Saturday, November 22, 2008

Egypt: Yet Another Newborn Denied Birth Certificate

A baby, named Shehab Shady Moussa, was born in Cairo on the 9th of November of this year to Baha'i parents. When his father went to the civil affairs agency, charged with registering newborns and producing their birth certificates, he was told that they received recent instructions from the Ministry of Interior forbidding them from issuing birth certificates to Baha'is. This is despite multiple court rulings ordering the Ministry to issue certificates to children born to Baha'is with dashes "--" inserted in place of their religious identity.

This news item was published in today's edition of Cairo's Al-Badeel newspaper (attached, with a photograph of the Minister of Interior, Habib Al-Adly). The baby's father told the newspaper that this means that his newborn child cannot be counted in Egypt's census, he cannot be vaccinated against serious infectious diseases and that the baby's mother cannot obtain maternal leave from her employment.

This newborn can be now added to a long list of Egyptian children, born to Baha'i parents, who live in the shadows, and whose existence has been denied by their own government. They are deprived of all their human and civil rights, including the rights to health care and education. By doing so, Egypt continues to be in gross violation of all international covenants that guarantee the rights of man, to which Egypt is a co-signatory.

The entire world must express its outrage at this inhumane treatment of children in a nation considered to be a so-called mainstream, moderate and modern, as well as one that is regarded to represent a unique ancient civilization--admired by all. Is this what Egypt wants to be remembered by? One would doubt this very much, and one would expect otherwise.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is the World Ready for Religious Unity?

The world continues to express its hunger for a solution to its widening disunity. An example of such movements--intended to break through the divisive nature of religious intolerance and widespread dislike of what others believe in--is a newly formed alliance between the technology industry and Hollywood elite. A project, named Charter for Compassion, was launched 3 days ago during a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in California.

Along with the religious scholar Karen Armstrong, the group, named "Tedizens," includes several celebrities such as Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as well as other Internet icons and widely-recognized entertainment industry names, such as Forest Whitaker and Cameron Diaz.

What is even very telling and worth noting is that Charter for Compassion--as stated below in the introduction to its movement--is inviting people of all nations, all faiths and all backgrounds to contribute to the writing of its charter:
Over the next four weeks, everyone is invited to help write the Charter for Compassion. Please choose the active phase below, read the description, be inspired by the sample text, and share your own words or suggestions for that section of the Charter. [link]

In order to find out more about the background of this project and to know what is meant by the "Golden Rule," please view the video below, which is introduced by Karen Armstrong.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Defenders of Baha'is in the Middle East Prominently Featured

The Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights (MNBR), an independent website organized by youth from the Middle East and dedicated to the defense of the Baha'is in the region, was just featured in The Media Line (TML) website.

As pointed out in its information page:
The Media Line (TML) is a unique non-profit news organization established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East, promote independent reporting in the region, and break down barriers to understanding in the Arab and Israeli journalism communities.

TML’s mission is to provide credible, unbiased content, background and context to local media outlets throughout the Middle East and around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and Australasia.

In addition to its own reporting, which reaches millions of news consumers daily, TML promotes accuracy and fairness among other regional journalists by designing and implementing ongoing educational, training and dialogue-building projects.

For ease of access, the full article is also posted below:


Muslims for Baha’i Human Rights
Written by Esra'a Al Shafei
Published Thursday, November 13, 2008
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Iran might be famous for Avicenna, the Cyrus cylinder, and its leaders' scathing remarks, but for over 6 million Baha'is across the world, it holds a special significance, as it is the birthplace of their faith.

Founded a century and a half ago, the Baha'i faith encourages the independent investigation of "truth," and calls – among other things – for the unity of religion and humankind, and the elimination of gender inequality. However, one of its central tenets – that Islam is not the final revelation of God – has led to it being declared a heresy, and its adherents denounced as apostates.

The earliest followers of the Baha'i faith in Iran experienced imprisonment, expulsion and execution, but as the faith's followers grew in number and spread over more countries in the region, it soon became evident that other states would not provide a safe haven for Baha'is to freely practise their faith.

Communities from Morocco to Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere underwent an onslaught of propaganda attacks and arrests, and several countries placed a ban on all Baha'i activities.

While in recent years the situation of Baha’is has improved (with Indonesia, for instance, repealing a ban on Baha’i activities), Iran remains the only country where Baha'is experience grave persecution. To date, however, hardly any Muslim-majority countries recognize the Baha'i faith as an independent religion. The lack of recognition rendered many Baha'is incapable of obtaining identification documents, effectively denying them their right to equal citizenship.

The Muslim Network of Baha'i Rights was founded in an effort to address and challenge the discrimination that Baha'is have to suffer under the supposed banner of Islam. Its mission is to secure their basic human rights within our societies, through raising awareness of the plight of Baha'is in many Muslim-majority countries, and encouraging fellow Muslims to speak out against such injustices.

