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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Church Construction and the Dhimma Pact: the Case of the Diocese of Maghagha and Edwah

A post by Mary Abdelmasih reports that Bishop Agathon, 75 clergy and nearly 150,000 Copts from the Diocese of Maghagha and Edwah have staged a sit-in in Maghagha since last Sunday (25 July 2010) protesting against obstructions to church building works.  (Maghagha is 180 km south of Cairo.)

The crux of the issue is that Governor of Minya, Ahmad Dia-Eldin has suspended a license to build a church building in the Diocesan complex.  This was only after the church, acting in good faith, had pulled down the old structure to make way for the new building.  The bishop and his flock are holding services in a makeshift tent in temperatures exceeding 45C (113F): they report that stones are being hurled into the tent by Muslims.

This story reminded me of the fate of a protestant Church near Simpang Lima in Banda Aceh.  Dating back to the first half of the 20th century, this old wooden building was burned down around 1990.  After this the congregation sought permission to rebuild. However securing a building permit proved very difficult in Islamic Aceh.  The last time I visited, in the early 1990's, the congregation was meeting in much reduced circumstances in a garage.

Another incident, which took place some ten years later was an agreement, signed by Christians in South Aceh, to destroy some of their own places of worship. The remaining small places of Christian worship were permitted 'as a sign of Islamic tolerance'.  This whole arrangement was established, according to the wording of the agreement, 'with all sincerity and a sense of brotherhood to create an atmosphere of living in harmony between the religious communities.' (The agreement is documented in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, pp.268-9).

All over the world, in sharia-compliant societies, Christians have great difficulty getting permits to build churches, and can face violent reprisals if they are considered to have built one without a permit.  In Egypt a new church building requires presidential approval, and this is not easily secured.  In Saudi Arabia, despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of Christians, who are foreign workers, no place of Christian worship is permitted to exist.

The root of all this intolerance and hostility is the dhimma pact, an institution of sharia law which determines the conditions under which Christian worship is tolerated in lands conquered by Islam.  The very first of the dhimma’s conditions, as listed in the famous Pact of Umar, is an agreement by conquered Christians that "we made a condition on ourselves that we will neither erect in our areas ... a church, ... nor restore any place of worship that needs restoration".  This ancient restriction continues to exert a depressing influence on the lives of Christians who are exposed to sharia conditions.

In Egypt today, both official legislation and the sentiments of the Muslim street work in unison to imposing this dhimmi restriction upon the Copts, that they must never, except with great difficulty, and at great cost, build or renovate a church. This is both a top-down, as well as a bottom-up restriction: legislation and officialdom enforce it, and local Muslims expect it.

The contrast with the freedoms enjoyed by Muslims in Western nations, where mosques have been springing up in their thousands, and only rarely opposed, must count as one of the great human rights ironies of our times.

It is time for this gross lack of reciprocity between religions to come to an end.  Let all Christians who enter into religious dialogue with Muslims request, as one of the primary points of their conversation, that the conditions of the dhimma pact be renounced by the Muslims, its grim historical legacy be acknowledged and repented of, and that both parties commit to work together to establish principles of reciprocity and equality between religions without which harmony cannot be achieved.

As a practical starting point, I call upon Christians who live in the West and are engaged in dialogue with Muslims, to invite their dialogue partners to make a public statement denouncing the restrictions on building and renovating churches in Egypt, and requesting that Christians be as free to build churches in Muslim-majority lands as Muslims are to establish mosques in Rome, London or Sydney.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nagla Al-Imam's Statement

This is a translation of a statement from Nagla al-Imam after she was detained and beaten by Egyptian  security personnel. It documents her detention and bashing by an official referred to as Basha 'Sir'.
This is based on a video broadcast on Al-Tarek TV, posted to YouTube on July 8, 2010.
We have not received news about what has happened to Nagla since her more recent disappearance.

