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EGYPT: 'Trial of the Prophet Muhammad' rouses fury at Al Azhar Islamic institution

August 3, 2010 |  8:54 am


The world's most influential Sunni Islamic institution, Al Azhar, is enraged that one of Egypt's leading online newspapers has decided to publish the new novel "Trial of the Prophet Muhammad."

Despite stressing last week that they have put the publication on hold until the novel and its title gain the official approval of Azhar's Islamic Research Academy, writers at Al Youm Al Sabee were publicly blasted by Azhar clerics and religious extremists.

"Publishing such novel is an act of infidelity against prophet Muhammad," said an official statement by the council of Muslim scholars at Azhar, adding that the newspaper "couldn’t have found a worse way of welcoming the holy month of Ramadan than by hurling insults at the prophet."

The statement also urged journalists at Al Youm Al Sabee to identify those involved in supporting the novel's publication. Azhar was not the only group criticizing the newspaper. A group of extremists hacked into the paper's website on Sunday, leaving a message accusing the website's administration of spreading apostasy and sedition, and hinting that Al Youm Al Sabee is being paid by Coptic personalities aiming to defame Islam. 

Written by novelist Anis Degheidi, "Trial of the Prophet Muhammad" tells the story of a Muslim lawyer who travels to Denmark to handle a lawsuit raised by a Danish solicitor demanding the expulsion of all Muslims from the Scandinavian Kingdom.

During the course of the plot, the Muslim lawyer stands in the middle of a Danish court defending many judgments and rules of Islam, as well as prophet Muhammad. However, the book's title and some of its chapter headings, which mentions the prophet's relation with women and his use of force in spreading Islam, have enraged clerics.

"The novel's title is very provoking. This is not the proper way to talk about or address prophet Muhammad," said cleric Abdul Ghaffar Helal. "The writer, who doesn’t know anything about the prophet's life, is just seeking fame through writing this controversial novel."

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. Credit: Reuters