Egyptian Christian Convert Vows Not to Give Up

Death threats, his family's renunciation of him, and condemnation from most of Egypt have not deterred Christian convert Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy from pursuing his historic case to seek official recognition for his conversion from Islam to Christianity.

"I know there are fatwas (religious edicts) to shed my blood, but I will not give up and I will not leave the country," said 25-year-old Hegazy to The Associated Press from his hideout last Thursday.

Hegazy has been in hiding – often sleeping in different places each night – since Muslims threatened to kill him for leaving Islam.

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The Christian convert is currently suing Egypt for rejecting his earlier application to officially change his religion on his identification papers.

His wife, Katerina, who is also a Christian convert, is four months pregnant with their son. Hegazy said that his unborn son is the inspiration for wanting to officially change his religion.

"My wife is pregnant. I want my son to be born within my own religion and for the fact that he is Christian to be written on official papers," said Hegazy, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Egypt, a child's registered religion is based on the father's official faith. As a result, Hegazy has to change his religion to Christianity in order for his son to be raised openly as a Christian and be able to enroll in Christian religious classes at school, wed in a church, and attend church services openly without harassment.

Hegazy converted to Christianity nine years ago and attended church in his hometown of Port Said in northeastern Egypt.

"I started readings and comparative studies in religions," he said to AP. "I found that I am not consistent with Islam teachings. The major issue for me was love. Islam wasn't promoting love as Christianity did."

Since filing the petition in early August, Hegazy has gone through three lawyers with the first lawyer Mamdouh Nakhlah dropping the case after allegedly receiving death threats, according to Compass Direct News.

However, the lawyer said at a press conference that he did not want to cause greater division in the country and blamed Hegazy for not giving him the proper paperwork proving Egyptian officials rejected his application.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox Coptic Church – Egypt's largest Christian tradition – has distanced itself from the controversy.

"There is no link between the church and the Hegazy affair," said Father Marcos, a bishop close to Pope Shenouda III, according to the Middle East Times on Tuesday.

There is no law in Egypt banning conversion from Islam, but the country's Muslims look upon apostasy very negatively with some even calling for punishment by death.

Hegazy said he was detained and tortured by Egyptian police for three days after they found out about his conversion, he told AP. He was again arrested in 2001 after he published a book of poems criticizing the country's security services.

Hegazy's case has put the media spotlight on the inequality of religious conversion in Egypt. Although it is close to impossible for Muslims to legally change their status to Christianity, Christians are free to convert to Islam.

Between 2000 and 2006, some 7,000 Christians legally became Muslims, according to a statement last year by Egypt's top Muslim cleric, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi.

Egypt's population of 80 million is composed of about 90 percent Muslims and only about 10 percent Christians. Although the percentage of Christians in Egypt is small, it represents the largest Christian population in the Middle East.

In September, the country will confront another convert case when Egypt's Supreme Court hears the case of 12 former Coptic Christians who want to legally revert back to Christianity.

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