Senior religious scholars of Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, al-Azhar, have rejected a new government decision to standardize sermons at Friday prayers.
The Council of Senior Scholars of Al-Azhar warned that the government decision would eventually “superficialize” the clerics’ thoughts and “freeze” religious discourse.
“The Imam will find himself unable to discuss, debate, and respond to (extremist) ideas and warn people of them,” the council said in a statement on Tuesday.
Critics say the standardized sermon initiative, which was launched by Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments, is a new government attempt to tighten state control over religious discourse.
The ministry is responsible for regulating mosques and houses of worship.
Minister of Religious Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa said the move aimed at combating extremism, but the council said that goal can be attained through improving the potential of Muslim clerics.
“Imams need serious training and knowledge…so they can be able to confront radical and anomalous ideas through knowledge and the correct intellect,” it added.
Ignoring Al-Azhar’s rejection of the new law, spokesman of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, Gaber Tayaa, said the ministry will move forward with “generalizing” the written sermons, which aims to halt the “chaos” of the current religious discourse.
According to the official, a ministerial committee that inspects and observes the mosques would report on the clerics’ performance.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy Mohy Al-Din Afifi warned that the identical sermons will pave the way for underground preaching, which is believed to have contributed to the spread of extremist views.