Al Jazeera TV recently ran the story, available here in Arabic, of massive demonstrations taking place in Egypt over a young Coptic woman who supposedly converted to Islam and was subsequently kidnapped by her Church. What I found even more interesting than the story itself was the way it was presented, and questions that could have been raised but were not even part of the equation.
Broadcaster Khadijah Qinna set the stage in her opening comments. Camellia Shehata was said to have accepted Islam and fled from her Christian environment. Some days later she was forcibly returned to her church by the Egyptian security forces. She has been detained by the church ever since. Thousands of Muslims are demanding that the government intervene to set free this Muslim convert whose human rights were violated when she was kidnapped by the church.
Khadijah then interviewed two Egyptian guests who presented quite different versions of what happened. Coptic human rights attorney Naguib Gabriel claimed that Camellia had simply left her house following a marital dispute and returned a week later. An office at Al Azhar University officially records all Coptic converts to Islam, and this office has no record of anyone with her name having converted.
Khadijah next asked Muslim scholar Fadel Soliman for his opinion. Fadel immediately went on the offensive, saying that of course Camellia had converted of her own free will and it was a lie to claim she had not. A campaign was being staged by the church to prevent people from choosing Islam.
This interview took place on 8 September. The following day Camellia herself released a Youtube video, available in Arabic here, in which she firmly denied that she had converted to Islam or been detained by her church. She acknowledged there were personal issues in her life that had caused her to leave her home, but did not go into detail about them and indicated they were certainly not the business of the government or the media.
As I tried to piece the puzzle together from the Arabic media and find out what really happened, the following thoughts crossed my mind:
1. The Coptic Church does not allow divorce. This puts Christian women who are in abusive or otherwise difficult relationships in an unenviable situation with no way out. It is possible that some of these women would choose Islam simply for the possibility of obtaining a state-issued divorce.
2. Al Jazeera described the thousands of Muslims shouting outside their mosques as "demonstrators". These were in fact not demonstrations at all, but simply crowds of men enflamed by the sermon they had just heard to shout curses and insults against the Coptic church and Pope Shenuda. It is sad to me that Egyptians are uninterested in demonstrating against the poverty, corruption, and illiteracy that exists in their own country, but can be whipped into a frenzy by an Imam's Friday sermon to protest an alleged conversion to Islam that did not even happen.
3. Muslims protest by the thousands to defend the rights of non-Muslims to convert to Islam, but it does not go the other way. It is impossible to imagine a demonstration at central Cairo's Tahrir Square with Egyptians protesting the right of a Muslim to become a Christian, or simply leave Muhammad behind. In reality it is not a question of "human rights" at all, but only "Muslim rights".
4. The story of Camellia Shehata's alleged conversion to Islam was conceived and spread by hatred. One Imam repeated it after the other, and the press and TV followed suit until it reached Al Jazeera and was broadcast throughout the entire Arab world. But it was all based on a lie.
5. Will Al Jazeera present Part Two of this story, acknowledging Camellia's testimony that she loves her Church and would never leave her Savior for Muhammad and Islam? Will Khadijah Qinna invite her as a guest as readily as she invited Fadel Soliman? I doubt it.