Cairo cler­ics of­fer­ing re­li­gious edicts in metro stir­ring de­bate

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Reda el-Se­baay was tak­ing the sub­way while on a short busi­ness trip to Cairo from a Nile Delta city when he stum­bled upon cler­ics of­fer­ing re­li­gious ad­vice or fat­was - an­swers to any ques­tion a Mus­lim fol­lower might have. The 45-year-old civil ser­vant had been pre-oc­cu­pied for weeks about how he and his sis­ters would set­tle their in­her­i­tance. He wanted it to be fair and act ac­cord­ing to Mus­lim teach­ings but he didn’t want to have to call a re­li­gious hot­line and wait end­lessly for an an­swer.

Now he lined up be­hind a hand­ful of peo­ple stand­ing in front of a booth set up at one of the main Cairo sub­way sta­tions - and 10 min­utes later he got his an­swer. Fat­was are re­li­gious edicts or pro­nounce­ments, of­ten on ma­jor is­sues re­lated to Is­lamic teach­ings. But they also pro­vide guid­ance on mat­ters of ev­ery­day life, in­clud­ing start­ing up a gro­cery store or any other pri­vate busi­ness, who to marry and whether it is per­mis­si­ble un­der Is­lam to ac­cept banks’ in­ter­est rates.

Fast Is­lamic teach­ings

The booth in Cairo’s Al-Sho­hada sub­way sta­tion was set up ear­lier this month by Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Mus­lim world’s fore­most re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion, with the idea to of­fer Mus­lim wor­ship­pers a way to plug in fast to Is­lamic teach­ings - even while com­mut­ing to work. More booths are planned for later, at other sub­way stops. The idea, how­ever, is also part of a broader push to cor­rect mis­con­cep­tions and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions of re­li­gious texts seen as fos­ter­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tancy in the coun­try.

The move came after mil­i­tants killed at least 28 se­cu­rity per­son­nel in two sep­a­rate at­tacks in early July in the restive Si­nai Penin­sula and near some of Egypt’s most fa­mous pyra­mids out­side of Cairo. More than 100 Copts have been killed in four sep­a­rate at­tacks - in­clud­ing church sui­cide bomb­ings - by Egypt’s Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate since December. “It’s surely a good idea. It saves a lot of time and ef­fort for peo­ple,” el-Se­baay told The As­so­ci­ated Press just be­fore stepping into the booth, where three Al-Azhar cler­ics in white tur­bans were wait­ing to hear his ques­tion.

But the in­sti­tute’s de­ci­sion to set up the booths has sparked a wide con­tro­versy, both on so­cial me­dia and off­line. Crit­ics ar­gue that root­ing out ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy will not hap­pen in metro sta­tions. Many have slammed Al-Azhar for set­ting up the booth in a pub­lic place, used by all sec­tors of the Egyptian so­ci­ety, to spread the teach­ings of Is­lam. “This is not its place at all,” said Beshoy Mikhail, a 24-year-old Cop­tic Chris­tian. “I am com­pletely against the idea.”

Mikhail be­lieves that if Mus­lim cler­ics can set up ad­vice booths in sub­ways, Cop­tic priests should be al­lowed to do the same. Sev­eral hu­man rights ac­tivists said the move is some­what dis­crim­i­na­tory. “We see the gov­ern­ment feed­ing more re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion and in­ter­fer­ence of re­li­gion in the day-to-day life,” ac­tivist Sherif Azer said.

Egyptian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi has re­peat­edly blamed what he says is out­dated re­li­gious dis­course for the ris­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tancy in the coun­try that has tar­geted mainly se­cu­rity per­son­nel and Cop­tic Chris­tians. He has called on Al-Azhar, which touts it­self as the voice of mod­er­a­tion, to lead the “mod­ern­iza­tion of re­li­gious dis­course” since he took of­fice in 2014, fol­low­ing the 2013 ouster of Is­lamist Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi whose one-year rule proved di­vi­sive.

The Min­istry of En­dow­ments, which han­dles re­li­gious af­fairs in Egypt, has taken some mea­sures to ex­ert more con­trol. Imams have been asked to read stan­dard­ized gov­ern­ment-writ­ten ser­mons dur­ing Fri­day prayers, the high point of the Mus­lim week. Some small mosques across the coun­try have been closed and any cleric la­belled a hard­liner has been barred from preach­ing in mosques.

Al-Azhar has also tasked a num­ber of cler­ics to preach in coffee and tea houses across the na­tion. Amr Ez­zat of the Egyptian Ini­tia­tive for Per­sonal Rights said Al-Azhar is try­ing to “mar­ket it­self in at­tempts to reach out to peo­ple.”—AP

AP

CAIRO: In this Tues­day, July 25, 2017, file photo, Al-Azhar cler­ics wait to an­swer com­muters ques­tions in­side a Fatwa Kiosk, at the Al-Sho­hada’a metro sta­tion.—

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