Egypt's choice
By Nir Boms and Michael Meunier

  Washington Times   

The freedom to believe may be considered a sacred right in some parts of the world - but not in others. Which is why Mohammed Hegazy, 24, and his wife made history in the Arab world when they became the first known Muslims to file a lawsuit against Egypt for refusing to legally recognize their conversion to Christianity.

This unusual move quickly sparked a lawsuit by Muslim clerics along with death threats for the young couple. Some of these came during a live TV interview, when Mr. Hegazy was interviewed along with Sheikh Youssef el-Badry, a radical Islamic cleric. According to Mr. Badry, Mr. Hegazy deserves the death sentence for leaving Islam. Souaad Kamel, the outgoing dean of Islamic Study for girls at Al-Azhar University, stated on the air that Mr. Hegazy should be beheaded to fulfill the religious requirements.

In his filing, Mr. Hegazy, who was born a Muslim, relied heavily on the recent remarks of Egypt's grand mufti to The Washington Post regarding religious conversion. In a surprising and unprecedented statement, Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, said that Islam affords freedom of belief, and that Muslims under some circumstances are free to convert. "The essential question before us is can a Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can," he commented to The Post and later to the Egyptian media.

Separating between the notion of choice and punishment, he further explained that "The act of abandoning one's religion is a sin punishable by God on the day of judgment." But he added that, "If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment." Mr. Gomaa added that "throughout history, the worldly punishment for apostasy in Islam has been applied only to those who, in addition to their apostasy, actively engaged in the subversion of society."

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The U.S. Copts Association, founded in 1996 and based in Washington D.C., advocates for democracy, religious freedom, and human rights in Egypt. The Association represents over 700,000 Egyptian Christians in the United States

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