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Ramadan Gesture of Kindness Ends in Detention

July 23, 2015 by Janelle P in Middle East

After the sun slipped below the horizon each evening during Ramadan, which ended on July 17th with the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations, observant Muslims around the world customarily broke their fast at their evening iftar meal by eating dates.

On the evening of July 10, 16-year-oldFawzi Osama stood on the street in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, handing out dates to Muslims hurrying home before sundown. In a country that is 90 percent Muslim, nearly every passer-by was guaranteed to be Muslim. Osama, however, is a CopticMembers of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. Christian, and he included a slip of paper containing a Christian message in each small plastic bag of dates.

Before the end of the night, an offended bystander stopped Osama and took him to a nearby police station. The furious Muslim demanded that the minor be charged with offending Islam and attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Madr Masr, an independent news website in Cairo, reported that the printed slips inside each bag included the message, “The Lord knows all that occurs, for He is the mighty Knower. He can carry on His shoulders all that is oppressive and exhausting and bring comfort and joy, for He loves you very much.”

According to a photo of the paper slip published by Madr Masr, the message included a link to a Christian website with evangelistic content.

Hearing of his predicament, two of Osama’s Christian friends hurried to the police station and were detained, as well.

“Upon arriving to check on my friend Fawzi, the police took my ID and mobile phone, and we were then detained,” Stephen Botros Fayed, 21, later wrote on his Facebook page. “‘You’re with the dates guy,’ they said, before taking the two of us into custody.” The next morning, local officials began an investigation into the claims against Osama, Fayed and his other friend, Shady Saeed, 20.

Al-Bawaba news reported that the three were referred to prosecutors on suspicion of “defamation of religions and being in pursuit of a modern recourse to evangelism aimed at drawing in Muslims.” The Egyptian penal code carries a sentence for up to five years in prison for anyone convicted of an act of religious contempt.

Coptic lawyer Joseph Malak, who was present during the investigation, told World Watch Monitor that once the prosecution officials learned the two friends had not been present while Osama was handing out the dates, “Stephen and Shady were excluded from the case.” However, each of the three young Copts were released July 12 on a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about $1275), pending further investigation.

Under Egyptian law, Islam is the country’s official religion, and openly proselytizing for any other religion can become ground for accusations of “inciting sectarian strife.”

“There is nothing called ‘proselytizing’ in the Egyptian penal code,” Malak said. “Fawzi is underage, and he didn’t intend to incite sectarian strife. His situation is good in the case. I expect that he will be acquitted if there is a Court of Misdemeanors hearing for it. Maybe it will be dropped.”

On his Facebook page, Fayed wrote that he and Saeed were not involved with distributing dates or Christian literature with Osama. “If someone had been caught with hashish or was drinking alcohol on the street, it would have been easier for them,” Madr Masr quoted him as writing.

A representative of the Evangelical Coptic Church, Pastor Refaat Fikri, commented about the incident on the popular Dotmsr news website on July 18. He was quoted by Mideast Christian News as saying, “What these Christian young people do when they hand out dates to fasting Muslims on the streets is a positive thing and should continue. This is in itself enough to express the love called for by Jesus Christ in his teachings.” Fikri added, “In order to make facts clear, we must affirm that evangelization does not mean blasphemy, but it is only preaching the teachings of Christ. Blasphemy means to insult and mock other religions, which is not taught by Christ. Every true Christian does not accept to disdain other religions.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Father, thank You for Fawzi Osama’s desire to reach out to Muslims in his community by handing out dates and the gospel message. We pray for Your protection over him now as he faces trial for charges of blasphemy. Give his attorney favor with the courts so that Osama might be released. Strengthen the Egyptian Christians with courage and wisdom as they seek effective ways to bring the light of Christ to their Muslim neighbors, and that the gospel might go out in power through words and through lives filled with the Holy Spirit. In the Name of Jesus who promised to “be with [us] always, even to the end of the age,” sending us out to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) Amen.

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