Friday, December 08, 2006

Egyptian Baha'is: The Daily Star Rports on the ID Card Crisis

The following article was published yesterday in The Daily Star - Egypt which is distributed with the International Herald Tribune (IHT), "the world's foremost global newspaper. The IHT is the only English-language international paper printed in Egypt and available the same day."

"The first issue of The Daily Star Egypt hit the newsstands on May 9, 2005. Since then, it has become a major source of credible news and analysis on Egypt, daily."

The article is published below "as is":


By Abdel-Rahman Hussein
First Published: December 7, 2006

CAIRO: At the heart of every bureaucratic function of government in Egypt is the National Identity card. Whether access to education, employment, financial services, health care or assorted government dealings the bitaqa is an absolute necessity.

Egyptian law decrees that every citizen should carry the ID on their person at all times. Police are allowed to ask anyone at any time for it, and are permitted to detain those who don't present one when requested.

In the early nineties, the government digitized the whole National ID system, in an effort to counter the then looming terrorism threat and also because it was about time.

An identity card is issued with a person's religion clearly marked but the state recognizes three religions only: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and it is only those that can be recorded on the card. With the old IDs this could be left blank.

This is no longer possible with the newer, electronic versions.

This has posed serious challenges to followers of religions other than the three main monotheistic faiths.

The Bahais, followers of a nineteenth century Persian nobleman named Baha u llah who they consider to be a messenger of God, are one such community facing increasing political and socio-economic entanglements in Egypt.

On principle, the Bahais have refused to affiliate themselves to any of the state-recognized religions on the IDs and therefore do not carry the new cards.

They don't have birth certificates either or any other official documents that require one to state their religious affiliation.

In April, the Egyptian Administrative Justice Court ruled in favor of two Bahai parents who requested birth certificates for their three daughters because their original ones were confiscated by the Interior Ministry for having them documented as Bahais.

Sharia (Islamic law) prohibits discrimination against non-Muslims, the court decreed.

In addition, it was imperative for the state to recognize the real beliefs of its citizens to administer the appropriate rights and laws unto them. This recognition does not mean that the state endorses Bahaism, the court stated.

The Interior Ministry appealed this ruling, and the First Circuit of the Supreme Administrative Court considered the appeal on Dec. 2. Arguments were heard on Saturday and the court will give a final judgment on Dec. 16th.

Former Deputy Head of Al Azhar and Member of the Islamic Research Council Seif Mahmoud Ashour, backed the government standpoint in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt.

“Bahaism is not a religion,” he said, “what we recognize are Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Bahaism is a worldly belief, and not a heavenly religion, it is a man-made creation. We recognize only the heavenly religions.”

Ashour added that from an Islamic standpoint “They are allowed to believe what they want, and to exercise their beliefs as they see fit, but the state will not recognize them.”

Ashour then launched into a critique of Bahaism saying “We hear they permit incest, that a man can marry his sister, pray with nineteen raq’aa (prostrations), fast nineteen days a year and pray towards Acre (in Israel, resting place of Baha u llah’s remains) and not Mecca.”

Dr. Labib Iskandar Hanna, a professor of Engineering at Cairo University and a follower of the Bahai faith, disputed much of this rumor-mongering as babble propagated by an ignorant media. In an interview with The Daily Star Egypt he challenged anyone to present one case of incest amongst the Bahai community. He also dismissed the idea of nineteen prostrations in their prayer.

He said: “If you want to know about Muslims, you don’t ask a Jewish Rabbi, you ask Muslims themselves. People should ask us if they want to know something.” He added that there are official Bahai sites on the Internet, in English and Arabic among other languages, where one can find out about the faith....
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