CAIRO, Egypt (AFP) – Dozens of Muslims, including religious and army leaders, packed an Egyptian mosque for Friday prayers a week after jihadist gunmen massacred more than 300 people in the house of worship.
The mosque in Rawda village in North Sinai had been cleaned and renovated following the massacre by suspected Islamic State group gunmen in time for the weekly Friday prayer.
Egypt’s Second Field Army chief, Khaled Mogawer, which is fighting ISIS in Sinai, was seen in live footage aired on state television sitting between the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, and the country’s mufti, Shawqi Allam.
The cleric who gave the prayer sermon tried to console the relatives of the victims, saying the dead were now in paradise, while condemning the attackers as the “brothers of devils”.
“God wanted to take martyrs from you. Why, because God loves you,” said the preacher Abdel Fattal al-Awari.
He recounted a saying by the Prophet Mohamed who, when asked whom God tests the most, responded: “The prophets, followed by the most exemplary.”
Worshippers could be seen spilling out of the mosque into its plaza.
Mr. Tayeb later gave a speech in which he described the attackers as “cowardly cancer”.
ISIS in Egypt had killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks, and since last year more than 100 Christians in church bombings and shootings.
They had warned the mosque, which is associated with Sufis the jihadists call heretical, to stop holding mystical rites.
Witnesses and authorities had said the attackers were flying IS’s black banner, but the group has yet to claim the massacre decried even by its supporters.
Analysts and officials say ISIS, responsible for atrocities around the world, many not claim responsibility following the backlash even from jihadists.
Despite being a community in mourning, hundreds of Sufis in Cairo later Friday celebrated the birth of the Prophet Mohammad, in a Mawlid.
Mawlids mark the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, and those of the sect’s saints. ISIS follows the puritan Salafi theology and views the practice as an unlawful innovation in Islam.
Hundreds of men and veiled women prayed and chanted invocations in front of the mausoleum at the Al-Hussein mosque in the capital.
Security was tight, with electronic gates at the street leading to the mosque and also at its entrance.
Many plain-clothed police were also deployed in the area to ensure security.
“Those who want to create differences between Sufis and Sunnis want to sow discord,” said one celebrant.
The Mawlid is celebrated every year in Egypt and in many Muslim countries. A procession is also often beld but was cancelled this year in Cairo for security reasons after last Friday’s attack.