Cairo — Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, is setting up booths in Cairo metro stations to provide religious edicts to commuters in the latest bid to dispel religious misconceptions seen as fostering Islamic militancy in the country, which is targeting mainly security personnel and Copts.
The move comes after militants killed at least 28 security personnel in two separate attacks earlier in July in the restive Sinai peninsula and near some of Egypt’s most famous pyramids outside of Cairo, and more than 100 Coptic Christians since December in four separate attacks.
Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy said in a statement issued Thursday that it launched the project as part of the institution’s efforts to correct misconceptions and misinterpretations of religious texts.
Photos of Al-Azhar clerics manning one of the booths and engaging with commuters circulated on social media networks. One booth has so far been set up at a central metro station with plans for further expansion.
“It is possible that I use these booths,” said 28-year-old Abdel Wali Hassan, a frequent commuter, adding that he sometimes finds himself having questions and wanting to consult a cleric.
But 24-year old Adham Youssef, who uses the metro on a daily basis, had a different view.
“For someone who takes the metro twice a day to go to his work, house, and meetings, I prefer the metro have bathrooms, trash cans, a proper ticket selling service, and more measures to counter sexual harassment,” he said.
Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights, expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the move, saying other measures should be taken to confront terrorism like fighting corruption and oppression.
“I don’t think these booths will confront terrorism,” Eid said. “This measure is not a priority.”
Mohi el-Din Afifi, the academy’s secretary general, slammed critical remarks saying that what Al-Azhar is doing serves the interests of the nation and its citizens. “Who will face the violent currents and protect the nation and citizens from their edicts?”
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has repeatedly blamed what he believes to be outdated religious discourse for rising Islamic militancy and has called for the “modernization of religious discourse” since he took office in 2014.
Insurgents have carried out series of suicide bombings and attacks in Egypt since the ouster of former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive. The violence has been concentrated in the northern Sinai Peninsula, but it has also spread to the mainland, including the capital, Cairo.
Also Sunday, the Interior Ministry said its forces killed eight and arrested five members of Hasm movement, a militant group with suspected links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
The group, which routinely targets Egyptian security forces with bombings and drive-by shootings, claimed responsibility on Friday for an earlier attack on a three-car police convoy that killed one policeman and wounded three others in Fayoum governorate southwest of Cairo.