Islam Al-Beheiry to serve 1 year in prison

Adham Youssef
4 Min Read

Scholar and TV presenter Islam Al-Beheiry will serve a reduced sentence of one year in prison after the Misdemeanour Court of Misr Al-Qadima announced Monday night that it will reduce the original five-year sentence it issued on 30 November 2015.

Unconfirmed reports say Al-Behiry will be escorted to Tora Prison to start the sentence.

The Ministry of Interior’s media office could not confirm these reports, saying the “matter is in the hands of the Prison’s Authority”.

Legally, a sentenced defendant is escorted from the court to the police station where he is registered, where he or she is then escorted to the prison.

The controversial TV presenter was charged with contempt of religion, after questioning the authenticity of Sunni religious texts.

On Monday night, Al-Beheiry wrote on his Facebook account that he had been sentenced for providing knowledge to the people, and ended the post saying “Egypt is the land of oppression”.

In a television interview with the privately owned TV channel Al-Youm, Al-Behiry announced that he would appeal the verdict, but he will be imprisoned until a court session is scheduled, as stipulated by the court’s decision.

During the televised interview, Al-Behiry referred to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his calls to “revolutionise religious discourse” with mock praise.

“I thank President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, his religious revolution, state officials, and freedom of speech… whoever is applying this religious revolution is being sentenced,” he said.

Supporters of Al-Beheiry’s stance have previously argued that the independent researcher has been working in accordance with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s initiative that called on Islamic institutions in the country, including Al-Azhar, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and Dar Al-Ifta, to “renew religious discourse”.

In many of his episodes, Al-Beheiry provided video clips of famous and respected Salafi preachers and criticised their religious arguments. His programme was suspended after several warnings from Al-Azhar  and officials at the state-controlled Media Production City.

Al-Beheiry focused criticism on Sahih Al-Bukhari, which is a collection of the sayings of Islam’s religious Prophet Mohamed. The collection, which is heavily relied on by both Sunni officials and Salafi groups, was compiled by Abu Abdullah Al-Bukhari, a Persian Islamic scholar who lived in the ninth century.

Al-Beheiry’s arguments were widely criticised by conservative Salafi entities in Egypt, but also state-controlled religious apparatuses.

Al-Beheiry is facing another lawsuit that was filed by Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, accusing the TV presenter of “insulting Al-Azhar and its Imams”.

Al-Tayeb has appealed to the seventh article in the Egyptian constitution, which entails that “Al-Azhar is an independent Islamic scientific institution”, and the main source in religious and Islamic affairs.

The lawsuit argued that the programme includes “ideas that shake the foundations of the religion and spread disputes between the people”. Therefore, the lawsuit argues that Al-Azhar “had to move legally after sensing the dangers of these ideas”.

The Egyptian state has increasingly depended on its three major Sunni Muslim institutions to reverse the spread of Islamic militancy by emphasising a state-sanctioned Islam of “moderation”. The three institutions have also taken the stance on the need to support the state and the current government or by addressing radical opponents of the government, such as the so-called “takfiri” elements, a trend of Islamic political thought that adopts militant rhetoric.

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