By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis
An Egyptian Muslim who converted to Christianity in 1998 after he found God’s love began a hunger strike in prison this week to protest his mistreatment, persecution, and “illegal” sentence, his lawyer said.
Bishoy Armia Boulos, 32, is the first Egyptian to legally attempt to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his official ID, which rankled the 90 % Muslim population.
In 2007, when he filed the lawsuit to change his religion, he said he wanted to raise his children as Christians, which is illegal if the father is registered as a Muslim. He was the first Muslim in Egypt to file such a suit, and it sparked a national uproar that caused his lawyer to stop representing him. Bishoy changed his name from Mohammad Hagazy after his conversion to Christ.
In January 2008, a Muslim judge denied his petition.
Hardline clerics called for his execution, and he received death threats by telephone, prompting Bishoy to go into hiding for months. His apartment was burned.
But as the years wore on, Bishoy grew in courage and he itched to bring change to his nation. He approached a Coptic Christian television station news producer and offered to work as a journalist, but the station turned him down.
After hardline Muslim President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July 2013, Bishoy began documenting abuses against Christians – a practice that led to his arrest in December of that year.
Charged with “instigating sectarianism” by “depicting Egyptian Christians as victims of discrimination” through his reporting, Bishoy was sentenced in 2014 to five years in prison, according to the New York Times.
“The judge is behaving in a prejudiced manner in this case because Bishoy had publicly announced his conversion to Christianity,” said his attorney Karam Ghobrial. “There’s a need for attention to this case, and escalating it, so everyone knows what this convert is being exposed to.”
In protest, Bishoy “vowed to starve himself to death,” Ghobria told FrontPage Magazine.
Most Christian converts in Egypt practice their new faith covertly, but Bishoy tried to establish precedents that would make it easier for others to come to Christ free of persecution.
While converting to Christianity is not overtly illegal, the current constitution enshrines Islam as Egypt’s official religion, giving huge backing to the Koran’s dictate to execute apostates. Christians who convert to Islam face no similar such prohibition or police harassment.
The Egyptian government has never ordered or carried out an execution for apostasy through official means, but attacks by extremists are frequent and violence goes overlooked, unpoliced and condoned regularly. Arson and gun assaults against churches are common.
Bishoy has reported suffering torture while in Egyptian jails. His Christian-convert wife and two daughters were granted asylum in Germany.
Bishoy said he converted to Christianity as a result of comparing religions. “The major issue for me was love,” he is quoted in Wikipedia. “Islam wasn’t promoting love as Christianity did.”
Bishoy’s own father condemned him for his conversion in 2008. “I am going to try to talk to my son and convince him to return to Islam” he was quoted in an Egyptian newspaper. “If he refuses, I am going to kill him with my own hands.”
In response, Bishoy issued the statement: “I would like to send a message to my dad. I saw what you said in the newspapers. You say you want to kill me; to shed my blood in public. But I love you so much because you are my dad and because Jesus taught me to love. I accepted Jesus Christ willingly and nobody forced me. I forgive you. No matter what decision you make. No matter what you do. To my dad and mom, I say Jesus Christ died to save me.”