Greeting Christians on religious occasions ‘forbidden,’ says Salafi leader

Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, a senior figure in the Salafi-oriented Nour Party and the official spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria, said in a television interview on Wednesday that giving festive greetings to Copts on their occasions is forbidden under Islam.

Shahat is known for making controversial statements based on his extreme Salafi views, and some blame him for causing his party to lose seats during the recent parliamentary elections.

His comments on Wednesday came during an interview with Moataz al-Demerdash, the presenter of the “Masr el-Gededa” talk show on the privately owned on Al-Hayat satellite channel.

In the same interview, Shahat said: “The maximum tolerance for this belief [Christianity] is that I tell them: "You have your own religion, and I have my own religion.”

He continued: "The Christian is a partner in my homeland, but this has nothing to do with greetings."

His stance contrasts with official views on the matter of greeting Copts during Christian holidays, with many Muslim establishment figures attending public occasions related to Christmas and Easter, and publicly greeting figures from Christian denominations.

In a recent example, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and the Minister of Religious Endowments Abdel Fadeel al-Qousy visited Pope Shenouda on 4 January to offer their greetings on the occasion of Coptic Christmas, which is celebrated on 7 January.

The Nour Party was founded by Salafis in Alexandria after the 25 January uprising, and it was officially recognized on 12 June 2011.

However, Shahat failed to win a seat in parliament during the irst stage of parliamentary elections, which started on 28 November. Hosni Dewidar, an independent candidate backed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, won the professional seat of the first constituency of Alexandria.

During an electoral campaign in December, Shahat attacked the works of the late Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz as “inciting promiscuity, prostitution and atheism.”

After the run-offs for the first phase of elections ended, the Nour Party decided on 7 December 2011 to prevent Shahat from issuing press statements.

“What Shahat said [about Mahfouz] had a negative impact on the results of the elections, as the party lost 20 seats, despite the fact that Shahat’s statement reflects only his personal opinion,” the Nour Party said at the time.

Shahat continued his comments on Mahfouz in the interview on Wednesday, saying: “How could they allow Naguib Mahfouz to attack religious principles in his novel 'Children of Gebelawi' (Awlad Haretna) under the cover of innovation, and not allow me to criticize him? They are creating a new sanctity,” said Shahat.

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