Al-Azhar changed the topic of the past Friday’s unified sermon to discuss national unity between Copts and Muslims, defying the Ministry of Endowments’ orders to preach on “cleanliness” on Friday, as the dispute between both entities intensified.
Mohamed Mehana, advisor to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, said on Saturday that the High Preachers Committee, headed by the Al-Azhar imam, decided that unifying the sermon could dull the thinking of religious scientists and preachers.
He added that the decision to unify the sermon is that of the Minister of Endowments and that is does not apply to Al-Azhar.
In Al-Azhar mosque, Imam Mohamed Abdel Ati gave a sermon on national unity between Copts and Muslims. Mehana said that the topic was chosen by the imam, without any intervention.
He added that Al-Azhar is the main Sunni Islamic school of thought, under which a number of institutions falls.
Under the Egyptian Constitution, Al-Azhar is an advisory institution to the state. However, the Ministry of Endowments is an executive hand that oversees the application of religious policies.
Meanwhile, the ministry called on its preachers not to give any press statements about the topic of the unified sermon, nor to appear on TV, without the approval of the ministry. It also asked preachers and employees not to get involved in any “useless talks”, asserting that any statements about this issue will be published on the ministry’s website.
A preacher from the ministry, who participates in the process of writing the unified sermon, told Daily News Egypt on condition of anonymity that the decision is not likely to change, despite Al-Azhar’s refusal. He added that unifying the sermon is legal and religiously correct and that dialogue channels are open between the two institutions to reach a consensus.
The decision to standardise Friday sermons follows a string of other measures that the ministry has undertaken over the past three years to tighten its grip over religious discourse in Egypt in an attempt to regulate it.