Guest / Limited Access /
Conversion Confusion
Image: Paul Nevin / Getty
Conversion Confusion

Nadia Mohamed Ali was raised in a Christian home, but when she married Mustafa Mohamed Abdel-Wahab in 1990, she converted to Islam. After his death, she obtained new identity cards—required under Egyptian law—that declared her and her seven children Christians.

Then came the ruling by a criminal court this January: "Egyptian Court Sentences Family to 15 Years for Converting to Christianity" read the Western headlines. Several U.S. religious freedom watchers declared Ali's sentence a "real disaster" that "underscores the growing problem of religious intolerance" under Egypt's new, Muslim Brotherhood-backed government. A shocking headline, indeed.

A cut-and-dry case of religious persecution? Not quite.

"They were imprisoned for fraud, not for conversion," says Mamdouh Nakhla, founder of the Word Center for Human Rights in Cairo. The Coptic lawyer claims the family paid government workers to forge new identity cards. They registered their religion as Christian under Ali's maiden name so that she could obtain her inheritance.

In a time when Western analysts are watching new president Mohamed Morsi, cases like Ali's become barometers of Egypt's direction toward or away from democracy. And while Ali's case may not be a simple case of persecution, it does, say experts, underscore that Egypt still plays favorites when it comes to conversion.

A Biased Bureaucracy

Every Egyptian is born legally into one of three religions—Islam, Christianity, or Judaism—which is recorded on all official documents. Unlike conversions in the West, a conversion in any direction in Egypt is a troublesome family and social matter.

Converting to Islam, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedIt Takes More Than a Swank Coffee Shop to Reach Millennials
Subscriber Access Only It Takes More Than a Swank Coffee Shop to Reach Millennials
Journalist-author Naomi Schaefer Riley sorts out what will draw young adults back to the faith.
TrendingReligious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated
Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated
The legal context for what's happening at Gordon College, and how Christians can respond despite intense cultural backlash.
Editor's PickWhat We Talk About When We Talk About 'Birth Control'
What We Talk About When We Talk About 'Birth Control'
Meaningful debate requires us to define the terms of discussion.
Leave a Comment

Use your Christianity Today login to leave a comment on this article. Not part of the community? Subscribe now, or register for a free account.

Christianity Today
Conversion Confusion
hide thisApril April

In the Magazine

April 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.