Egypt: What Salafis want
from Coptic girls
by Elizabeth Kendal
In Islam, a child is given the religion of the father the day he or she is born. In Egypt, as in most Muslim countries, when children turn 16 they receive a State-issued identity (ID) card with their State-designated religion stamped on it. Those born to fathers registered as Muslim are deemed Muslim regardless of the actual belief of the father or the child because identity/affiliation is far more important than faith in Islam.
As Muslims, they are not permitted to leave Islam and they are obliged to live according to Sharia Law: observing food and clothing restrictions, remaining separated from Jews and Christians, and other stipulations.
Furthermore a Muslim woman must marry a Muslim man.
Christians who wish to convert to Islam—as nominal Christians sometimes do, mostly for pragmatic reasons—find getting a new ID card is easy.
However, as Muslims are not permitted to leave Islam, their religious identity may not be changed. In recent years two extremely courageous Egyptian fathers, both converts from Islam, have sued the Interior Ministry for their right to change their religious identity. Both were motivated by concern for their children whom the State deems Muslim. Both cases failed because the courts would not permit apostasy from Islam.
Death threats forced both families into hiding. Because their children are deemed Muslim, their daughters will be obliged by law to marry Muslim men and their sons, though free to marry a Christian, would be obliged by law to raise their children as Muslims.
It is well known that fundamentalist Muslim men are being encouraged to seduce and marry Christian girls. When married to Muslim men, the Christian girls are not only prevented from increasing the Christian demographic, they are actually used to increase the Muslim population.
Fearing the influence of Christians, Salafi Muslims (hard-line Sunni fundamentalists) oppose all interfaith marriage and want it criminalised; they also want the legal marriage age for girls dropped from 18 to nine.
It is well known that Salafis kidnap Coptic Christian girls for forced conversion and forced marriage to Muslim men to ensure Christian wombs are producing Muslim babies. In these cases the Salafis always insist that the girls have converted freely, ensuring that the girls cannot be rescued. As soon as the Salafis assert the girl is a convert who deserves freedom of religion, the police, local officials and wider Muslim community will rally to hold on to her as one of their own.
Born on 1 August 1998 in the town of el-Dabaa, 130km south of Mersa Matrouh (north-east of Cairo), Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek is only 14. She was last seen on 30 September, entering a stationery shop near her school.
After her father filed a missing persons report with the police, he received a call telling him that he will never see his daughter again.
According to a school friend, the 27-year-old shop owner—a Salafist and the son of a local Salafi leader—had been pursuing Sarah for some time.
He now stands accused of abducting her. On 28 October the Salafist Front issued a statement that Sarah, who they maintain is not under-aged, has converted to Islam freely and married a Muslim man.
The case should prove a serious test for President Morsi, for Sarah is under-age according to Egyptian law which states the marriageable age for girls is 18. Will President Morsi bend for the Salafis out of respect for fundamentalist Islam or will he demand that Egyptian law be upheld and Sarah returned to her parents? Will he follow other precedents and have Sarah placed in a secure Muslim girls home until she is of marriageable age or will he allow Sarah the opportunity to freely declare her true faith and then protect her? Egyptian human rights organisations, including the National Council of Women, are lobbying for Sarah to be reunited with her family without delay. Still the prospects are not good. Surely a more obscene abuse of human rights would be hard to find.
Please pray specifically that God will:
wcomfort, strengthen, preserve and ultimately rescue Sarah Abdelmalek (14); may he have mercy on this family and all families likewise grieving the loss of their abducted daughters;
wredeem this case to draw international attention to the plight of hundreds of Coptic Christian girls who are abducted, raped and trafficked across religious lines; may the LORD of hosts expose and destroy this obscene trade;
wenlighten many—Muslims included—to the terrible implications ofIslam’s apostasy law: not merely that it mandates death but that it forces people to live their whole lives as prisoners of Sharia, with no means of escape, generation after generation.
Elizabeth Kendal is Adjunct Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Melbourne School of Theology and an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She writes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC). For more information, updates and helpful links see Elizabeth Kendal’s blog ‘Religious Liberty Monitoring’ http://elizabethkendal.blogspot.com