Endowments minister defends ban on small mosques

Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar has defended his decision to ban Friday prayers in mosques measuring less than 80 meters squared.

Speaking to independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mokhtar said the aim of the measure is to “reform and not to destroy” and that this reform has to take place according to the standards of legitimacy.

Mokhtar added that small mosques – known as “zawyas” – are unnecessary because between 25 and 27 million people attend Friday prayers and ministry-approved mosques are enough to hold them all.

It has also been announced that the Endowments Ministry intends to ban 50,000 unlicensed imams from preaching in mosques.

Mosques have traditionally been a site of power battles between the state and religious currents outside the purview of the state’s vision of Sunni Islam. During the era of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, individuals applying for imam licenses had to be approved by security bodies and those with links to the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi groups were often refused.

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, imams affected by the decision are angry about the way the Endowments Ministry treats them and believe that the decision is Mokhtar’s attempt to settle scores against the Brotherhood in the name of Al-Azhar and the state.

The endowments minister has also issued orders that forbid people to congregate in mosques after prayer, and permitting only mosque workers to sleep overnight in mosques. Furthermore, he has prohibited the collection of donations in mosques and stated that mosque microphones can only be used during the call to prayer and Friday prayers.

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