Monthly Archives: April 2010

Interfaith Is Not For The Faithful

By: Alexandra Kinias

Photograph of the twins Mario and Andrew.

Religion plays a dominant role in the lives of people  in the Middle East. It not only controls and dominates them, but it also shapes and guides their everyday lives.  In such societies, interfaith marriages, which are discouraged for some and banned for others is becoming an issue of growing sensitivity. It is a symbol of both gender and religious inequality in a society that is living in a hypocritical harmony, while in reality it is enveloped by a cloud of sectarian tension.   In Egypt, an interfaith relationship, when discovered, may become a source of sectarian violence that often erupts  in this society that’s maintaining its calm on the surface, but its volatile bubbles are brewing underneath.

The religious and gender inequality is demonstrated in several ways. While a Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman, a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man.  Christians and Jews are welcomed to convert to Islam, but it is forbidden for Muslims to convert to Christianity or any other faith. A conversion of a Muslim to another faith would not be acknowledged by the government, and in some cases the converts would expose themselves to death penalty. And if a Muslim husband of a non-Muslim woman dies, she is not entitled to his estate and thus most non-Muslim women convert for financial gains rather than for beliefs.

The dilemma still continues because by law, once a man converts to Islam, his wife and kids automatically become Muslims, even without out their consent.  This religious law that was causing a lot of controversy in Europe,  was finally overruled when a fatwa (religious decree) was declared that a  wife of a convert who lives in Europe can maintain her faith. But Back at home, women were not that lucky.

Because divorce laws for Coptic Egyptians are quite complicated, some men and women often convert to Islam to terminate the marriage, against the approval of the church. Sometimes the stories end there. But when excess baggage is hauled along disasters often occur, as in the case of the twins Mario and Andrew.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, the twins’ Christian parents had an unstable marriage and the father eventually converted to Islam to divorce their mother. According to the laws of the land, the custody of the boys was automatically  granted to the Muslim parent. However, in an unprecedented verdict, the court granted the mother their custody.  But the fifteen years old boys are still fighting to regain back their religion on their legal papers. For five years and after more than forty cases being battled in court, the courts in Egypt are still refusing to grant them their religious identity. It may not be a problem for someone who is living elsewhere, but when religion is still documented on IDs and is a subject taught in schools, the twins who are devout Christians might be facing some future challenges with Islam being forced on them.

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How it all started

By: Alexandra Kinias

Photograph by: Lalla Essaydi

When I started my blog three months ago, I had no intention to write about women’s issues beyond the Egyptian borders. And for that I had three reasons. First, since I was born, raised and spent a great amount of my life in Egypt, I am well aware of what I would be writing about.  Everything would be first hand experience to me, either through my own eyes or through the eyes of women I knew. Second, in the blog I was going to address  women’s issues that I would tackle in my novel, which is set in Egypt. The third reason that I didn’t want to write about women’s issues outside of Egypt is because I didn’t want to venture into unknown territories and be discussing other cultural and social issues of places that I had never been to.

So, with all that in mind, I had a broad idea of what I wanted to write about and what issues I would discuss. And in doing so  I developed the habit of browsing the Egyptian websites of magazines and newspapers every morning. I was very lucky  to find endless articles that addressed the issues that were of interest to me. But it seemed that while I was doing so the floodgates opened.

In the last three months and while I was hunting for material for my blog I was extremely overwhelmed with the amount of women’s issues that I had stumbled upon from various sources. And I realized that in the Middle East — even though the societies are culturally different bur because most of the rules and laws that deal with women’s issues come from the same source — the suffering and struggle were common among the women of region.  The intensities varied from one society to the other, but they all shared the unfortunate destiny that the women were born in male dominated societies. The cultures in these neighboring countries were tightly interwoven together that it became obvious that even in the moderate societies that were shifting toward conservatism, women’s rights were being lost along the way. I was no longer able to avoid or ignore what I came across. I have no idea what to do, but my heart is bleeding when I read that in this time and age  a Sudanese reporter was sentenced to flogging for wearing pants, or that a teenage girl in Turkey was buried alive for having a lover, or that an eight years old girl in Saudi Arabia was sold into marriage, or that the supreme court in Egypt denied women their rights to work as judges, or that a Nigerian woman was sentenced to death by stoning for bearing a child after being raped, or that a twelve years old child in Jordan dies in childbirth, or that a Saudi television broadcaster was violently attacked and almost killed by her husband. The list is much longer and the wounds are much deeper. Do these cultures truly believe that they can find a respectable place for them under the sun when their sheikhs appear on television screens promoting violence against women to reform them?

Unfortunately, they will not find a place for them under the sun, but most likely they will  retreat to the darkness of the medieval caves where they  would eventually be forgotten.

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