Muslim Brotherhood: Protect Churches; Mufti Exempts Egyptians from Friday Prayer

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It feels like the calm before the storm. Well, calm is probably not the best word – we’re still hearing gun-fire in the distance. Having said that, we know that some of our neighbors are periodically shooting off rounds in order to alert us all to their presence, and feel that we’re in a secure environment.

But still, for the first time since this whole chaos took off and we started patrolling our streets, we’ve been ordered by the army to return to our homes. They invoked the curfew—the same curfew that has been in place for days, but which no one paid attention to when it came to setting up roadblocks and ensuring the safety of our neighbourhood. But, it seems, the army feels everything is calm enough that people should stop. That’s a good sign, one hopes.

On the other hand: there are huge fears about what might happen after Friday prayers tomorrow. Particularly around Tahrir Square. People were talking about a bloodbath ensuing, after the violence of the last couple of days. Others were hearing reports that at least on Thursday night, the protestors were fairly few in number in comparison to before.

No one really knows what will happen tomorrow. There is all sorts of speculation going on at the moment—to the point where people are suggesting that actually, the army might attempt a coup. Where they have evidence for this is anyone’s best guess—but it reveals the amount of confusion the people have about the situation.

And it’s only increasing; now there are reports that Iranians have been spreading misinformation about Egypt from within. Over the past week, others have mentioned a Qatari conspiracy to defame Egypt, along with foreign elements to destabilise Egypt. Others insisted that all this upheaval was the fault of external actors, not domestic ones—and those who appeared to be domestic were simply stooges of outside forces. No one knows anything anymore.

The Friday congregational prayer is one of those canonical observances for all Muslim men resident in a locality. Muslim women are recommended to go, but it’s not a compulsory observance. It was thus extraordinary that today, the Mufti of Egypt declared that if one wanted to avoid going to Friday prayers tomorrow, it would be religiously permissible for one to do so. Many are taking that as a sign that indeed, tomorrow could be the scene of a great deal of violence, and that the religious requirement to protect one’s self would override the normative obligation to attend Friday prayers.

I know that the Mufti’s statement will put a lot of people at ease, though I suspect that for those for whom it will actually be dangerous to attend Friday prayers, they will ignore it. And those that do heed the Mufti’s words, will not be in a dangerous situation where they are.

In stark contrast, Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar argued that it was religiously compulsory to attend protests after prayers tomorrow. Yet again, however, it seems clear—the people on the streets, whether defending their homes, or protesting (regardless of the side) might be praying, but they’re not listening to any religious leader in particular.

One sector of society might be paying attention: and those are the fans of al-Qaradawi from within the religious establishment. He gave them an additional message today—protect Egypt’s churches, and make sure no one attacks them, in order to incite inter-communal strife during this time.

No one is sure what evidence he has that might happen tomorrow, but that’s somewhat irrelevant to the fact that the most popular religious figure for the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for the churches of Egypt to be protected. That’s got to say something about inter-religious harmony in this country.

H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the University of Warwick (UK) and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (USA). He lives between Cairo, Egypt, and Oxford, UK. www.hahellyer.com