Cleric, archaeologist clash over whether Sphinx represents Prophet Idris

Former grand mufti Ali Gomaa, left, and Archaeologist Zahy Hawwas
Short Url
Updated 30 April 2020

Cleric, archaeologist clash over whether Sphinx represents Prophet Idris

  • Ali Gomaa: Prophet Idris was the first to start building the pyramids
  • Zahy Hawwas: There is no need for a cleric to talk about archaeology

CAIRO: A war of words is being waged in Egypt between prominent archaeologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahy Hawwas and Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa. 

The row broke out following Gomaa’s comments about who built the pyramids. He said that Prophet Idris was probably the first to start construction of the famed structures, and that the Sphinx represents Prophet Idris. 

Gomaa — who, as the grand mufti, issued legal opinions interpreting Islamic law and is a member of Egypt’s top scholastic authority — told the TV show “Egypt the Land of Prophets” that “there are many probabilities discussed by scholars that Prophet Idris was the first to start building the pyramids and that he taught the science of mummification, and that the face of the Sphinx is Idris’ face.” 

Following the show’s broadcast, Hawwas issued a statement refuting Gomaa’s claims. “There is no need for a religious cleric to talk about archaeology, especially (considering) he gave incorrect information that is totally irrelevant to archaeology,” Hawwas said. 

“A long time ago, Dr. Mustafa Mahmoud — in his famous program (“Science and Faith”) gave the same incorrect information (which is) a repetition of what Arab travelers said when they came to Egypt in the 19th century.” 

He called on Gomaa to prove that Prophet Idris built the pyramids or that he bore any likeness to the Sphinx. 

“Firstly, we have full evidence that King Djoser built the first pyramid, and that the genius Imhotep changed the construction material from mud bricks to stones,” Hawwas said. “We have the oldest papyri found up to now — which is the Wadi El-Garf papyri — where the chief of workers Merer talks about the Khufu Pyramid, saying that the area around the pyramids was known as Ankh Khufu, meaning Khufu lives, and that Khufu lived in a palace at the pyramids. 

“As for the Sphinx, it does not date back to the pre-Khufu and Khafra era as Sheikh Ali Gomaa said,” Hawwas continued. “This is a huge mistake because all the scientific evidence proves that the Sphinx dates back to the King Khafra era. It was engraved to show King Khafra in the form of Horus. The ancient Egyptians linked the king’s strength and the lion’s — the Sphinx has the body of a lion and a human head,” he said. 

As for mummification, Hawas said “Prophet Idris did not teach mummification because Egyptians learned mummification in stages, beginning with the first dynasty, when they used to dry the corpses while adding some substances on the legs. Later, the process improved and they started making masks during the fourth dynasty. Mummification reached its peak only during the 18th dynasty.” 

Gomaa replied: “Old friend Dr. Zahy Hawwas did not see the program but rather depended on what the media reported. Had Hawwas seen the program, he would have known that we differentiate between scientific stories and folk stories. He would also have known that it is a show that highlights how Egyptians belong to their country and how much they love it. Moreover, the show underlines Egypt’s historical location, which many people might not pay attention to.” 

Historical researcher Mahmoud Hassan told Arab News that claims that Prophet Idris is the Sphinx are mentioned in many prominent history books, the latest of which is “The Shining Stars” by Bin Tighri Berdi, issued during the Mamluk era in Egypt. 

“Furthermore, many other books before that talked about the same issue,” he said. 

Hassan added that a number of historians had written about Pharaonic historical events, citing Al-Waleed bin Mosaab’s explanation of the Holy Qur’an, in which he wrote about how Moses and his people left Egypt, and the Pharoah’s story. In his book “The Beginning and the End,” Ibn Katheer wrote that the Pharaoh’s name was Haitham. Hassan added that what religious clerics refer to these days is derived from books on heritage, “which need revision.” 

Researcher Abdel-Meguid Abdel-Aziz told Arab News that, throughout history, religious clerics have always linked prophets to various historical eras.


‘Provocative’ Erdogan to drill for oil off Libya

Updated 31 May 2020

‘Provocative’ Erdogan to drill for oil off Libya

  • Turkey claims an agreement gives it the right to explore for oil and gas in an exclusive economic zone

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to create a “fait accompli” over rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean by drilling off the coast of Libya, analysts told Arab News on Saturday.

Ankara’s announcement that it intends to activate last year’s maritime borders agreement with the Libyan government in Tripoli has brought simmering tensions to the boil.   

Turkey claims the agreement gives it the right to explore for oil and gas in an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between its southern coast and Libya’s northeastern coast. However, Greece, Cyprus and the EU say the deal is illegal. Turkey may also face EU sanctions over drilling in Cypriot territorial waters.

Ankara has not said exactly where it will drill, but experts told Arab News they expect exploration activities to begin off Tripoli in the short term, and then near to the coastal city of Sirte.

“From a tactical point of view, Turkey may test the scenario of a crisis with Athens where escalation takes place and then, in the context of de-escalation, the two countries would have to discuss and negotiate their positions,” said Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at PRIO Cyprus Centre.

Mona Sukkarieh, a political risk consultant and co-founder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives, said: “If we take Turkish operations off the Cypriot coast as an indicator, operations off the Libyan coast might start off on the less provocative part of the spectrum and grow bolder with time toward the more provocative part of the spectrum.

“The objective is to demonstrate a resolute determination in order to extract concessions or, at the very least, to impose itself as a player to reckon with.”