Mosques across Egypt have witnessed the first Friday sermon on a set theme chosen by the government as part of newly introduced controls on Muslim places of worship.
The policy is controversial in a country that is deeply polarised after the army overthrew President Mohammad Morsi last year after mass protests, amid deep resentment against his single year in power.
The Ministry of Religious Endowments is the official Egyptian body which will decide what imams or preachers should tell the millions who attend the weekly prayers, known in Arabic as salat al-jummah. Attendance is obligatory within Islam for Muslims without a valid excuse such as sickness.Starting from Friday 31 January, all Egyptian mosques are to abide by the weekly topic posted on the ministry’s website.
The imams will not be sent written scripts. They may give impromptu speeches as long as they do not deviate from the official theme.
Preachers at state mosques who disobey would face disciplinary action or sacking.
Private mosques are threatened with annexation by the ministry if they do not toe the line.
The theme for the first sermon was the importance of redeveloping squatter settlements and helping the poor.
The following week’s sermon, on 7 February, will centre on “the role of youths in society”.
It is hard to tell whether all mosques in the Arab world’s most populous country have obeyed the new instructions.