“I appreciate the feelings of those who had been disturbed by my singing,” wrote Sheikh Ehab Younes on his Facebook page.
The imam was on an Egyptian talk show last week when the presenter asked him to sing a song in tribute to the legendary Arab singer Umm Kulthum.
Younes sang a few lyrics from her song “Lesa Faker” (“Do You Still Remember?”) as an orchestra played in the background.
But the incident landed him in hot water because he was singing while wearing his Azhari uniform: A turban and long thobe.
It triggered a backlash on social media, prompting Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf to refer the imam for investigation. “I want to reassure my loved ones, and those who care about me, that I’ve been interrogated today, and I am fine,” Younes wrote.
“I appreciate your standing by my side, and I respect the Awqaf minister’s decision to suspend me.”
The ministry said Younes had been suspended from his work as an imam and preacher at Ali bin Abi Talib Mosque, which falls under the ministry’s authority.
Al-Azhar also condemned his singing, saying: “People in the Islamic world associate the Azhari dress with uniforms of religious scholars and students, thus it should not be worn when singing or performing any type of art, even if it is purposeful and upscale.”
Shariah Professor Mohammed Shahat El-Gendy told Arab News: “Islam doesn’t prohibit music that doesn’t move sexual instincts. So the problem with what the Azhari imam did doesn’t lie in singing Umm Kulthum, who has been presenting upscale art throughout her lifetime. “It’s the fact that he was wearing his uniform, and the dress of a scholar should be respected. When wearing it, he is a role model for other Muslims.”
But some intellectuals in Egypt said there is nothing wrong with an imam singing while wearing his scholarly dress.
On his Facebook page, writer Sameh El-Zahar listed the names of famous Egyptian imams known for their love of music.
“Sheikh El-Naqshbandi strongly liked Umm Kulthum and sang for her,” Al-Zahar wrote.
“Sheikh Mohammed Refaat was the most famous man of his time in his knowledge of classical music, and Sheikh Abdul Basset Abdul Samad was a distinguished oud player.”