International News

In Egypt, Christian Marriage And Sharia Law to Reconcile

by Engy Magdy

Egypt’s three major Christian denominations – Catholic, Coptic and Evangelical Christian – are preparing to sign off on a final draft of what is known in the country as “personal-status” law, the rules governing marriage, divorce and inheritance for Christians in Egypt.

The personal-status law for Christians in Egypt must be reconciled with Sharia law, which is based on Islam and is the basis of the law in many Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt.

All Egyptians, regardless of their religion, are subject to Sharia law in inheritance, which grants women half the share of men. It’s the same for adoption, which is prohibited according to Sharia law. The issue is more complicated regarding marriage and divorce.

There is no civil marriage in Egypt, and so Christians in the country are subject to the rules of their sect. Essentially, Christians in Egypt must develop their own family law regarding marriage.

Under the new unified law, there is agreement among all churches in Egypt on clauses regarding engagement, reasons for marriage and the method of marriage, Jameel Halim, a legal adviser to the Catholic Church, told The Tablet.

On divorce, the Catholic Church is firm, Halim said. “The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce; it has what is known as physical separation, which is stated in the law. This gives room for repentance and forgiveness. The purpose is to preserve the family, not to destroy it,” he said.

The Church allows annulment on the basis of invalidity of marriage contract.

The invalidity is not like divorce, the marriage contract is void in case of the absence of consent or satisfaction of one of the spouses when there is a disease or illness that one of the parties has hidden before marriage, so here it requires written consent to complete the marriage, also in the case of a person who has had a hidden previous marriage” Halim explained.

However, in the Orthodox and Evangelical churches, divorce will be possible under certain terms and conditions. Two valid reasons are adultery and change in religion. Beside adultery and change in religion, the Coptic Church will allow divorce in case of separation between the couple for five years if they have children and three years for those who don’t have children, which is called “the impossibility of companionship.”

Meanwhile, the personal-status law is carefully treading the issues of adoption and inheritance.

According to a church source, who talked to The Tablet on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, “There is pressure from the state on the representatives of the three churches in terms of the two issues.”

Sharia law does not accept adoption to avoid intermingling of genealogies, and so the law relating to adoption may be revoked from the personal-status law of Christians, the source said.

Halim said that “the articles relating to inheritance are being reformulated in a manner consistent with the three churches and the state, while those relating to adoption need to be formulated precisely. The conditions for the family and child religious must be clear, so the materials are carefully being drafted.”