerusalem and liberated Palestine in the name of Islam, and let us remember that Egypt fought in Ramadan of 1393H – October 1973 under the call of Islam "Allah'u'Akbar" and with this Call and under its banner, it prevailed, and it has to [now] cleanse and purify its land from this 'filth' and throw out this malady so that its affairs come to [the] right order, and so that it remains in the name of Islam, a leader and a rising nation."

He also states in his complaint that, as a university professor with responsibilities towards his faculty and students, he has been studying the Baha'i Faith along with other religions so that he can expose them.

One cannot but dare to wonder that if he has been truly, independently and objectively studying the Baha'i Faith, he would have adopted the Baha'i Faith by now.... History tells us that several others under very similar, and even worse, circumstances have done so!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Egypt: Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Response To US Report

Al-Mesreyoon (The Egyptians) newspaper published an article on 22 September 2006 entitled: [Ministry of] Foreign Affairs prepares a response to the American report on religious includes denial of its accusations that Egypt violates minority rights, and confirms taking "correctional" reforms.

US State Department Report on Religious Freedom can be seen HERE.

The article continues by describing the specific violations that were stated in the US report with reference to the rights of the Baha'is, Christians and Shi'a Muslims.

It added that the government's response will use the April 2006 Administrative Court ruling that granted the Baha'is their rights to indicate their religion on official documents as a proof of Egypt's fair treatment of minorities.

Ironically, the government continues its appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court to reverse the ruling of the Administrative Court! Currently the implementation of the ruling remains suspended as a result of the government's appeal, and the case remains pending before the Supreme Court after being postponed for the third time.

Based on this planned response, one can only conclude that perhaps the government is now considering to withdraw its appeal! Thus its response to the US Report is accompanied with real implementation of its words and with deeds consistent with its response, that is treating the Baha'is as equal citizens and allowing them to obtain ID Cards as provided in the court's decision.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Egypt: Words And Action Must Agree

In the 14 September 2006 issue of al-Ahram, the leading newspaper in Egypt, an article reported on the recent convention of religious leaders held in Kazakhstan. Egypt was represented by its Minister of Religious Endowment (Awqaf), Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzooq. In his address to the convention, he stated:

"Islam had depended on religious and civilized dialogue since its inception, with the principle premise to collaborate and cooperate with the followers of other religions and civilizations." He pointed out that "this means--naturally--the recognition of other [religions] and their entitlement to essential rights, such as freedom of belief, and peaceful association without any discrimination."

The Minister added in his speech, representing the Egyptian Government to the convention which was held over a three day period in Kazakhstan:

"Islam is not satisfied merely with the recognition of other [religions], but [Islam] orders [its followers] to live and associate positively with them and to treat them with justice and equality. And that all this is for the purpose of establishing a human society that is endowed with security, peace and stability."

It goes without saying that these pronouncements are truly wonderful, righteous and just. It remains to be seen how these words will be applied into real action within the Egyptian society and not only during international conventions. The Baha'i case is a perfect example for such application, particularly when one examines the recent pronouncements by the same Ministry in the directive given to Mosque leaders around the country asking them to defame and attack the Baha'is during their Friday sermons as had been reported earlier in a post linked HERE. Also, another post regarding a book intended to attack the Baha'is and recently published under the direction of the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowment, can be reviewed HERE.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Scholarly Article On Apostasy

A very interesting Article was published in April 2006 by Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, a professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and entitled: Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam? The article is well written and follows a solid scientific and objective methodology. Dr. Badawi introduces his study as follows:

Apostasy, or "riddah" in Arabic, literally means defection or backsliding. As an Islamic legal term, it means denouncing Islam as one's religion by a Muslim. There has been a wide variety of opinions by Muslim scholars throughout nearly fourteen centuries concerning punishment for apostasy with the majority of the opinion that apostasy is a capital crime as it threatens the integrity and stability of the Muslim community and state. This paper aims at critically evaluating these views in the light of the Qur'an and Hadith.

