Egypt to further probe Quranists

Cairo, Egypt - An Egyptian court has ordered that five members of a banned group be kept in detention for 15 more days pending further investigations, judicial sources said yesterday.

The group believes solely in Islam's holy book the Quran and calls themselves Quranists. The detainees, arrested on May 29, face charges of contempt for Islam. Paradoxically, a State Security Court this week annulled a decision by the Ministry of Interior to detain the five.

"We are not a sect, but an ideological school, which has no gathering places," said Azhar, the sister of the movement's spiritual leader Ahmad Mansour, who has been living as a political refugee in the US since 2001.

Mansour, an ex-professor at Al Azhar, was dismissed from the religious university in 1987 and jailed for two months for denying Prophet Mohammad's [PBUH] Sunnah [traditions and sayings].

Vision of Islam

"The Holy Quran has the final say on everything. We don't recognise the questionable traditions attributed to the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH]," Azhar told the local magazine Al Mussawar recently.

According to their website, the Quranists aim at spreading "a vision of Islam, which is true to the letter and spirit of the Quran and believe that Islam is the religion of tolerance, citizenship, human rights."

The website claims they have followers in Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. Their number in Egypt is estimated at 150 people. Al Azhar, the Sunnis' most influential institution, is scathingly critical of the Quranists.

"The one who denies the Sunnah, which is a major source of legislation in Islam, is not a Muslim," said Refaat Othman, a professor of Sharia [Islamic Law] at Al Azhar. "Insistence on this denial is tantamount to apostasy," he said.

Othman explained that the movement of the Quranists started in Pakistan in the 1970s and later spread elsewhere. "They are a heretical sect, who intends to play down its danger to Islam by claiming it is an ideological school."

The Quranists' detention coincided with the arrest of two Egyptian Christians, working for a website of a Christian Arab group based in Canada.

Police yesterday identified the two detainees as Adel Fawzi and Peter Ezzat, who worked for the Ontario-based Middle East Christian Association.

The arrests were apparently made in response to a complaint by Muslim lawyers that the website "insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH]," reported the evening newspaper Al Messa yesterday.

Copts arrested

The two Coptic Christian rights activists were arrested in Egypt for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] on a British-based website, their lawyer and a judicial source said yesterday.

Security forces on Wednesday arrested the Egyptian country director of the Middle East Christian Association (MECA) Adel Fawzi, 61, and the association's photographer Peter Ezzat, 35, their lawyer Naguib Guebrail told AFP.

"They were arrested at home in Cairo and were still being held on Thursday morning," said Guebrail.

"We haven't been officially told why they were arrested but security sources told us they are accused of distributing religiously defamatory books that incited confrontation between Copts and Muslims," he said.

Computers, CDs and documents were seized by security forces, the lawyer and judicial source said.

The source said the pair had been arrested for insulting Islam on the British-based United Copts website. "The Egyptian public prosecutor ordered Fawzi and Ezzat arrested for publishing articles and declarations that are damaging to Islam and insulting to Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] on the United Copts website," the source said.

Copts are estimated to form 6 to 10 per cent of Egypt's 76 million people.