The year-long tragic saga of five-year-old Shenouda has finally come to a happy ending.
On 28 March, the Public Prosecution Office in North Cairo ordered a temporary handover—‘temporary’ in the sense that legal procedures need yet to be completed—of Shenouda to the adoptive parents who had raised him as a two-day-old infant till he was four when he was taken from them and placed in an orphanage. Shenouda’s adoptive mother, Amal Ibrahim Mikhail made a legal pledge to take good care of him and not expose him to any danger. The Public Prosecution office issued directives that legal procedures of foster care should be speedily completed.
The prosecution’s decision came after it sounded the Grand Mufti’s opinion on the matter. The Mufti is the person who issues fatwas—Islamic legal opinion. The Mufti confirmed that a child of unknown parents should follow the religion of the family which found him. A few days earlier, al-Azhar, the topmost authority on Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa to the same effect.
The story of Shenouda, now five years old, goes back to when he was a two-day-old infant abandoned in a Cairo church; the priest handed him to Amal Ibrahim Mikhail and her husband Farouq Fawzy Boulos, a couple who had been childless for 29 years and desperately wanted a child. The Bouloses “adopted” the baby, gave him their name and called him Shenouda, had him baptised and raised him as their son for four years in a warm, loving family.
Mr Boulos’s niece Mariam Youssef, realised that Shenouda’s legal name as the son of Mr Boulos made him her uncle’s inheritor, thus excluding her from the inheritance. She made a claim to the police that the boy was not Mr Boulos’s son but had been trafficked. Egyptian law outlaws adoption, in accordance with Islamic sharia, but allows takaful—literally “care”, in this case foster care—but children cannot be given their foster parents’ names nor can they legally inherit their money or belongings; they can only receive “gifts” to any amount from their foster parents.
DNA testing proved the child was not related to the Bouloses; in February 2022 he was taken from them and placed in an orphanage. They were not prosecuted because investigations proved beyond doubt their good will, but they were not allowed to keep Shenouda because he was of unknown origin and was thus—according to social norms—assumed to be Muslim; and no Muslim can be allowed to grow up in a Christian family.
The case caused heated public controversy, with overwhelming demand to waive the social norms and return the child to his foster parents. Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights strongly joined that demand, requesting that any legal obstacles standing in the way be reviewed. Shenouda’s adoptive parents took their case to court in September 2022 but, on 18 March 2023, the Administrative Court of Egypt’s State Council declined to rule in the lawsuit owing to lack of jurisdiction on the subject matter. It explained that it lacks the jurisdiction to rule on returning the boy to the Christian couple who had raised him as a two-day-old till he was four years old, or to reverse the decision by the authorities to assign him Islam as a religion.
On 22 March 2023, Egypt’s topmost Islamic institution, al-Azhar, having been queried about what religion should Shenouda follow, issued a fatwa [fatwa is an Islamic legal opinion] that, even though Islamic scholars were divided on the matter, al-Azhar was inclined to adopt the view of the Hanafi scholars who “declared in their books that: ‘If found in a village of Dhimmis [Dhimmi is a non-Muslim living under Muslim rule] or in a church, the one found is Dhimmi.’ The same reply applied in case the founder was Dhimmi.” Obviously, the fatwa made it possible for a court of law to rule that Shenouda be handed to his Christian foster parents and raised as a Christian.
A day later, Mr Boulos’s niece Mariam Youssef appeared in video footage aired by a social media channel, claiming to “uncover the truth about Shenouda’s biological mother” who, Ms Youssef said, was a Muslim convert who had married a Muslim man, got pregnant with Shenouda, but left her husband before giving birth. She claimed the Church had abducted the mother-to-be, imprisoned her in a monastery till she delivered her baby, then gave the baby to a Christian couple who were childless. She said the biological mother was her cousin Rania Ramzy Fawzy Boulos, another niece of Mr Boulos, the daughter of his brother.
Rania Boulos, who goes by the name Rania Fawzy, responded by criticising Ms Youssef for “unfounded allegations”, stressing that Shenouda was no child of hers, and offering to take a DNA test to prove that. Ms Fawzy said that it was true she had at one point left her family owing to some harsh circumstances; she converted to Islam, but realised she had made a mistake so she legally reverted to Christianity and went back to her husband and children. “I certainly committed a big error in leaving my home, but no man ever touched me nor did I ever become pregnant.”
Ms Fawzy is taking Ms Youssef to court for unsubstantiated defamation. Her lawyer, Michael Luqa, said on al-Karma satellite channel that Ms Youssef had made a number of legal violations by making unsubstantiated allegations that defamed his client Ms Fawzy who would take a DNA test to disprove them. He said Ms Youssef also made preposterous allegations against the Coptic Church, again with no evidence whatsoever. “If Ms Youssef is in possession of any marriage documents that prove Ms Fawzy was ever married to a Muslim man, let her produce it,” Mr Luqa said. “The same goes for if she possesses any divorce certificate.”
When Ms Fawzy decided to revert to Christianity, Mr Luqa explained, she had to get approvals from a number of State bodies to clear her of any political, religious, security, or criminal wrongdoing. The Civil Register decided in 2018 to register her as a Christian under her original name, he said. “Ms Fawzy could never have been given all these clearances had she been pregnant [explainer: any doubt of carrying a baby of a Muslim father would have directly halted her reversion to Christianity].
“We will also sue the social media channel that aired Ms Youssef’s video because it aired defamatory material without any proof of veracity.”
For their part, the two lawyers Karam Ghabrial and Naguib Gabrail who represent Farouq Fawzy Boulos, Shenouda’s adoptive father, submitted a claim on 25 March 2023 to the Public Attorney of North Cairo Prosecution against Ms Youssef. They requested an investigation into her claims of knowing that the biological mother of Shenouda is Rania Fawzy, and that she knew that his father was Muslim. “She aired the video once she learned of the al-Azhar fatwa that the child found in a church by a Christian person would be Christian,” the lawyers’ claim said.
The two lawyers also requested that Ms Youssef be investigated regarding her injurious, insulting, offensive allegations against the Coptic Church and monasteries by accusing them of imprisoning women and forging documents. They asked that she be prosecuted according to adequate charges, and they attached a copy of Ms Youssef’s video with their claim. The claim will be seen before the Misdemeanours Court on 6 May 2023.
On another front, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Cairo’s East of the Railway Churches, submitted a written testimony signed by the Bishop Anba Martyros to the Administrative Court testifying that the infant Shenouda was found in the restroom of the church of the Holy Virgin in Madinet al-Nour, al-Zawya al-Hamra, in the district of al-Sharabiya. The priest, who is now deceased, handed the infant to the couple Farouq Fawzy Boulos and his wife Amal Ibrahim Mikhail. The infant’s father and mother are unknown, the testimony said.
On, 27 March, Rania Fawzy took a DNA test. The test proved she cannot be the biological mother of Shenouda.
In the wake of this development and of the fatwas issued by al-Azhar and the Grand Mufti, the Public Prosecution issued its decision to hand Shenouda back to his foster parents.
For her part, Shenouda’s mother Amal Mikhail could not express enough gratitude to the Lord for giving her back her son. Her elation was palpable as she thanked everyone who supported her through the hard times when she was separated from Shenouda. “Now I can hold him again in my arms,” she tearfully said.
28 March 2023
Discussion about this post