Azhar rejects Egypt govt decision to standardise Friday sermons

Ahram Online , Wednesday 27 Jul 2016

Al-Azhar says the decision to issue identical government-written scripts of Friday sermons would abolish religious discourse and narrow the intellect of preachers

People attend Friday prayers at Al Azhar mosque in the old city of Cairo June 15, 2012 (Reuters)
People attend Friday prayers at Al Azhar mosque in the old city of Cairo June 15, 2012 (Reuters)

Egypt's top Muslim body Al-Azhar has challenged a recent decision by the government that requires preachers to read out standardised pre-written sermons, saying it unanimously rejects it.

The Council of Senior Scholars, headed by Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, said the latest move amounts to "freezing religious discourse."

The endowments ministry announced two weeks ago that Muslim clerics would be required to read from the same pre-written script during the weekly sermon at Friday prayers, a move aimed at pushing moderate Islamic ideology and combat extremism.

But opposition to the new move by the Muslim council could stand in the way of its implementation.

The council said in a statement on Tuesday that the objective of crushing radical views can rather be achieved through improving the potential of Muslim clerics.

"Imams need serious training and they can be able to confront radical and anomalous ideas through knowledge and the correct intellect."

The Ministry of Religious Endowments has since 2014 been setting topics for weekly sermons delivered during Friday prayers across the country.

But the council said the latest decision of relying on an identical script would in time make imams' thoughts shallow and make them unable to discuss and scrutinise radical views or have the influence to warn people away from them.

Under the Egyptian constitution, the 1000-year-old seat of Islamic learning Al-Azhar is in charge of regulating Islamic preaching and Dawa. The endowments ministry is responsible for administering mosques and Islamic centres.

The chief of Al-Azhar's Islamic Research complex, Mohy Al-Din Afifi, said on Tuesday there is no "sensitivity" between the Islamic body and the ministry but highlighted they have yet to "coordinate with earth other" on the mater.

He argued that the standardised script could open the door to underground preaching--which is believed to have helped spread radical views.

The government's new decision earlier this month has already sparked outcry amongst many clerics who say scripted sermons would waste imam's talents and fail to cater to different communities.

The move comes against the backdrop of repeated calls by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to renew Muslim religious discourse. He blames "outdated religious discourse" for holding back Egypt and says radicalised thinking has become a source of destruction for the rest of the world.

The endowments minister said he would not backtrack on its decision, adding that the government-issued sermons would only be a "guideline" until a final endorsement of the move by a committee of state-hired scholars. 

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