Qur'an statement sparks outrage
Cairo - A senior Coptic bishop has caused a furore in Egypt by suggesting that some verses in the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, were inserted at a date after it was first set down, press reports said on Friday.
Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Coptic Church's Holy Synod, suggested last week that certain verses of the Qur'an had been inserted into the holy book after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, implying doubt over their validity.
Muslims believe the Qur'an was handed down to Mohammed verbatim by the Archangel Gabriel over a period of around 23 years.
During a recent meeting with the Egyptian ambassador in Cyprus, attended by some media, Bishoy said certain verses of the Qur'an contradict the Christian faith and that he believed they were added later by one of Mohammed's early successors, Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan.
The remarks sparked outrage among both Christian and Muslim leaders, saying they could lead to sectarian tension, and Bishoy told a lecture on Wednesday there had been a misunderstanding.
"My question as to whether some verses of the Qur'an were inserted after the death of the prophet is not a criticism or accusation," he said. "It is merely a question about a certain verse that I believe contradicts the Christian faith," Bishoy told an audience in Fayoum, south of Cairo, in statements carried by al-Masry al-Youm.
"I don't understand how that can be turned into an attack on Islam," Bishoy said, insisting his remarks had been taken out of context.
Sources at Cairo's Al-Azhar - Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning - told the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm that the institution's head, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, was preparing a "strong response" to Bishoy's remarks.
Tayeb is said to be "very angry" at Bishoy's statements because "it is the job of religious leaders to ensure national unity", the paper said.
Salem Abdel Geleel, deputy minister at the ministry of religious endowments, also criticised the comments.
"The faith of Muslims is a red line that can in no way be discussed by a non-Muslim ... Just as we do not discuss the faith of non-Muslims," Abdel Geleel said in a statement carried by the opposition daily Al-Wafd.
The Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but there is great sensitivity when it comes to religious matters. Simmering tensions occasionally flare up into violent incidents between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
Three Egyptian Muslims are currently on trial for gunning down six Copts after they came out of Christmas services in Nagaa Hammadi in southern Egypt.
Coptic Christians make up around 6- 10% of the 80 million population and complain of systematic marginalisation and discrimination.