It seems that the Friday prayer at the Sharbatli Mosque in Cairo has become an interesting weekly story, with journalists ‘lurking’ for President Mohammed Mursi and for what happens at the mosque in the president’s neighborhood. The story of the last Friday prayer focused on the worshipers complaints about the security inspection, but in fact the real story was what the Imam said, which apparently no one heard.
One of the prayers explained to a journalist that he refused to be searched before entering the mosque but the security officer responded: “Pray in another mosque.” Another man complained that the president was nothing like Islamic Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab known to have ruled with strong sense of justice.
Of course, only an ignorant denies the gravity of threats surrounding the president. Security is a necessity despite the severity of its measures, and mosques are no longer safe houses. We have not forgotten that Caliph Omar, may God be pleased with him, was reportedly betrayed and deceitfully killed in his mosque.
It is also normal that the president bows his head like all prayers and listens to the preacher of his favorite mosque. On this occasion and location, he can only listen or else he has to find himself another mosque. If the Imam had not known that the faithful president sitting in front of him on the floor had felt sentiment toward him, he would not have said what he said. The proof is that Mursi returns to the same mosque and listens to the same Imam. But Friday’s sermon is no longer like it was before, a repetitive religious moral one, as orators have begun to compete in discussing politics, economy and municipality issues and in responding to what is broadcast on TV and written on Twitter and Facebook.
The Imam’s sermon was full of political stances directed toward the worshiper in front, the president. He called on Mursi not to allow media to act like it wants. Media, as you know, have become the complex of both religious and political men. Most of the orator’s advices were as expected, biased to the president. But the strangest and extremist of them was warning the believers in front of him that the mutual approach of religions was a bad idea! Had an imam in a Riyadh Mosque or Benghazi said that, we would have said it is the right advice as it is understood in a community where all citizens have the same religion. But Egypt still is a multi-religious country where people of mixed beliefs lived for 7,000 years. Let’s not forget that the prophet, prayer upon his soul, married a Christian from Egypt. So how does the imam give such a strange advice in the presence of the president particularly that the latter is president of all Egyptians, including about 10 million Copts, which is twice the population number in neighboring Libya! Copts have a great role in developing Egypt and its Arab culture and only an ignorant repudiates that.
Co-existence as necessity
We may not blame the Imam if he does not know much about the world outside his mosque’s walls, and we may not blame President Mursi for what the Imam said. After all it is God’s house and not the Heliopolis Presidential Palace, but maybe we should sense the danger in our religiously mixed communities from such podiums since co-existence among people of different religions is a necessity and not a cultural luxury.
Unfortunately, the change of the mosque’s podium now reflects the culture of the imam and his personal analysis rather than the morals and teachings of Islam. Marketing the culture of hatred does not begin by a simple shopkeeper but by a university teacher or mosque Imam. It begins by a man who is supposed to be aware of the seriousness of what he preaches on concepts that have no origins in Islamic history or local environment and which stir strife.
A similar Imam and a similar sermon is a timed bomb for a civil war. Hatred begins from here. Hatred transforms from being a mere opinion into a dangerous political act when it is used in mosques and churches to incite. It was with hostile calls like Sunni, Shiite, Allawites and Christian that Sudan was divided, Lebanon was separated and Iraq and Syria and even small Bahrain were threatened! Since colleague Ahmad al-Aarfag has collected strange fatwas in an interesting book, maybe he should also collect the oddities of some preachers and Imams especially that they have begun to alter their fatwas whenever others reprove them. Of course, it is easy for them to do so but who changes the convictions of the people who believed the imam because he speaks in the name of religion.
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb.11, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.