Posts Tagged ‘ايجيب ديلى نيوز’

Baha’is in Egypt

15-10-2012

مقال للصحفية لوسى بروفن نشر بديلى نيوز ايجيبت الاحد 14 اكتوبر 2012  عن البهائيين فى مصر واوضاعهم بعد الثورة


Lucy Provan
  /   October 14, 2012  /

The 25 January revolution gave everyone hope for change, and the Baha’i hope for acceptance.

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Baha’s cheerful smiling face belies his family history. When Baha’s father, a Quranic sheikh in a village in Upper Egypt, converted to the Baha’i faith, their neighbours accepted his choice and the small community lived in peace. This changed early one morning in 2001, when armed men in army fatigues took away his father, mother, two uncles’ and one uncle’s wife. His father was sent to Tora prison for nine months, his mother for seven.

After this event and his father’s public admittal to being a Baha’i, “the village started to get a reputation for its Baha’is,” Baha remembers. “People from the other districts would gossip and it hurt the pride of the people in the village.”

All this came to a head in 2009, when Baha’s father and Baha’i activist, Basma Moussa, went on the TV show “Al-Haqiqa.” Gamal Abdel Rahim, a journalist on the show, accused them of being apostates. “You are an infidel and should be killed,” he told the two. “Go build a country in Israel.”

Soon afterwards, the Baha’i homes in Baha’s village were looted and torched. The Baha’is had to flee and have not returned since. Rahim, this year appointed editor-in-chief of Al-Gomhuria newspaper, congratulated the attackers.

Whether living accepted in communities around Egypt or being attacked for being Zionists spies, the fortunes of Egypt’s estimated 2,000 Baha’is have fluctuated since their arrival in the 1860s. Today, the draft Egyptian constitution only recognises three state religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism, meaning the Baha’is could be written out of Egypt’s future. So who are the Baha’is and what are they going to do about it?

One Thursday night in Cairo, Baha is sitting on a large grey sofa, it is one of many gathered in a circle in the white apartment. Young men and women trickle in to the room, greeting each other warmly. In what seems an unwritten rule, no one questions each other’s religion; attendees have come from all faiths. “We have come to discuss our similarities, not our differences,” announces the host as the session starts. Slips of paper are handed out, printed with sayings from the Torah, Quran, Bible and other holy books. Sitting here you might not even guess it is a Baha’i devotional meeting, save for the framed photograph standing in the corner; a portrait of a turbaned man with violet coloured eyes.

 Origins

The violet coloured eyes belonged to a Persian named Abdul Baha. He was the son of Mirza Hussein Ali, or Baha’u’llah, prophet of the Baha’i religion. Hussein Ali claimed to be the latest in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. He believed humans were progressing towards a global society without conflict or prejudice. He promoted gender equality, universal education and the elimination of poverty. Baha’is believed in the independent seeking of truth, abrogation of the clergy, and election of Baha’i representatives. For these beliefs, Baha’u’llah was persecuted in his birthplace of Iran and imprisoned in Acre, modern-day Israel, where he died.

Abdul Baha toured the Middle East after his father’s death, spreading word of the new religion. While in Lebanon he met a kindred spirit; the Egyptian Mohamed Abduh. Abdul Baha would go on to spread a faith which now has seven million followers and is the second most geographically widespread religion after Christianity. Abduh would become the father of the modern idea of an Islamic state and a great influence on Hasan Al-Bana, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their friendship indicates Egypt’s openness to Baha’is at the time.

Picture of Abdul Baha as a young man.

Picture of Abdul Baha as a young man.

“They discussed matters which concerned the east; how to progress and develop while protecting eastern and religious values and principles,” says historian Suheil Bushrui. “It was not an issue that he [Abdul Baha] was not a Muslim; at that time in the culture of the Arab world, and especially Egypt, there was a great deal of discussion and especially dialogue opening up and investigating new ideas.”

Early acceptance

By 1924, a Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly, the elected governing body of the Baha’i faith in Egypt, was established. It was the fourth in the world. Egypt became a hub for Baha’i pilgrims travelling to Acre. In 1925 in Beba, Upper Egypt, a Shari’a appellate court annulled the marriages of three Baha’i men who had married Muslim women. However, in so doing the judge legitimated the Baha’i faith, declaring it “a new religion, entirely independent with principles and laws of its own.” The Baha’i faith was officially recognised in 1934. By the late 1950s, there were approximately 5,000 Egyptian Baha’is, local Baha’i assemblies in 13 cities and towns and the community had purchased 17,000 square meters of land on the banks of the Nile for a Baha’i house of worship.

Basma Moussa, the Cairo University professor who appeared on television with Baha’s father, sits in her garden looking through photos. In one, her mother peers excitedly from behind a large crowd inside the National Spiritual Assembly building in Cairo.  She remembers her mother’s stories of the assembly, “there were always people coming and going, visits from different countries and an equal number of men and women, which was quite unusual at the time. People in the area accepted the assembly as something normal.”