Later on under the title
"Evidence from the Qur'an," he writes:

There is no single verse in the Qur'an that prescribes an earthly punishment for apostasy. Verses about apostasy in the Qur'an speak only about God's punishment of the apostate in the Hereafter. The following Qur'anic verses illustrate two examples:

[Your enemies will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his/her faith and die as a denier [of the truth]--these it is whose works will bear no fruit in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.] (Al-Baqarah 2:217)

[Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of truth--God will not forgive them, nor will guide them in any way.] (An-Nisaa' 4:137)

In his conclusion he writes:

The preponderance of evidence from both the Qur'an and Sunnah indicates that there is no firm ground for the claim that apostasy is in itself a mandatory fixed punishment (hadd), namely capital punishment.

References to early capital punishment for apostasy were not due to apostasy itself, but rather other capital crimes that were coupled with it.

In the context of the besieged early Muslim community, apostasy was a major threat to the nascent Muslim community. Taking a passive attitude towards it would have jeopardized the very emergence of the Muslim community. This may be one reason why the consensus of scholars is that apostasy is an offense (in the context of an Islamic society) is an offense. However, there are wide divergence of views about its suitable punishment. Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh argues that "we can conclude that the issue of the penalty prescribed for apostasy is dependent on the public interest of the nation. Therefore, there is no harm in ignoring the apostasy of an individual as long as he or she does not harm the nation. On the other hand, if a group of apostates endangers the security and interests of the Muslim community, then the Muslim ruler should consider them to be a danger and threat to society.

As religious opinions (fatwas) change with the changing time, place, custom, and circumstances, this issue should be reexamined within the basic boundaries of Islamic jurisprudence and not simply of pressures of others. No Muslim is required to change the indisputable stable and fixed aspects of Shari`ah for the sake of pleasing others or earning the title "moderate" or "open minded." In the meantime, jurisprudent rulings and interpretations in the non-fixed area need not be permanent either.

For the full article, please
click here. Also, for another article by Gamal el-Banna on the question of apostasy, reaching the same conclusions as Dr. Badawi, published in Arabic, please click here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An Honest Reflection By An Egyptian Newspaper

In an Egyptian newspaper named al-Doustour (The Constitution), an article appeared today, 20 September 2006, examining with objectivity the most recent conflict between Muslims and Christians which was triggered by the Pope's recent statements. The article was written by its senior editor, Mr. Ehab Abdel Hamid, entitled: Followers of every religion believe that they are "God's chosen ones" and that all the rest are either ignorant or heretics. He spoke of how easy it is for the followers of one religion to be totally oblivious of others' convictions and beliefs, and to fall into the exact same biases and errors that they accuse others of committing.

He then applied his analysis to the persecution of the Baha'is in Egypt, and used this as a perfect example in order to illustrate his point.

He stated the following: "...and we had in the Baha'i case an example and case-in-point. It is us that shout and scream that the west debases us and our religion. We united ourselves in one man's heart [one voice] calling for killing the Baha'is or expelling them from our country, or at least treating them as second-class citizens, accusing their fathers of [horrific acts]. And some do smartly pronounce that the Baha'i [Faith] is not a Divine religion. And we say that this is the belief and conviction of the Muslims. Meanwhile, the belief of the Christians is that Islam is not a Divine religion, and that no religions will follow Christianity." He then goes on to further his analysis of how this type of hypocrisy is so prevalent in the current worldwide religious debate.

This journalist, with his example of independent writing, shows us how the press could report objectively and honestly on critical issues without being influenced by any agenda, whether political, religious or otherwise. Incidentally, al-Doustour is labeled by some prominent Egyptian journalists as "daring!"

Monday, September 18, 2006

Rose El-Yousef Article On Baha'i History In Egypt

Today, 18 September 2006, Egypt's Rose el-Yousef daily newspaper published a six-page article on the history of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. Rose el-Yousef is one of the most prominent publications in the country known for its weekly magazine, established in 1925, somewhat similar in "style" to The New Yorker magazine. The daily newspaper was established more recently as an extension of the weekly magazine.

Because of the extent of the article, its pages will be displayed here for the time being while a digest of its content is being worked on. Also, until a better scan is available, unfortunately one might find it a bit difficult to read the current pages....


