Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Egyptian Priest Under Death Fatwa

Father Estefanos Shehata wanted to be able to perform marriages and officiate at funerals in his home in the Egyptian village of Ezbet Dawood Youssef. If you are a Christian in Egypt, there is an unnavigable bureaucracy to face before you can build or repair a church. Father Shehata received far more than the usual rejection notice when he requested permission to use his home for Christian clergical duties. He was named in a fatwa that called for his death. Not only may he not use his home for marriages and funerals, he may not even sleep there. AINA News reports as follows about the surreal and outrageous sequence of events.

"I know we are not allowed to have a proper church in Egypt, but until now I pray for the dead and hold marriage ceremonies in the street." Father Estefanos told Waguih Yacoub of MECA in an audio recording.

"I appeal to President Hosny Mubarak, Interior Minister, State Security and the human rights organizations, that we are Egyptian citizens and we have the right like everyone else to place our dead in a dignified place," said Rev. Estefanos.

He said that it took him nearly two years to prepare this 100 square meter room to be used for these rites, before approaching the state security for the necessary licenses to start using it.

"I went to the state security to get the necessary licenses for using this space in my family home, but they told me I need first to obtain the 'permission' of the village Muslims, as they (state security) want no problems in the village," said Father Estefanos. "I told them that there would be no problems in getting this permission as we have always had good relations with the village Muslims and we love and consider them as our brothers." Father Estefanos has been brought up in Ezbet Dawood Youssef.

When Reverend Stefanos told the villager Muslim elders what he was intending to do, they called for a meeting with the elders of the neighbouring villages. "They were extremely angry at my proposal and instead a death Fatwa was issued against me!"

The eight hundred Coptic Christians in Ezbet Dawood Youssef are not even permitted to build a church for their use. The local Muslim authorities claim that they are being kind in "allowing" the Christians of the village to go to a village three miles away for Sunday religious services.

There is a pattern in Egypt's treatment of the 15% of Egyptians who are Christian. Impressive laws are enacted in Cairo. But at the local level there is no follow up to see that the laws are enforced. in many cases, civil government is under the thumb of Muslim extremists. Police who receive complaints of violence against Christians often refuse to take action. When Christian girls are raped, kidnapped and forcibly married to Muslim men, there is in practical terms very little legal recourse.

Even under Islamic law, there is supposed to be protection for Christians, who are, like Jews considered to be "people of the book." The Muslim extremists in Egypt are not only violating the rights of Christians. They are also going against their own faith.

Americans should express their concern and outrage at the mistreatment of Father Shehata and the 12 million Egyptian Coptic Christians, whose faith goes back further in Egyptian history than does Islam. Americans of all faiths should vocally express their solidarity with Egypt's Christians. Silence is consent. We must not be silent

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