Grand Mufti of Egypt offers his support to pluralistic society – which means what, exactly?

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa of Egypt wrote an opinion piece in Reuters today, speaking out strongly in favor of interfaith harmony and a civil, democratic society. Egypt’s growing anti-coptic violence has been at best ignored by Egyptian officials. Which is exactly what makes statements like the following so encouraging:


Recently, there have been calls to institute a committee for the “promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice.” It is here that different visions of religion and the good life vie with one another. While we of course observe the limits of our culture and heritage, it is precisely our heritage that recognises this as a foreign imposition on our culture and way of life. This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilise what is already a tense situation. Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing.


So that’s good. But how good? What exactly does a Grand Mufti do?

A Grand Mufti is the highest scholar of Islamic law in any given nation. These Mufti’s opinions on sharia (or “law”) are not binding to anyone. This means that Ali Gomaa’s position mainly has prestige going for it – his opinion matters because he is a respected scholar of Islamic law, but ultimately, extremists in Egypt are just going to rely on those other scholars.

Still, Ali Gomaa is helping to undercut the legitimacy of any sort of undemocratic, far-right Islamist takeover in Egypt, as well as help defend the forgotten 10% (and shrinking) number of Egyptians who happen to be Christians. And if prominent Muslims in Egypt can successfully undermine the far-right’s narrative that they are the true Islam, they can start to work towards a freer society.


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