Religious Office Nominee Polarizes Leaders in Egypt

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A variety of religious forces have expressed their opposition to the nomination of a Salafist to head the Ministry of Religious Endowments. Mohammed Yusri Ibrahim has polarized Islamic leaders ranging from Al-Azhar scholars to Sufi imams.

A number of Islamic forces, along with Al-Azhar, continued their fierce attack on Dr. Mohamed Yousry Ibrahim, general secretary of the Legal Authority for Rights and Reform, as a result of his candidacy for the post of Minister of Religious Endowments.

Meanwhile, Sufi orders called on President Mohammed Morsi to back down on his decision to nominate Ibrahim.

Al-Azhar said that it would refuse any scenario in which Salafists took control of mosques, while the Islamist group confirmed the president's right to choose ministers and aides without obstruction from others.

Imams in the ministry said that they will assess the new minister’s behavior as soon as he takes office. They will see whether or not he will respond to their demands and will then decide how to act accordingly, the Imams added.

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Meanwhile, Mohamed Shahawi, head of the Global Sufi Council and Sheikh of the Shahawi Order, called on the president to appoint Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud Abuhashem, dean of the Faculty of Theology in Zagazig and Sheikh of the Hashemi Kholwa Order, as minister of religious endowments instead of the Salafist Yousry in order to protect the ministry from Salafist ideas.

Sources close to Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque, said that the list of candidates that Tayeb submitted for the post of Minister of Religious Endowments did not include the Salafist leader. The sources added that Sufi leaders have told Tayeb that they will support him should he refuse to support Ibrahim’s selection as minister.

Mohamed Abdel Khaleq al-Shabrawy, Sheikh of the Shabrawy order, said it would be a disaster if a Salafist leader took over the ministry, adding that this could result in a bloodbath between Sufi and Salafist orders if Sufi orders felt that their dignity was being disrespected.

Shabrawy pointed out that if a Salafist took over the ministry, this would unite the Sufi orders. He demanded that tombs [of local Sufi saints] be placed under the supervision of Sufi orders. Shabrawy argued that these tombs would not be safe in the hands of a Salafist minister, and that he will not take any measures to defend them, nor will he take action against terrorist groups fighting the descendants of the prophet and demolishing their tombs across the region.

Jaber Qassem, a representative for the Sufi Sheikhdom, said that while this issue is cause for concern among Sufi orders, a law issued in the era of President Anwar Sadat protects Sufism and regulates its relations with the ministries. He added that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to neutralize and marginalize Al-Azhar. As a result, Al-Azhar has to take a stance, a stance which should be supported by all movements which believe in moderate Islam, Qassem said.

Qassem stressed that Sufi orders would consider any disrespect of Al-Azhar to be an act of aggression against themselves. Dr. Hussam Abu al-Bukhari, spokesman for the Third Islamic Forces Coalition, said that the main reason behind the objection to Ibrahim's nomination is that the Ministry of Religious Endowments is sovereign. According to Bukhari, the ministry receives millions of Egyptian pounds and well-known and large mosques receive many donations [through the ministry]. These funds are then distributed to imams, preachers and the minister himself.

“Kamal” described the Grand Sheikh and Mufti of Al-Azhar as "remnants of the former regime," who should be dismissed. He notes that the former regime used them to pass fatwas to serve their own interests and confirmed his support for efforts to remove them from their positions.

Undersecretary of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar denounced the fact that the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party have monopolized positions in the formation of the new government. He said this will generate tension between the institutions and citizens in Egypt. He described these postings as unilateral decisions taken without consulting specialists.

Dr. Gamal al-Hilali Ahmed, secretary general of the Building and Development Party in Minya, said that no one should meddle in the choices of the president-elect, be they related to the presidential institution or to the ministries.

Imams and preachers from the Ministry of Religious Endowments expressed their outrage at the nomination of Ibrahim as minister. They have called on the president to intervene and choose a minister that all sides accept, in accordance with Al-Azhar’s demand. This will protect the Ministry of Religious Endowments from becoming a Salafist ministry controlled by followers of Salafist ideology, which they described as extremist.

Sheikh Ahmed Terk, imam and preacher of al-Nour mosque in Abbassiya, said, "With all due respect to his knowledge and dignity, I reject Ibrahim's nomination." He then added that the new minister is a person who previously declared war on those affiliated with Al-Azhar, excluded them from Sunni Islam, and that this has had a significant impact on Al-Azhar, its preaching and religion.

Terk stressed that the imams will not accept those who encroach on religious institutions and try to adapt them to fit extremist ideas. He said he was unsure of how to deal with those who excluded the imams and preachers — estimated at 50,000 — from Sunni Islam.

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Found in: salafist, egypt, al-azhar
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