Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Other faiths

While Egypt’s new constitution establishes explicit rights for adherents to the Abrahamic religions, it does not curtail other faiths, writes
Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

My friend the Indian ambassador to Cairo, Navdeep Suri, asked me: “Is it true that the new constitution bans the non-Abrahamic religions and prohibits their affiliates from practicing their faith in Egypt?”
The ambassador, who is also a friend of Egypt and speaks Arabic fluently, continued: “In India, we have many faiths, apart from the three divinely revealed religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The government does not intervene in the right of the worshippers of any of these faiths to practice their religion. We have mosques and churches, just as we have Hindu and Confucian temples and many other types of houses of worship. In fact, some Arab and Islamic countries, such as Bahrain, the UAE and Malaysia also have such temples. Is it reasonable for Egypt to ban such faiths and prohibit their affiliates from exercising their rites of worship?”
I responded: “Egypt, throughout its history, has always been reputed for its tolerance and openness. It is a religious country, true. But it has never been a fanatical one. Across the ages, it has received visitors of all faiths and no one has ever intervened in their religious freedom. In addition, Islam enshrined the principle of freedom of belief long before universal human rights instruments. The Quran states, ‘You have your religion and I have mine.’ Indeed, it also establishes a person’s right not to believe at all: ‘Let he who wishes believe and he who wishes not believe.’”
The new constitution is consistent with this. While its second article states that Islam is the religion of the state and that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation, Article 64 unequivocally upholds the freedom of belief. This article guarantees the freedom of worship and the building of houses of worship to the affiliates of Christianity and Judaism. But it contains no prohibition against other faiths or any text that could be interpreted as criminalising the practice of the rites and rituals of other faiths. Anyone from India, China or elsewhere can visit or reside in Egypt and be reassured of their right to practice their faith free from any intervention on the part of the state and free from the fear that their rites of worship might be prohibited by law.
The state’s commitment to the right of the affiliates of the three divinely revealed religions to build their own houses of worship cannot be construed as a refusal to recognise the existence of other faiths. In like manner, Article 3, which states that the principles of the religious laws of Egyptian Christians and Jews shall be the main source of legislation governing their personal status laws, their religious affairs and the selection of their religious leaders, should not be interpreted as a prohibition against the practice of other faiths or an impediment to the right of the affiliates of these faiths to adhere to their religious laws, rites and duties as well.

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