IRAQ: Court tells Christian woman to convert to Islam

Rudaw (10.06.2024) – A Christian woman whose mother converted to Islam when she was 15 was told by Iraqi authorities that she and her children should also convert.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law, passed in 1959, stipulates that if a parent converts to Islam, their children who are under 18 should also adopt the new faith.

Evlin Joseph, a Christian woman who lives in Duhok, said she was not aware of the regulation until recently.

“I am Christian. I am married to a Christian man. I have three Christian kids. My education was in our language. All my official documents are Christian. Our marriage is registered by the Church,” she said.

Joseph’s parents divorced when she was 15. Her mother later married a Muslim man and converted to Islam

“When I wanted to obtain my national ID card. They told me that my mother is Muslim and therefore I have to go to court,” she said.

Sami Patros, Joseph’s husband, said the regulation affects their entire family.

At the national ID card office, “they said your mother-in-law had converted to Islam and therefore they said your wife should become Muslim, too. This also applies to my children, their religion should be changed from Christianity to Islam,” he said.

Akram Mikhail, a lawyer who has represented many Christian cases in the courts, said he has seen many cases similar to Joseph’s and he believes the law contradicts the tenets of Islam.

“This forces someone to convert to Islam, with force. I am not an expert in Islam, but it is in Islam that one cannot force the religion onto others,” he said.

The law also stipulates that if one spouse converts to Islam, then Sharia law is applicable. This means that Joseph does not have the right to marry a Christian man. The law also is applied to inheritance and custody.

Last week, the Catholic University in Erbil held a conference on the Personal Status Law. Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani attended and offered his support to the rights of the Christians in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

Christians from across the wider Middle East region also attended.

Khaldun Saelayte, who came from Jordan, said Christians in Iraq are not given their full religious rights and he called on the authorities to enact a personal status law for Chistians.

Mohammed Nuqal, from Lebanon, pointed out that unlike Iraq, Christians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have their own personal status law.

The conference concluded with several recommendations, including calling on Christian leaders to draft reforms to the Personal Status Law.

Further reading about FORB in Iraq on HRWF website