Egyptian cleric facing trial for non-Muslim remarks


An Egyptian Muslim cleric has been barred from preaching and is set to appear before a court for saying Christians and Jews followed corrupt religions and would not go to heaven.

Salem Abdel Galil, a former religious endowments ministry official, had made the remarks on a television show he hosts, sparking a backlash in a country reeling from deadly church bombings by Islamist extremists.

The endowments ministry, which controls the country's mosques, said Abdel Galil would not be allowed to preach Friday prayer sermons unless he retracts his comments.

Naguib Gobrail, a lawyer and Coptic Christian activist, told journalists that a misdemeanour court scheduled a hearing for 24 June to look into his complaint against the cleric.

"This is slander of religion and threatens Egyptian unity," Gobrail said, referring to a law that punishes perceived insults to religion that has been used to imprison both Christians and Muslims.

Abdel Galil had criticised Muslim clerics who say Christians and Jews are "believers," adding that the non-Muslims were "kuffar" – an Arabic word for disbelievers denied heaven.

"Yes they believed in Jesus and in Moses and then they disbelieved in Mohammed," Abdel Galil said on the show aired by the private Mehwar broadcaster, which subsequently apologised.

His comments prompted the endowments ministry to "prevent him from ascending the pulpit unless he remedies the concerns and tension caused by his comments," it said in a statement on Wednesday.

Abdel Galil apologised for his remarks on Thursday.

"As some considered it hurtful to Christians, I apologise for the hurt feelings," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"The religious view of the corruption of non-Muslims' faith, in our opinion, is the same as them viewing our faith as corrupt," Abdel Galil said, adding that did not mean Christians should be attacked.

The controversy over his remarks comes as Muslim institutions in Egypt are pressured to take a tougher stance against Islamist extremists following the church bombings. Suicide bombers from the Islamic State group had killed dozens of Coptic Christians in three church attacks in December and April. The group has threatened more attacks on the community, which makes up about 10 percent of Egypt's 92 million people.    (AFP)

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