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EGYPT: Bahais win major court battle

March 16, 2009 | 12:18 pm

Baha_ullah_shrine

After years of legal hurdles, Egypt’s High Administrative Court upheld a verdict granting the minority Bahai community the right to be themselves, at least when it comes to official documents.

“We greatly welcome the decision. We are very pleased that this is the end of the legal battle,” Soha Abdelaty, Deputy Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told The Times.

In recent years, Bahais were forced to choose Islam, Christianity or Judaism in the religious denomination slot in order to receive identification documents. Some of them went to court, arguing that they should be allowed to leave the ‘religion’ slot blank rather than choose a faith that is not theirs. The move elicited the fury of Muslim conservatives who dissimssed Bahais as heretics and opposed any attempt to recognize the Bahai faith in official documents. In Iran, Bahais face other aspects of persecution.

Previously, several verdicts had been handed down in favor of Bahais, however, they were not implemented, which leaves many Bahais cautiously optimistic about today’s ruling.  "What I hope is to see this verdict immediately implemented," Wafaa Hindy, a Bahai woman told The Times. "This verdict can mark the start of a new era, but we should not jump to conclusions until the verdict is enforced." 

There is no official record of the number of Bahais in Egypt; however, they are estimated at 2000.

"There is no community in the world that faced the civil death we have been facing; our children cannot have birth certificates and we cannot have identification cards. We are fed up," Hindy said. 

The Bahai faith emerged in Iran from the heart of Shiite Islam in the mid-19th century, founded by Bahaullah, whom adherents recognize as the most recent in a line of prophets, including Jesus and Muhammad. The world’s more than five million Baha’is believe in one God and the unity of all major religions. One of the remarkable tenets of their faith is the belief in continuous and progressive divine revelations. According to Bahais, humanity will still receive more prophets.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: The shrine of Bahaullah, founder of the Bahai faith in the Israeli city of Haifa, Credit: Bahai Media Bank/Nelson Ashberger

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