Persecution

This acceptance was not to last. Forty years after Saad Zaghloul led a revolution under the slogan, “religion belongs to God and the homeland to all,” Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser became concerned about the rise of Baha’is and their links to a nascent expansionist Israel on his borders. In 1960, he issued Decree 263, paragraph six of which proclaimed “all Baha’i assemblies and centres [are] hereby dissolved, and their activities suspended.” Baha’is were allowed to practice in their homes, but all official Baha’i properties, funds and assets were confiscated. They have still not been returned.

Nasser’s actions were driven by a desire to reinforce secularism, but subsequent administrations would target Baha’is for their perceived heresy. The 1971 constitution promised, “the state shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites.” Four years later, however, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of Decree 263 and ruled constitutional protections only extended to the three “heavenly” religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

From 1965 to 2001 there were 236 arrests of Baha’is, charged under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code which proscribes “disparaging contempt of any divinely-revealed religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity or social harmony.” It was rare for these cases to be followed by prosecution; most were simply released after being detained. Albert-Ludwig University of Freiberg’s Professor of Islamic Studies, Johanna Pink, has suggested the government was not so much concerned with the Baha’i being a real threat, but was attempting to “legitimise” its authority in the eyes of the people, presenting themselves as “defenders” of Egypt as an Islamic state.

Public attitudes

The government’s opportunistic discrimination against Baha’is was based on the fact public perception was generally negative and based on rumours. After the 1960s, “the tone of the press became much more negative and even polemical,” wrote Pink in a 2005 paper on freedom of belief. She added that by 2005, a connection between the Baha’i faith and Zionism was taken for granted in the media. In 2008, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies noted many national newspapers’ reports “implie[d] direct incitement to hatred against Baha’i.” Baha’is were also often seen as a security threat, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, cites claims made most frequently by conservative clerics such as Abdel Moneim Al-Shahat, a prominent Salafi leader, that “Baha’is deserve no rights in a new constitution and…should be tried for treason.” From 1910 to 2010, 15 fatwas(Islamic religious rulings) labelled Baha’is heretics, based on the fact that Baha’is believed in a prophet after Muhammad.

All this affected the personal lives of the descendants of those converted by Baha’i Iranian traders years ago. Sumaya Mohamed Ramadan, winner of the Naguib Mafouz prize for literature, remembers her introduction to the Baha’i faith in England. “I saw a picture of this oriental man with a turban and I thought what is he doing in this living room in Brighton? I started to ask and I missed the train home that night.” Coming back, Ramadan’s conversion was accepted by her family, although occasionally her religion would cause others embarrassment. “One time we were talking about equality, everyone was agreeing with what I was saying and then I mentioned some of my ideas were based on the fact I was a Baha’i, and the whole room went silent,” she recalls.

Moussa graduated in the top ten of her class in dental medicine and started working in Cairo University. When her colleagues questioned her different fasting patterns, she revealed her religion, “some started not to speak to me or eat with me.” Some started to accuse her of missing work, she says. Moussa was continually overlooked for promotion and spent a long time fighting the administration of her university. “I lost five years of my life and career complaining about it and I had to do it alone,” she says. “I couldn’t mention the discrimination was because I was Baha’i.”

A more positive wave of support followed a court case in 2009, when Baha’is won the right to declare their religion on their ID card. Not declaring their religion would have removed their entitlement to a range of rights including education, housing and franchise. Their only other option was to commit fraud or lie about their religion. Many media outlets highlighted the case, helping create more public understanding. “The media was biased before… in 2009 there was a legitimate and neutral report,” a reporter in Masry Al Youm told Daniel Perrell, author of a 2010 study on Baha’i rights. Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also got behind the case. Despite this, Pink says other “Egyptian human rights groups have been reluctant to take up the case of unpopular minority religious groups like the Baha’i Faith… fear[ing] that this might compromise their ability to speak out on other issues which they consider more important.”

The revolution

The 25 January revolution gave everyone hope for change, and the Baha’i hope for acceptance. The Baha’is of Egypt released an open letter to the nation enthusing about the possibilities for the future.

Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly before 1950. Basma Moussa / Daily News Egypt

Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly before 1950.
Basma Moussa / Daily News Egypt

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البهائيون فى مصر يطالبون بتطبيق قانون الاحوال الشخصيةلهم Bahais demand inclusion in unified personal status law

22-06-2010

اشار موقع ايجبت ديلى نيوز يوم 18 يونيو 2010 مايلى وكتبه عصام فاضل عن مطالبة البهائيين بتطبيق قانون الاحوال الشخصية على مقتضى الشريعة البهائية.حتى يتسنى للبهائيين استخراج بطاقة الرقم القومى
By Essam Fadl / Daily News Egypt June 18, 2010, 4:00 pm

CAIRO: Egypt’s Bahais are demanding they be included in the unified personal status law for non-Muslims or the formation of a new legislation that includes them altogether.

Bahais, whose numbers range between 2,000 to 3,000 in Egypt, can’t document their

marriages because the state doesn’t recognize them.

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