The Endowments Ministry decided to suspend its former deputy minister Salem Abdel Gelil from giving Friday sermons on Wednesday, after he made inflammatory remarks against Coptic Christians.
During his popular TV show “Al-Muslimoon Yatasaaloon” (Muslims are Asking), aired on the privately owned Al-Mehwar channel, Abdel Gelil said that the Christian and Jew faiths are “corrupt” as they do not believe in the Prophet Mohammed. He criticized Muslim religious clerics who describe believers of other Abrahamic religions as believers, specifically addressing Christians: “They are deceiving you.”
“You are kind, and you are our brothers and sisters in humanity, not only inside our own country. But what you believe in is corrupt. Go back to God,” he said.
A misdemeanor court is expected to look into accusations of contempt of religion leveled against Abdel Gelil on June 24, according to the privately owned Youm7 newspaper. Lawyer Naguib Gobreal filed an official complaint against the cleric, accusing him of insulting the Christian religion and endangering national unity.
In a statement released on Wednesday the Endowments Ministry asserted that his remarks “do not help the establishment of the foundations of citizenship, peaceful coexistence and societal peace that we work toward achieving in reality.” The ministry instructed its officials to ban the cleric from giving Friday sermons unless he apologizes for his comments, due to the “worries” it caused.
Al-Mehwar followed suit, announcing the suspension of its contract with Abdel Gelil and officially apologizing for the content aired on his show. Similarly, CEO of Alexandria-based Semouha Sports Club Farag Amer, who frequently hosts Abdel Gelil during events, cancelled an upcoming talk addressing religion, which was to include Abdel Gelil.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Abdel Gelil apologized for “hurting the feelings of our Christian brothers,” adding that his remarks came in the context of explaining a verse in the Quran, a segment he started more than a year ago. The verse illustrated in this episode, Abdel Gelil contended, was related to those who do not accept Islam as a religion.
“The religious consideration of non-Muslims’ beliefs as corrupt, just as our beliefs are corrupt in their understanding, does not permit for killing them or taking their wealth in any way,” the statement reads. It adds “Our partners in Egypt should not be discriminated against based on their religion, as they are all citizens who have equal rights and responsibilities.”
The controversy comes a few days after Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb sacked Al-Azhar University’s interim president Ahmed Hosni on Saturday, after he called outspoken Islamic researcher Islam al-Beheiry an “infidel” on air. While Hosni apologized for his remarks in a statement issued shortly after saying that they “violate the correct discourse of al-Azhar,” Tayyeb sacked him, appointing Mohamed al-Mahrassawy in his stead.
Beheiry has openly criticized early Islamic heritage and jurisprudence, calling for a renewal of religious discourse, angering Al-Azhar’s administration. Tayyeb filed an official complaint against him and he was sentenced to one year in prison in December 2015, but President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pardoned Beheiry after he had served several months of his sentence.