New reform strategy for mosques and religious practice [Archives:2008/1216/Local News]

December 15 2008

Ismail Al-Ghabri
SANA'A, Dec. 13 ) The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs is carrying out a reform strategy to guide religious teaching in religious schools and mosques in Yemen.

The strategy is in line with the president's electoral program to improve the ministry's services and ensure religious ceremonies are constructive and do not preach hatred or instigate violence.

The ministry had drafted a guidance strategy plan for imams and preachers to strengthen faith while keeping up with modern needs as members of the global community.

The guidance strategy seeks to oblige preachers to commit to ethics, freedom of speech and constructive dialogue to promote virtue and fight vice, informing concerned authorities to assist when needed.

It encourages religious leaders to avoid “takfeer” [accusations of infidelity] and the defamation of individuals or authorities, as well as factional, sectarian, racial and regional fanaticism.

It seeks to promote deliberation before issuing a fatwa so as not to insult the prophet's followers or Islamic doctrines, and stresses that the mosque should not be used as a forum for electoral propaganda.

The production of a guidance strategy is a direct result of the lack of both legalization to steer religious guidance and monitoring in the more than 53,000 mosques in Yemen, as recorded in a previous report issued by the Ministry of Endowment.

The ministry has formed a body to monitor the performance of religious preachers and religious teachers in schools, and is to create different district offices for guidance in mosques and religious schools in the near future. It also seeks the authority to oversee the religious syllabus taught in schools and to supervise charities and religious associations in the civil society sector.

To this end, the ministry has proposed establishing two laws, the first to define the role of preachers, imams and workers in mosques and the second to define the concept of religious guidance and its limits.

To counteract recent trends harmful to national unity and instigating hatred and violence within the community, the ministry's new strategy includes an immediate plan to endorse positive dialogue and tolerance, while redistributing preachers demographically so that every 1,000 citizens have a single religious leader.

The strategy also includes creating a supreme council for endowment and guidance and amending the ministry's by-law to cancel its investment section, an alternative to which might be setting up an endowment establishment for development and investment.

Finally, the strategy proposes to establish an intellectual dialogue center in Sana'a and to upgrade institutes for higher studies in religious guidance in Sana'a and Aden to become specialized colleges, along with establishing new ones.