People wear protective face masks amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk in front of the closed El Sayeda Zainab Mosque near markets that sell traditional Ramadan lanterns, in Cairo, Egypt, April 12, 2020. (Reuters)
Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments suspended its official spokesperson Ahmed El-Kady on Sunday after he agreed to a proposal made by TV presenter Ahmed Moussa that the ministry would study a suggestion to allow the holding of prayers in mosques during Ramadan without the attendance of worshippers
The spokesman made the comments in a phone interview with Moussa during his night talk show on Sada El-Balad channel.
Moussa suggested that Egypt follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, which will allow Taraweeh prayers without the attendance of worshippers during Ramadan in Mecca and Medina, which are under lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The spokesperson explained that although the ministry “welcomes” the idea, such a decision cannot be taken without first being studied.
The TV host pushed for the implementation of the decision, saying that hearing the prayers from their homes would allow citizens to feel the spirit of the holy month.
The spokesperson was relieved of duty immediately after his phone statements with Moussa while the show was still on the air.
In a statement, Minister of Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said that the spokesperson’s statements are “not reflective of the ministry’s stance.”
Egypt ordered the closure of mosques and churches on 21 March for two weeks in a move aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The closure was extended indefinitely at the end of March.
Egyptian authorities have said that all congregational religious activities, including communal prayers in mosques, will continue to be suspended during Ramadan.
Gaber Tayei, the head of the Ministry’s Religious Affairs Department, said in phone statements to another Egyptian talk show that the spokesperson’s statements “are completely false and do not represent the ministry,” adding that the ministry “has not even discussed such a possibility.”
“Such statements are embarrassing. We [religious authorities] are the most keen on having mosques return to operating regularly and with the attendance of worshippers, but only under the suitable health conditions, which in this case would be after the virus recedes and the safety of worshippers is guaranteed,” Tayei said.
Tayei also questioned the benefit of having imams perform prayers at mosques without the attendance of worshippers.
“The spokesperson has been immediately relieved of duty for not checking with the ministry and making statements that could create confusion,” he said.
Egypt has registered 3,144 coronavirus cases and 239 fatalities since the first coronavirus case was discovered in mid-February. Over 1,000 of the cases were registered over the past week alone.
Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta also warned on Sunday against calls on social media to hold the Ramadan mass evening prayers, or Taraweeh, on roofs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Dar Al-Ifta, the body responsible for issuing religious edicts, called on Muslims to perform the Taraweeh prayers at home.