Egypt’s government is drafting Muslim clerics into a campaign against violent extremism by providing them with pre-written weekly sermons they will be expected to read faithfully, and quickly, as the government is also providing imams with time limits to “ensure they do not lose their train of thought.”
Unsurprisingly, the clerics are not pleased. “Several preachers voiced anger at the move, saying it would prevent talented preachers from shining and that different communities had different issues of interest that needed to be discussed in the mosque,” Reuters reports.
One dissenting imam seemed comfortable with the idea of using sermons to address civic issues but objected to a top-down approach from Cairo: “Everywhere in Egypt, every city or village, has different circumstances. A certain village might have a robbery problem and so the sermon should talk about thievery. Another place might have widespread murder and that is what should be discussed.”
As Reuters observes, the Egyptian government has actually been giving imams topics for their Friday sermons since 2014, but now the plan is to give them complete scripts.
The sermons will be written by “ministry officials and senior clerics from Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning in Cairo,” with input from “members of Parliament on the House Committee on Religious Affairs,” plus “sociologists and psychologists.”
That sounds like an awful lot of bureaucratic cooks to be stirring the pot, and obviously, the notion of politicians and government officials hammering out government-mandated sermons does not sit easily with American ideals of religious liberty.
However, Reuters notes that Egypt has serious problems with violent, politicized religious freedom, from the Islamic State conducting terrorist massacres in the Sinai Peninsula to Muslim Brotherhood agitation.
World Bulletin reported at the end of the Ramadan holiday that government-sanctioned imams used their sermons to ask worshipers to “show compassion, eschew extremism, and support the state.”
After prayers at a mosque in Alexandria that were attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, his adviser for religious affairs, Osama al-Azhari, “delivered a sermon in which he stressed Islam’s rejection of extremism, which, he asserted, would be ‘expunged by the loyal people of Egypt.'”
Elsewhere in Alexandria, the Muslim Brotherhood defied a government ban to lay out prayer rugs and delivered “unlicensed sermons” which “called for defending Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the need to fight injustice.”