The article is entitled: "Baha'is...Stories and Exposure of Cases."

In addition to the several old photographs shown, the article displays what it calls "a rare picture of Abdu'l-Baha," and describes his visits and interactions with the Egyptian Baha'is. The article contains historical correspondence & documents (calling them secrets), annual reports, several names of early Baha'is, court decisions, old news media publications, some historical accounts including partial history of the Baha'i Faith, and an old marriage certificate of a Baha'i couple [which was known to be connected to a court decision leading to the official recognition and emancipation of the Baha'i Faith as described in this previous post].

Even though the article shows some real photographs and documents, it unfortunately falls into the usual whirlwind of inaccuracies and use of clearly fabricated insinuations intended to play a certain tune suited for the uninformed readers, which in turn could trigger further hostilities towards the innocent Baha'i population. The article also uses catching headlines and phrases that misrepresent and attempt to defame the Baha'is.

It is surprising--to a certain degree--that such reputable national media publication engages in this kind of questionable journalism that borders on violating the ethics of the profession. The whole article is presented in the spirit of "scandalous sensationalism," that would be normally expected of tabloid publications. It is a clear sign of decay....

After describing some early court battles dating back to 1925, that involved the rights of the Baha'is, the article concludes by stating: "was this lawsuit the end of their dreams and lawsuits? The answer is 'no' as will be exposed in the next several episodes in the series of Rose el-Yousef reports exposing the covenants of Baha'ism and Baha'is."

One can only wonder, what are the motives behind this series of publications, at this time, and by this particular newspaper? It is quite evident that this well-known press organization is no longer a free and independent agent!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Egyptian Paper Reports On US State Dept. Religious Freedom Report

Yesterday, 16 September 2006, al-Mesryoon (The Egyptians), an independent Egyptian daily newspaper, published a report on the US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report which was released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on 15 September 2006.

The paper summarized the report in great detail. However, the writer of the article appears to have made a substantial error in his interpretation of the number of the Baha'i population in Egypt. The writer, Mr. Ahmad Hassan Bakr reported: "[the US State Department] claimed that the number of Baha'is in Egypt exceeds 500,000 individuals."

In another paragraph, he writes: "Even though the [US State Department] report on religious freedoms for the year 2005 estimated the [number of] Baha'is in Egypt [to be] 2,000 Baha'is only, but that this year's report estimated their number [to be] 500,000."

In fact, the US State Department's Report stated the following: "...The Government also continued to deny civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community, which numbered 500 to 2000 persons."

And in another paragraph, the report of the US State Department stated: "...The number of Baha'is was estimated at between 500 and 2 thousand persons."

It should be noted that since the dissolution of the Baha'i Institutions in Egypt by the presidential decree of 1960, there has been no way to know or even estimate the number of Baha'is in Egypt. There is no mechanism to register them or even find them. So, these estimates may not reflect reality at all.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Egypt: Supreme Court Postpones The Baha'i Case Again

Cairo: the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court convened today, 16 September 2006, to hear the Government's appeal of the lower Administrative Court's ruling which granted the Baha'is their rights to document their religion in all official government documents. Because the Government was unable to produce its report on this matter which was initially requested by the Court, the judges (shown in the photograph) decided--for the third time--to postpone the case, and scheduled to reconvene the court on 20 November 2006 to hear the case. Another case concerning the Baha'is and of similar importance will be heard by the same court on 20 September 2006.

Meanwhile, the Government will present its annual accountability report and plans for future policies to the convention of the ruling National Democratic Party scheduled for 19-21 September 2006. The theme for the convention is: "New thinking and a second leap towards the future." A wide range of issues will be discussed and worked on, including citizen's civil rights as well as democracy. The convention will close with a speech by President Hosni Mubarak. This was published in today's edition of al-Ahram newspaper linked here. (Sorry, the Arabic link for the 16 September issue is now unavailable)

The following was reported in the current issue of
al-Ahram's English website regarding the proposed reforms:

