A Cairo misdemeanor court has set 24 June to start the trial of a prominent Islamic cleric and television presenter on charges of contempt of religion, after he described Christians as non-believers on an episode of his television show.
The lawsuit filed against Salem Abdel-Geliel by lawyer Naguib Gibrail initially charged that Abdel-Geliel’s comments displayed contempt of religion, threatened national unity, disrupted public peace and incited the killing of Christians.
Abdel-Geliel, a former deputy minister for proselytisation at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, has presented a daily religious programme, Muslims Ask, on Mehwar satellite channel since early 2016.
Hassan Rateb, the head of Mehwar, said on Wednesday that the cleric’s contract with the station would be cancelled. The channel also apologised to all “Christian brothers” in an official statement.
Abdel-Geliel, who is been known for his mainstream religious views, described Christians as "unbelievers" and their beliefs as "corrupted" during his explanation of a Quranic verse on an episode of his programme earlier this week.
He said later in a statement that the description “unbeliever” was applied to Christians in the Quran in a specific context, but he apologised if he had offended Christians’ feelings.
He also stressed that describing Christians as such doesn’t carry any sort of incitement to violence against Christians or followers of any other religion, as such violence is forbidden in Islam.
Abdel-Geliel also said that he fully understood the channel's decision to end his contract.
Egypt's Ministry of Endowments had said that Abdel-Geliel would be banned from giving sermons at ministry-affiliated mosques until he issued an apology.
Defendants charged with contempt of religion are normally Christians, or others holding minority religious views, charged with insulting Islam.
But this is not the first time in recent years that an Islamic religious figure has been tried on charges of contempt of Christianity.
Controversial preacher Abu Islam, who burnt a copy of the Bible in front of the American embassy in Cairo during Salafi protests in September 2012, was sentenced in June 2013 to 11 years in jail and a EGP3,000 fine over the incident after he was found guilty of insulting Christianity.
The sentence was reduced to three years following a series of appeals.
Al-Azhar University head replaced
After a similar controversy, Egypt's grand imam, Ahmed El-Tayyeb, last week appointed Mohamed Hussein El-Mahrsawy, the dean of the Arabic language faculty at Al-Azhar Univeristy, as acting president of the university.
The appointment came following the resignation of previous president Ahmed Hosni, who had caused controversy due to his attacks against well-known independent religious commentator Islam El-Beheiry.
Hosni resigned after he was criticised for describing El-Beheiry, who is known for controversial interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence and calls for "renewal of religious discourse," as “an apostate.”
Hosni later issued an apology, saying the opinions he expressed about El-Beheiry were personal and did not represent the official positions of Al-Azhar, stressing he believes no Muslim can be considered an apostate unless he renounces Islam.