The resolution of the long running court case between actor Ahmed El Fishawy and costume designer Hind El Hennawy brought to end a drama that has captured the rapt attention of Egyptian and Arab viewers over the past 20 months. However, the real debate, which is of the child caught in the middle of divisive parents, has been drowned out by the surrounding furor.
The story is obviously tailor made for mass consumption. Ahmed El Fishawy is the son of prominent Egyptian actors Farouk El Fishawy and Sumaya El Alfi. He met Hind on the set of a television series he was filming. A union ensued, the product of which is a girl called Lina. El Fishawy did not recognize the child and refused to take a DNA test and so El Hennawy took him to court, claiming that they had an Urfi marriage (a marriage which is hand written on a piece of paper and requires only two witnesses, somewhat prevalent amongst young people in the Middle East). El Hennawy lost the first case but won the next one.
In the eyes of the law, El Fishawy and El Hennawy were married and thus Lina now goes by the surname of El Fishawy. So, all of the ingredients for a tabloid fantasy were available. Celebrities embroiled in scandal, pregnancy, Urfi marriage, or pre-marital sex depending on whose side you’re on; the sort of social taboos that raise temperatures and are hotly debated on the plethora of satellite and terrestrial channels in the region. Yet all of this only served to highlight an undoubtedly more important point. What about the child? In Islamic jurisprudence, a child born out of wedlock is not ascribed to the father. There are two reasons for this. The first is to discourage the act of Zina (pre-marital or extra-marital sex) and the second is that it is extremely difficult to establish paternity beyond a reasonable doubt. Only in the case of the father owning up to paternity of the child will the name be given. However, with the advent of DNA testing, many Islamic scholars are urging its use to establish paternity in such matters. Islam also stresses that the child born out of wedlock does not bear the sin of the parents, and has the rights of a child born by marriage. However, some of the laws currently in force in Egypt go against the spirit of the claim that a child is not responsible for being born illegitimate. For example, in Lina’s case, she was not given a birth certificate until now because there was no name to legally subscribe under “Father. If the judge had not ruled that El Fishawy and El Hennawy had indeed been married, then Lina, like other illegitimate children, would have had to take her mother’s name.
This law is also an effort to discourage youth from committing adultery, yet the child also suffers, as not being able to bear your father’s name in a society such as Egypt’s is a huge stigma. The child is branded through no fault of its own. Even if the identity of the father of an illegitimate child is established, the child will be registered on the father’s ID as such and will not inherit from him. The child will also be registered on the mother’s ID as illegitimate. However, it appears to let would-be fathers off the hook, as they can father any number of illegitimate children without worrying about providing for them whether in life or death and, yet again, the child pays the price. The problem with these laws is that rather than discourage youth from adultery, which is the intention, it will in all probability only serve to increase the number of abortions (a grave sin in Islam) and hymen-restoration operations. These measures will just sweep things under the rug even more and it will be the children resulting from these unions that will bear the brunt of their parents’ actions. That is not how it should be. The stigma of being an illegitimate child in Egyptian culture is huge, and additional legal repercussions on children who had no say in how they were begotten are unnecessary. Instead, if we are to attempt to stay true to the spirit of the Islamic view that children are not responsible for the sins of their parents, it should be incumbent on our society to give these children what their parents did not: some form of legitimacy.