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Govt moves to regulate, monitor Friday sermons

March 02, 2018

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonisation of other religions and communities, the federal government has decided to regulate and monitor the Friday sermons at local mosques.

According to documents available with The News, the Ministry of Interior has prepared a list of 44 subjects for Friday sermons to be disseminated among religious scholars serving in over 1,003 mosques of rural and urban areas of Islamabad as a pilot project.

The document says the plan has been developed in consultation with National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) in accordance with the model followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE where the state gives “themes” and guidelines to preachers to incorporate in Friday sermons. It adds that the Friday sermons will be monitored by special branch and weekly report will be submitted to deputy commissioner’s office.

In this connection, Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal held a meeting in his office with over two dozen ulema (religious leaders) of various religious schools of thoughts from Islamabad on Thursday.

Talking to The News, a participant of the meeting who leads Friday sermon in a major Islamabad mosque said ulema are ready to cooperate with the government against terrorism and sectarianism but they will not accept pre-written sermons by the administration to be read for Friday prayers.

“The government representatives have told us that the administration wants to provide a written sermon to all the prayer leaders across the country to be delivered simultaneously after Friday prayers. However we have decided not to accept that proposal.” said Maulana Ashfaq Ahmad, who leads prayer at Bilal Mosque in G-6/3/.

However he said the minister for interior has directed the district administration to constitute a committee comprising religious scholars to come up with an action plan to streamline Friday sermons.

“We agreed in our meeting with the minister that Friday sermons should not spread hatred, sectarianism or violence and all the prayer leaders would follow the broad guidelines in this regard. But pre-written sermons would not be accepted,” Ashfaq said.

Talking to The News, Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Capt (R) Mushtaq Ahmed said the administration will notify the committee of ulema for consultation on the issue within next a few days.

He said the government wants to regulate Friday sermons in consultation with ulema. “We don’t want to dictate them but they will be given Dos and Don’ts of Friday sermons so that mosques are used to create harmony and tolerance in the society,” the Deputy Commissioner said.

He said there are 1,003 mosques in Islamabad and 86 of them are directly controlled by the district administration under Auqaf Directorate. According to a brief prepared by the Islamabad district administration, a copy of which is available with The News, the government has taken initiate to streamline Friday sermon in order to ensure peace in Islamabad.

“Unfortunately there are cases on record in Pakistan where the mosque loudspeaker has been misused to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism,” says the document adding that in Pakistan and other Muslim states some clerics have used the pulpit particularly during Friday prayers “to promote obscurantism and militancy.”

“Therefore promotion of militancy and hate speech, rebellion against the state etc must be strictly of limits,” official document says. In this connection the document says the Additional Deputy Commissioner and Deputy Director Auqaf attended meeting of Nacta to discuss the mechanism for developing and circulating topics for Jumma Khutbas to be delivered in mosques in line with Islamic ideology.

As a “Way Forward” the document stated that Friday sermons will be delivered on such topics that are in line with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Topics and sample contents will be distributed to all the Auqaf mosques through assistant commissioners and superintendents of police concerned.

According to document, a list of 44 topics have been prepared by the experts in this regard. These topics cover a wide range of issues including women rights, unity among Muslims, finality of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health, concept of Islamic state, importance of hard work, tolerance, bribery, honesty etc.