"As has been the case for the past few years, Gamal Mubarak -- President Hosni Mubarak's 43-year-old son and the head of the party's powerful Policies Committee -- will be playing a leading role at the conference. In fact, he is in charge of forging the party's new political platform. On the conference's first and second day, he will lead two debates about "democracy and citizenship", discussions that will be based on an NDP report on "democracy and citizenship rights" that party insiders said has been updated from its original, highly theoretical version that was prepared for the party's first annual conference in 2003. That draft spoke in rather general terms about the importance of promoting a culture of democracy, modernisation, religious tolerance, moderation and legislative reform. The revised version supposedly delves into much more detail about the number of constitutional amendments required to turn President Mubarak's 2005 re-election campaign's political reform programme into reality."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Egypt: US State Dept. International Religious Freedom Report Just Released

Today, 15 September 2006, the US Department of State released its International Religious Freedom Report for the year 2006. The report opens with description of the current status of the Baha'is of Egypt. The full report on Egypt can be accessed here. Report on Iran can be seen here. For reports on other countries please click here. The Executive Summary can be seen in English here, and in Arabic here.

The following quotes are the first two paragraphs of the report:

"The constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries; however, members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experience personal and collective hardship."

"There was no significant change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government opposed advances in the respect for religious freedom affecting Baha'is; there continued to be abuses and numerous restrictions, and some improvements. It appealed an April 4 decision by the Administrative Court which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with religion noted on the documents."

Later on, the report states:

"Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is. The Government also continued to deny civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community, which numbered 500 to 2000 persons."

Under "Section I. Religious Demography" it states:

"The country has an area of 370,308 square miles, and its population, as of June 2006, was approximately 73.7 million, of whom almost 90 percent were estimated to be Sunni Muslims. Shi'a Muslims constituted less than 1 percent of the population. Estimates of the percentage of Christians in the population ranged from 8 percent to 15 percent, or between 6 to 11 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church."

"Other Christian communities included the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) churches. An evangelical Protestant church, established in the middle of the nineteenth century, included sixteen Protestant denominations. There also were followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960s. There were small numbers of Mormons and members of Jehovah's Witnesses, but the Government does not recognize either group. The non-Muslim, non-Coptic Orthodox communities ranged in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha'is was estimated at between 500 and 2 thousand persons. The Jewish community numbered fewer than 200 persons."

Under "Section II. Status of Religious Freedom--Legal/Policy Framework" it states:

"The constitution, under Article 46, provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of the non-Muslim religious minorities generally worship without legal harassment and may maintain links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of other religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, continue to experience personal and collective hardship."

"The Government continued to encourage interfaith dialogue. The religious establishment of Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs) engaged in interfaith discussions, both domestically and abroad. In 2004 the Government announced the formation of the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), on which five of the twenty-five appointed members, as well as the president, are Copts. The NCHR is charged with furthering protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom. It is also charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements. The council gave only superficial attention to the issue of religious freedom in its first annual report. In its second report, released in March, the council called for a solution for official recognition of Baha'is; addressed the problem of Jehovah's Witnesses; and criticized religious textbooks in schools for failing to address human rights topics. The report also recommended that Parliament pass a law that would facilitate the construction of new places of worship for all religious groups. Finally, the report noted that the council had not received any response from the Ministry of Interior or several governorates to its nine inquiries related to numerous complaints of alleged violations of religious freedom that it had received."

Tree of Life (Charles Williams)

Under "Restrictions on Religious Freedom" it states:

"The Government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. The Government appealed an April 4, 2006 decision by the Administrative Court which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with religion noted on the documents. On June 19, the Administrative Court postponed the appeal hearing to September 16."

"Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities, and a 1961 presidential decree stripped Baha'is of legal recognition. During the Nasser era, the Government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries. The Government has asserted that national identity cards require all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews. The Ministry of Interior has reportedly, on rare occasions, issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other" or simply do not include mention of religion. But it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups that are not associated with any of the three "heavenly religions" have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or go without valid identity documents."