I was standing peacefully in front of the Cathedral. I was with my children. We were carrying the cross and a coffin. 
This is our right! It is our right to believe either in the cross, in Christ, in salvation, or to believe in the death sentence. We are apostates. According to the law in this country, we are apostates. We are prepared to serve the punishment for apostasy. We have no problem with this. But the real problem is that for almost a year, I have been under house arrest inside my house, jailed inside my own house. There is no difference: [going from] one cell to another will make no difference. Also they aborted all my attempts to speak out or to speak about Christ. They aborted our rights to become Christians. They threatened us; they accused us;  they degraded us; and they did with us whatever they were able to. But was that all? [No] They have accused us with doubts and suspicions for which no one has made them accountable.
I parked my car in front of the Cathedral. They told me “We need you for few seconds.” I thought they were from the church. I was holding my children’s hands when two men called my name. I thought they were  from the church. They told me, “We want you for few moments, just a small stroll, you will be talking with Sir [Basha].” 
I anticipated what was going to happen. One of our brothers [a fellow Christian] was there and he saw what happened.  I told him to take the children to our church.  
I want to draw your attention to something. The state security offices, the place where they interrogate people, is in Madinat Nasr. It is a big building, newly built, and specializes in such matters in particular. I know this because I am a lawyer. 
After waiting for four hours in an office, I asked, “What is the name of the colonel?” They said, “You will know in a moment.” I was anticipating everything which might happen. For four hours I waited in the office. I experienced worries, fear, anticipation, waiting and many other things. 
Then 'Sir' came. He said, “Yes my lady, why are you making trouble for us? Don’t you want to be safe?” I said, “It is you who do not want to be safe. You have restrained me from traveling, and I am a Human Rights activist.” He said, “Yes.” Then he went to take hold of the cross [on a chain around Nagla's neck] and asked, “Who is this?”
This time my words were harsh. I told him, “Take your hands off the cross, for you don’t know its worth.” He said, “No, I know its worth.” He held the chain and tightened it around my neck. He was showing that he was threatening to cut the chain, or to hurt my neck, or do anything. 
Then I answered him. I said, “If you touch me, I will react severely. If you are a real man, hit me.” He did not give me a chance to complete the sentence. Holding my hair, he bashed my face against the desk. He slapped my face more than once, and punched me in the ribs, and on my arm. By this time I was bleeding from the side of my mouth. 
I told him, “Proceed with your documentation, if you have any.” He said, “I don’t have any documentation. I am just telling you this.  This is just having fun. If you don't want to be safe, you will receive what you have not expected.” 
I said, “What is it that I could not expect? Will you put me in jail? So many other converts are in jail. You will kill me? So many converts has been killed.” I told him I was not afraid; “I am not afraid because I know where I will be going, but what about you, who do not know where will you be going.” [Here Nagla refers to a difference between Christian and Muslim beliefs: Christians have assurance of salvation, while Muslims are not sure of their eternal destiny. Cf Sura 4:9, where Muhammad says 'I do not know what will happen to me or to you.'] He was provoked and told me, “I am not going to hit you any more, all that I am going to do is that I will give way to some women. [The word "women" used here is a derogatory term for women in Arabic. This could refer to men with no manners, women hired to do the wrong thing, such as torturers, to female prison guards, or to female prisoners.] “You are a lady lawyer and you know very well what they can do to you. Do not leave your house! Until you go out on a trolley to your grave.”
When I went back [home] I couldn’t sleep. My ribs and my body were hurting, my neck and my shoulders... But my real hurt was not the [physical] pain.  My real hurt was that there was no real reason for them to do this.  I was simply a piece of flesh, an object of defamation and slander. I was always damaged goods [lit. ‘stained’]
There is no safety — human safety, worldly safety, — apart from the true safety I found with the Lord Jesus Christ.  [I am] without work; threatened to be deregistered; without an income; without family.  I have no one but enemies. Except that I do not regard them as enemies, but as agents of the evil one [Satan]
I felt this was God’s discipline: He was teaching me what it means to be humble; what it means that the Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace; what it means to focus my sight on Christ alone, and not to depend on human hands.  I have learned a lot this year.
The next day I did a medical report. I am not ready to forsake my rights.  I am keeping the name of this colonel for my self. I am an Egyptian citizen, like the apostle Paul who said “I am a Roman citizen.” I am an Egyptian citizen, and it is my right to follow the religion of my choice. I am a rational adult. I have harmed no one. This religion [Christianity] does not seek to promote terrorism and killing. On the contrary, it is the religion of peace and love.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nagla al-Imam has disappeared

Some more news on Ms Nagla Al-Imam:

The web site for  Al-Tarek, which is the TV station Nagla al-Imam broadcasts from, has posted a message (click here for a Google Translation) the heading of which reads: "The disappearance of Nagla Al-Imam and her children".
It says that Al-Tarek staff have been unable to make contact with  Ms Al-Imam for many days and it has come to their attention that people who are close to her cannot find her or her children anywhere.  It also reports that Al-Tarek's office in Egypt has been vandalized by Egyptian security forces.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nagla al-Imam, convert to Christianity, sings about religious persecution

This is an extraordinarily courageous YouTube video of Nagla Al-Imam, an Egyptian attorney and prominent human rights activist, who has recently converted from Islam to Christ. In this video she sings a spiritual song together with her two children, asking Christ to hold their hands and strengthen them as they go through the high waves of persecution.

