Egypt’s Al-Azhar University has set up ‘Fatwa booths’ in metro stations hoping to combat Islamic extremism and answer questions Muslims have about interpretation of Islamic texts which give rise to jihadism.
One such booths set up at the al-Shohada metro station in Cairo, offers Muslims a place to stop by for quick consultations. “We usually talk about the issues of daily life, and what religion says about such things. The topics we mostly discuss are marriage, divorce and inheritance,” saidthe Sheikh manning the al-shohada booth.
Sheikh Tamer Mattar, the coordinator, International Centre for Electronic Fatwas, said, “The experiment was successful so far and we hope that it will expand,” he added. “We can say it was successful, as in the eight days of the initiative, we received 1,500 questions. At any moment you can find tens of people waiting to present theirs.” Tamer said.
Al-Azhar’s Secretary-General, Mohi el-Din Afifi, said more of the fatwa booths will be set up. “They will be everywhere, not only in the metro,” he said. This is in addition to the call by Al-Azhar for its clergics to preach in coffee and tea houses in Egypt.
The Fatwa booths have generated a lot of controversy among Coptic Christians and other Muslims in Egypt.
“This is not its place at all,” Beshoy Mikhail, a Coptic Christian, said. “I am completely against the idea.” There must be fair play and the Coptic priest too should have the same opportunity to set up booths, he said. Suggesting that to fight extremis, Christians too can talk about the love of Christ.
Wadding into the debate, critics have pointed out that the fatwa booths are discrim
inatory. “We see the government feeding more religious education and interference of religion in the day-to-day life,” activist Sherif Azer said.
The Sheik at the al-shohada booth conceded that the target is “people on the street who are ignorant of religious matters, they come to us and we try to put them on the right track of moderation.”
Many, however, still insist that Al-Azhar is setting up the booth in these strategic areas to spread the teachings of its own brand of Islam.
Amr Ezzat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said the institution which prides itself as the world’s leading Islamic learning center set up the booths to “market itself in attempts to reach out to people.”
Ezzat said, “The state is treating religion as if it is public service.”
He argued that Islamic extremists, “wouldn’t visit Al-Azhar clerics” in metro stations anyway, since they vehemently oppose the institute.
Al-Azhar has argued that it is responding to the criticism of outdated religious practices made by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The institution said the booths are an answer to the president’s call for the reformation of Islam and the “modernization of religious discourse”.
Mohamed Abu-Hamed, an Egyptian Member of Parliament, not convinced of the idea, said, “The whole project is absurd. It is a superficial understanding of the call to renew the religious rhetoric,” adding that, “When we talk about renewing religious rhetoric, we mean the main content,” he added. “If al-Azhar created these kiosks while thinking that this is renewing religious rhetoric, then they don’t get it. They are doing this to evade making any real changes,” Abu-Hamed added.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN. He is a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.
Image Credit:CC Egypt’s coptic Christian,Al-Azhar University, Egypt Subway/google images