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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Egypt’s Baha’is face more attacks from Salafists

Egypt’s Baha’is face more attacks from Salafists

Friday 24 February 2012, by siawi3

- Source: Bikyamasr, 19 February 2012

Joseph Mayton

CAIRO: Egypt’s small Baha’i Faith community has faced attack upon attack in its less than 200 year existence in the country. The latest has come from prominent ultra-conservative Salafist leader Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, who called on the government to “protect itself” from the faith by denouncing the faith and calling its followers “blasphemous.”

“We will prosecute the Bahai’s on charge of treason,” said Shahat via telephone on Dream 2′s al-Haqiqa TV program.

“We as Salafists refuse to deal with Baha’is, because they do not exist by virtue of their faith.”

According to Shahat, Bahai’s are not entitled to rights under Islam because they are not recognized by the religion, and any new constitution should not include an amendment protecting their rights.

He cited previous Al-Azhar – the Sunni Islamic world’s most prestigious institution – rulings that said Baha’is are blasphemous.

The world’s newest monotheistic faith, and one that has been oppressed vehemently in Islamic countries, including Egypt, where in the early years of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Baha’i temples and places of worship were closed, and the Baha’i cemetery in the country largely destroyed, continues to face such attacks by the likes of Shahat and others in the country.

In 2009, the Egyptian Baha’i community hoped they had ushered in a new era for identification cards in the country after the first batch of the religious minority was granted new ID’s without a religion written on them. The move came after years of struggling against the state in order not to choose one of the “big three” religions Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

The new ID’s came months after an Egyptian court granted the Baha’i community the right not to list a false religion on the paperwork, something the small minority community had been pushing for in recent years after discrimination has been reported.

The lawsuit against the government was filed by a married couple, Hussam Izzat Musa and Ranya Enayat Rushdy, who wanted to add their daughters to their passports, which had listed the Baha’i Faith as their religion.

The couple won the initial case against the government, which granted them the ability to register their children in schools, receive marriage licenses, birth certificates and proclaim their faith on state identification cards.

“We were ecstatic about the case that allowed our community to be fully accepted Egyptians,” one married Baha’i man, after the initial court victory, told

His optimism was short-lived, however, as the government appealed and won, leaving the community struggling to find a place in Egyptian society.

Egyptians are forced to have religion noted on their identity cards. Previously, Baha’is were forced to choose between Islam, Christianity or Judaism in order to receive official documents, including birth certificates and passports. Many of them took their cases to court, claiming that they’d rather leave the religion slot blank than choose a religion other than their own. The court, initially, agreed, and said they could leave the category blank in a move widely praised by religious advocacy groups in the country.

The Baha’i Faith is the most recent, established in 1863, monotheistic religion. It originates from Iran and believes in the progressive revelations of God. Baha’is believe that all religions are true and from God, but that at different times throughout human history, a new manifestation (prophet) is needed in order to adapt to the changing times and cultural traditions.

The main conflict between Muslims and Baha’is is in the idea that Mohamed is not the final prophet of God, which has led to Muslims distrusting Baha’is.

In December 2003, Al Azhar Research Academy, the most authoritative Sunni institution in the world, issued a fatwa against the Baha’i Faith. It stated that Islam does not recognize any religion other than those that the Holy Qur’an has asked to be respected. The fatwa specified the Baha’i Faith, stating that the “Baha’i creed and its likes are intellectual epidemics that should be fought and eliminated by the state.”

Now, one year on from an uprising that left the country optimistic and hopeful, there still remains some of that hope in the small community of the religious minority.

“We do feel that things will get better in the coming months and years despite the rise of the Salafists,” said teacher Kamal, also Baha’i. He told between drags on his shisha, or water-pipe, that “we are all Egyptians, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other, and when the military leaves power and we have a government, it should be better because we can have honest and open dialogue.”

His belief in the power of the Egyptian population tends to be the majority among the Baha’i community, who has long struggled against persecution and a lack of media awareness. They argue that the revolution is continuing and if needed, Hossam said he would join tomorrow any demonstration.

“But we need to have a movement that is for all Egypt, not just one side. This is important. The military must go, but we must all have our rights and the media needs to start talking about all people in this country, including us Baha’is,” he argued.