Foremost Sunni organisation Al-Azhar said Monday that based on “the jurisdictional and constitutional responsibility”, it has decided to file a lawsuit against TV presenter and researcher Islam El-Behiry.
The religious institution accused the TV presenter of “broadcasting ideas which violates the basics of religion”.
The content of El-Behiry’s programme “attacks the efforts of highly credible Muslim preachers and misrepresents the image of Islamic scholar, as well as endangering national security”, the religious authority said.
It added that the Egyptian nation needs more solidarity from its citizens towards their leaders.
Al-Azhar has been the spearhead of religious decision-making in Egypt, accompanied by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Dar Al-Ifta. It has also participated in the “fight against terrorism” rhetoric, which the Egyptian state has been adopting since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
This legal manoeuvre against the programme, the organisation added, came after “we felt the danger and received complaints from many viewers to stop the broadcast of the TV show that attacks the scholars of the nation”.
The Sunni organisation based the lawsuit, which it sent to the prosecution, on charges of “insulting the Azharite institution”.
Egyptian nationalist rhetoric and anti-Islamist public opinion argue that Al-Azhar is the “moderate representative of Islam”.
Diplomatically, Al-Azhar has been propagated by Egyptian officials as the vanguard responsible for countering the “extremist” ideas of “Islamic State” (IS).
However, in his episodes, El-Behiry has accused the curriculums and the interpretations of Al-Azhar of supporting the ideology of IS.
However, Al-Azhar asserted that it does not monopolise religious discourse and does not violate the freedom of others. It added that “the content that was discussed in the programme attacked the very basics of the religion”.
El-Behiry has hosted a programme that questions the teachings of various Salafi preachers. In many of his episodes, he provides clips of famous and much-respected Salafi preachers, and criticises their religious arguments.
The independent researcher also calls for disregarding ancient interpretations of the Qur’an, and preaches individual understanding of the text.
The Egyptian Media Production City presented a warning to the channel that hosts the programme to change its content. This followed the first complaint filed by Al-Azhar last week against El-Behiry, accusing him of “deliberately aiming to make people question their beliefs”.
Mohamed Al-Shahat, a member of the Academy for Islamic Studies, told Daily News Egypt that the latest Al-Azhar move was to “defend the Islamic identity of the country and Islam’s principles”.
“El-Behiry is not specialised in Islamic studies and is unqualified to judge the main Islamic jurisprudence schools. He should be knowledgeable and fully aware of the complex texts,” Al-Shahat said, adding that Al-Azhar legally moved to protect the beliefs of the people.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned Al-Azhar’s move, explaining that the programme did not violate any aspects of freedom of expression.
ANHRI added that the monopoly of opinion and censorship are what gave birth to IS, adding that the officials of the Sunni entity should counter-argue El-Behiry’s ideas instead.
Further, Al-Shahat disagrees with calls to stop the broadcasting of the programme. “He should not be banned, but should have enough knowledge to comment and criticise.”