A former Muslim has sued Egypt for refusing to recognize him legally as a Christian in what is thought to be the first case of its kind in Egypt.
Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, 25, filed the lawsuit against Egypt’s interior ministry last Thursday for rejecting his application to replace Islam with Christianity on his identification papers, according to Compass Direct News.
Hegazy, a journalist and political activist, had said in his petition that he believes that love and peace are the purposes of religion and that he found that in Christianity, according to Reuters.
Although Hegazy converted at age 16 to Christianity, he never sought to change his status legally because of all the obstacles. Hegazy said he wanted to be officially recognized as a Christian now so that his expectant child can be born and raised openly as a Christian.
“My wife is pregnant. I want my son to be born within my own religion and for the fact that he is Christian to be written on official papers,” said Hegazy, according to Agence France-Presse.
In Egypt and in many Middle Eastern countries, the parents’ legal religious status determines their children’s official religion on their identification papers.
His wife Zeinab is four months pregnant, according to Compass. The couple were forced to have an Islamic wedding because they are both legally Muslims. If they’re religious status is officially changed to Christianity then their child will be able to enroll in Christian religious classes at school, marry in a church, and attend church services openly.
His legal action has sparked anger among the country’s Muslims who have retaliated by filing a lawsuit and delivering death threats against his lawyer.
“This is the first such case in the history of Egyptian justice,” said Mamduh Nakhla, the director of Al-Kalima Center, a Coptic Christian rights group, according to AFP.
Other Egyptian Muslims are said to have converted to Christianity quietly but there has not been known of a case of someone seeking official recognition, according to Reuters.
However, Christians who seek to legally convert to Islam can do so with ease. Between 2000-2006, some 7,000 Christians legally became Muslims, according to a statement last year by Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi.
Hegazy, who was jailed and tortured in 2002 when police discovered his conversion, said he is not optimistic about winning the case.
“Martyrdom would be much better than being jailed under such a radical and fundamentalist authority,” he said, according to Compass.
Last month, the country’s chief mufti said leaving the Islamic faith is between an individual and God and should not be punished in this world unless the conversion somehow poses a threat to society, giving way to what many hope will be greater tolerance towards Christian converts.
In September, the country will confront another convert case when Egypt’s Supreme Court hears the case of 12 former Coptic Christians who want to revert legally back to Christianity.