Friday,27 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Friday,27 April, 2018
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

An end to feckless fatwas

Parliament’s Religious Affairs Committee approves a draft law which restricts the issuing of fatwas to licensed preachers, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

A five-article law drafted by Religious Affairs Committee Secretary-General Omar Hamroush restricts the issuing of fatwas to clerics affiliated with Al-Azhar, Dar Al-Ifata, the Complex of Islamic Research and the Ministry of Religious Endowment’s General Directorate of Fatwas.

The draft law’s Article 2, however, makes it clear the religious teaching of preachers, imams and members of the teaching board of Al-Azhar University should not be considered as constituting a public fatwa.

Article 3 stipulates that only licensed preachers are allowed to issue fatwas via mass media outlets such as television and radio channels. Article 4 fixes penalties for those who infringe the law. Violators could face six months in prison and a fine of LE10,000.

Hamroush told Al-Ahram Weekly the draft law is part of ongoing efforts to reform religious discourse.

“The law aims to tighten the grip on radical Islamist agendas, particularly when they are expressed in the form of fatwas,” said Hamroush.

“Following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013 and the closure of radical and Islamist television channels Salafi clerics affiliated with the Nour Party attempted to impose their own agenda by issuing fatwas every now and then.”

It is these Salafi clerics, said Hamroush, who are responsible for the proliferation of bizarre fatwas over the last four years.

“They have issued fatwas banning Muslims from shaking hands with Copts or exchanging congratulations with them on Christian feasts.”
“These so-called fatwas paved the way for militant jihadists to bomb churches and threaten Coptic families in North Sinai. They sow the seeds of sectarian tension in Egypt.”

Under the law clerics who seek to issue fatwas on mass media channels now need to be licensed by Al-Azhar, Dar Al-Iftaa, the Complex of Islamic Research or the Ministry of Religious Endowment’s General Directorate of Fatwas.

“This will help Al-Azhar — the foremost authority on Sunni Islam — cap Islamist agendas and reform religious discourse,” said Hamroush.
Fouad Badrawi, a member of the Religious Affairs Committee, told the Weekly that “the law is an important step in ridding Egypt of radical Islam”.

“This draft law will help halt the mixing of religion with politics,” said Badrawi. “Every institution affiliated with Al-Azhar should ensure it is strictly implemented.”

Osama Al-Abd, chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee and former head of Al-Azhar University, told reporters on 4 May that MPs and Al-Azhar clerics approved the draft law after agreeing it does not impose a total ban on clerics issuing fatwas.

“It stipulates that clerics must first secure a licence from Al-Azhar or another affiliated religious institution before they issue fatwas,” said Al-Abd.

MPs from the Nour Party warned the draft legislation will antagonise Salafi clerics and scholars who are graduates of Al-Azhar.

“These clerics supported the revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood regime and most of them are highly knowledgeable in Islamic jurisprudence,” said a Nour Party statement.

The Salafist party argued that “if bizarre fatwas have become dominant, the best way to tackle the issue is to respond to the fatwas rather than impose a ban on clerics who issue them.”

Minister of Religious Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa described the draft law as a powerful tool in regulating the issuing of fatwas. Gomaa also announced that only Azhar-affiliated clerics will deliver night sermons during Ramadan, expected to start on 27 May.

“Unlicensed Salafi clerics will not be allowed to deliver night sermons in Ramadan, and the same will be true of fatwas once the draft law is passed,” said Gomaa.

In a letter sent to the Religious Affairs Committee Gomaa wrote: “Night prayers and sermons in all of Egypt’s mosques during Ramadan will be performed under the tight supervision of Al-Azhar imams licensed by the Ministry of Religious Endowments.”

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam denied that the government exerted pressure on Dar Al-Iftaa to issue politicised fatwas.

“Dar Al-Iftaa is completely independent of the government and the Ministry of Religious Endowments. When it comes to issuing fatwas its clerics refuse to bow to any form of pressure,” said Allam.

Meanwhile, more than 200 MPs visited Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, on Thursday in a show of solidarity.

The MPs told Al-Tayeb they opposed legislation drafted by independent MP Mohamed Abu Hamid which seeks to place a 12-year limit on Al-Azhar’s head remaining in office.

While Abu Hamid argues his draft law seeks to democratise the post of the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Al-Abd said it was unconstitutional.

“Article 7 of the constitution clearly states Al-Azhar is an independent religious institution and it is the prerogative of its senior clerics to elect the grand imam and determine how many years he stays in office,” said Al-Abd.

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