Metro fatwa kiosks: Egypt’s way to change religious discourse?



Sun, 30 Jul 2017 - 10:59 GMT


Sun, 30 Jul 2017 - 10:59 GMT

Fatwa Booth at Cairo Metro Station - REUTERS

Fatwa Booth at Cairo Metro Station - REUTERS

CAIRO - 30 July 2017: A glass-cabin, where two clerics in Islamic costumes give religious advice on the go to commuters, was set in one of the busiest stops in Cairo’s metro stations.

Located in front of a Pharaonic arts tableau, the cabin has witnessed a huge turnout by metro riders consulting sheikhs on religious issues privately.

Heading to the booth to discuss daily problems, a woman asks about marital issues, citizens seek answers on their rituals performance, and expecting moderate and precise answers to their questions.

This cabin is known in the media as ‘Fatwa Kiosks’ or religious edicts committees; it was established in July 17 by Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy in cooperation with Cairo Metro Authority.

Such initiative is regarded as one of the announced efforts in Egypt to counter extremism through simplifying religious messages for the public and reaching more citizens. More than 3 million Cairenes use the metro to travel everyday away from rush hour traffic.

Other initiatives launched by Al-Azhar and Dar al-Iftaa (official body authorized to issue religious edicts) to fight extremist thoughts, they varied from unifying Friday sermons, launching English magazine addressing false image of Islam portrayed abroad, sending delegates in tours across Europe to monitoring radical edicts by official observatory bodies.

Opinions varied regarding the booth, where experts seconded the initiative as a mean to renew religious discourse and filter it from radical thoughts through direct contact with citizens, while social media and some public figures voiced their rejection to the idea, sharing satire comments like ‘Delivery Fatwa’ and ‘Takeaway Fatwa.’

A step to change religious discourse?

As concerns stirred on social media platforms regarding duties of the booths, Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy announced the ‘Fatwa Kiosk,’ which is the first of its kind, “aims at achieving certain goals concentrated in spreading moderate thought, fighting extremism and developing efforts that fight against terrorism, and proving the presence of Al-Azhar in the Egyptian streets,” according to an official statement.

Egypt Today spoke with a number of experts seeking clarification over the booths relation with the renewal of religious discourse, and to what extent it could be effective. In previous speeches, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi always referred to the renewal of religious discourse as the most effective way to combat extremist thought prompting terrorism.

“These committees are very important and have been delayed for a long time. The youth need religious awareness; the religious institution's role was minimal along the past years, and now is the time to improve this condition,” said Undersecretary of Ministry of Religious Endowment Shawky Abdel Latif, ensuring that such booths are serving the goal of renewing religious discourse.

Abdel Latif further discussed clerics’ role to provide clear answers to inquiring commuters stopping by the booth.

Similarly, Islamic preacher Ali Abdel Azim supported the initiative as helping people who do not go to Dar al-Ifta.

Saeed Taema, the head of parliament’s transportation Committee, considered the Fatwa kiosks as “stronger than army and police weapons in the fight against terrorism.”

On the other hand, Gamal Fahmy, a member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), described the kiosks as “black comedy,” believing that they do not fulfill the goal of correcting false conceptions of Islam, but rather addressing it in a “downgrading way.”

Also, parliamentarian in the committee of social solidarity Mohamed Abu Hamed who also oppose the idea said that “Al-Azhar is suffering separation from the reality of society.”

Future of Fatwa booth

Minister of Transportation Hesham Arafat said that the booth was established in response to requests by many citizens, adding that they are only available at Al-Shohada metro station that receive around 500, 000 commuters per day.

The kiosk will be canceled after Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) due in September, the minister said, adding that it might be repeated next year if requested by citizens.

Almost 5,000 anti-terrorism books drafted by the top prestigious Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, have been reportedly distributed by the clerics of the booth on commuters.

The booth came in response to the needs of a large number of passengers - using the subway on daily basis- to meet with trusted Al-Azhar scholars to hear their explanation on different religious inquires, according to a previous statement by Al-Azhar academy.

During the holy month of Ramadan, religious messages were broadcasted via the subway’s internal radio, sponsored by the academy.



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