Dina and Maher El-Gohary, Persecuted Coptic Christians Ask Obama for Help


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'We are imprisoned in our own home because Muslim clerics called for the murder of my father.'

CAIRO, EGYPT (Catholic Online) - The history of Christianity in Egypt goes as far back as the visit of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. (Matt. 2) To the Christians who live in this historic land the history of the Church is the history of Egypt. The Evangelist Mark brought the Gospel to Egypt in 61 A.D. and it has a proud and inspiring Christian heritage.

The majority of Christians in Egypt are Coptic Orthodox. The very word "Copt" comes from an early Greek name for Egypt. After all Christianity and Egypt have a long and holy history. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the persistent persecution of Christians in Egypt is so appalling.

The most recent example of a virulent Anti-Christian wave which has gripped Egypt is revealed in a touching and heart wrenching letter written by a fifteen year old Egyptian Christian girl named Dina El-Gohary. She sent the letter to President Obama. Through the World Wide Web - and the virtual community it promotes - it has now prompted a global response:

"Mr. President Obama," she wrote in Arabic, "we are a minority in Egypt. We are treated very badly. You said that the Muslim minority in America are treated very well, so why are we not treated here likewise? We are imprisoned in our own home because Muslim clerics called for the murder of my father, and now the Government has set for us a new prison, we are imprisoned in our own country."

Dina learned her Christian faith and her courage from her father, Maher El Gohary. He has lived under the boot of Egyptian injustice for 35 years. It was when he embraced the claims of Jesus Christ and was baptized into the Coptic Church that it all began. He has raised his daughter in the faith and she has willingly embraced it.

Now, Maher and his daughter are refugees in a Nation which claims to respect religious freedom - even refers to it within its own Constitution - but overtly denies it to Christians.

This father and daughter have to switch apartments regularly to avoid the murderous threats. Their dogs have been killed. They have been accused of being insane and possessed by demons. Maher has had FATWAS issued against him by Islamist clerics who call for the "spilling of his blood". Why? He is what some Muslims hate the most, a convert from Islam to Christianity.

His daughter is equally reviled because she has embraced the ancient faith of Egypt, which by the way, is Christianity. As her letter to the US president demonstrates she has joined in her father's courageous and heroic stand for the Church of Jesus Christ against growing persecution from segments of the Muslim community in Egypt.

In an interview last year, Maher told his interviewer, "Islam is the only thing Egyptians are 150% sure of. If you reject Islam, you shake their belief and you are an apostate, an infidel...I can see in the eyes of Muslims how much my conversion has really hurt them." He is tired of having to regularly switch churches to receive the Holy Eucharist out of fear of being killed.

He loves his daughter and wants her to have the freedom to practice her Christian faith. Without intervention, when Dina turns 16 she will receive her identity papers. He does not want her to have "Muslim" on those papers. She is a Christian and proud of it. However, the Government has never accepted his conversion to Christianity.

He filed an application under Egyptian law last June asking that he be allowed to replace the identification of "Muslim" on his card with "Christian". He wants to be called "Peter", after the Apostle. It is the name he took at Baptism. In filing the application he received cooperation from his courageous Coptic Priest who issued his Baptism certificates for filing with the Court. After all, he was baptized by an Archbishop!

Peter (Maher) filed with his daughter in mind. He wants her to be recognized as a Christian. Unfortunately the Court ruled against him. They found his Baptism documents to be "legally invalid" and refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the Church. Peter (Maher) has filed an appeal and, with his daughter, is a prisoner in his own Nation.

Abdul Aziz Zakareya is a Muslim cleric and a former professor at Al Azhar University. His comments to an interviewer that Christian converts such as Peter (Maher) el Gohary "should be killed by authorities" are shared by too many Muslims in Egypt. His reasoning for calling for this murder, "Public conversions can lead to very dangerous consequences. The spreading of a phenomenon like this in a Muslim society can cause many unwanted results and tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims."

Peter (Maher)is a follower of Jesus Christ who would make the Evangelist Mark, whose missionary work brought the true faith to Egypt, quite proud. In interviews he speaks openly of his love for the Lord Jesus. He was raised as a Muslim but was drawn to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church. He describes the influence of parables of the Lord, especially His invitation to his followers to love their enemies.

Peter (Maher) has had plenty of practice over at doing this over the years. "In Islam, if you steal your hands are cut off, but in Christianity you can be forgiven," he says. "This compassion is what attracted me."

His daughter Dina is cut from the same kind of Christian courage as her father, "I've always felt Christian" she told an interviewer, "But my mom has taken me to sheiks to convince me of Islam. She made me wear the hijab and go to the mosque against my will. My father and I are in danger. A man with a beard once grabbed me and told me that ‘if you and your dad don't stop, I'll kill you both.' "

The U.S. government knows of the struggle of this father and daughter. The State Department's 2009 International Religious Freedom Report reports in detail on the case. Wednesday night President Obama addresses the Nation in his first State of the Union Address. We call upon him to act to alleviate this specific injustice.

We urge President Obama to intervene for all persecuted Christians in Egypt. He ran for office promising he would defend religious freedom. Now he has a chance to show that he was sincere. There is no doubt about what Dina wrote to the US president. We recognize the right to religious freedom of Muslims in America. Egypt must do the same for Christians!

We invite all of our readers to pray for - and stand in solidarity with - Peter (Maher) and Dina El Gohary, all Coptic Christians, indeed all Christians in Egypt. Peters recent words to a journalist reaffirm his resolve "even if we have to live on the streets. We love our Lord Jesus, and we have left Islam for good."