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Freedom of religion in doubt

Concerns for minority religious groups after contentious article is included in proposed constitution

Ambiguity surrounds the definition of faith in the proposed constitution Photo by Mohamed Omar
Ambiguity surrounds the definition of faith in the proposed constitution
Photo by Mohamed Omar

Ambiguity surrounds the definition of faith in the proposed constitution. Article 43 of the newly passed draft constitution expresses the freedom of religion, but the document begins by declaring that Islam is the religion of the state and that Shari’a is the main source of legislation. The constitution then makes clear that the canonical texts of Christianity and Judaism should be used to govern the personal lives of their adherents.

The beginning of chapter two of the constitution, concerning moral and political rights, starts with the statement that “Freedom of belief is inviolable.” However, it then goes on to say the state guarantees the freedom to practice “the heavenly religions.” This phrase in Arabic is understood to mean the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Therefore, this article does not provide any religion falling outside that definition with a guarantee of protection. Prompting concern within the Baha’i community in particular.

“Religion is a right, but they didn’t allow everyone to pray,” said lawyer and activist Malek Adly. “Bahá’í in Egypt cannot pray according to this draft, because they are not Muslims, Christians, or Jews.”

Magdy Qorqor, a professor at Cairo University and a constitutional expert, responded to this criticism bluntly, “Bahá’í is not a religion. Mohammed, Issa, and Mosses, those are the religions from God. Anything after that is not a religion. Islam is the last religion.”

The contentious article is also increasing tensions with the Shi’a community. Bahaa Anwar, a Shi’a community spokesperson, said that the article is, “against religion itself, in the Quran you are free to be a believer or not. With this article, you take the choice from me.”

Anwar cited as an example of this year’s Ashura holiday when Shi’as were refused entry to the holy Hussein Mosque in Cairo. Anwar said that the worshipers were turned away by a united force of policemen and Salafi militiamen.

“This is not the constitution of a modern, civilian country like Egypt,” Anwar added.

Adly and his fellow activists have not given up their calls for reforming the constitution. Speaking from Tahrir Square on Friday he said, “We are trying to press on the authorities and the constituent committees to restart their work.”


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  • Just Observing

    Dear Constitutional Assembly members, please read. You may expand your knowledge a little: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religions_and_spiritual_traditions

  • Stephanie

    So sad to see this. Egypt HAD a 5,000 year tradition of FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE.

    This basically means I cannot come to Egypt if I am not of the Abrahamic faith. What violence would men do against me if I were to peacefully follow, say, the Buddhist faith? Or better yet, if I worshipped the Goddess Isis? What would I suffer for following my conscience?

    What is next, destroying the pyramids? Because some misguided man thinks these great achievements of architecture and geometry and labor “offend God”?? If they did, would not God strike them down? And if our Almighty Creator wished for us all to be of one faith, would he not have simply made us that way?

    Repect is the only way. You cannot govern a man’s heart. You cannot put the Prayer Police in his living room to lock him up if he “does it wrong”. You are wrong to prevent the peaceful public practice of another man’s faith. RESPECT is the foundation of a civilization. Intolerance is the foundation of barbarism.

    I have faith, I hope, that the beautiful, strong Egyptian people, with such a RICH heritage of tolerance and intellectual achievement, will NOT allow this. To my Muslim friends: even though it is in your favor, do not forget that once discrimination is introduced into a society, it rarely satisfies itself with the intended target! One day tables might turn, and what would you do if your faith was banned? If you wouldn’t want it down to you, please stand in brotherhood with others!

    Let’s stop trying to “defend” God–he doesn’t need us to–and He might be happier if we were just to LOVE and RESPECT eachother.

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