An Egyptian administrative court on Feb. 18 upheld the Ministry of Religious Endowments’ decision issued in September 2013 to close down neighborhood places of worship of less than 80 square meters (861 square feet), a move intended to protect young people from the militancy and extremism that can prevail in such places, which lack the legal standing to hold Friday prayers.
This move sets a precedent that raises many questions about the fate of mosques in many Egyptian villages, the grounds of which are usually less than 80 square meters. In reply, opponents of the decision such as the Salafist Nour Party claimed that closing down places of worship without providing a larger alternative serves to further bolster extremist ideology, considering that the larger existing mosques cannot accommodate Friday worshippers who line surrounding streets to pray. On the opposite end of the spectrum, supporters of the decision such as intellectuals and scholars say that those mosques are time bombs that threaten national security, as they fall outside the purview of the Ministry of Religious Endowments and are used to spread subversive ideologies.
Ahmed Karimeh, a professor of Sharia at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor that legal teachings and conventions specify that Friday, Eid and main prayers must be conducted in a mosque, and not in a neighborhood place of worship. The five daily prayers can be held at these informal sites, but not the special celebration prayers. In that sense, the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments upheld a recognized religious law.
Karimeh also denied claims that some villages lacked proper mosques. It should be noted that neighborhood places of worship and mosques with surface areas of less than 80 square meters numbered 27,000 in all of Egypt’s provinces and villages.
Full article: Egypt closes 27,000 places of worship (Al-Monitor)