In the first Friday prayer following Al-Azhar’s official rejection of the Endowments Ministry’s decision to distribute and mandate adherence to a ministry-written sermon, many imams continued to read from the proscribed text.
The ministry sermon titled “Cleanliness is a civilized human behavior,” which was published on the ministry’s official website earlier this week, was read aloud at Sayeda Zeinab and Sayeda Nafisa mosques, with Endowments Minister Mokhtar Gomaa attending the Sayeda Zeinab sermon, according to local media reports.
In an official statement published on Friday, Gomaa dismissed the notion that there is a conflict. “The unified pre-written sermon that the ministry wants to implement is not an issue of conflict with anyone, and should not be. Therefore, we must provide the model and ideals for cooperation in righteousness and piety, as well as for national interest,” the minister wrote.
Yet, the statement emphasized that the Endowments Ministry is working to ensure the enforcement of its policy: “We will continue to communicate with our imams until the whole of society bears the fruits of this experience, which we hope will become one of the most important ways to disseminate enlightened Islamic thought within the Ministry of Endowment’s strategy to spread proper Islam.”
Al-Azhar reaffirmed its rejection of the ministry’s policy on Friday and issued its own topic for Friday’s sermon, reported the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm. Addressing the recent series of sectarian violence incidents, the religious institution instructed preachers to address “National unity and Christians’ rights in Islam,” during Friday prayer.
Gomaa has dismissed claims that the new regulation falls outside the ministry’s legal authority. On Thursday, he stated that there is no law that prohibits the ministry from issuing a written text to imams, adding that Article 6 of Law 272 specifically invests the ministry with the authority to supervise mosques and regulate their administrative affairs.
Earlier this week, Al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars officially rejected the implementation of pre-written sermons, with the religious institution saying that the government’s decision would cause religious discourse to stagnate. In a Tuesday meeting, the council, headed by Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, stated that reliance on a pre-written sermon would flatten religious thought and render imams unable to discuss or warn people of misleading ideologies.
A number of imams expressed support for the religious institutions’ rejection, launching a campaign called, “We are all Tayyeb,” according to the privately owned Youm7 newspaper.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Endowments announced the formation of a committee to draft Friday sermons to be distributed to imams across the country. The ministry had previously unified the topics of each sermon but, until that point, had left the composition of the content to individual imams.