Egypt Christian group seeks to change Muslim status

Thu Dec 10, 2009 4:00pm GMT

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Ayman Raafa, an Egyptian born a Christian, was nine months old when the father he never knew converted to Islam.

Now 23, Raafa is fighting to get the Christian faith he professes recognised by the state and registered on his identity documents vital to daily life.

Raafa was raised a Christian but the state says children automatically become Muslim on a father's conversion, a policy that places dozens of people in limbo in a society that does not -- in practice -- recognise conversion away from Islam.

Raafa is one of a group of 40 facing the same identity conundrum and now filing a lawsuit to have their Christian faith recognised, touching a raw spot in relations between Muslims and 10 percent of Egypt's 77 million people who are Christian.

"I graduated last year and I cannot get a job because I do not have a national ID," Raafa said at his lawyer's office, near a well-known Coptic Christian church and hospital in Cairo.

Interior Ministry official Hany Abdel-Latif, like other officials, insisted no such discriminatory rules existed.

But Lawyer Peter El-Naggar said in practice children of converts away from Islam would not get approval for a new ID card stating their Christian faith. He said such applications are usually returned with a request to correct "mistakes".

But he said: "If anyone (has become) a Muslim and goes to the civil authority, it will be changed in 24 hours."   Continued...

<p>A girl looks on as people pray in the open area of a mosque on the first day of Eid al-fitr in Cairo September 20, 2009. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>
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