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Endowments Ministry cracks down on mosques as Ramadan begins

Ramadan rituals this year have been affected by the Ministry of Endowments’ policies throughout the past period to tighten its control on mosques.

A number of well-known imams have been banned this year from performing the daily Ramadan prayers (“taraweeh”) and replaced by Ministry of Endowments imams.

Several people who attended the first day of prayers on the eve of Ramadan told Mada Masr that the prayers were shorter than usual, and that the supplications were cut short as well. In several instances, the sermon was canceled altogether.

Shortly after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi last year, the Ministry of Endowments had announced that it would not allow sermons in mosques that are smaller than 80 meters squared. The ministry also revoked the licenses of 55,000 imams.

Last April, the ministry decided to only allow imams associated with it to lead prayers, and moved to unify Friday sermon topics every week.

Several well-known imams who had developed a following in specific mosques were not allowed to lead taraweeeh prayers this year either.

Among those is Hatem Farid, who has been leading prayers in Al-Qaed Ibrahim mosque, one of Alexandria’s biggest mosques and a point of protest gatherings, for eight years. Farid has been banned from the mosque this year and replaced by a ministry imam. According to eye-witnesses, the number of people who attended the first day of prayers was significantly smaller than in previous years, when prayer mats went all the way out into the streets.

On his Facebook page, Farid wrote, “The Endowments Ministry is trying to recover the spirit of the mosque by announcing that beautiful voices will lead the prayers, but it is more than beautiful voices that brought masses to the mosque for the last 8 years.” He asserted that the love and cooperation between him and the people is what created the mosque’s atmosphere and appeal.

In an interview with state-owned Al-Ahram published today, Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said that the ministry would not allow for any violations of its rules during the month of Ramadan. These rules include limiting the practice of spending the night in the mosque (which is customary in Ramadan) to larger mosques under the supervision of the ministry.

Gomaa also announced that the topics determined by the ministry for Friday prayers during the month of Ramadan include subjects like God’s generosity, ethics, factors of strength and triumph and reasons for weakness and defeat, in addition to the importance of work.

Maha Ahmed, who attended the first day of prayers, says that the imam who used to lead the prayers in the Gezira Sporting Club in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek during the last eight years was replaced with two imams who are not licensed, and that the sermon in the middle of the prayer was canceled.

“It means that they can break their own rules when they want,” she says, commenting on the fact that the new imams have no licensing.

“Everything was done in a hurry, the sermon was only three minutes, most people left half way through because they were disappointed with the lack of spirit. It has become a spiritless duty,” another person who attended the prayers said.

One imam from Minya gave controversial statements to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, saying that ministry officials instructed imams not to mention injustice in their prayers and to limit the prayers to 40 minutes.

Ali Abdel Mahdy, a deputy at the Endowments Ministry, however, denies that any special measures have been adopted this year. Abdel Mahdy told Mada Masr that all the reports of restrictions of the activities of mosques are ill-intentioned rumors.

He asserts that all mosques are open for prayers and only the imams who are not performing correctly have been removed. 

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