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Christian reconverts served justice

Youssef Sidhom

19 Apr 2013 3:21 pm

Problems on hold

Today I present a second model that bears witness to the grand Egyptian judiciary and how its rulings combats the erroneous concepts and the despotic stances of some State institutions. Episodes that occur under the pretext of religion but which in fact inflict injustice and inequality among Egyptians are countered by judicial rulings which entrench justice. The legal reasoning behind these rulings is especially significant since it tackles issues that have long been left on hold.
The issue of reconverts—Christians who at one point in their lives converted to Islam then later decided to revert to their original Christianity—has for many years haunted the reconverts themselves as well as all believers in the freedom of faith secured by the Constitution. In our [Muslim majority] community, a Christian who converts to Islam is unfailingly applauded and welcomed, and officials hasten to facilitate the change of relevant legal documents to cite his or her religion as Muslim instead of Christian. Yet when that convert backtracks and decides to go back to being Christian, he or she is met with harsh disapproval, in fact outright hostility, and officials refuse to make the necessary change in the legal documents to the cite the original name and religion.
The plight of the reconverts has remained shelved for years on end, until court rulings were issued to confirm the right of non-Muslim-born reconverts to go back to being religion, and to be granted legal documents which prove that. But these rulings proved impotent before a civil register authority which refused to put them into effect, and the victims had to take their cases again to court.
In one of these many cases which were taken to court contesting an administrative decision to refrain from citing the claimant’s original name and religion—in this case Christianity—in his official ID, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of the claimant. It ruled that the claimant’s original name and religion should be cited in his birth certificate and his official ID.
I am citing here excerpts of the legal reasoning behind the court ruling.
•    “The claimant was born to Christian parents. He converted to Islam and accordingly changed his name and religion. He later reverted to Christianity, was accepted by the Coptic Orthodox Clerical Council, and is now a practising Christian. Notwithstanding, when he applied to the administrative authority for a new ID and birth certificate citing his original name and Christian religion, the administrative authority did nothing.
•    “The administrative authority’s conduct of not acknowledging his Christian religion despite all the documents he submitted to prove it is a negative decision tantamount to refraining to comply with the rule of law and the rulings of the court of justice. It violates the Constitution by voiding its articles from their content, since the Constitution ensures freedom of faith, including the right to convert, and the equality between all citizens. It also represents an instance of forgery since it does not acknowledge the actual status of a citizen; and inflicts upon him undue moral duress since faith represents the relationship between an individual and his God. The administrative authority’s conduct also disregards the testimony of the Patriarchate, even though, according to a ruling by the Court of Cassation—the highest legal body in Egypt—the Patriarchate is a legal personality.
•    “The claimant submitted to the administrative authority a certificate issued by the relevant religious authority proving he had became Christian after he had been Muslim. So the administrative authority should not have refrained from citing the required change under the pretext that “it violates with public order”. The act of officially citing the change, in itself, does not constitute a legal status because this status arose once the claimant was accepted into Christianity; the official citing of it constitutes no more than an admission of the fact and an announcement to others of the real religion embraced by the person they are dealing with, in order for them to deal with him on that basis.
•    “The act of refraining from officially registering the real status of a citizen is in fact what violates public order, especially if this information relates to his religion, since this implies that the community would deal with him as a person who belongs to a religion other than the one he actually belongs to. This could result in complications on the social level, and grave errors on the legal level. The administration should thus cite the true data pertaining to an individual on the date it came into effect; among this data is his religion and whatever changes to it—as long as it is one of the three Heavenly religions recognised [by the Constitution]. In light of the religion that is stated in his official papers, his civil and personal rights and duties as well as his legal status, are determined. The administration’s not doing this constitutes a violation the law.”
The Civil Register authority Administration has respected the court ruling and implemented it.

The first of a series of articles by Youssef Sidhom about court rulings has been posted online at http://www.wataninet.com/watani_Article_Details.aspx?A=39187

WATANI International
21 April 2013

 


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