November 26, 2022

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Remarkable: Muslim cleric to go on trial in Egypt for disparaging Christianity

Egypt is hardly a paradigm of human rights, but human rights NGOs ignore some of the remarkable things that have been done under the current Egyptian leadership.

From Al Ahram:

A Cairo misdemeanor court has set 24 June to start the trial of a prominent Islamic cleric and television presenter on charges of contempt of religion, after he described Christians as non-believers on an episode of his television show.

The lawsuit filed against Salem Abdel-Geliel by lawyer Naguib Gibrail initially charged that Abdel-Geliel’s comments displayed contempt of religion, threatened national unity, disrupted public peace and incited the killing of Christians.

Abdel-Geliel, a former deputy minister for proselytisation at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, has presented a daily religious programme, Muslims Ask, on Mehwar satellite channel since early 2016.

Hassan Rateb, the head of Mehwar, said on Wednesday that the cleric’s contract with the station would be cancelled. The channel also apologised to all “Christian brothers” in an official statement.

Abdel-Geliel, who is been known for his mainstream religious views, described Christians as “unbelievers” and their beliefs as “corrupted” during his explanation of a Quranic verse on an episode of his programme earlier this week.

He said later in a statement that the description “unbeliever” was applied to Christians in the Quran in a specific context, but he apologised if he had offended Christians’ feelings.

He also stressed that describing Christians as such doesn’t carry any sort of incitement to violence against Christians or followers of any other religion, as such violence is forbidden in Islam.

Abdel-Geliel also said that he fully understood the channel’s decision to end his contract.

Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments had said that Abdel-Geliel would be banned from giving sermons at ministry-affiliated mosques until he issued an apology.

Defendants charged with contempt of religion are normally Christians, or others holding minority religious views, charged with insulting Islam.

But this is not the first time in recent years that an Islamic religious figure has been tried on charges of contempt of Christianity.

Controversial preacher Abu Islam, who burnt a copy of the Bible in front of the American embassy in Cairo during Salafi protests in September 2012, was sentenced in June 2013 to 11 years in jail and a EGP3,000 fine over the incident after he was found guilty of insulting Christianity.

The sentence was reduced to three years following a series of appeals.

Even Abdel Geliel’s reaction is remarkable. His words were fairly mild and also pretty accurate. There is much worse incitement all over the Arab world as can be seen from five minutes at MEMRI.  Furthermore, he isn’t some firebrand preacher or crazy jihadist. He is popular and represents mainstream Islam.

Egypt does seem to be taking anti-Christian attitudes seriously. Perhaps it is too little, too late, but this is very welcome.

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