Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Preachers banned

Four religious preachers have been banned from working as a result of violating ministry regulations, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa banned preacher Mohamed Gebril from preaching activities at all of the ministry’s mosques this week, the ministry issuing a statement saying the ban had come in the wake of Gebril’s violating regulations as well as instructions issued for prayers during Laylat Al-Qadr, considered the most important night of the holy month of Ramadan.

Gebril had used the prayers for political purposes and had played on the religious sentiments of the public, the statement said. He was accused of having sought personal and political gain at the expense of religion, having commented during the taraweeh prayers on Laylat Al-Qadr at the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque in Cairo that “God would punish tyrannical leaders whose commands negate divine orders” and praying to God “to punish those who have shed our blood and orphaned our children.”

Gebril had also condemned what he called “manipulative media practitioners and corrupt politicians” during the prayers, saying they must be “punished.” According to the ministry statement, “severe measures will be taken against anyone allowing Gebril to preach or lead prayers at any mosque.”

Gomaa said that although Gebril had not mentioned names during his prayers, they were a clear abuse of his position as an imam. “The ban aims to ensure that religious sermons at mosques do not contain political elements. The ban includes all sheikhs who are not qualified to deliver sermons or lead prayers and those who use mosque platforms for personal or partisan interests,” he said.

Gebril has been transferred for an administrative investigation and will be given the opportunity to defend himself in front of a committee. It is understood that he is willing to apologise for the statements he made, saying on his Facebook page that “I was misunderstood in what I said. My prayers were misinterpreted by officials.”

“Gebril’s apology must be an official one in which he should clearly renounce what he has said and pledge he will not engage in such preaching again. He must also disown any relations between himself and any terrorist group,” Gomaa said in response.

On 15 July, the Turkish Anadolu news agency reported that the authorities had prevented Gebril from leaving Egypt by air when he was on his way to London. Airport officials said that Gebril had been detained for some hours and then released. Gebril is the fourth preacher to be banned in recent weeks, following the cases of Ahmed Al-Masarawi, Ahmed Amer and Mohamed Bahaa.

Hisham Al-Naggar, a researcher into Islamism at the Islamic Research Centre (IRC) in Cairo, a think tank, said that Egypt’s religious institutions had been spreading moderate Islamic teachings free of political rhetoric. After the 30 June Revolution, the decision was taken to clear the country’s religious institutions, including mosques, of preachers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terrorist group.

“Officials believe that such preachers could draw followers and urge them to be against the government,” Al-Naggar said. “The Muslim Brotherhood group have been using Gebril to attack the government, hoping to make him one of the group’s leaders such that he can unite with other members of terrorist groups abroad and attack the government from there.”

After the 30 June Revolution, the decision was taken to clear the country’s religious institutions, including mosques, of preachers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terrorist group. All unauthorised imams have been prevented from giving sermons or performing religious rituals, in order to counter extremist thought. All preachers must be certified by the ministry and Al-Azhar, the country’s top Islamic authority, before they are allowed to preach or lead prayers in any state-owned or private mosque.

The ministry’s decisions were reinforced by a law issued in 2014 stating that infringement of the measures could lead to three months imprisonment or a fine of LE20,000. Under the law no mosques will be shut down, but a special committee had been formed to supervise religious sermons and ensure that they do not deviate into political or partisan speech.

Al-Naggar believes that the measures segregate religious speech from politics and prevent mosques from becoming platforms for the political stances of certain groups.

Lawyer and activist Ahmed Al-Dawi is against the ban on Gebril preaching, saying that he was “critical of the 25 January Revolution and supported the call of former president Hosni Mubarak for clearing Tahrir Square.” Gebril had said during an interview on state and satellite TV that Mubarak “had not deserved what had been done to him” and that “outside powers” had been involved, Al-Dawi said.

 He said that Gebril’s prayers had not deviated from the norm. “I wonder why the officials interpreted them as having bad intentions,” Al-Dawi asked. “The authorities could have warned him first before the ban, instead of antagonising him and his followers.” 

Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Samie, a member of the IRC, said the law must be enforced, however. “If he is found guilty under the law by the committee, then the penalty must be applied,” Abdel-Samie said.

“The ministry’s instructions are the same for everyone. It has sought to expunge extremist thought from its ranks over the last two years in order to create a new generation that can properly comprehend moderate Islam,” he added.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had recently delivered a speech urging Al-Azhar and other concerned authorities to work on improving religious dialogue, he said. “Clearing our institutes from extremists is one of the important steps which can help contribute to this end,” Abdel-Samie concluded.

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