4 April 2013
Young Christian mothers look after their children at a home in the village of Deir Azra, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
As members of a religious minority, Coptic women in Egypt face discrimination and are subject to laws based on Islamic Sharia. Because of the difficulty of getting a divorce in the Coptic Orthodox Church, some Christian men and women convert to Islam in order to end their marriage — a decision that has far-reaching social and legal consequences for the family and sometimes the entire community.
In the September 2011 issue of ONE, Sarah Topol reported on these consequences:
Divorce on the grounds of conversion to Islam generally tears Christian families apart.
“Life was stable,” says 23-year-old Simone El Gohany about life a few years ago, before her father left her mother for a Muslim woman with whom he had been having an affair, converted to Islam and filed for divorce. “Now I feel like the family is fragmented: There is no family. Stability makes a huge difference.”
The divorce has devastated the lives of the young woman, her two younger sisters and of course her mother. Under Egyptian family law, the father receives custody of the children when he converts to Islam and files for divorce.
To keep her children, the mother sent each of her two youngest daughters to live with different relatives. She then moved to a cramped apartment in a low-income neighborhood in Cairo. As Simone El Gohany explains, Egyptian authorities can only remove children from their mother if they live in a residence belonging to one or both of the parents.
Since the divorce, the children’s father has made no attempt to contact the girls or his ex-wife. He does not pay child support, and Egyptian law does not require him to do so. Still, the children fear he will show up one day or another and demand the girls move in with him. As a result, the girls no longer attend school.
The father’s conversion has also stripped the two youngest daughters of their Christian identity. In the eyes of the Egyptian government, when a father converts to Islam, all his children under the age of 18 automatically “convert” as well. The girls’ government records have all been changed, identifying them as Muslim. Public schools require they attend classes on Islam. Now officially “Muslim,” they can never marry a Christian man since the church does not recognize mixed marriages.
Read more in Spotlight: Coptic Women.
Tags: Egypt Islam Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Women (rights/issues)