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Friday Prayers for Egypt: A New Mufti

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The new realities of Egypt, buttressed by its new constitution, place religion front and center in politics and policy. This means a new and developed importance to all her religious leaders.

The newest of these is the mufti, elected for the first time by the council of senior scholars in the Azhar. The Azhar, of course, holds prominence among all sheikhs, first in history, now in law. The institution must be consulted on all matters which touch the Islamic sharia.

But the mufti also is influential. He heads Dar al-Ifta’, responsible for issuing hundreds of religious rulings each day, as Muslims inquire. These range from the mundane to the controversial; in the past, even the presidential.

As could be anticipated, God, the position was contested. A prominent Muslim Brother was a nominee, a less well-known Brother finished second. Not much is known widely about the winner, though he is suspected to be generally non-political. He may not be able to remain so much longer.

Give him wisdom, God. But give even greater wisdom to Egypt. Do you desire those who speak in your name to influence and possibly determine the path of the state? Will this bring the best scholars forward, or corrupt those who dare advance?

In light of his appointment, bless him and all others who serve you through their religious traditions. Political or otherwise, they help shape the worldview and ethics of many in Egypt.

For the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, guide his stewardship of Egypt’s Christians. Give him wisdom to spiritually guide his community amid the many challenges Egypt faces. Give him discernment for when his guidance must also be political – or if it should never be. May he be a man of peace and unity; bless him especially among his family of bishops. Help them to encourage their flock toward humility, grace, and love.

For Egyptian Christian priests and pastors of other denominations, encourage them in their particulars while remaining organic with the whole. May they honor and respect the Orthodox, even as they present alternatives. May their interactions mutually benefit the spirituality of all communities.

For the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, the Grand Mufti, and local imams within their oversight, grant them understanding of the changing nature of Egypt. May they lead their faithful in piety and prayer. May they study their sources to encourage right conduct toward state and society. May they present a vision of Islam that corresponds with your desire. Bless them and aid them in enriching the fabric of Muslim and interreligious relations.

For the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi sheikhs that have emerged politically, honor their insistence that values of religion belong in the public square. Guide them in their interactions with those who define this differently, that consensus and respect might result. Bless their efforts to encourage Egyptians to be upright, faithful, and God-fearing. May they nurture a renaissance that blesses all.

God, may all the above know your will for themselves and their communities. Endow Egypt with the virtue of faith; spare her the vice of fanaticism.

Help Egyptians to know the difference, to know you, and to know what you require of them – in this world and the next.



Grand Mufti Approves Death Penalty for ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Film Producers

From Egypt Independent:

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has approved a death sentence delivered in absentia for seven Coptic Egyptian expats accused of producing and acting a movie deemed insulting to Islam.

The declaration was made Tuesday by a judge at the Cairo Criminal Court.

Egypt’s State Security Court had sentenced the defendants in November to death and referred the verdict to the mufti for approval.

I hope politics did not come into this decision. The Mufti is generally known as a wise and moderate figure, who enjoys friendship with many Christian leaders. Among them is Bishop Mouneer of the Anglican Church, who has called for the criminalization of defamation of religion at the UN, but certainly not the death penalty.

The politics could come because the Mufti (as well as the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar) are targeted figures by the emerging Islamist parties who are salivating over control of Egypt’s religious institutions. Both the Mufti and the Grand Sheikh are holdovers from the Mubarak era. The Mufti may not feel comfortable standing in the way of this decision and watching the Islamists explode. Given that all the accused are resident outside of Egypt, perhaps he feels the damage is limited.

Only the damage will come to Islam in the eyes of the West. Does Islam truly call for the death of all who insult its prophet? Yes, the film was offensive and insulting – its round and absolute condemnation is necessary.

But the Mufti’s decision sets a precedent in the new Egypt. As the new constitution calls for the religious institutions to have a greater role in determining legislation, it is a moderate figure who first authorized one of Islam’s most controversial rulings.

The eyes of the West will be offended, but the real damage to Islam may well resound locally.

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