Egyptian convert wants official recognition  

IOL By Jonathan Wright 

Cairo - An Egyptian man has asked the Egyptian courts to recognise his conversion from Islam to Christianity and instruct the government to change the details on his identity documents, his lawyer said on Monday.

Mohamed Hegazy, a journalist and political activist, said in a petition filed on Saturday, August 5, that he converted four years ago because he believed that love and peace were the purposes of religion and he found in Christianity what he had long been seeking. 

Hegazy went to register his change of religion with the Interior Ministry earlier this year but the officials rejected his request, lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla told Reuters.  

'They want their child to be born Christian.'

"He's married and his wife is pregnant and they want their child to be born Christian, but the authorities refused to change his status," Nakhla said in an interview. The lawyer said some Egyptian Muslims have converted to Christianity quietly over the years but he did not know of a case of anyone seeking official recognition. 

Some Muslim clerics say the penalty for renouncing Islam is death but the modern Egyptian state has never recognised apostasy as a crime and the country's chief mufti or exponent of Islamic law said last month that apostasy was not punishable in this world. The petition submitted by Nakhla on behalf of Hegazy cited the opinion of the mufti, Ali Gomaa, who wrote in the Washington Post that a Muslim could change his religion. 

But Gomaa said abandoning Islam could become criminal if it undermined society. "Religious belief and practice is a personal matter, and society only intervenes when that personal matter becomes public and threatens the well-being of its members," he added. Some hardline clerics have disputed Gomaa's interpretation, citing sayings of the Prophet Mohammad which others say are of dubious authenticity. 

Nakhla, a human rights lawyer, said the mufti's ruling was an advance on the traditional position of Muslim clerics, who denied Muslims any freedom to change. The Egyptian courts are dealing simultaneously with an attempt by a large group of former Christians to change back from Islam to Christianity and from Baha'is who want to leave blank the religion entry on their identity papers. 

The Baha'is have tried but failed to persuade the courts to let them identify themselves as Baha'is. In their latest ruling on the subject, judges said in effect that Egyptians must be either Muslim, Christian or Jewish

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