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Dr. Basma’s Crime

May 6th, 2009

The following is a translation of an article by Alaa Al Aswany:


In 1982, I was appointed as resident doctor at the Department of Oral Surgery at the College of Dentistry, and a fellow doctor, named Basma, was appointed on the same day. I worked with Basma for a whole year, and a true friendship developed between us. She was a praiseworthy example of an Egyptian, both ethically and professionally. I left my work at the university and travelled to the United States to pursue my studies, and I did not see my friend Basma for so many years, until I read about her in the newspapers and discovered that she was in big trouble. Basma was born into a Baha’i family, and when she announced her religion at the surgical department where she worked, a number of university professors declared what they considered a holy war against Dr. Basma. They deliberately failed her in all her examinations despite her distinction that was witnessed by all. Their declared intent was to continue to fail her until she is expelled from the university, aside from the continuous mockery of her religion, ridiculing her and accusing her of atheism. Dr. Basma fought her battle courageously, with the conviction that she had not committed any crime or did anything to be ashamed of, while declaring that she is an Egyptian Baha’i. Basma filed hundreds of complaints to all government officials until she finally passed her doctorate examination, due to the intervention of the president of the university and the support she received from some professors who stood by her, such as Dr. Sherif Al-Mufti and Dr. Hani Amin. In spite of this, the department refused to appoint her because she was a Baha’i, and hard-line professors issued a fatwa (formal legal opinion) against her from Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo accusing her of apostasy, and distributed it in the university. As a result, Basma panicked because she became targeted for killing at any moment.


Dr. Basma however, did not despair. She continued to fight bravely until she regained her right and was appointed at the university. But her problems did not end there. The famous dispute over the registration of Baha’is as citizens (giving them a social number card) had erupted, which once again, enraged the extremists against them. Dr. Basma appeared in Mr. Wael Al-Abrashi’s program, together with Mr. Jamal Abul Rahim, a journalist who apparently believes that he has the right to speak on behalf of Basma and investigate the consciences and religions of people. He threw all kinds of insults at Dr. Basma for the mere fact that her religion differed from his, and told her word for word: “you are an atheist and you deserve to be killed.” On a media apparatus that is viewed by millions of people, this is considered an incitation for killing. The provocation reached its peak the next day when the houses of Baha’is in the village of Shoraniya in Suhaj district were burned down by extremists who watched the program and considered it their duty to execute the words uttered by the journalist. The strange thing about this is that this offensive set out against these innocent people was led by the secretary of the national faction in the village, who later on stated that he was proud of what he had done and that he shall continue to burn down the houses of Baha’is, strike and expel them, even if they were nursing babies. This gruesome campaign continued, and new complaints were filed by some professoriate (sheikhs of Al-Azhar Mosque) who demanded the withdrawal of the Egyptian citizenship from the Baha’is.


All these unfortunate incidents are worth a calm discussion away from the aforementioned excessive reactions and judgments:


Firstly: The Baha’i religion is an independent religion, and Baha’is are not apostates of Islam for a simple reason: they were never Muslims! The Baha’i religion has existed in Egypt since 1864, and the Egyptian government recognized the rights of Egyptian Baha’is from the very start.


In 1934, the Egyptian government agreed to the formation of the Baha’i Spiritual Assembly, and it was registered at the mixed courts (with jurisdiction over residents of foreign nationality). In 1940, the Egyptian government approved the construction of the Baha’i temple, and in 1953, President Mohammad Najib ordered the allocation of one of the lands in the country as a cemetery for Baha’is, in accordance with their religious beliefs. The Baha’i religion continued to be marked officially in the social number card until the last problem erupted.


Among the Baha’is were prominent and respected personalities in all arenas, the most famous is the great artist Hussein Bikar, who was ‘much more than meets the eye and ear’ and no one urged his beheading or the burning down of his house. Hence, the existence of the Baha’is in Egypt did not come as a surprise for the Egyptian government. On the contrary, the Baha’is were shocked when their rights as citizens were revoked because they embraced a religion that is different from that of the majority of people in Egypt.


Secondly: The persecution of the Baha’is and the provocation against killing them in this manner raises the following question: Is Egypt a true state, or is it a fellow authority of the Taliban movement? If it were a state, then the Egyptian citizen should enjoy complete rights regardless of his or her religion. It is unfortunate that we are compelled to discuss citizenship a whole century after anchoring its concept in Egypt. Leader Sa’ed Zaghloul made the following statement during the first speech he delivered after his return from exile: “The revolution taught us that we are all Egyptians: Jews, Copts and Muslims.” This refined concept of citizenship, which was fulfilled by the Revolution of 1919, is now being exposed to muddling by extremists who have been affected by the various ideologies of the Wahabi Islamic reform movement in Egypt. Some might say that our tolerance should only be confined to Christianity and Judaism because unlike the Baha’i religion, they are heavenly religions. And truly, dividing religions into heavenly and earthly ones is a completely relative matter because most religions are deemed heavenly by their followers, and even the three main religions do not recognize one another: Judaism does not recognize Christianity or Islam, and Christianity does not recognize Islam, and Islam remains the most tolerant religion because it recognizes all other religions and respects them, and upon this tolerance, is where Islamic civilization built its glory and led the entire world toward renaissance for centuries.


Thirdly: If we were prosecuting Egyptian citizens like ourselves just because they are followers of a different religion, then we have no right to blame the Westerners if they devote their efforts in prosecuting Muslims in the West. Truthfully speaking, there is no room for comparing the rights that Muslims enjoy in the West and the oppression, obstinacy and prosecution to which Egyptian Baha’is are subjected to.


Fourthly: The punishment of death for apostates of Islam was never supported by a majority of fuqahas (jurisprudents). There are respected juristic opinions, which consider that an apostate is not punished on earth but in the in the Hereafter, and their rationale relies on many evidence:


First of all, the Qur’an did not encompass any punishment for apostates, but on the contrary, it guaranteed freedom of faith for all people in the great principle “let there be no compulsion in religion.” If God intended to punish apostates on earth, He would have stipulated a specific punishment in the Qur’an as the Almighty had done with crimes that are less significant than apostasy, such as adultery and theft.


Second of all, the ruling to kill an apostate is based on a single Hadith (Prophetic tradition), which states that “whoever changes his religion, kill him.” This is a one-sided statement that cannot be adopted while setting out such a serious judgement. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon Him, mentioned this Hadith during one of the battles when He noticed some of the fighters snaking from the Islamic army to join the enemy. What is meant by changing one’s religion in this context is the crime of high treason, which according to all modern laws, is punishable by death.


Thirdly, it was proven historically in a number of incidents that some people joined Islam and then withdrew from it, and the Prophet did not order their killing. The dangerous thing about punishing an apostate by death is that it has been used throughout the history of Islam to dispose of opposing politicians and diligent intellectuals. In addition, killing people because of their religion does not concord with human rights or the freedom to choose one’s religion, which was guaranteed by the great Islamic faith. A few days ago, Sheikh Al-Qardawi stated that he, together with Sheikh Al-Jalil Abu Zahra and other scholars were postponing the declaration of some of their juristic opinions in order to prevent an uproar from the public and extremists. At this point, we definitely need the courage of modern experts of fiqh (jurisprudents) so as to save the Islamic mind from imperfections that contaminated it during the ages of tyranny and decadence.


The case of Dr. Basma Mousa and Egyptian Baha’i citizens affirms once again the necessity to establish a civil democratic state in Egypt, whereupon all Egyptians would enjoy equal rights before society and the law, regardless of their religion, and democracy is the answer.


*Alaa Al Aswany is a renown Egyptian writer

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