Uncovering the truth is always a convoluted affair when it comes to the Middle East. Consider the case of the Egyptian Nagla Imam. Is she a Muslim woman who advocates the sexual harassment of Jewish women, or a Christian woman, who advocates human rights — especially for fellow women of all faiths?
The story begins last June 24, when I was a guest on I Was a Prisoner, which airs weekly on the Arabic satellite station Tarek TV ("Way TV"). Named after its host, Nabil Bissada, who was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt for facilitating the way for Muslims to convert to Christianity, I Was a Prisoner explores the lack of human rights in Muslim countries.
Prior to the show, I was told a well-known Egyptian lawyer was scheduled to call in and discuss how the Egyptian government was harassing her for converting. Nagla called in and expressed her situation as follows:
After being a prominent lawyer for years, she was fired for converting to Christianity; nor would the government, as usual, allow her formally to change her religion from Muslim to Christian on her I.D. card. As a result, she tried to organize a public demonstration against the government, with other Muslim converts to Christianity. The demonstration was quickly dispersed by the police, the demonstrators beaten and threatened; and the Muslim mob got in on the action. The young daughter of one Christian convert who broke her arm was denied medical attention.
After the show, I decided to google Nagla Imam's name, and it was then that I discovered the strange remarks attributed to her. The contradiction was stunning: I contacted Nabil, who said he would investigate the matter.
Last week, July 7, Nabil contacted me by phone on the Nagla case. According to him, here are where things stand:
He called and asked Nagla about the sexual harassment remark; she became livid and frustrated, saying she never said such a thing, and that that video was intentionally doctored by her Islamist opponents who run the Saudi-sponsored station Al Arabiya to slander her name. (Nabil added that, due to her human rights work — years back, she tried to pass a law banning polygamy in Egypt to the point that Al Azhar proclaimed her an infidel — Islamists have been trying to undermine her for years.)
As for her personal situation, approximately two weeks ago, state security arrested and took Nagla to a government building in Cairo. There, a top official twisted the crucifix she was wearing, tightening the chain around her neck, while saying "the cross will be the death of you." The official then proceeded to beat her — giving her a black eye, a bruised body, and broken teeth. Before releasing her, he said, "Stay in your house, till you are carried out to your grave," adding that, if she does not return to Islam, "people" will be dispatched to "take care of her."
Nabil concluded by saying that Nagla and her two young children are trapped indoors — their entire Muslim family having turned their backs on them — and besieged by the mob, which bangs on the doors and windows and has cut off (no doubt, thanks to the government) all electricity to the house, leaving Nagla and her children in the dark (see here for a video where a battered Nagla sings a psalm with her children).
Finally, a top Muslim cleric, Salim Abdul Galil, appeared on an Al Azhar affiliated station proclaiming Nagla an "infidel," adding she must either return to Islam or spend the remainder of her life indoors.
It should be observed that such a verdict accords perfectly not only with Islamic law in general, which is Egypt's "primal source of legislation," but the Hanafi school in particular, which is dominant in Egypt: rather than kill apostate women outright, the "lenient" Hanafis recommend that women be beaten (the government official took care of that) and then imprisoned in their homes (the Muslim cleric has seen to that) till they see the "error of their ways," and return to Islam.
Postscript: Last we heard, Nagla and her children have completely disappeared, bringing back the government official's threat to mind — that "people" could be sent to "take care of her." To learn more about the Nagla Imam story, contact Way TV: (661) 233-8787.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.