Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa told members of parliament on Monday that the newly applied unified Friday sermon is not a tool of oppression, but rather a method to lead to “enlightened thinking worldwide”.
Gomaa met MPs and members of the African Affairs Committee in parliament on Tuesday. He argued that implementing the sermon is part of plans for “renewing religious discourse”. He added that the ministry, with the assistance of psychologists, has offered 54 discussion topics.
The topics are said to be relevant to society and the needs of the prayers.
The ministry published this Friday’s unified sermon, which is titled “cleanliness is civilised behaviour”, a topic met by criticism by preachers who refused to dedicate a whole sermon to cleanliness while there are other issues that should be tackled, such as fundamentalism and poverty.
Similarly, the deputy minister and head of the preaching department in the ministry, Gaber Tayee, met Monday with ministry inspectors who will be responsible for monitoring preachers and mosques.
Tayee asserted that the matter is not political, but aims to “correct wrong understandings of the religion”, a task the Egyptian state along with its institutions have taken as a method to counter the once strong trend of Islamism.
The decision of Gomaa’s ministry was opposed by clerics from the country’s top religious apparatus: Al-Azhar.
The institute’s undersecretary, Abbas Shuman, opposed the decision, concerned that the sermons will lack credibility, creativity, and will distort the connection between an imam and his listeners.
Al-Azhar urged that it is inappropriate considering their long years of study, effort, knowledge, and prestige.
The decision to standardise Friday sermons follows a string of other measures the ministry has enacted over the past three years to tighten its grip over religious discourse in Egypt in an attempt to regulate it.