Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Thousands of mosques, one speech

The Ministry of Religious Endowments is obliging all the country’s mosques to give the same Friday sermons, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Protecting and helping the poor is the duty of the society, and all of us have to contribute to ending poverty in order to guarantee social cohesion,” Mustafa Abdel-Mohsen, a preacher at Al-Rahma Mosque in Giza said during last Friday’s sermon.

For the first time, Abdel-Mohsen was not free to choose the topic of his sermon as he used to do during Friday prayers. Instead, he had received a letter from the Ministry of Religious Endowments setting out the topic and the main points he should talk about.

On 31 January, mosques across Egypt received instructions on the first ever unified Friday sermon. The ministry chose the theme as part of a ministerial plan to “improve the Islamic dawa [preaching] and make it more effective”, according to a government official statement.

By means of a ministerial decree, all preachers will have to abide by the topic and main points set out in advance by the ministry when delivering their Friday sermons, these being available on the ministry’s Website. When giving their sermons they will have to bear in mind that no deviation from the official theme will be tolerated.

In a statement released on January 27, the Ministry of Religious Endowments said that it was responsible for Friday prayers and rites and that it would decide on the topics discussed in all Egyptian mosques during Friday sermons.

Under the new decree, the ministry will release a monthly plan on its Website with topics to be discussed every Friday, followed by a more detailed description for each topic released on a weekly basis.

The statement said that the decision was necessary in order to promote preaching “with wisdom and good faith” that did not involve political or sectarian biases and that was in accordance with the interests of society.

The topics for this month include the role of young people in building society, hope and work, science and reason, and environmental protection and its importance for development.

The statement said that the ministry would monitor mosques in order to ensure that the decree was implemented. Strict measures would be taken against preachers violating the decree, it said, adding that preachers not following the prescribed topics could be replaced by others.

In its reaction to the new decree, the Deputy Secretary General of the Al-Nour Salafist Party, Shaaban Abdel-Alim, said that implementing a policy of this sort nationwide would be “nearly impossible” and that it would not serve people’s needs.

“Each mosque discusses the needs and problems of its own area,” which may be unrelated to the topics set by the ministry, he said.

However, supporters of the decree said that it was necessary in order to stop preachers stirring up political tensions and using mosques to struggle against the government. They argue that the job of the preachers should be limited to spiritual matters and social problems and not deal with politics.

Ahmed Omar Hashem, a member of the Al-Azhar Scholars Authority, said it was necessary at this time to guide preachers to talk about issues that unite the people instead of dividing them into supporters and opponents of the government.

“Preachers are allowed to urge citizens to participate positively in the political system. However, they are not allowed to instruct them on which political party they should belong to. That is why the government insists that all mosques should stay away from politics,” he added.

Hashem said that over the last three years many mosques had hosted non-accredited preachers who were not graduates from Al-Azhar and who had presented extremist views in their sermons.

“I think it is time that there should be regulations to organise preaching in Egypt, in order to avoid both politics and extremism,” he said.

However, some religious activists accused the government of imposing restrictions on freedom of speech.

Sheikh Fekry Ismail, a former official at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, said that the decision “took the country back” to the time of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser when the socialist regime had restricted all kinds of freedoms.

 He added that not all the people were interested in just one topic and the government should consider differences between people living in different places. “Why would people living in a poor village be interested in the same topic as those living in a city,” Ismail asked.

Ahmed Al-Bahy, the coordinator of Imams without Restrictions, a movement that calls for more independent preaching, said that the regulation would not last longer than a few months.

He listed the difficulties that would face its implementation, saying that it would not be easy for the government to monitor thousands of mosques across the country and preachers living in small villages did not have access to the Internet.

Preachers themselves have been viewing the decree as a form of interference by the government in their affairs, and they have asked how preachers are to do their jobs effectively if they are not allowed to express their opinions freely.

“I do not think it is the mission of the government to interfere in preaching. I expect that now they will even instruct us to defend their policies in the Friday sermons,” said Mahmoud Nakrawy, a preacher at one of the Giza mosques.

He added that most preachers were professionals and were educated at Al-Azhar, making them able to guide the people without the need of the government.

“Should we understand that the people in the ministry are the only ones who know what is good and what is bad for this country,” he asked.

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