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Al-Azhar professor calls on all Egyptians to celebrate Easter

Egyptians celebrating the Sham el-Nessim holiday [Ahmed Ramadan / The New Arab]

Date of publication: 9 April, 2018

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Sham el-Nessim is a national holiday in Egypt, marking the turn of Spring, that all Egyptians celebrate despite the Christian-related date.

An al-Azhar University professor of Islamic Sharia said on Monday that all Egyptians should celebrate Easter and that the holiday is mentioned in the Quran, Egypt Independent reported.

"Prophet Moussa (Moses) chose that day for people to come together on the Nile, as harvesting takes place in April. We should not listen to the ignorant. People should go out and celebrate Easter," said Professor Ahmed Karima.

"It is a pharaonic feast that has been celebrated since 2,700 BC. The feast falls on the days known as 'the turn of spring,' where night and day become equal," he added.

Karima's remarks refer to Sham el-Nessim ("smell the breeze"), a uniquely Egyptian springtime holiday that always falls on the day after Coptic Orthodox Easter.

Ninety per cent of Egypt is Sunni Muslim, with about 10 per cent belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Christian minority. 

Karima elaborated that "the pharaohs believed that Easter marks the beginning of creation. The feast then was transferred to sons of Israel as it fell on the date where the children of Israel left Egypt, and it became a celebration of the incident. The Copts took the feast and made it their own, for them it falls on 'Eid Al-Keyama' (Judgment Day Celebration)."

Despite the holiday's Christian-related date, all Egyptians celebrate Sham el-Nessim. Millions of Egyptians spend the day outdoors and eat feseekh, a fermented and salted mullet fish, as well as coloured eggs. 

Hardline Islamist groups have repeatedly declared Easter as forbidden by Islam. A recent video circulated on social media showed Sheikh Abu Ishak al-Howayni declaring Easter a pagan event and calling on Muslims to shun it. 

Salafi groups have also declared fatwas and called on Egyptians to not celebrate the national holiday. 

However, Egypt's government and the Islamic Dar al-Iftaa body issued a separate fatwa on Sunday saying that Easter celebrations are regliously permitted. 

Karima's remarks are in line with Sheikh Atteya Sakr, a former al-Azhar sheikh who this year said Easter is permitted and reminded Egyptians of its pharaonic past. 

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