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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
18 February 2015
Amal Morcos

Best friends Mariam and Demiana share a happy moment at the Good Samaritan Orphanage. (photo: Amal Morcos)

In the winter edition of ONE magazine, contributor Amal Morcos visits two child care institutions in Egypt helping vulnerable children. She offers some additional perspectives below.

Egyptians love to refer to their country as the “mother of the world.” But, if you are an Egyptian Christian orphan longing for the love of a parent, a combination of Islamic tradition, an unclear law and even international politics will make your chances of being legally adopted practically nil.

The Egyptian constitution — which states that it is “inspired” by Islamic religious law, known as Sharia — actually bans adoption.

Why Islam forbids adoption is not clear. Some believe it is in order to maintain a clear bloodline and to ensure rightful inheritance. Others believe it to be a reaction to Muhammad’s marriage to the former wife of his adopted son, which was a source of scandal in the community.

According to Atonement Friar Elias Mallon of CNEWA, “Islamic law sees three types of orphans: the fatherless (such as Muhammad), who ceases to be an orphan at puberty; the motherless; and the abandoned. “The first one is the one that gets the most attention. There is a great deal of material in the Quran harshly condemning oppressing or cheating the orphan. However, Islamic law is very complicated concerning who inherits what and whom one can marry or not marry. It is precisely here that it gets convoluted. “There is a type of acceptance of the orphan called kafalah, but this has nothing to do with what Western law considers adoption.

“In a traditional society with extended families this was not a problem since children were taken in. In a modern or at least urbanized society this is causing some problems. It has also come up before the European Court of Human Rights. There is also an inner discussion going on about adoption.”

But does Egypt’s law extend to Christians? This is where things get really murky. Those who support legal adoption in Egypt say the law does not explicitly prevent Christians from adopting. Adoptions by Christians do take place, arranged mostly by the churches. Some government officials are aware of this practice and turn a blind eye. Those who don’t fear Christians will adopt Muslims in order to raise them as Christians.

The legal stakes have been raised since two American couples were convicted by an Egyptian court in 2008 of trying to adopt children from a Christian orphanage and remove them from the country. Some observers believed Egypt’s government at the time, under Hosni Mubarak, staged the trial to show that Egypt was cracking down on human trafficking. (The U.S. government had criticized Egypt for not doing enough to prevent African migrants from trafficking into Israel.)

Since the revolution that toppled Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has had two governments. The president who was elected after Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi, led the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s leading Islamist party. He tried to pass a constitution that critics said “further disenfranchised” non-Muslims — especially Christians. After the military toppled Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian Muslims and Christians overwhelmingly endorsed a revised constitution in a referendum in January 2014. While the new constitution prohibits political parties to be affiliated with religions or religious movements, and grants greater freedom of expression, it remains to be seen whether the current government will move to improve the status of Egypt’s Christians, including her orphans.

Read more in Egypt’s Good Samaritans in the winter edition of ONE.

Tags: Egypt Christian-Muslim relations Islam Orphans/Orphanages Christian

19 November 2014
Amal Morcos

Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, right, returned to Lebanon after two decades in Jordan to give emotional support to refugees. (photo: Amal Morcos)

The Autumn edition of ONE turns a spotlight on Lebanon and Sister Wardeh’s World, where refugees from Syria are seeking a safe haven. Writer Amal Morcos here offers some additional context:

Muslims of the Middle East have a saying: “If there are no Nazarenes [Christians], it is a pity.” The saying is better in Arabic because it rhymes, but the gist is that Muslims recognize the value of having Christians in their society. Muslims aspire to send their children to Christian schools, to live in Christian neighborhoods, and to be helped by Christian organizations. But in Lebanon, a place where Christians were once powerful, wealthy and numerous, I discovered that there is an entire sea change taking place. Large numbers of Christian middle class families, affected by the country’s soaring prices and scarcity of jobs, have dropped into poverty. This has left Christian institutions — schools, hospitals, orphanages — underfunded and struggling to help the growing numbers of needy Christians.

First, there are the elderly. While Lebanon is typical of traditional Arab culture where the elderly are primarily cared for by family, growing numbers are being placed in nursing homes. Sunnis and Shi’as (who outnumber Lebanon’s fragmented Christians — the country has seven different patriarchates) have several well-financed charitable institutions. But for elderly Christians who have no family and no money, the Daughters of Charity run one of the very few nursing homes in Lebanon that will take care of Christians for free.

Christians have also been affected by the Lebanese government’s almost legendary corruption. Corruption deprives the country of resources — resources that could go into funding the nation’s crumbling public schools. Ten years ago, the overwhelming majority of Christian Lebanese school children attended parochial or private schools.

These days, growing numbers of financially burdened Christian parents are sending their children to public schools.

Sister Ann Sauve, a nurse and Daughter of Charity who runs a medicine dispensary in Beirut’s working class Karm al Zatoun neighborhood, finds herself serving more and more Christian families. She believes that Christians are especially vulnerable in Lebanon because of the lack of safety nets. “Lebanon is not like Egypt or Syria where the government will provide you with social services such as free medical care,” says Sister Ann.

Christians may also not get as much help as Muslims from international aid organizations who are more accustomed to aiding Muslims. Sister Wardeh Keiruz of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — who works with Syrian Christian refugees — says she plans to ask for more funding in 2015 to help Lebanese Christians cope with the psychological stress of the refugees crisis, the economic crisis, and the country’s political turmoil. She’s clear though that she wants to help Christians because they are poor, not because they are Christian.

“I just want to help those not getting help,” she says, “and that is the Christians.”

Check out the Autumn edition of ONE for more on Sister Wardeh’s World.