Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam released a statement on Tuesday expressing his “strong opposition” to the proposed amendments to several constitutional articles pertaining to the Sharia.
The statement came a day after the constitutional committee’s media spokesperson, Mohamed Salmawy, said in a press conference: “Egypt’s constitution should allow freedom of worship for all religions.”
Salmawy added that the phrasing of certain articles in the 2012 constitution, which limited religious rights to the three Abrahamic religions, should be amended to allow followers of different world religions to exercise their rights freely in Egypt.
Allam, in his Tuesday statement, directly referred to the proposed amendment to Article 3 of the suspended 2012 constitution. The article stipulates: “For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.”
The proposed amendment, which has generated controversy, would replace “Christians and Jews,” a phrase that was criticised for marginalising other minority groups to “non-Muslims.”
Salmawy commented on Monday that this amendment would bring the new constitution in line with international conventions on human rights. However, while Allam has repeatedly said that he rejects a religious state, he stated the amendment would lead to a disruption of public order.
Allam also opposed an amendment to Article 4 that would remove a sentence empowering Al Azhar’s Body of Senior Scholars to be consulted in matters pertaining to the Sharia.
“If Al Azhar is not to be consulted on matters concerning Sharia, then which body could,” Allam said, adding that the article, as it stands in the 2012 constitution, “closes the door on those unqualified to speak on behalf of religion.”
The Grand Mufti’s statement comes amid an Islamist-secular schism between the Salafist Nour Party and other members within the constitutional committee. The party’s representative, Bassam Al-Zarqa, withdrew from a session on Monday in protest over a disagreement on the topic of Sharia in the constitution.
Al-Zarqa had proposed to replace the word “principles” with “rules,” or to completely remove the word “principles” in articles with the phrasing “Islamic Sharia principles.” This amendment would signify the inclusion of hudud (the penal laws of Islam) in the new constitution. Al-Zarqa withdrew from the session after the committee’s head and other members dismissed his proposal.
Al-Nour Party Chairman Younes Makhioun said on Al-Arabiya TV channel on Tuesday that the constitutional committee is off to a “bad start.”
In reference to the recent statements made by Salmawy on the issue of freedom of religion, Makhioun called them “catastrophic” and claimed that Salmawy “talks as though he is not one of the Egyptian people.”
He added that the constitution should reflect how the majority of Egyptians are Muslim and that Egyptian society is devoted to religion, warning that the constitution will fail without the inclusion of Sharia.
Makhioun defended Al-Zarqa’s withdrawal from the session on Monday in his criticism of the constitutional committee, which he described as being “dominated by secularists and leftists that are attempting to impose their views on others.”
While he emphasised that Al- Nour Party is keen on remaining involved in the committee, Makhioun implied that their position might change if Sharia is not prioritised in the draft constitution.
The position of party on the issue of withdrawal from the constitutional committee remains unclear.
On Sunday, the party stated that Al-Azhar should have the final say on proposed amendments to articles pertaining to Sharia. This was seen as a progressive move from their previous hard-line stance, where they had stated that eliminating the Islamic identity articles in the constitution would prompt the party to withdraw from the constitution-making process.
It is expected that future discussions on Sharia-related articles in the committee will trigger more controversy on the phrasing and amending of the 2012 constitution.
Although Salmawy said the committee has ensured that the decades-old phrasing of Article 2 will remain the same, he added in a press conference on Sunday: “All articles, including the constitution’s preamble, will be changed so that we will have a completely new constitution at the end.”