This is a translation of an article that recently appeared in Elaph.

Author: Majdi Khalil | Originally published in Arabic on: Friday, 15 May 2009

Struggles for freedom of faith in Egypt

It never occurred to Basma Moussa or Camliya Lutfi that they would become symbols for defending freedom of faith in Egypt when they both set out to defend a private matter or private affair. However, just because this private affair affects public interest, the Egyptian society was disgraced with falsity and lies about the existence of a civil state and freedom of conscience and belief.

For those who do not know, Basma Moussa is a notable professor at the College of Dentistry in Cairo University. But her main obstacle is that she was born into a Bahai’i family, and this is considered a huge charge in a country that dismissed the issue of citizenship and preoccupied itself with the features of a religious state, because an Islamic religious state only recognizes the religions acknowledged by Islam, and thus does recognize the Bahai’i religion.

The problem is not about Islam denying the Bahai’i religion because every religion rejects the other ideologically and in practice. The real problem is the effect of religious beliefs on denying citizenship or weakening it, and in this case we would be confronted with religious state or a state moving towards becoming a religious one. This is the greater danger on Egypt because the intrusion of propagators of a religious state over citizenship reached the extent of introducing a draft law that incriminates those who embrace any religion other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism. In other words, this draft law would completely deprive the followers of the Bahai’i faith and others of their citizenship and throw them into prison as criminals until they embrace Islam. This situation is much worse than the state of the inquisition courts in Europe during the dark ages.

As a Bahai’i, Basma Moussa faced a great deal of discrimination, prosecution, provocation and intimidation in her professional life. She was even accused of being an atheist on television and threatened to death because of her apostasy.

What she was confronted with at Cairo University is another example of the penetration of extremist religious thinking into educational institutions to an extent where university professors abandoned their researches, workshops and teaching jobs to investigate consciences, charge their fellow professors of a different faith with atheism, intimidate, deceive and conspire against them.

Let it not surprise you, dear reader, when you hear about the deteriorating state of Egyptian universities. Those who are familiar with behind the scenes of Egyptian universities are well aware of the sufferings of non-Muslims seeking to attain positions as teachers in Egyptian universities. Basma Moussa was in trouble when it was discovered that she was a Bahai’I, and for that reason, the teacher’s committee deliberately failed her four times in her Masters’ degree despite her distinction and diligence. Fanaticism is ever visible and shameless. Basma used to earn 95% in some of the oral examinations boards and zero in other boards. But because God does not allow the labor of the diligent to go to waste, responds to the cries of the aggrieved, and He is mightier than all oppressors, Basma was saved from this destructive current and she peacefully passed her Masters’ degree. However, the oppressors did not leave Basma at peace. They refused to enroll her for the doctorates degree for another four years, despite the fact that she is enrolled as a current student and not a new one. After she was able to register, what she had faced during her doctorate’s degree was far worse than what she had faced while doing her masters. It came to a point where a university professor demanded a fatwa (a formal legal opinion) from Al-Azhar mosque on the issue of the Bahai’is so as to prevent the appointment of Basma at the department. The fatwa arrived from Al-Azhar stating that the Bahai’s religion is atheism. The same professor, along with 17 other professors took the fatwa and distributed it in the corridors of the university and leaked it to the press as well. But because Basma is a strong-hearted fighter who committed no crime for being a Bahai’i, she stood in the face of these hypocritical oppressors who had abandoned educational research to investigate the consciences of people. In the end, despite her suffering, grief, fear and tears, she managed to triumph.

The same situation occurred upon her promotion from teacher to assistant professor, whereby a committee of 15 professors was formed in order to review the issue of her promotion, and they gave her a zero. The bizarre and shameful thing is the presence of Christian professors among the members of the committee, who cowed out of confronting this injustice despite the fact that they themselves belong to another minority that suffers similar oppression.

Basma Moussa did not stop fighting for her right. She filed a complaint to the head of the Higher Council of Universities, who was kind enough to repeal the result provided by the said committee and form another committee consisting of five decent professors who discussed her papers and gave her a very good grade (B+). Now between a zero and B+ lies the issue of discrimination that befalls non-Muslim minorities in Egypt.

