COPTS CRUSADE TO BRING BACK CONVERTED GIRLS
By Richard Engel
Middle East Times
Converting from Christianity to Islam is easy, but converting back can
be problematic in Egypt.
Helmi Riziq, a driver from a small town near Aswan, told the Middle
East Times he has not been allowed to see his daughter Ulfat since she
was lured by a Muslim boy at school and convinced to convert to Islam.
Riziq said the boy, who he claims is a member of the Egypt's largest
militant Islamic group, Al Gamma Islamiya, illegally married his
15-year-old daughter Ulfat by having the police forge her birth certificate.
"I went to see her and the [new husband] said, 'Sit on the ground
you kaffir'," said Riziq. "Then he demanded EŁ50,000 if I want her
The families of Mervat Kamal Youaqim, Samya Zarif Sema'am and Hanan
Youssef Riziq claim their little girls, all under 16, were manipulated
into converting by Muslim boys bearing gifts and promises of a better
life. The families contend that the conversions should be illegal since
the girls were underage at the time.
According to Al Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, no
girl under the age of 16 can convert to Islam. Converting before the age
of 16 is also prohibited by the Egyptian Child Protection Law, which
declares that anyone under the age of 18 is a minor and therefore not able
to make legally binding decisions.
While only Riziq claims that the "kidnapping" is the work of Al
Gamma Islamiya, the Center for Human Rights and Legal Aid (CHARLA) is
currently defending 13 Coptic families who have not been allowed to see
their daughters since they converted to Islam. The center explains that
while the conversion of girls under 16 violated a number of Egyptian
laws, the government's unwillingness to clarify laws governing civil
relations between Copts, Egypt's largest Christian minority, and Muslims has
led administrators at police stations or legal officers who handle
inheritance to refer to civil codes of sharia laws in the eighth century
Hanafi school for guidance.
"The places where they are performing the conversions are
responsible for contracts, not conversions," says Tarek Khater, a lawyer at
"They base the conversions on Abu Hanifa, which says a girl can
convert when she is seven years old. But if the father claims legal
guardianship over his daughter they refuse because in sharia no Christian can
have legal guardianship over a Muslim," says fellow CHARLA lawyer Samir
Baguri explained that most underage conversions involve a fledgling
relationship between a Muslim and Christian girl, a speedy conversion
and then a swift paper marriage.
A person can convert simply by repeating the shahada, "There is no
god but God, and Mohammed is the prophet of God," in the presence of
two witnesses at a police station or any administrative center empowered
to notarize contracts or establish power of attorney.
Riziq Nawar Riziq, a Coptic farmer from Beni Suef in Middle Egypt,
wrote a letter to Minister of Interior Hassan Al Alfi asking for help
to cancel the marriage between a Muslim and his 15-year-old daughter
"My story began when my eldest son Samir befriended a young man
called Mohammed Helmi who lives in Diabia Al Wasta and works in a poultry
farm in my village. This man used to spend long hours with my son in
the house where he saw my precious daughter Isis," writes Nawar.
"I trusted this young man and thought he would respect my house and
his faithful friendship with my son. But he deceived my daughter Isis
and took advantage of her thoughtless whims, her wild feelings, her
young age and her teenage feelings. He spoke words of love to my daughter
and she liked him," Nawar continues.
"While I was away Samir took her to our neighbors' house and when I
returned my sons and I searched all through the town until we were told
she had been taken to the police station and that she wanted to marry
Samir and change her religion," wrote Nawar.
"The Al Wasta police who are supposed to protect my daughter from
this criminal act assisted in the conspiracy. Although Isis was at the
police station we were prevented from going in. It was very sad because
the police guarded her during her wedding," wrote Nawar, who added that
he has not been allowed to see Isis since she was married.
"My tears are coming from my heart for my missing daughter and for
my miserable life since she was taken away from me," he wrote.
Baguri confirmed that the new Muslim families do prevent the
families from seeing their former families. Egyptian civil law further
prohibits a girl under 21 from marrying without the consent of her father.
Morris Sadik, head of the Center for Egyptian Human Rights and the
Consolidation of National Unity, claims to have files of 200 underage
conversions and marriages, which he terms "kidnapping" and "rape".
However, he was unable to provide the Middle East Times with records of more
than 17 incidents.
Marilynn Tadross, deputy director of the Legal Research and
Resource Center for Human Rights (LRRC), feels that while the conversions may
be illegal, they are a way children can elope with a sweetheart or
break out of difficult family situations.
"When I am a teenager and I fall in love with the neighbor's son we
don't date in Egypt, we just get married and I know that because I am
underage the police will bring me back to my parents, what I do is
simply convert and then the parents can't get me back," said Tadross.
Tadross explained that the crusade to fight underage conversions
can be damaging to the girl as they often convert to avoid family
problems. She told the story of a13-year-old girl from Cairo who converted to
Islam to escape beatings from her father and brother.
"Her brothers caught her kissing the neighbor's boy under the
stairs and they beat [and] electrocuted her," explained Tadross.
"Thank God the girl managed to escape and she went to this boy and
decided to convert. We do not have a system in Egypt in which a child
can accuse the parents," she said.
Tadross explained that after Sadek's center complained that the
girl had been "kidnapped" the police eventually returned her to her
This article would have appeared in the 23 June 1997 issue of The
Middle East Times.
This article was mailed from Middle East Times
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