Muslim clerics set up an Islamic advice kiosk in Cairo’s metro July 17 ostensibly to combat extremism, but Coptic Christians say it is a government attempt to Islamize Egypt.
Al-Azhar university, the most prominent Sunni religious institution, set up the booth in a Cairo subway station to issue fatwas to muslims on the go, according to an Associated Press report. Fatwas are official rulings doled out by imams on questions related to Islam. The booth was seen as part of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s attempt to root out extremist theology from Egyptian Islam according to Al-Monitor. Coptic Christians, who are not allowed to spread Christian teachings in public places, said the booth is discriminatory.
The Sunni university works with the Egyptian government in their efforts to control religion in Egypt and also trains government approved imams. The university said they plan to install more booths in other metro stations, but Coptic Christians claimed the booths are simply a front to spread Islamic ideology.
“This is not its place at all,” Coptic Christian Beshoy Mikhail told the AP. “I am completely against the idea.”
Some human rights activists also called the booths a government intrusion into personal religious life.
“We see the government feeding more religious education and interference of religion in the day-to-day life,” activist Sherif Azer told the AP.
Human rights activists Bahey El Din Hassan criticized the Egyptian president in a tweet, saying that the booths were a sign of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s declining popularity and a move that “feeds terrorism and distorts the Copts.”
The Sunni institution’s booth is merely an attempt to “market itself in attempts to reach out to people” according to Amr Ezzat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Ezzat said the booths would not root out extremists since extremists won’t visit imams associated with Al-Azhar. Extremists loathe the Sunni institution according to Ezzat, who sees the booths as a government attempt to market Islam.
“The state is treating religion as if it is public service,” Ezzat told the AP.
The secretary-general of Al-Azhar,Mohi el-Din Afifi, said more booths will be installed regardless of the outcry against them from Christians and activists.
“They will be everywhere, not only in the metro,” Afifi told the AP.
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