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.