Middle East and North Africa

Egypt: Muslim TV cleric charged for insulting Christians

Salem Abdel-Geliel, a prominent Islamic Imam and television presenter in Egypt has been charged in court for describing Christians as “unbelievers” and their beliefs as “corrupted” during his explanation of a Quranic verse, earlier this week on his television show, ‘Muslims Ask’ on the Mehwar satellite channel.

A Cairo court will try the Muslim cleric on 24 June for contempt of religion.

Naguib Gibrail, a former deputy minister for proselytization at the Ministry of Religious Endowments is the lawyer who instituted the lawsuit. He says Abdel-Geliel’s comments displayed contempt of religion, threatened national unity, disrupted public peace and incited the killing of Christians.

The head of the Mehwar, Hassan Rateb, apologised to all “Christian brothers” on Wednesday, and said Salem’s
contract with the station would be cancelled.

Abdel-Geliel, later tried to clarify his statement and said the term “unbeliever” was applied to Christians in the Quran in a specific context.  He then ‘apologised if he had offended Christians’ feelings.

Abdel argued that describing Christians as unbelievers isn’t incitement and cannot lead to violence against Christians. He said that violence is forbidden in Islam.

Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments had earlier banned Abdel-Geliel from giving sermons at any ministry-affiliated mosques until he offered an apology.

In Egypt there have been a number of examples of Christians charged with contempt of religion for insulting Islam. This is one of the rare occasions where a Muslim has been charged for defaming Christianity.

In one other case Abu Islam who burnt a copy of the Bible in front of the American embassy in Cairo during Salafi protests in September 2012 was sentenced to 11 years and fined 3000 Egyptian Pounds. His sentence was reduced to three years following a series of appeals.