The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) accused the government of controlling religion and forcing its official line on citizens in a Sunday statement.
Al-Azhar’s Dar Al-Ifta, a institution for releasing religious verdicts, issued a statement on the same day saying that facing extremism is the responsibility of religious scholars and Islamic preachers; to broaden the horizons of Islam and to make it a moderate religion.
According to EIPR, the Egyptian state is using religion for political aims.
“Recently, the Egyptian government has been using different authoritarian tools in the face of any one party that challenges the teachings of the official religious institutions, thus detracting from the rights of Muslims who do not wish to follow the government’s religious interpretations,” said the Sunday EIPR statement.
Although ousting former president Mohamed Morsi was to separate religion and politics, the governments that followed tightened their authoritarian grip on religious discourse, EIPR said.
A hotline was set up to report any violation of state instructions to use mosques for political speeches. Interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree criminalising religious speech in mosques without a permit from the official religious institutions. The punishment for violating the decree ranges from 3 to 12 months in prison, in addition to a fine.
The state also imposed control over central mosques which caused outrage among some people as it banned their favourite Imam.
“Throughout the previous four years, mosques and Islamic discourse have been used as a tool to establish political legitimacy, which serves political Islam and opens up religion to political dispute,” said the statement.
The EIPR said the state’s policies in monitoring mosques and religious activity through security forces and political and religious collaborations do not comply with religious freedoms and citizen rights. The group also argued that it illegalised other religious tendencies, limiting social movement and activity.
Religious scholars are concerned with the consequences of violence and extremism, including undermining governments, assaulting freedoms of others, bloodshed and destruction, said the Dar Al-Ifta statement.
According to Dar Al-Ifta, radical and extremist thought emerged amongst youth as a result of fatwas issued from religiously “unprofessional people” and reading religious books alone.
To face extremism, the Islamic scholars should instil good values, noble morals, and the correct Islamic culture, in young people through debates, courses and seminars. Dar Al-Ifta also suggested “intellectual containment for those caught in the clutches of extremism” and rehabilitation to stir them away from their convictions.
The statement stressed the importance of supporting the concept of ‘nationalisation’.