"Those without valid identity cards encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Baha'is at age sixteen face additional problems under Law 143/1994, which makes it mandatory for all citizens to obtain a new identification card featuring a new national identification number. Police, often on public buses, conduct random inspections of identity papers, and those found without their identity card are regularly detained until the document is provided to the police. Some Baha'is without identity cards frequently stay home to avoid police scrutiny and possible arrest."

"In May 2004 the Government confiscated the identity cards of two Baha'is who were applying for passports. Officials told them that they were acting on instructions from the MOI to confiscate any identity cards belonging to Baha'is."

"In 1997 a human rights activist filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of the religious affiliation category from government identification cards. The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of a 1994 decree by the MOI governing the issuance of new identification cards. A hearing scheduled for February 25, 2005, never took place. The court informed the attorney for the plaintiff that the case documents had been withdrawn and forwarded to the president of the State's Council, a highly unusual procedure. In December the court dismissed the appeal on a technicality, arguing that the complainant failed to file the appeal within sixty days after the decree had been published in the Government's Official Gazette in 1995."

Under "Abuses of Religious Freedom" it states:

"Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Center issued a legal opinion in December 2003 condemning Baha'is as apostates. In May 2006 the minister of justice requested guidance from the IRC in preparation for the Government's appeal against the landmark April 4 case in support of Baha'i rights. The IRC issued an Islamic legal interpretation stating that the Baha'i Faith was a "heresy." The 2006 interpretation referenced a 1985 opinion that had accused Baha'is of working in support of Zionism and imperialism, and labeled them as "apostates"."

Under "Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom" it states:

"In March 2006 the NCHR released its second annual report, in which it recommended a solution for official recognition of Baha'is, addressed the problem of Jehovah's Witnesses in the country, and criticized religious textbooks in schools for failing to address human rights topics. The report also encouraged the Government to pass a law for all religious groups addressing the construction of new places of worship."

Under "Section IV. U.S. Government Policy" it states:

"Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. government, including by visiting members of congress, the secretary of state, assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the ambassador, and other Embassy officials. The embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy also discusses religious freedom issues regularly in contacts with other government officials, including governors and members of parliament. The ambassador has made public statements supporting interfaith understanding and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the embassy has raised its concerns about official discrimination against Baha'is with the Government. The Government insists that religious identification on national identity cards is necessary to determine which laws apply in civil cases."

Tomorrow, 16 September 2006, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court will convene to decide on the Government's appeal of the lower Administrative Court's ruling which granted the Egyptian Baha'is their right to be recognized on official government documents as Baha'is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Civil Rights Struggles: An Example

This evening in Birmingham, Alabama, an award winning author was honored by a certain organization.

She (the author) was seated in the far left front row, a petite white haired eighty-year-old woman. Her claim to fame was a lone book published in 1960. The book touched on a very sensitive subject in the American South of the time. She was born and had grown up in a little known town in southwest Alabama of 7,000 people, named Monroeville. Her father was an attorney in that town immortalized by the fictional character of Atticus Finch and acted by Gregory Peck in the film "To Kill a Mockingbird".

Her name is Nelle Harper Lee, a recluse still living in Monroeville, Alabama who had never written a book before or after that one. The book, written by a white southern woman, did so much to the civil rights movement in the American south to the extent that 46 years later an organization in Alabama dedicated to equality and racial justice found it essential to honor that woman for what she had contributed to their cause.

Harper Lee never appears in public, never gives interviews or signs books, but she appeared for that special occasion simply because she was able to relate deeply to the organization's contributions to equality and justice. She went to the stage, received her award, and humbly thanked everyone, then sat down.

What is quite significant in this, is the organization that honored her. It is called "The Birmingham Pledge", located in Birmingham, Alabama, and made up of people of different races and backgrounds, and committed to the abolition of prejudice as well as the promotion racial harmony. It had received national attention, and even worldwide recognition for its work. It is noteworthy that this organization came out of the American south, an area that had been plagued with racial injustice and discrimination.

The pledge, which has been signed by over 109,000 people thus far states the following:

  • I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
  • I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
  • I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.
  • Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
  • I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
  • I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.
The learning points from this account are:

1) Out of darkness and out of an area that had been well known for intolerance and racial prejudice emerges the most righteous and vocal promoters of justice and equality.

