The Bahá'í Faith in Egypt has a history over a century old. Perhaps the first Bahá'ís arrive in 1863. Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the religion, was himself briefly in Egypt in 1868 when on his way to imprisonment in 'Akká. The first Egyptians were converts by 1896. Despite forming an early Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly and forming a National Assembly, in 1960 following a regime change the Bahá'ís lost all rights as an organised religious community by Law 263 at the decree of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, in 1963, there were still seven organized communities in Egypt. More recently the roughly 2000 Bahá'ís of Egypt have been embroiled in the Egyptian identification card controversy from 2006 through 2009. There have been homes burned down and families driven out of towns.
Perhaps the first Bahá'ís in Egypt were Haji Báqir-i-Káshání and Siyyid Husayin-i-Káshání who took up residence in Egypt during the period Bahá'u'lláh was in Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh and his family left Adrianople on August 12, 1868 and after a journey by land and sea through Gallipoli and Egypt arrived in `Akká on August 31, and confined in the barracks in the citadel in the city. From then on many well known Bahá'ís spent time in Egypt or joined the religion there. Nabíl-i-A`zam made several journeys on behalf of Bahá'u'lláh and was imprisoned in Egypt in 1868. Robert Felkin was in Egypt circa 1880s and published a number of books -later he coverted to the religion. In 1892 two converts in Egypt embarked to the West intending to spread the religion and were the first Bahá'ís to enter the United States where the first converts followed in 1894.
Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl-i-Gulpáygání, often called, Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl, was the first prominent Bahá'í to pioneer to Egypt and made some of the first big changes to the community. Abdu'l-Fadl first came to Cairo in 1894 where he settled for several years. He worked at Al-Azhar University and was successful in converting more than fourteen and upto thirty of the teachers and students including the first native Egyptians to convert to the religion. Abu'l-Fadl also became friends with writers and magazine publishers, and many articles that he authored appeared in the Egyptian press. In 1896, when Nasiru'd-Din Shah was assassinated in Iran, Za`imu'd-Dawlih used the rumour that the assassination had been performed by Bahá'ís to cause a massacre of the Bahá'ís in Egypt. Abu'l-Fadl stood up in defence for the Bahá'ís and stated that he himself was a Bahá'í and his allegiance became public. Two publications came out during this time from Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl:
- Fara'id (The Peerless Gems): A book written in 1898 in reply to an attack on the Kitáb-i-Íqán and published in Cairo. Generally considered Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl's greatest work.
- Al-Duraru'l-Bahiyyih (The Shining Pearls): Published in 1900, it is a collection of essays on the history of the Bahá'í Faith. Since it was wrriten in Arabic, it was responsible for making the Bahá'ís known in Egypt.
Following their publication al-Azhar University decreed that he was an infidel. From 1901 to 1904 at the request of `Abdu'l-Bahá he traveled and gave talks among the new Bahá'í community in the United States. Meanwhile the Egytian community continued to publish materials and from 1900 to 1910 several articles and books including official Bahá'í literature were published in Cairo. Abu'l-Fadl died in 1914 is buried in the cemetery called Al-Rawda Al-Abadeyya, the Eternal Garden.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, traveled to Egypt in September 1910 after being released following events of the Young Turk Revolution. Wellesley Tudor Pole became a Bahá'í after traveling to Egypt to interview him in November 1910. In the same year, `Abdu'l-Bahá refered to an early Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of Cairo. Playwright Isabella Grinevskaya traveled to meet `Abdu'l-Bahá in Egypt and became a member of the religion. Louis Gregory visited `Abdu'l-Bahá at Ramleh in 1911. From later in 1911 through 1913 `Abdu'l-Bahá traveled to the West but on return stayed in Egypt almost six months before returning to Haifa/Akka. Upon his return a number of he gave a number of talks. These were eventually published as `Abdu'l-Bahá in Egypt. After `Abdu'l-Bahá returned to Haifa, Martha Root stayed there for six months in 1915. And following `Abdu'l-Bahá laying the cornerstone for the first House of Worship of the West, the Bahá'ís from Cairo, Port Said and Alexandria contributed to the Fund for its construction in Wilmette, Illinois. During World War I Tudor Pole was stationed in Egypt and was directly involved in addressing the concerns raised by Ottoman threats against `Abdu'l-Bahá. As the battle lines advanced from Egypt through Palistine, the Ottomans had threatened that `Abdu'l-Bahá would be killed if the Ottomans had been forced to leave the region. This threat was taken seriously by the British Military and who sought to make his protection part of the plans for the Palestine theatre. General Allenby altered his plans for the prosecution of the war and succeeded in protecting `Abdu'l-Bahá.