Propaganda campaigns (spread primarily by state-owned media and religious clerics) have led to a deep and dangerous misunderstanding amongst many Muslims of Baha'is and their faith, wrongly associating them with political ideologies like Zionism or referring to them as "Satanists."

Since Baha'is are often censured within the mainstream media, such claims are hardly corrected, putting members of the faith in a very difficult situation. It is our responsibility as Muslims, and as members of the dominating majority, to raise awareness of who Baha'is actually are and to make sure that they are treated equally within the law and society. They are citizens of our countries regardless of their faith, which for the record is extremely respectful of Islam.

As practising Muslims we don't believe in the Baha'i faith, but why should that stand in the way of granting them their full rights? Why should our religious differences justify decades of abuse, wrongful imprisonment, murder, denial of education, and other crimes?

Baha'is have been ignored in their requests for peaceful coexistence, and despite the abuse they have never resorted to violence. It is therefore time for us to stand up and demand that their rights are fully ensured and legally protected. It is time for us to help Baha'is factually refute wrong accusations within regional media outlets that have dire consequences for their security.

As a strategy, and a recruitment tool, we have relied on the power of the Internet, the most open network in the world, to reach our target audience in an honest, uncensored fashion. It is to our advantage that increasingly more people rely on the Internet for news instead of traditional media, which in much of the Middle East is heavily censored. Many curious people resort to the Internet for research because of the amount of information that resides in it.

One of our biggest accomplishments was our successful utilization of creative media in order to raise awareness about the abuse perpetrated against the Baha'i minority in the Middle East, and encourage others into taking action.

Before any significant changes are made to the perceptions of citizens of the Middle East, or discriminatory laws are removed, it is important that we start a discussion, and our media productions have been more successful than any written post in achieving that.

Our first video campaign was documented in one of Egypt's most prominent papers within one week of its launch. Some of our comics have also been published and used in relevant conferences around the world. When the site was first established in the summer of 2007, it was covered by BBC Persian Service in an exclusive article only three weeks later. We owe this success to the accessibility of the Internet, where we break our way into global media outlets without having to worry about censorship.

Despite the amount of controversy we continue to stir in the Muslim world, we are committed to the cause of championing equal rights for the Baha’i minority in the region.

Esra'a Al Shafei is the executive director of MideastYouth.com and the Founder of the Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights. She is based in
Bahrain.

Copyright © 2008 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Have comments? Email [email protected].

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Favorable Court Ruling for the Baha'is of Egypt

Yesterday, 11 November 2008, witnessed another favorable milestone for the Baha'is of Egypt. Cairo's Administrative Court ruled in favor of a Baha'i university student, Hady Hosni Al-Qousheiry, and allowed him to obtain an ID card with dashes "--" in place of religious identification.

Mr. Hady Hosni, who was suspended from the Faculty of Agriculture at Alexandria University because he was unable to obtain an ID card to remain enrolled in the university, was forced to sue for his right to obtain this official document. As required by law, a new computerized ID card is necessary for acquiring a military draft postponement certificate needed for continuation of enrollment in higher education.

This court action is similar to the 29 January 2008 court action that allowed other Baha'i litigants to obtain ID cards and birth certificates, which is awaiting a final decision on the 15th of December by the Supreme Administrative Court because of a non-party appeal to the ruling.

This recent court decision should be regarded as a very significant one. This is because it affirms, again, the trend and the general leaning of the courts that favor finding a just solution to the dilemma of the Baha'is of Egypt. It also conforms to the constitutional guarantees of equal rights to all citizens of Egypt. In its decision, however, the court qualified these constitutional guarantees. It affirmed that "freedom of belief" is unrestricted and is a right for all humans, but that "freedom of religious practice" is regarded as limited to Egypt's only "three recognized religions," i.e. Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

The question is: how could one separate "religious belief" from "religious practice?"

P.S. See Egyptian media coverage here....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Prayer for America

In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent from April to December touring North America. He is shown here (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912.

Nearly a century ago, Abdu'l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha'i religion and the leader of the Baha'i community during that time period, revealed the following prayer on the occasion of his visit to the United States of America. As witnessed recently in the news, his words were indeed prophetic and his promises are gradually being realized:
O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

- `Abdu'l-Bahá

Monday, November 03, 2008

Egypt's Supreme Court Intimidated into Another Postponement!

Even though the Supreme Court's State Judicial Council had paved the way for the Supreme Administrative Court to reject the appeal of a "non-party" to the lawsuit, in which Cairo's Administrative Court has permitted the Baha'is to obtain ID cards with "dashes" instead of religious identification, the Supreme Administrative Court appears to be hesitant to render a final decision in the case.

Today, in its scheduled session to rule on the appeal, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court decided to postpone, again, its ruling and re-scheduled it for 15 December 2008. Reportedly there were several hostile extremists present in the court chambers today, slandering the Baha'is and terrorizing the court proceedings. The Court was not able to render its decision in this atmosphere of terror and the apparent state of anarchy.

Today is a dark day for justice and a dark day for Egypt!