Alexandria, Egypt. September 6, 2007. (WND) where two Christian students were ordered to adopt Islam or forfeit future schooling
A court in Egypt has temporarily adjourned a hearing for Christian twins who, when ordered to take a school test that would result in their conversion to Islam wrote, "I am Christian," on the exam papers.
The twins are being forced to take Islamic education because their father, who abandoned the family years ago and remarried, has adopted Islam.
According to a Compass Direct report, an attorney for the two young Christians forced the adjournment by skipping the court hearing, because the outcome of another case involving such forced conversion to Islam could affect the case.
According to spokesman Sam Grace, of Coptic News, Mario Medhat Ramses, 11, and Andrew Medhat Ramses, 13, could be facing a future without educational opportunities even though they had been classified as "brilliant" students at the French Lycee school of Alexandria.
"What brought the case to the public attention is the categorical refusal of the two kids to pass the Islamic exams and convert to Islam, stating, `they will not deny their Christianity and convert to Islam no matter what it would cost them,`" Grace said.
Grace said Egypt`s ministry of education ordered the boys to take the test that would result in their conversion to Islam because their father, who left the family about five years ago, had decided to convert from Christianity to Islam.
The parents, Medhat Ramses and Camellia Medhat, were a Christian couple when the boys were born, but the father then divorced the mother, leaving his sons behind, and converted to Islam to marry a Muslim.
But Islamic religious law, which has been adopted by the civil government in Egypt, requires that children follow the faith of any parent who converts to Islam, "since Islam is the superior religion that abrogated all other religions," Grace said.
And leaving the children "to follow the corrupted religions (Christianity and Judaism) of the other parent would be condemning the kids to the doom of hell fire where Christians, Jews and all other non-Muslims are destined," he said.
The Compass Direct report said the case "highlights inequalities non-Muslims face in Egypt, where one`s religion, printed on all official documents, regulates family laws. Custody of children is automatically given to whichever parent is Muslim, according to many interpretations of (Islamic law), enshrined in the nation`s constitution."
The twins, in order to pass to the next grade, were ordered in May to take their Islamic religion exam. But they wrote, "I am Christian," and left the spaces for answers blank.
Compass reported that Egyptian Education Minister Yusri al-Gamal announced last week he would automatically pass the boys on to the next grade, but their mother noted the underlying problem remains.
The report said the twins` future hinges on whether the court applies civil law, which allows them to remain with their mother, or certain interpretations of Islamic law, which stipulate that children belong to whichever parent is Muslim, their lawyer, Naguib Gabriel, said.
He said he skipped the hearing scheduled on Monday, when the court was expected to rule on the twins` future, causing the court to adjourn indefinitely. He said he hopes to delay the final hearing until after November 17, when a ruling is expected in another case, that of 12 converts to Islam seeking "re-conversion" to Christianity.
The lawyer said that ruling will give him an idea about the government`s position in the boys` case.
"The whole point is whether the court will rule according to Egypt`s civil law â€“ in which case the converts will be free to revert to their Christianity â€“ or according to sharia, meaning that ridda [the penalty for apostasy] would be applied," the lawyer said.
According to many mainstream interpretations of Islamic law in Egypt, the punishment for apostasy is death.
The Middle East Review of International Affairs said the rise of Islam in Egypt arrived with Anwar Sadat`s tenure.
"He then initiated what one could, in hindsight, term `the Great Islamic Transformation` of Egypt. The first step was to stipulate in the Second Article of his new Constitution, promulgated in 1971 (long before Khomeini embarked on his Islamic revolutionary campaign), that the Principles of Islamic Shari`a were `a main source` of legislation. In May 1981, the `a` was replaced with `the,` making Shari`a the term of reference for the entire constitution, meaning all other articles were to be interpreted in that light," the organization said.
"The curricula of public schools, established by the Ministry of Education, ignore the Coptic era in Egypt`s history. Courses glorifying Islam (the `Only True Religion`) and its history, while vilifying the crusaders (i.e. Christians) and the Jews, are imposed on all students," the group said.
"In the case of a father of a Christian family converting to Islam, his minor children are forced to follow suit: The mother`s custody rights â€“ a well established legal principle â€“ are ignored in this case, as children, according to typical court rulings, are supposed to follow the `better (or `more noble`) of the two religions,`" the group said.
There also are other indications that Egypt is not particularly tolerant of non-Muslims. An Egyptian Christian who had fled his home nation, "most assuredly has a right not to be tortured," a federal court ruled in allowing him to remain in the United States.
The court pointedly concluded that "diplomatic assurances" of his religious rights "by a country known to have engaged in torture" weren`t reassuring.
A report from the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights concluded Coptic Christians in Egypt have been harassed, tortured and killed by Muslims for 1,400 years.
"They have been subjected to all kinds of hate crimes including, the abduction of young Coptic girls, the killing of Coptic women and children and the destruction of their places of worship," the report concluded.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an agency created by Congress, lists Egypt on its watch list of countries, noting it had "a poor overall human rights record."