Ms Al-Imam posted this video after she was bashed by the Egyptian security forces: the bruises are clearly visible on her face, and she can barely open her mouth to sing.

In a video interview posted on July 8 with Free Christian Voice, Ms Al-Imam reported that she was taken into custody by the Egyptian security forces. The colonel took her by the hair and bashed her head against his desk, which is the reason for the bruises on her face. She also broke a tooth. She says that the colonel tightened the chain around her neck, mocking her cross on the chain, and told her to watch her neck.  She also said that he told her if she dares to come out of her house he will send some "women" and she should be expecting what will happen to her then. She said that she has not worked for the past year and she has been threatened with being deregistered as a lawyer, and false statements have been made on her behalf to defame her.

According to Islamic law, any Muslim who leaves Islam loses custody of their children. The children are to be placed in the custody of a Muslim relative. This is one of the points made in apostasy fatwas (rulings) issued by the Chief Scholar of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, His Excellency Shaykh Sa‘id Hijjawi, during the time when he was Grand Mufti of Jordan (from 1992-2007).  (The Aal al-Bayt Institute was the sponsor of the Common Word letter to the Christian world.)

Islam is the only world religion which demands that people who leave it should be killed. As a graduate of Al-Azhar university, Ms Al-Imam is an expert in Sharia law.  She knows this.  Also, Ms Al-Imam's decision to sing this song with her children would have been done in the full knowledge that, even if she escapes with her life, she is liable to lose custody of her children. Moreover, as an apostate from Islam, Ms Al-Imam has become a legal non-person.  She would be unable to act in her own defense in a court of law, and has most likely lost any capacity to earn her living as a lawyer.

Ms Al-Imam would have been fully aware of the risk of losing her children when she converted to Christianity.  This video has a similar function to the tattooed cross on the wrists of Coptic Christians:  it is a declaration of faith in Christ no matter what may happen. The fact that her children are singing in this video shows that they share their mother's Christian faith.  She is, I believe, asking the world to pay attention to their fate, and has established a visible witness to the children in the future, should they be taken from her and forced to re-accept Islam.

Nagla Al-Imam has declared on the internet that she will not flee, but is determined to stay in Egypt.  (See article by Nonie Darwish from August 2009).

You can sign a petition on line here for the support of the freedom of religion in the Muslim world. Your voice will count in removing the suffering of those who suffer for choosing to follow their conscience by leaving Islam. Please take a moment to sign this petition and pass this message on to others who may be willing to sign.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"You exploit the very freedoms that democracy gives you" Tracy Grimshaw on Channel 9 TV.

Tracy Grimshaw, host of Nine Network's A Current Affair conducted a gutsy interview of Australian Hizb-ut Tahrir spokesperson Uthman Badar. The background for the interview was Hizb-ut Tahrir's second Caliphate Conference, held Sydney Australia on Sunday 4 July.

Grimshaw presented Badar with quotes from the Hizb-ut Tahrir website.  He refused to reject the proposition that "He who does not rule by Islam should either retract or be killed", saying that was not going to respond to soundbites, and "there is a very clear difference between a man-centric worldview and a God-centric one."

Grimshaw's crucial challenge to Badar went unanswered:
"By any perception, you are exploiting the very freedoms which you exhort your followers to reject.  ... If it were not for our secular democracy that you have denounced you would not be allowed a voice in this country."

At the end of 2006 I expressed concern about the first Australian Caliphate conference, held in January 2007:
"This event is a manifestation of the mechanisms for radicalisation within the Australian Islamic community, and their vitality.
If we wake up in 10 years' time and wonder what went wrong, historians who are able to look back and analyse the rise of radical Islam in Australia will identify events such as this conference as part of the answer."
Tracy Grimshaw must be commended for her bold interview, and her courage to tackle the moral bloody-mindedness of a group which exploits freedom in order to destroy it.

The original Channel 9 video link is here.