CAIRO: The Grand Mufti Thursday sparked a fierce debate by saying that 26 illegal immigrants who drowned off the Italian coast are not martyrs, as their bodies began arriving back home.
The announcement by the state-appointed Sheikh Ali Gomaa came as weeping relatives waited at Cairo airport to receive the bodies of five migrants among the 184 Egyptians whose boats sank off Italy on Sunday.
Gomaa said that those who died were not martyrs assured a direct route to Paradise “because they put themselves in danger and the aim of their journey was not given over to service to God.
“If we look at the motives that pushed them to travel, we see that they are after money because each of them paid LE 25,000 to leave which means they are not poor, Gomaa was quoted as saying by local media.
“They could have stayed at home and invested this money in a commercial project instead of leaving, he told the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily.
With only 37 rescued alive – currently being held in Italy awaiting deportation back to Egypt – and 26 bodies recovered, the remaining 121 migrants may or may not have made it to shore.
Family members said that their loved ones had set off for Europe in search of work, having paid human traffickers LE 30,000.
Egyptian religious authorities, including Gomaa, have said in the past that those who die in accidents are martyrs and therefore go straight to Paradise, in accordance with Muslim belief.
But the newspaper said on Thursday that Gomaa’s declaration had “caused a shock at Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based highest religious authority of Sunni Islam.
The head of the Fatwa Committee that issues religious edicts, Sheikh Abdel Hamid al-Atrash, said that the dead immigrants “were martyrs because God told us to travel the world in search of a living and anyone who dies doing this is a martyr.
Other scholars called on Gomaa to oppose the corruption that forced these young people to sell everything they own to cover the costs of the journey.
Gamal Mubarak said the boats’ sinking was “painful and regrettable, while nevertheless refusing to link their ordeal to Egypt’s economic woes. He pointed out that 400,000 new jobs have been created in the last two years.
The foreign ministry said Thursday that another boat was picked up by the Greek coastguard with around 100 Egyptians on board after sending a distress signal off the coast of the Mediterranean island of Crete.
The foreign ministry said that 85 of those on board had been rescued after the boat sank and that a search was underway for the rest. In response, Egyptian authorities on Tuesday said they had arrested three sailors and a smuggler believed to have been involved in trafficking the 184 Egyptians. Agence France-Presse