These days, one of Egypt’s most well-known converts to Christianity is living a mobile lifestyle, but not by choice.
Maher El Gohary, the second Egyptian to legally request to change his religious status, and his 15-year-old daughter, Dina, are living like “fugitives,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.
Every few months, the father and daughter move to a new apartment to escape the Muslim extremists who want them dead for leaving Islam. No matter where they are, Gohary is always in suspense and tries to be as low-key as possible to escape the attention of neighbors.
“I'm not so much afraid of the government anymore,” Gohary told the Times. “It's conservative Muslims who worry me. Some of them believe whoever kills me is rewarded. When I go to court, I'm surrounded by police protection."
Gohary is the second known convert to file a request to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian. In June, a Cairo judge rejected his petition even though he provided a baptism certificate and a letter of acceptance into the Coptic Orthodox Church as the judge had requested.
The judge made the excuse that the church deals with Christians and not with Muslims who convert to Christianity.
It was the first time the Coptic Church had issued a letter recognizing the baptism of a convert.
The result of Gohary’s case is similar to that of Mohammed Hegazy, the first convert to legally request to change his religious status. The 2008 case ended up with Egypt’s Supreme Court judge saying that Hegazy can believe what he wants in his heart, but that he cannot change his religion in his legal documents.
“Islam is the only thing Egyptians are 150 percent sure of. If you reject Islam, you shake their belief and you are an apostate, an infidel,” Gohary said. “I can see in the eyes of Muslims how much my conversion has really hurt them.”
Egypt’s population is 90 percent Muslim, with Christians making up the remaining proportion. Though Christians are regularly persecuted and oppressed for their faith, by comparison, they fare much better than converts from Islam.
Abdul Aziz Zakareya, a cleric and former professor at Al Azhar University – the school that co-sponsored President Obama’s Cairo speech in July – said that converts like Gohary “should be killed by authorities.”
“Public conversions can lead to very dangerous consequences,” he said to the Times. “The spreading of a phenomenon like this in a Muslim society can cause many unwanted results and tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Because of the danger, Muslim background believers are forced to worship in underground churches and live with the constant fear of being murdered not only by Muslim strangers but also by family members.
Dina said a bearded man once grabbed her and said “if you and your dad don’t stop, I’ll kill you both.’”
Gohary said he came to Christ in his mid-twenties by reading the Bible after living with a Christian roommate in police academy. What drew him to Christianity, he said, are the teachings about love and forgiveness.
“In Islam, if you steal your hands are cut off, but in Christianity you can be forgiven,” he said. “This compassion is what attracted me.”
His first marriage ended in divorce when his wife refused to accept Christianity. Dina, who identifies herself as Christian, is the daughter produced by his first marriage.
His second wife converted to Christianity, which resulted in angry family members vandalizing their farm. Out of fear, the couple moved to Cyprus. But then Gohary moved back to Egypt to make sure his daughter was being raised a Christian.
Dina says her mother, who shares custody of her with her father, forced her to wear a hijab and go to mosques against her will.
Gohary’s lawyer said in June that they plan to appeal and take his case to a higher court and fight for the convert’s right to be legally recognized as a Christian.