Death Fatwa Issued Against Priest for Wanting to Open a Prayer Hall
Father Estefanos Shehata sent an urgent plea to Middle East Christian Association (MECA) on 8/14/2009 as the village elders issued a death fatwa (ruling) against him for wanting to open a prayer hall. He has also been banned from entering Ezbet Dawood Youssef, where he serves and where his family lives.
He said that the village Muslim's reaction was absolute anger at his request to convert a space in his family's home to be used for conducting funeral services and for marriage ceremonies. "I know we are not allowed to have a proper church in Egypt, but until now I pray for the dead and hold marriage ceremonies in the street." Father Estefanos told Waguih Yacoub of MECA in an audio recording.
"I appeal to President Hosny Mubarak, Interior Minister, State Security and the human rights organizations, that we are Egyptian citizens and we have the right like everyone else to place our dead in a dignified place" said Rev. Estefanos.
He said that it took him nearly two years to prepared this 100 square meter room to be used for these rites, before
approaching the state security for the necessary liscences to start using it.
"I went to the state security to get the necessary liscences for using this space in my family home, but they told me I need first to obtain the 'permission' of the village Muslims, as they (state security) want no problems in the village," said Father Estefanos "I told them that there would be no problems in getting this permission as we have always had good relations with the village Muslims and we love and consider them as our brothers." He has been brought up in Ezbet Dawood Youssef.
When Reverent Stefanos told the villager Muslim elders of what he was intending to do, they called for a meeting with the elders of the neighbouring villages. "They were extremely angry at my proposal and instead a death Fatwa was issued against me! . They told the Copts in the village to make me change my mind, and that it only takes a bullet to get rid of me since there is no 'blood money' for killing a Christian", Father Estephanos said."I am banned from entering my village for over a month now, I cannot even go to see my mother."
He said that he has not informed state security with this fatwa as they already know everything. "The Muslims understand very well that if the government requires their approval, so they are in a good position of being able to withhold it." he comented. "I would just like to know whether the Government governs the people, or the people govern the Government."
"I have not opened a church, it is only a hall. Were is the problem that I pray on the dead withing four walls; where is the problem that I conduct a wedding ceremony for a bride and bridegroom in a clean room, where is the crime in that?" Father Stefanos told MECA.
Commenting bitterly he said: "Muslim said I have to give up using this hall for praying for the dead. Last year I conducted prayers for my deceased uncle in the street, and they know that very well. I pray in the street."
"Can't they see that as Egyptian citizens we have the right to show some respect to out dead and conduct pray on their bodies in a clean place instead of the street?". he said. "But I assume that if the state security gives them this authority, then they use it. I really am at a loss, who gives permissions now, is it the state security or the Muslim villagers?"
The village of Ezbet Dawood Youssef lies in Samalut, Minia Governorate and has a congregation of 800 Copts but no church. It has a big mosque and another one is in the process of being built.
"The Muslim elders also said that it is through a grace on their part that we are allowed to go to the neighbouring village to pray there." Rev. Estefanos explaned that the next village is El-Tayebah which is a 5-kilometer walk away, and the children refuse to walk such a long way.
The question now which begs an answer, has the Muslim mobs taken over from the government when it comes to dealing with the Christian Copts' rights to excercise their religious rites, or is this a new policy on the part of the Egyptian State Security to delegate to the mobs the carrying out of their devious and illegal undertakings?