The series of repulsive and repellent incidents that Basma Moussa faced are repeating themselves on a regular basis with the Copts, to a point where Najib Basha Mahfouz’s nephew, Samir Samika, the founder of gynecology and obstetrics in Egypt, could not obtain a specialization in the aforementioned fields of medicine, and was forced to travel to Great Britain to obtain it. His son, Yousef, was also forced to do the same thing later on. This abominable fanaticism reached a point where our great writer, Najib Mahfouz, was deprived a scholarship to study abroad because the fanatics thought he was Christian, because his mother named him after her famous doctor Najib Mahfouz Basha.

All the suffering that Basma Moussa had to go through, and others are still going through, was not given any importance because such acts are part of a daily routine of injustices that occur against non-Muslims. However, the greater calamity occurred when the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs created the National Number Card in place of the old identification cards and refused to transfer the “religion” category for “Bahai’i” to the new card. With this new harsh and oppressive measure, which is completely incompatible with idea of citizenship, and deprives Egyptians of their citizenship, has placed thousands of Bahai’is in the category of “civil death” or complete deprivation of civil rights, whereby people cannot conduct any daily transactions without an identification card, including the issuance of birth and death certificates, opening bank accounts, enrolling in schools and universities, and other daily transactions.

At this point, Basma Mouss’a hidden force came out in public to confront this ignorant society that is depriving her of her basic rights and her citizenship. The issue here is not about an individual case, for an entire people is being condemned through this intolerable type of oppression. This issue is related to the complete eradication of the Bahai’i religion and forcing the Bahai’is to confront an unacceptable dilemma of either becoming Muslims or facing civil death. This is where the struggle for people’s rights becomes a national duty before a religious one.

The Bahai’is have been and continue to take a civilized path of the peaceful defense of their existence, citizenship and religion. They confronted almost six years before the judiciary and before a public opinion, which was almost entirely hostile to their religious beliefs, until a judgment was recently passed to place the mark (-) under the category of religion. But as the saying goes: (literal translation from Arabic) “Incomplete joy, flown away with the crow”. The Ministry of Interior decided that placing the mark (-) requires filing a personal case before the judiciary in order to obtain approval, and this does not apply to all Bahai’is. In other words, thousands of cases are awaiting a ruling from the administrative courts to put an end to this circus. Can you believe this nonsense? What about a dead person? Who will file his case so that he obtains a death certificate? Should he be embalmed until the law decides to issue this certificate for him? What about birth certificates? Do they remain on hold until they obtain this judicial judgment? Or do we demand that a baby remains in his mother’s womb until this humiliating issue is solved? The more important question is why these peaceful Egyptian citizens who committed no crime are being subjected to all this humiliation? These are fundamental questions posed to a rational society, and seem comical in civilized societies, but in backward religious societies, they are fateful and substantive, determining one’s life and destiny.

In addition to the judiciary, Bahai’is were confronted with a flow of questions posed by public opinion that was ignorant about their existence and invented fables about their faith, spoke badly about their behavior and fabricated allegations about their nationalism. It is nothing other than the sick human behavior that we have experienced throughout the history of humanity, where man constantly searches for justifications and excuses that sedate his twisted and devious conscience to commit the ugliest crimes against his fellow man. Basma Moussa played a major and courageous role in defending the basic rights of Bahai’is as citizens before public opinion, and their right to their faith, which they inherited from their fathers and forefathers.

I do not know how the Bahai’is would have acted without Basma Moussa. She is a woman in place of a thousand men, who addressed the centers of public opinion and educative societies adamantly, persistently and courageously, and explained her case and that of her people decently and cleverly, without overreaction and infuriation. She maintained her temper and composure in spite of all the pressures, provocations, false accusations, allegations about her religion, slandering her beliefs and the dangers she was being confronted with. Yet she manages to practice her work full of integrity, and looks after her family wholeheartedly.

My dear Basma, your resistance has become a symbol for the liberation of freedom of religion in Egypt. You courageous work in history has exposed the falsity of retarded people who placed history at a standstill at their narrow-mindedness and backwardness that time has exceeded centuries ago.

In the end, victory is for those who believe they can make it…and we believe that freedom shall surely prevail. The clocks will never go back in time.