Egypt’s most prominent Sunni institution, Al-Azhar, filed a complaint last week against TV presenter Islam El-Behiry, accusing him of “deliberately aiming to make people question their beliefs”.
Al-Azhar, the highest government-controlled religious institution, said in a statement that it is concerned with the “vicious attacks by some media personnel against the basic values and heritage of Islam”.
It added that it received many complaints from citizens who are concerned about the content of the TV programme presented by El-Behiry.
El-Behiry has been hosting a programme that questions the teachings of Salafi preachers. In many of his episodes, he provides clips of famous and much respected Salafi preachers, and criticises their religious arguments.
The independent researcher also calls for disregarding ancient interpretations of the Qur’an and preaches individual understanding of the text.
Interpretations by prominent Muslim scholars from the Middle Ages are considered manifestos to ultra-conservative Salafi groups.
El-Behiry’s content is attacked by Salafi individuals as a severe violation of Islamic identity. A supporter of the ultra-conservative party, the Salafi Front, previously told Daily News Egypt this is one of the main reasons for the “Muslim Youth Uprising”, because Islamic identity is being attacked on television.
After the 30 June protests and the closure of many pro-Morsi Islamist TV channels, a number of TV shows have started to question the conservative understanding of Islam.
“From its role to protect the Islamic religion and identity, Al-Azhar filed a complaint against the programme,” Al-Azhar said. It added that the TV show incites “sedition, distorts the religion and endangers the youth of the nation”.
Egyptian nationalist rhetoric and anti-Islamist public opinion argue that Al-Azhar is the “moderate representative of Islam”.
Diplomatically, Al-Azhar has been propagated by Egyptian officials as the vanguard responsible for countering the “extremist” ideas of Islamic State (IS).
However, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned the complaint, explaining that the programme did not violate any aspect of freedom of expression.
AHRI added that the monopoly of opinion and censorship are what gave birth to IS, adding that the officials of the Sunni entity should counter argue El-Behiry’s ideas instead.