Egypt's parliament took a step on Thursday to combat fatwas (religious edicts) by radical Islamist clerics, with parliament's religious affairs committee approving a draft law that limits the issuing of fatwas to licensed preachers.
According to the five-article law drafted by the committee's secretary-general Omar Hamroush, only clerics and scholars affiliated with Al-Azhar, Dar Al-Ifta, the Complex of Islamic Research and the religious endowments ministry's General Directorate of Fatwas will be the ones licensed to issue fatwas.
The draft law's second article, however, states that preachers, imams, and members of the teaching board of Al-Azhar University who give lessons on Islamic issues will be also allowed to continue with their religious teachings, as these will not be listed as "public fatwas."
Article three stipulates that the licensed preachers will be the only ones allowed to issue fatwas via mass media outlets such as television and radio channels, while article four states that violators of this stipulation could face a six-month prison sentence and a fine between EGP 5,000 and EGP 10,000.
Hamroush, who is an MP from the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, told Al-Ahram Online that the his draft law is part of ongoing efforts to reform religious discourse in the country.
"The draft law aims to tighten the grip on all forms of radical Islamist agendas, particularly in the form of fatwas," said Hamroush.
"After the Muslim Brotherhood regime was removed from office in 2013 and their radical and political Islamist television channels were closed, Salafist clerics affiliated with the Salafist Nour Party sought to impose their radical agenda."
Hamroush said radical Salafist clerics are mainly responsible for the proliferation of bizarre and controversial fatwas over the past four years.
"Take for example the fatwas they have issued against Egyptian Christian Copts, such as banning Muslims from shaking hands with Copts or exchanging congratulations with them on Christian feasts," said Hamroush.
"Aren't these radical fatwas responsible for paving the way for militant jihadists to bomb churches, issue threats against Coptic families in North Sinai, and sow the seeds of sectarian tension in Egypt?"
Hamroush explained that in accordance with his newly drafted law, religious clerics who seek to issue religious fatwas on mass media channels will be obliged to get a prior license from the above-mentioned institutions.
"This will help Al-Azhar – the world's foremost authority on Sunni Islam – stem the tide of radical Islamist agendas and fatwas, and take a step towards reforming religious discourse," said Hamroush.
Fouad Badrawi, a liberal MP who is a member of the religious affairs committee, told Al-Ahram Online that "Hamroush's law is a very important step in ridding Egypt of radical Islam and political Islamist agendas."
"This draft law is very important to prevent all agendas that mix religion with politics from gaining any more ground," said Badrawi, adding that "all institutions affiliated with Al-Azhar should join forces to ensure that this law is strictly implemented."
Osama El-Abd, chairman of the religious affairs committee and a former head of Al-Azhar University, told reporters on 4 May that MPs and Al-Azhar clerics have approved Hamroush's draft law after they agreed that it does not impose a total ban on clerics issuing religious fatwas.
"It just stipulates that religious clerics must first get a license from Al-Azhar and other affiliated religious institutions in order to be allowed to issue fatwas," said El-Abd, adding that "the draft law will have to be approved by parliament in a plenary session."
Religious endowments minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa told MPs last week that only Azhar-affiliated clerics will be allowed to deliver "night sermons" during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on 27 May.
Gomaa said in a letter to parliament's religious affairs committee that "night prayers and sermons in all of Egypt's mosques during the coming Ramadan will be performed under the tight supervision of Azhar imams and clerics who are licensed by the endowments ministry."