Christian convert says he'll stay the course, despite threats

Daily News Egypt
8 Min Read

CAIRO: “I don’t want people to get the impression that I’m backing down. I plan to go on with the case, 25-year-old Muslim convert to Christianity Mohamed Higazy told Daily News Egypt.

Higazy’s case reignited debate over freedom of faith, raising sectarian tensions when he attempted to change his religion and that of his wife from Islam to Christianity on his national identity card.

Higazy’s lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhla publicly abandoned the case in a press conference last Tuesday for the sake of “national unity.

“Nakhla abandoned my case out of fear, because he was threatened, said Higazy who believes Nakhla’s reasons for leaving the case were simply excuses to defuse the intense pressures to which he was subjected.

Although ample rumors surround Higazy’s political identity, he asserts that he was only a member of the Masr El Umm political party and the National Kefaya Movement for Change.

“I left Kefaya because it became dominated by Islamists and nationalists, which changed the movement’s secular identity, Higazy said.

On Aug. 8 Higazy claims he was pursued by security personnel on motorbikes as he left the office of a lawyer he would not name, who is to take over the case after Nakhla’s retreat.

A believer in Christianity since he was sixteen years old, Higazy confirmed that he was baptized a year ago and tenaciously intends to stay the course and not leave the country. When asked why he wanted to publicly antagonize a religiously conservative society at this point in time, Higazy avers that his motives are iconoclastic.

“I don’t want to be a hypocrite and the same goes for my future son, who would be a Christian in private and a Muslim in public. I find this to be an emotionally and mentally torturous task for a child, Higazy said.

On the fatwa issued by Sheikh Youssef El Badry that approved the spilling of his blood, as well as the legal action he is spearheading against him, Higazy was ironically defiant to the precarious prospects ahead.

“All Sheikh El Badry does is file complaints, eat, and get married, so I’m not surprised by his fatwa legitimizing the spilling of my blood, Higazy said.

While a number of pundits maintained that Higazy’s motives are simply to disturb the peace and maybe make some financial gains, Higazy says his conversion to Christianity came after lengthy studies, as well as a supernatural experience where he saw Christ, when he was sixteen years old.

Higazy’s father has also filed an incompetence lawsuit questioning his son’s mental health.

One of Nakhla’s complaints against Higazy was that he seemed in closer contact with the press than with his own lawyer.

“I was shocked to find that journalists knew his correct address and phone number, while that information was never made available to me, his lawyer, Nakhla said at last week’s press conference.

Nakhla and the Word Center for Human Rights which he heads, has come under fire after the controversial case was filed. The previously mentioned former parliament member and Islamic thinker, Youssef El Badri has been among the most vocal opponents of the Word Center and Higazy’s case as a whole.

Yesterday El Badry and eleven lawyers filed a complaint to the general prosecutor requesting the closure of the Word Center for Human Rights.

“I want him to receive the death penalty if he persists in his infidelity, but if he repents and returns to Islam I will personally reward him with all that God may provide at my hands, to satisfy all his needs, El Badry told Daily News Egypt.

Although El Badry asserts that the punishment for straying from Islam is death, he maintains that there are precursors to the death penalty. “He must first be asked to repent, if he does not do so then he is to be hit on the neck, and if he persists, then punishment by death must be implemented, El Badri said.

But he stresses that it would be a sin for an ordinary citizen to execute the punishment. “It is the leader of the nation who has the right to implement the punishment, he explained.

Even if the convert is pardoned by the president, El Badri finds the prospect of letting a convert go unpunished “unacceptable according to Sharia. El Badri cites hadiths (sayings of Prophet Mohamed [PBUH] in the book of Bukhaari, one of the earliest scholars to compile the hadith) to reinforce his argument that Islamic law dictates the death penalty to those who leave the faith.

But Islamic thinkers like Gamal El Banna believe a cornerstone of Islam is “freedom of belief, which conforms with the Quranic verse that says “there is no compulsion in religion.

“Islam is based on an unfettered intellectual acceptance of its doctrines. The Quran itself has left the door wide open for freedom of belief, he told Daily News Egypt.

El Banna, who has written extensively on the subject, criticized the acquiescence of Muslim clerics for the last 30 years on the subject.

“There is not one word in the Quran dictating the death penalty on those who depart from the Muslim faith. The Quran never mentions a worldly punishment, but stresses punishment in the afterlife, El Banna said.

According to El Banna, the hadith cited by El Badry from the book of Bukhaari, which says that “you may kill those who swap their religion is not uniformly accepted by hadith scholars and contradicts the life and actions of the Prophet himself.

“There were individuals who strayed from the faith during the life of the Prophet, whom he never punished, El Banna said.

He argues that the idea of killing a convert began during Islam’s “backward medieval period, where the death penalty upon conversion was used as a political tool to protect rulers.

“Islam does not need a sword of punishment to protect it, because if it is not based on genuine faith then it is worth nothing. And El Badry’s claims are erroneous in all respects, El Banna said.

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