A Muslim cleric in Egypt has been suspended after allegedly saying "Prayer is better than Facebook" during the call to prayer. The case has attracted attention amid a crackdown on free speech across the country.
Egyptians in the Nile Delta province of Beheira were outraged on Sunday after a cleric allegedly changed a line in the traditional Islamic call to prayer to mention Facebook. Instead of saying "prayer is better than sleep" twice during the dawn prayer, Sheikh Mahmoud Maghazi allegedly said: "Prayer is better than Facebook."
The issue drew nationwide attention when he defended himself against the accusations on one of Egypt's most-watched television talk shows.
The Religious Endowments Ministry ordered an investigation after devout locals complained last week. The action that was taken against Maghazi prompted him to go on hunger strike, denying that he had made the reference.
Ministry official Sabri Ebada told the AFP news agency that the incident had happened on Saturday and confirmed that the muezzin had since been suspended.
"The case will be referred to the prosecution service which will see that the law is applied," Ebada said.
Allegations of links to Muslim Brotherhood
Maghazi said during the talk show broadcast that he didn't know what Facebook was or how it was spelled, and went on to charge his accusers with being members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. He alleged that his adversaries were trying to remove him from the mosque because he would not allow them to hold protests and organize unlicensed Islamic lessons there.
"I forbid any group to use the mosque, I forbid unauthorized courses," he said.
Mosques have been closely monitored across Egypt as part of the security crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters following the military overthrow of President Mohammen Morsi in 2013; Morsi now faces a death sentence. The Brotherhood has again been designated a "terrorist" organization by the authorities, and most of its leadership is either in prison, or in exile.
Crackdown on terrorism as well as freedom
Since Morsi was toppled by then-army chief and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, controls have been tightened not only on mosques to prevent any resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood sentiment but also on public speech and media freedom.
An Egyptian court sentenced three Al-Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison each at the weekend, on charges that they were mouthpieces for the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The court had said that they had aired falsified footage intended to damage Egypt's national security.
However, al-Sissi's goverment has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and the arrest of the three Al-Jazeera journalists has been condemned across the world. The journalists and the network deny the allegations.
ss/msh (AP, AFP)