Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo
Lawyers for a woman arrested for living as a Christian despite her father’s conversion to Islam when she was a child now worry that her country’s confusing blend of national and Shariah legal systems may result in a punishment that sweeps through her entire family, even down to her grandchildren.
As WND reported, Christian sisters Shadia Ibrahim and Bahia El-Sisi of Egypt were surprised in their late 40s to learn that their father had briefly converted to Islam when they were children.
Under Egyptian law, their father’s conversion made the sisters Muslim for life, so they were convicted of fraud for putting “Christian” on their identity documents, including Bahia’s marriage certificate.
Now, a lawyer for Bahia worries if the courts enforce her legal identity as a Muslim, her entire family could pay the price.
According to Islamic jurisprudence, parental custody is awarded to whichever parent has the “superior” religion, and no non-Muslim is allowed jurisdiction over a Muslim.
In other words, Bahia’s legally dictated status as a Muslim could mean that her husband would be compelled to convert to Islam or have their marriage nullified. Her children, too, would be reclassified as Muslim, creating the same problem for their Christian spouses and their children.
“All of their children and grandchildren would be registered as Muslims,” attorney Peter Ramses told Compass Direct News. “(The ruling) would affect many people.”
The sisters were charged with fraud even though they didn’t know that according to Egyptian law, their father’s conversion in 1962 made them Muslim, the South African Press Association reported.
Their father, Nagui Ibrahim, left home and converted to Islam when the sisters were very young. He reconciled with his wife three years later and re-converted to Christianity. In the process, he had someone forge his personal identity documents to say he was Christian.
The man who forged Nagu Ibrahim’s documents was detained in 1996 for falsifying dozens of documents and confessed to changing Ibrahim’s papers, SAPA reported.
When the two daughters visited the man who had helped their father, according the Egyptian national weekly Watani, they were detained and accused of forging their Christian identification documents.
But last month, despite the retraction in her sister’s case, a judge sentenced Bahia to three years in prison for “forgery of an official document,” her marriage license.
“This is a sick environment that we struggle to change,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Watani. “According to what is taking place here freedom is protected and provided for Christians to convert to Islam while the opposite is not provided.”
“How can the government say to (someone) who has lived 50 years in a Christian way that they must become a Muslim and their children must be Muslim and their whole family must all be Muslims?” asked Ramses. “This is very important for the freedom of religion.”
Ramses has vowed to appeal Bahia’s case to Egypt’s Supreme Court. He told Compass Direct News he worries that if the judges decide against Bahia, it might endanger the already precarious position of religious minorities in the Muslim-dominated country.
Other legal sources assured Compass Direct News that the court is likely to agree with Ramses and follow her sister’s path by retracting Bahia’s sentence.