Upper Egypt Imam Confronts Conversion

From Ahram Online, following up on a story in which Muslims surrounded a church in Kom Ombo, Aswan, to demand the release of a local woman they believed was held against her will, forced to convert to Christianity:

A sheikh addressed a crowd of men in Kom Ombo to explain the events and dispel any rumours that had been circulating.

“Some say that she had a relationship with a man [who convinced her to convert] and others claim that a woman used to visit her and talk to her about Christianity,” he began.

He said that a man from Cairo, a former Muslim and Christian convert, communicated with her via the internet and the phone.

Allegedly, the divorcee in her mid-30s, had expressed thoughts about converting to Christianity.

“He told her that no one will be able to help, not even Christians, except one priest in Cairo who is [expelled from the Church] because he’s been attempting to convert Muslims,” the sheikh said.

The crowd reacted angrily to this information, interrupting the Sheik.

“When we sat with [Church leaders] they told us that they [do not encourage] such acts and explained to us that this priest is expelled from the Church,” he continued.

“This is a mere financial issue, the [man] came and told her ‘I will help you’ in exchange for EGP 3,500’

“We will bring the man here so that everyone can take revenge on him,” he added.

The sheikh then talked to the crowds about Islamic values and presented some counter-arguments to issues in the Christian religion that affected the girl during her absence.

“The woman told us that she was not fully convinced of several things she was told [by Christians] including the concept of the Trinity,” he said.

“She came and talked to us clearly, she said ‘I do not know if I am right or wrong,'” he added.

“We asked her to write down every point of confusion and we replied to all her concerns – everything has an answer in our religion.”

The sheikh said that curiosity had prompted the woman to leave; it is not known exactly where she had been staying during the past week.

“The woman’s brother had found a Christian hymn on her phone; when we asked her about it, the she said that she had asked for it… She obviously was… You see, the devil manipulates people’s minds. She was curious,” he said.

As the sheikh spoke, men from the crowds raised questions and points of concern to them.

“Do people who [encourage others to convert to Christianity] work through the internet?” one asked.

“Look, so that you know, the nearest person on such a network is from Luxor and the rest are from Cairo and Alexandria, they log on with fake names and we can’t –” but he quickly reassures, “We will get to them all.”

“Because we have already found three of them,” he added.

Additionally, the sheikh responded to the crowds several times saying, “Anyone involved will be held to account.”

This is a fascinating transcript. Very often in Egypt conversions in either direction are due to non-religious reasons such as love affairs, escaping difficult family situations, or securing a better financial situation.

Here, however, this woman appears to have simply been attracted to Christianity, likely through her association with Christian friends.

That which the imam speaks of also likely exists. Both religions have those who promote conversion on the internet, as well as individuals working to gain converts. In Egypt, of course, only the Muslim efforts are welcome.

The church probably had nothing to do with the woman, but needed to present official denials anyway. To placate the people, the imam needed to promise investigations and justice, even retribution.

In the West we would say ‘that poor woman’, and so we should. There appears no conspiracy here, just an individual with religious curiosity and inter-religious friends. Such trouble.

But here, they say ‘that poor family’, over what this innocent curiosity has done to the community. Such a description would apply equally if a Copt was found exploring Islam, though the scope here is much wider.

In both responses there is virtue, but where in all this, if anywhere, is God most pleased? The Muslim and the Christian may have very different answers, let alone the Egyptian and the Westerner.

It is a shame, I think, we have to know about this incident at all. And I’m the one sharing it. It is just too descriptive of Egyptian reality on the subject of conversion.

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