Egyptian court declines Christian family's custody of child 'forced to be Muslim'
An administrative court in Egypt declined over the weekend to rule in a lawsuit filed by a Coptic Christian couple to regain custody of a five-year-old boy named Shenouda due to "the lack of jurisdiction."
The court explained that it lacked the jurisdiction to rule for the return of the child to the family that raised him, local state-run Ahram online reported.
The court also said it could not legally reverse the decision of authorities to convert him to Islam, the report added.
About four years ago, a Christian couple, who could not have a child of their own, found a few-day-old baby unattended inside a church. They decided to raise him as their own, issued him a birth certificate and named him Shenouda.
A family member who had a feud with Shenouda's foster parents took revenge and reported their secret to the police, which led to the child being taken by the authorities by force. Shenouda was then put at an orphanage where his name was changed to Youssef and he became Muslim by force under the pretext that "a human is inherently born as Muslim." Since then, the Coptic couple has been going through a legal fight for the custody of the child.
Adoption is illegal in Egypt based on Islamic Sharia, but a Muslim family can foster a child while s/he keeps their name. Yet adoption is allowed in Christianity.
The case of Shenouda's custody triggered shockwaves across the country and prompted human and children rights groups to call for his return to his foster parents.
On Sunday, prominent writer Fatma Naoot declared that she asked her lawyers to officially request that she temporarily foster the child until the custody case is resolved.
"He will be like a beautiful brother to my son Omar," she wrote on her official Facebook page.
The foster parents of Shenouda could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.
Christians in Egypt are forced to follow Islamic Sharia in most matters, except marriage and divorce.
Legally, in Egypt, Christians can only foster a child if s/he lives at an orphanage annexed to a church. Usually, church orphanages host children whose parents died or are too poor to support them. Otherwise, any unidentified child is considered Muslim by default.
The percentage of Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt has never been officially released. But it is believed they make up approximately 10 to 15 per cent of the 103 million population; most of them are Coptic Orthodox and are among the world's oldest Christian communities.