CAIRO: In a landmark decision, a Cairo family court gave a Christian mother custody of her nine-year-old son after her ex-husband had converted to Islam and filed a custody claim.
Judge Khalil Mostafa based the Dec. 28 ruling on the recently-amended child law.
The husband had converted to Islam two years ago. This facilitated the father’s custody claim since legally children must follow their father’s religion.
The new custody law however, gives the mother custody over kids until they are 18, but when they reach 15, they are allowed to choose which parent they prefer to live with.
Some interpretations of Sharia stipulate that when a father converts to Islam, his children must be raised as Muslims. This explanation, opponents argue, contradicts the principles of citizenship rights enshrined in the constitution, which do not discriminate between religions.
“Some court rulings [in such cases] denigrate Christianity, stating for instance that the child of a Muslim must not eat or drink what is forbidden in Islam. They ignore citizenship laws, Naguib Gobraiel, lawyer and head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) told Daily News Egypt.
Gobraiel, who is handling a similar high-profile case involving twins Andrew and Mario, said that he will sue the Ministry of Interior if he needs to.
“Our lives have completely changed since this case began, the twins’ mother Camillia told Daily News Egypt. “First the boys’ birth certificates were changed and then they were forced to take Islamic studies exams at school, then came the long legal battle.
Camillia sued her husband in the summer of 2006 when she lost custody of her children.
In 2007 she received a fatwa from Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa stating that the children should follow their Muslim father’s religion unless they convert and change their religion after puberty. He also said that it is not forbidden in Islam for a mother of a different faith to raise the children.
Despite that, in September 2008, she lost the appeal.
“Camillia’s story was tragic but the recent verdict is a window of hope for her and many others, Gobraiel said.
But the bereaved mother is equally optimistic and skeptical of the legal system.
“The courts never for a second considered the personal heartache I suffer everyday knowing that they can come in and take my kids away anytime, she added.
“But maybe the new verdict will give cases like mine creditability and weight, maybe.
As a last resort, she filed another appeal to the Public Prosecutor in November 2008, knowing however, that this new battle could take many years to win.