A private Egyptian satellite TV channel has cancelled the show of Islamic researcher Islam Beheiry who has been accused by Al-Azhar and many Egyptians of “contempt of religion” over his criticism of classical Islamic theologians who interpreted the Quran and Hadith.
Al-Qahera Wal Nas (Cairo and the People) said on Wednesday in a statement, which did not directly spell out its decision to take El-Beheiry off air, it “does not encourage debates or programmes that stir divisions among Muslims and lead to tensions and strife.”
The station hinted in its statement that its decision on El-Beheiry’s show comes “out of respect to large segments of the Egyptian people ... and to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar,”
In recent months, El-Beheiry stirred up controversy among clerics and many in the public for reassessing the credibility of some historical writers of major works of documentation and explanation of the Hadith and Sunnah (the teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed).
The contributions of some of the figures Beheiry questioned, including volumes by 9th century Imam Al-Bukhari and 13th century Imam Ibn-Taiymia, have long been revered by Al-Azhar as indispensable reference points in understanding both the Hadith and the Quran.
Earlier in April, Al-Azhar — the highest authority in Sunni Islam — accused El-Beheiry of deliberately "fomenting doubts over what has been firmly established for centuries as basics in the Islamic religion, and charged El-Beheiry was "inciting sedition and defaming Islam."
Shortly after Al-Azhar made its disapproval of El-Beheiry’s thoughts public by complaining to state agencies which regulate media broadcast, an independent lawyer filed a legal complaint with prosecutors against both El-Beheiry and Al-Qahera Wal Nas management, accusing them of insulting Islam.
On Wednesday, a Cairo misdemeanor court set 30 May as a starting date for the trial of Beheiry and the owner of the station over charges of contempt of religion.
Beheiry has repeatedly argued that he aims only to contribute to the renewal of religious discourse in order to preserve the soul of Islamic theology from dangers presented by ultra-conservative jihadist interpretations.
In its Wednesday’s statement, Al-Qahera Wal Nas said it “would leave the task of renewing religious discourse to enlightened scholars."