After the Death of `Abdu'l-Bahá
In 1924, under an earlier regime, following a controversy over burial of a Bahá'í in a Moslem cemetery, Egypt became the first Islamic state to legally recognize the Bahá'í Faith as an independent religion apart from Islam and creating two cemeteries for the Bahá'ís - one in Cairo and the other in Ismaïlia.The assembly of Alexandria was formed in 1924 for the first time and Subhê Eliçs was among the elected - he was re-elected until 1961 and left an oral history recorded from his experiences in the community in 1977. It was also the year of the first election of the regional National Spiritual Assembly of Egypt and Sudan.
After the World Wars
Assemblies in Egypt were established in Suez, Tanta and Sohag in the 1940s. Women were among the elected and the Bahá'í community began to include Kurdish, Coptic, and Armenian peoples. During this period of growth pioneers went to Scotland from Egypt in 1946. The Sudan/Egypt regional National Assembly existed until 1953 when the regional National Assembly of North Africa was formed and there was a continued period of growth in the religion. However since 1960 with a regime change, the Bahá'ís lost all rights as an organised religious communityby Law 263 which specified a minimum sentence of six months' imprisonment or a fine for any assembly-related activities. This law came into being seven years after the declaration of the Arab Republic of Egypt, at the decree of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. All Bahá'í community properties, including Bahá'í centers, libraries, and cemeteries, were confiscated by the government except the cemetery Al-Rawda Al-Abadeyya. In 1963, Bahá'í communities were still counted in Abu Qir, Mansoura, Alexandria, Port Said, Cairo, Zeitoun, and Ismaïlia. But there were also episodic waves of arrests of Bahá'ís in the mid-1960s, 1972 and 1985.
The current Egyptian Bahá'í community has had fatwas issued against it by Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Center, which charges Bahá'ís with apostasy in Islam. There are still allegations of Bahá'í involvement with other powers and accusations of "using religion to promote deviant ideas to spark sedition or disdain the heavenly religions or their followers or to harm national unity." There have been homes burned down and families driven out of their communities.
Hussein Bikar was born in Alexandria in 1912 and was one of the most famous Egyptian portrait painters. A member of the Bahá'í Faith he was arrested in the 1980s by the state security investigation bureau in a clamp-down on Bahá'ís in Egypt. Never the less Bikar received the State Merit Award in 1978, the Merit Medal in 1980 and, in 2000, shortly before his death, the Mubarak Award. The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, paid tribute to his contributions to Egyptian society after his death in 2002.
The controversy resulted from a ruling of the Supreme Administrative Council of Egypt on December 16, 2006 against the Bahá'ís stating that the government may not recognize the Bahá'í Faith in official identification cards.
The ruling left Bahá'ís unable to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country unless they lied about their religion, which conflicts with Bahá'í religious principle.However a 2008 ruling accepted the compromise solution offered by the Bahá'ís, allowing for them to obtain identification papers without the Bahá'í Faith being officially recognized, however through February 2009 there have been appeals and procedural choices made trying not to give such cards. There was coverage of the issue internationally - Poland, ...
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