Despite initial rejection, imams adhere to pre-written Friday sermons

Despite imams’ reported early dissent from the Endowments Ministry’s decision to distribute pre-written sermons, Egypt’s Muslims have listened to a unified sermon each Friday for the past two weeks.

On Friday, Sayeda Zeinab mosque’s imam could be seen reading from a small piece of paper during his sermon that was broadcast on national television and attended by Endowments Minister Mokhtar Gomaa.

The Endowments Ministry published a copy of the unified sermon on Thursday night, urging imams across the country to adhere to its exact text, and, if they choose not to do so, it encouraged them to at least address the ministry’s proposed subject. The laxity comes in line with the ministry’s retreat from its initial demand for absolute adherence, as it since has announced that the pre-written sermons will be implemented on a trial basis pending the formation of a specialized committee that will write the unified text.

Friday’s sermon focused on general temperance, highlighting prudence in the display and envy of wealth among other things, while last week’s sermon addressed the danger of acquiring money through illegal means and its detrimental effects on society.

Having previously unified sermon topics but leaving the particular articulation to imams, the ministry explained its decision to further centralize control over the weekly addresses in a recently published statement, where it argued that the move would facilitate better quality and guarantee the optimum delivery of the unified topics’ salient points. The statement also criticized imams for prolonging sermons and deviating from the primary subject, which are distractions and deficiencies that the ministry contends justify its new regulations.

A number of people contacted by Mada Masr in the past two weeks have confirmed that imams generally adhered to the ministry’s topics, with many also reading from the ministry’s pre-written text.

“The imam was reading from a piece of paper, and I could see two or three papers in his hands, stapled together and typed, not even handwritten,” Mohamed Alyan, who lives in Sohag, told Mada Masr.

Imams that were reported to have not adhered to the state-sanctioned text were often housed in mosques that fall outside the Endowments Ministry’s oversight. Moustafa Hesham, who prayed in an Ain Shams mosque that is run by the Salafi Jama’a al-Sharia, told Mada Masr that the sermon focused on ways to reach true submission to God.

The practice has not gone unnoticed by those attending Friday prayer, as social media users have mocked imams who have read the ministry’s pre-written sermons.

“If the sermons will be pre-written and distributed to imams beforehand, I suggest that the Endowments Ministry launches a ‘Friday-sermon app,’ and whoever downloads it can get the sermon instantly and recite it for himself, and we can pray at home instead,” one user said.

Another user tweeted: “Friday sermon is not aimed at religious preaching. It aims to express the government’s rhetoric word-for-word, [urging people] to like state officials, but nobody likes them.”

Many imams worried that the new regulation would invite such mockery, having previously expressed to Mada Masr a fear of reading from a piece of paper. One imam said that the regulation would make imams “parrots on alters.”

Abdallah Qabany, a Qalyubiya ministry-affiliated imam, said on Friday that he read his sermon from a tablet for the first time in the 10 years since he began preaching. “I had this strange feeling that I’m not reciting the sermon from my heart. Although, I tried to do that. While I read, I saw the looks in the eyes of those gather to pray, and I could see the sympathy in their eyes.”

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