2) Without the courage of those speaking out for equality, no progress could be accomplished, even though it only began with very few voices who were an alienated minority that spoke against injustice perpetuated by their own race and kin.

3) What happened in Alabama and Mississippi could be also repeated in the rest of the world where injustice is committed every day.

4) When comparing the racial struggle of the American south to that of the civil rights of the Baha'is in Egypt, one can only conclude that history is bound to repeat itself, and that the voices of reason, justice and tolerance will prevail and these brave and suffering souls will be able to acquire equality with every other Egyptian citizen.

The case of the Baha'is will be heard in the Egyptian Supreme Court on 16 September 2006, when the court will decide on the Government's appeal of the lower administrative court's ruling which granted the Baha'is in Egypt the right to obtain their ID Cards and to enter their religion, as required, on all official documents. For more details on this subject from a previous post, please click here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Egypt Today: More On The Baha'i Faith

The rest of the printed paper version of the publication on the Baha'i Faith which appeared in the September issue of Egypt Today is presented here for the purpose of completeness. As shown in the previous post, the full article is also available online at this link.

Interestingly, this article was titled "The Fourth Faith" as Egypt currently recognizes three religions only (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). It shows the picture of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the governing body and head of this worldwide religion. The House of Justice is an elected body of nine Baha'is. The elections are held every five years at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa where all Baha'i National Spiritual Assemblies from around the world convene in a prayerful environment to elect the Supreme Body of the Baha'i Faith and without any electioneering or campaigning. The Universal House of Justice is the only infallible Institution in the Baha'i Administration for this age.

The third page shows three different photographs of Abdu'l-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah who founded the Baha'i Faith. In His Will and Testament, Baha'u'llah appointed him as His successor and the Centre of His Covenant. Abdu'l-Baha served as the head of the Baha'i Faith and was the interpreter of the Baha'i Revelation. Before his passing, in his Will and Testament, he had appointed Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, his grandson as his successor, to serve as the Guardian and Head of the Baha'i Faith, who in turn was also the sole interpreter of the Baha'i Writings. After the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, and after an interim period of six years during which the Faith was headed by the Hands of the Cause of God (an Institution of learned believers who held a high station and were appointed by the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith), the first Universal House of Justice was elected in 1963.

The Universal House of Justice, the now Head of the Baha'i Faith, is a legislative and administrative body. It can also rule on matters that could arise which were not specifically addressed in the Most Holy Book (al-Kitab al-Aqdas), the Book of Laws revealed by Baha'u'llah.

After the passing of the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, no person nor an Institution could interpret the revelation of Baha'u'llah--thus protecting the Faith from divisions, personal interpretations or alterations--until the appearance of another manifestation of God after a thousand years or so have elapsed.

The Covenant of the Baha'i Faith, passing on from its founder Baha'u'llah to His appointed successor Abdu'l-Baha, to its Guardian Shoghi Effendi, to its Supreme Body the Universal House of Justice, maintains the absolute unity and integrity of this world embracing Faith which promotes the unity of God, the unity of religions and the unity of mankind, all of which are proclaimed by a Faith that also maintains its own unity as an example for a world struggling with its unity and peace.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Egypt Today: Article On The Baha'i Faith

An article titled "The Fourth Faith" was just published in the September issue of Egypt Today magazine. The article is introduced here with a brief audio segment below. To read the full article on the magazine's website, please click here.

this is an audio post - click to play

Some pages of the paper publication of the magazine are also included in this post.

The page to the left shows a photograph of Dr. Labib Iskandar Hanna, his wife Remonda and his two sons Ragi and Hadi.

The other page to the right shows a picture of Mr. Sami Bebawy who was interviewed in the article regarding his upbringing as a Baha'i. The story of how his father Nassif became a Baha'i after having been raised as a Coptic Christian was also told at the opening of the article.

The third page to the left shows a Baha'i symbol glorifying God and illustrating the covenant between God, His Messenger and man. It describes the Baha'i beliefs as well as the historical events related to the Baha'i Faith in Egypt since its introduction in that country in the late nineteenth century shortly after the declaration of its Founder Baha'u'llah.

