Egypt’s public prosecution ordered the return of five-year-old Shenouda back to his Christian adoptive parents with temporary custody on Tuesday, 29 March, after a fatwa (religious edict) by the country’s Grand Mufti, the government’s first and primary source of religious authority.
Shenouda is set to return to his adoptive mother, Amal Ibrahim, who was instructed by the prosecution to complete all legal fostering procedures in order to finalize her complete custody. Shenouda was previously placed in an orphanage, renamed Youssef, and assigned the Islamic faith after the court declined to rule custody to his family.
Al-Azhar International Fatwa Center, the online platform for Al-Azhar religious edicts, recently stated that in the case a child is found by non-Muslims, then he should follow the religion of those who found him; thereby indicating that Shenouda remains Chrsitian, as per the religion of those who found him.
Children with no known lineage within the country, as per the Civil Status Department at the Ministry of Interior, are assigned the Islamic faith by default.
The Public Prosecution’s order comes following the decision of an Egyptian administrative court to abstain from ruling on whether the child Shenouda’s adoptive family can gain custody of him due to its lack of jurisdiction on the matter. This decision resulted in him remaining within the state’s custody on 19 March.
After being denied custody, Shenouda’s family intended to make another appeal to the court. The Ministry of Social Solidarity, which oversees fostering of children without known parents, was directed to review the couple’s request to take custody of the child.
Over the past year, the case of ‘Baby Shenouda’ has stirred controversy across Egypt. The child was found by a Coptic Christian couple inside a Cairo church five years ago, when he was only a few days old and took him in, raising him as their own.
Egyptian authorities took custody of Shenouda when DNA tests, which were performed as a result of a family dispute over inheritance, revealed that he was not biologically related to the couple.
Under Shari’a law, adoption is not permissible. Fostering a child, however, is. In 2021, a decree was set in place by Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity wherein foster parents are granted the right to add their names to a fostered child’s birth certificate.