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Freedom of Belief and Religion in Egypt
The Coptic Hanging Church (St. Virgin Mary's) in Cairo, Egypt, April 13, 2021. (Dipetre/Freepik)

Freedom of Belief and Religion in Egypt

Al-Ahram, Egypt, September 20

In the past few weeks, President el-Sisi repeated an important point in several of the speeches he delivered. The point was about the need to respect the freedom of religion and belief. In parallel with the president’s remarks, Sheikh Ahmad Karima, professor of comparative jurisprudence and Islamic law at Al-Azhar University, provided evidence that such freedom had strong origins in Islamic law itself. In the Quranic text, Sheikh Karima pointed out, there were several verses confirming man’s freedom to choose how to practice his belief. In an interview aired on national television last week, Sheikh Karima warned against those who claimed to speak on behalf of Islam and monopolize religion in our country. Each person, he emphasized, had the right to observe in his own way. Another interesting point raised by the sheikh was the origin of this monopoly. According to his analysis, it was the Ottomans who changed the discourse surrounding religion in the Middle East and turned it from a religion that can be practiced in a multitude of ways into a religion that must only be practiced based on one law. This was also the source of a lot of our region’s religious strife. Unfortunately, despite these clarifications from leading religious scholars, extremists in our midst still insist on the correctness of their religious interpretations and worldviews. They automatically attack any attempt to reform religion and vehemently oppose the principles of equality, tolerance, and social cohesion. We thus have no other choice but to confront them through all means available at our disposal. We must take advantage of media outlets to spread a different message of tolerance and hope. We must enact legislative reforms that enhance people’s rights to practice religion freely, through whatever rituals they see fit. President el-Sisi provided a great example in authorizing the establishment and expansion of churches alongside mosques. The only way to battle religious fundamentalism is to educate the masses against it and outlaw the activity of extremists. Only then will we convince the public that their ideas are dangerous and must be decried and condemned by all of us. –Ahmed Abdel Tawab (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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