Grand Mufti of Egypt: Islam promotes religious freedom

At a symposium organized by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa cited verses from the Holy Koran to show that Islam permitted freedom of religion and did not compel anyone to change faith.

"We believe in freedom of religion,” Gomaa said. “If people choose to convert to Islam, nobody should try to stop them, as this is a matter between them and God.”

"The current dispute over the woman who converted to Islam [Camellia Shehata, wife of a Minya church pastor] should be discussed objectively," he said, calling on those who have inflamed the issue to review their respective stances. “I resent the fact that some people have stirred up the issue in such a stupid way.”

On the issuance of unfounded religious rulings (fatwas) by Muslim preachers, the mufti said that fatwas had at one time been issued exclusively by Egyptian Mufti Mohamed al-Mahdi Abbas, who died in 1895. Since then, Gomaa explained, religious edicts had become the responsibility of Al-Azhar's Dar al-Iftaa, which was specifically established for the purpose.

“Those issuing such fatwas are after the money that the satellite television channels pay them,” he said, adding that it would "take time" to rectify the recent phenomenon.

In a related development, Coptic Church sources said that Coptic Pope Shenouda III would soon allow Shehata to address the media to tell her story. She is said to have fled from her husband and converted to Islam, but was later brought back to church authorities by security services.

The same sources said the pope believed that Shehata should personally explain her situation to the public, especially given that hundreds of Muslims had recently staged demonstrations demanding her appearance.

Shehata is expected to appear on Egyptian television in a pre-recorded broadcast within days.

The Sawasia Institute for Human Rights Studies, for its part, has called on the government and Al-Azhar to allow the media to interview Shehata. The institute has also condemned the Coptic Church for keeping her in custody.

Meanwhile, lawyer Mamdouh Ismail has accused the government of “pandering” to the Coptic Church, calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to intervene personally in the issue.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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