March 28, 2023

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Awful economic crisis in this Muslim country, why questions are being raised about mosques

Inflation is at an all-time high in Egypt, which is facing an economic crisis. Food prices in Egypt have risen to such an extent that people are only allowed to buy three bags of rice, two bottles of milk and one bottle of oil.

Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments has built thousands of new mosques during the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, despite the dire need for education, health and other basic services amid economic crisis and a lack of basic amenities. Egyptians are questioning the government’s decision.

According to the Egyptian government-run Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the country’s inflation rate increased from 6.2% to 19.2% in November 2022 compared to November 2021.

Mahmoud Abdo, a 20-year-old resident of the capital Cairo’s al-Quba district, can hear the call to prayer from five different mosques from his balcony, according to an American website covering the Middle East. Even though the country’s economy is in dire straits, Abdo doesn’t believe there is a need to spend so much on religious centers.

Donation box for building mosques

Abdo said, “We have heard from people in the past that mosques should not spend money that poor families need. Whereas, in most mosques, donations are taken through donation boxes for the development of the mosque or for other humanitarian work.”

However, in November last year, Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments canceled donations through donation boxes. According to Sky News Arabia, it was decided that donations should be made directly to mosques’ accounts through bank transfers.

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More than one lakh 40 thousand mosques

Egyptian Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Mukhtar Goma said in a television interview in September 2020 that the number of mosques across Egypt had exceeded 140,000. This includes one lakh large mosques. Mohammed Ali, 60, from Cairo’s Madi district, said there are many mosques in his neighborhood. Despite this the number of people who perform Namaz five times a day is very less.

He said the mosques in my area are usually full only during Friday prayers and during Ramadan. At other times the number of people coming to pray in mosques is very less.

Emphasizing the importance of building more mosques, Ali said, “We want the mosques to be full of worshipers.” But it is seen only on special occasions.

Huge sums were spent on mosques

The Religious Endowments Ministry said last month that 9,600 mosques have been built or renovated at a cost of 10.2 billion Egyptian pounds (about $404 million) since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office in 2013.

However, Egyptian intellectuals and youth are worried about this huge expenditure. Local journalist and doctor Khaled Montezar criticized the spending on Twitter last month.

Targeting the government, he said namaz can be performed anywhere. But schools are needed for educational services and hospitals for medical treatment.

According to the American magazine Ceoworld, the average wage in Egypt is $219 a month, the lowest in the Arab world.

A symbol of the protection of religion

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A source in Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the construction of mosques is not at the expense of other charities. He said that apart from building and developing mosques, the charity ministry is committed to fulfill its humanitarian obligations to the society.

Sheikh Khalid Al-Jundi, Member of Islamic Affairs at the Ministry of Charities, said this is a sign of the protection of the religion.