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Egypt's Justice Minister Zend apologises for comment on 'imprisoning prophet'

In reposnse to Zend's remarks, Al-Azhar issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally

Ahram Online , Sunday 13 Mar 2016
Ahmed El-Zend
Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend (Ahram)
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Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend issued an apology late on Saturday shortly after finding himself once again in hot water, this time over a comment widely considered blasphemous.

In response to a TV host's question on whether he would jail journalists, El-Zend said, "Even if he was a prophet, peace and blessings be upon him."

El-Zend then briefly uttered Islamic words of repentance before adding that "the culprit, whatever his description is... I am not talking about jailing a journalist or jailing a teacher, I am saying jailing a defendant."

El-Zend, who is renowned for controversial media statements, has been facing a wave of criticism on social media since his comments went viral and were largely interpreted as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the most sacred figure among Muslims and whose sayings comprise a prime source of Islamic jurisprudence.

"The thing that a Muslim or a non-Muslim is held culpable for is what is done willfully," El-Zend said when he called in to a TV show, stressing that it was a slip of the tongue.

"I ask God Almighty for forgiveness over and over and over again... I know my apology will be accepted [by Prophet Muhammad]."

Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally.

An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for his trial went viral in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with numerous Muslim users expressing anger over his comment and heaping scorn on him even after his apology.

"El-Zend should be tried for his slip of the tongue, so an example can be made of him," wrote Khairi Aiad in Arabic who, according to geotagging, is in Egypt.

Mohamed El-Wehebi, a Riyadh-based university professor in Islamic studies, tweeted that anyone who insults Prophet Muhammad would "lose."

It is not the first time for the former head of the powerful Judges' Club to come under fire for media statements.

One of his statements that did not go over well was his claim that Egyptians are so adept at managing their funds that they can spend only two pounds ($0.25) per day.

Last May, El-Zend's predecessor Mahfouz Saber resigned as justice minister after saying that sons of garbage collectors should not be judges, which was widely seen as a classist statement and earned him heavy criticism in the days leading up to his resignation.

It is unclear whether El-Zend will be one of the eight to 11 ministers reportedly set to be replaced in the upcoming reshuffle.

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