Egypt jails Muslim scholar for suggesting Islamic reform

An Egyptian court has reduced the jail term for a Muslim scholar convicted of “insulting Islam” on his television show from five years to one, judicial officials and his lawyer said Tuesday.

Islam al-Behairy faced an uproar in April after remarks he made on his program “With Islam,” in which he called for reforms in “traditional Islamic discourse.”

On his show on private satellite channel Al-Kahera Wel Nas, Behairy often questioned ancient Islamic preachings and centuries-old interpretations of the faith.

That came as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly urged reforms in interpretation of the faith.

But Behairy’s views outraged the influential Cairo-based Sunni Islamic learning center Al-Azhar, which claimed the program did not advocate “reforms” but rather “were insults to Islamic heritage.”

The channel later suspended the program, saying the decision was taken “to defend the national interest, out of respect for a large segment of society and in response to the request of the grand sheikh of al-Azhar.”

“The channel’s management does not encourage debates or programs aimed at dividing Muslims.”

Behairy said his program was suspended due to a disagreement between him and the channel.

“We are moving far, far, far backwards. What is coming is much worse, beyond imagination,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Behairy was later put on trial and sentenced to five years in prison, but the sentence was reduced on appeal.

Lawyer Gamil Saed, confirming the new sentence, said: “My client didn’t insult the religion. The pillars of Islam are Allah and the Koran, and my client didn’t talk of them” in his program.

“He discussed religious opinions of some old preachers in the context of reforming the religious discourse,” he told AFP.

Saed said he will file a petition to stop the sentence’s implementation, and also file an appeal in the Court of Cassation.

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Egypt’s constitution outlaws insults against the three monotheist religions recognized by the state – Islam, Christianity and Judaism, although Christians and Jews have undergone serious persecution in the country, with nearly the entire Jewish population being driven out around the period of the establishment of Israel.

Last year a Coptic Christian teacher was jailed for six months after parents of her students accused her of evangelizing and of insulting Islam.

Parents had complained that she had told her students that late Coptic pope, Shenuda III, was better than the Muslim prophet Mohammed, her lawyer said.

In a separate 2014 case, a Coptic man was sentenced to six years for insulting Islam after posting a picture of Mohammed on his Facebook page with an insulting comment.

AFP contributed to this report.

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