The fourth page to the right shows a picture of an open book: al-Kitab el-Aqdas (Arabic) [the Most Holy Book (English)], which is the book of laws for the Baha'is revealed by Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith and the recipient of a vast revelation consisting of more than a hundred volumes of writings and guidance to humanity. For example, the equivalent of the Holy Qur'an in length was revealed in approximately six hours of time. In order to get a glimpse of the enormity of this revelation one can check these sites, in English and in Arabic.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Egypt: TV Program On Religion & ID Cards (Part-4)

This is the last segment of the TV program on Dream-2 Channel regarding the issue of religious classification on Egypt's ID Cards. In this segment, the broadcaster talks with a caller who presented his case of being unable to obtain an ID Card unless he lies about his religion, which he could not do because it would have been immoral and illegal to make false statements on official documents. Ironically, this is what the government is asking the Baha'is in Egypt to do, i.e. deny their religion and falsify documents in order to be able to obtain ID Cards. Since the Baha'is will not lie, they are left without Identification Documents. One can easily imagine what it means to try to live in Egypt--as a citizen--without an ID Card!

Here is the translated transcript.

Broadcaster: go ahead Ustadh Dhiya' [a caller]....

Ustadh Dhiya': Good Evening!

Broadcaster: Good Evening Sir!

Ustadh Dhiya': I thank you for bringing up a topic such as this on your program. I am a Baha'i. Al-Baha'iyyah initially....

Ustadh Hamdi: his problem...[simultaneous conversation]....

Dr. Mona: sorry what was that?

Ustadh Hamdi: his problem is at your end...[Laughs]....

Ustadh Dhiya': ...the Baha'is never before wanted the section for religion to be removed from the ID [card], which is what I just heard mentioned on the program, that this subject was created for the benefits of the Baha'is. The Baha'is are not at all asking that the section for religion be omitted....

Broadcaster: no, when it was said that this would serve the Baha'is, it was meant that you will no longer have a problem....

Dr. Mona: no, a problem will still exist. It should still be in the database; that is why we can omit it on the card, this plastic card; there is a difference. However, they still should be allowed to put "other" in the database. [unclear simultaneous talking].

Ustadh Dhiya': in the government's computer [database], my religion is classified as "other". However, when I tried to obtain an ID Card, they refused to grant me one, and I was told to write "Muslim". [simultaneous talking]. In this way, I am being forced to either write "Muslim" in order to get the ID Card or not get the ID at all. I--till this day--am 25 years old and do not have a National ID Card. [simultaneous talking]....

Broadcaster: the problem of the Baha'is is a complicated one; I know that. A large part of the problem is that it appeared suddenly on the scene. At least for us in the media, we need to deal with it gradually; it appeared suddenly. And when other problems occur at the same time, like the issue of religion, I believe, that the situation becomes more complicated...Dr. Mona Zulfuqar!

Dr. Mona Zulfuqar: removing the section for religion from the ID card does not affect the religious identity or religious pride. It does not require that the religion be removed from the database. On the contrary, if we want to resolve the problems of all citizens, we should still, once again, allow them to put "other" in the space. This is so [that] the problem gets resolved. This is a proof that the issue is greater than being a mere complaint by the Baha'is or a complaint from other religious minorities. However, we are in dire need for a suggestion [an option] that has a powerful symbolic influence, so this problem can surface [get resolved]--the problem of discrimination on the basis of religion. This idea [discrimination] conflicts with the constitution which contains the text about preserving freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of religious practices. Also, there is a problem with the idea of equal opportunities for all citizens that has a flaw [when] relating to all citizens, but there is also a particular flaw based on religion. This problem deserves attention and deserves that we think about it in terms of initiatives. The initiatives submitted by the National Council for Human Rights for discussion, are not only initiatives about removing the religious classification from the ID card. They also are about thinking within a general framework to support the idea of [equal] citizenship, to support that "religion is God's and the country is for all", to support the idea of justice and equal opportunity and equality before the law as a basis of interaction between the country and all its citizens.