The state and Islam: Converting the preachers | The Economist

Good article in The Economist regarding state control of mosques and Imams to reduce radicalization:

In fact, the Saudi effort to tone down its clerics is mild, hesitant and belated compared to what some Muslim states do. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan already routinely use cameras. Kuwait has long installed tape-recorders to monitor Friday sermons. Preachers in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates need not write their own sermons. Except for a few trusted senior clerics, they read instead from a text delivered weekly by the government department for religious affairs that also pays all their salaries. “Protecting Youth from Destructive Ideas” and “Our National Flag, Symbol of Affiliation and Loyalty” provided two stimulating recent topics. Similarly, Turkey has for decades enforced a monopoly of Islamic discourse via a religious bureaucracy, known as Diyanet, that wields 121,000 employees and a budget of $2.3 billion.

Other governments aspire to such dominance. Tunisia’s government has in recent months restored strict state control of mosques that had slipped following its revolution of January 2011, leading to a brief flowering of Wahhabist-style jihad promotion. Morocco, whose king has traditionally posed as Commander of the Faithful, delivering televised Ramadan sermons, has steeply boosted state promotion of a relatively tolerant version of the faith. Its budget for training imams, including a growing number of foreign students, has swollen tenfold in the past three years. The unspoken aim is to counter the spread of extreme Salafist ideas in places such as Mali and northern Nigeria.

…Egypt’s government has of late clamped unprecedented controls. In January it decreed that all Friday sermons must adhere to a weekly theme set by the religious-affairs ministry, establishing a hotline to allow worshippers to denounce preachers daring to voice political dissent. Further decrees required all preachers to be government-licensed, imposed a code of ethics forbidding discussion of politics in mosques, and banned smaller prayer halls from holding Friday prayers. The ministry fired 12,000 preachers and now allows only those trained in government-approved institutes to deliver sermons.

…As a foil to the powerful Brotherhood, the [Egyptian] state had long allowed followers of quietist forms of Salafism to run some 7,000 mosques. But the ministry in September decreed it would take over their mosques too, after reports of a sermon forbidding the faithful from buying interest-bearing government bonds.

Amr Ezzat, an Egyptian researcher, sees the effort to impose state-ordained orthodoxy as misguided and possibly dangerous. Religious institutions will lose legitimacy with time, pushing more Muslims towards radical margins. And by acting in effect as the imam, the state takes upon itself a duty to enforce morality. It is perhaps as a sop to religious conservatives, for instance, that Egyptian authorities have mounted an increasingly lurid campaign against homosexuality, most recently by staging a midnight raid on a Cairo bathhouse on national television, dragging a score of naked men to prison.

The state and Islam: Converting the preachers | The Economist.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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