Fri, Feb 01, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Muezzin is muscled out: Israeli mosque fires bodybuilder

AFP, ACRE, Israel

Bodybuilder and muezzin Ibrahim Masri holds a picture of himself taken at a competition at a gym in Acre, Israel, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Ibrahim Masri has been calling Muslims to prayer for nearly 15 years in an Israeli city, but his voice is now being silenced because he took part in a bodybuilding contest.

The Israeli Ministry of Interior is stripping him of his role as chief muezzin of El-Jazzar mosque in the northern city of Acre after having ruled that his participation in the 2017 competition was “incompatible” with his religious role.

Muezzins call Muslims to prayer five times a day through loudspeakers, with the most renowned famed for their voice.

The 46-year-old Masri has been lifting weights since he was young and is well known in Acre. He has never seen a contradiction between his sport and his religion.

“This is an unjust decision,” he said. “The religion of Islam encourages any individual to practice sport.”

A ministry spokesman said that Masri had been fired over his inappropriate dress.

Bodybuilders typically wear brief trunks during competitions and Masri has many photographs in such attire.

Masri, who has bulging arms and weighs about 105kg, is a member of Israel’s Arab minority, who make up about 18 percent of the Jewish state’s population.

In 2017, he took part in the Israeli bodybuilding championships, winning his category.

A few months later he was summoned to a committee of religious officials in northern Israel.

“They showed me the pictures of me participating in the competition and they considered it was not appropriate for a muezzin to practice this sport,” the father-of-three said.

They said his scanty clothing was unacceptable for a religious figure.

The ministry oversees the religious organizations of Christians, Muslims and other non-Jewish minorities in Israel, and it has the final say over the full-time muezzin’s job.

Masri said he sent them a letter apologizing.

“I told them I would not take part in any more competitions,” he said. “They knew I was involved in this sport before I was hired.”

However, last month the ministry finally decided to dismiss him and a spokesman said he had been fired effective this week.

“The employee appealed to the state service commission, which concluded that the ministry’s conduct was flawless and the firing was approved,” the spokesman said.

El-Jazzar mosque in the Old City of Acre is one of the most beautiful in Israel, built in 1781.

The Mediterranean city is considered a World Heritage Site, with its repository of remains from the Crusades.

The mosque is named after the local Ottoman ruler at the time it was built and its design was inspired by the famed mosques of Istanbul.

The muezzin’s firing has caused a stir among Acre’s Muslim majority.

“How can they separate Ibrahim from his work just because he took part in a competition?” asked Wissam Zalafi, a guard at the mosque. “We don’t have another muezzin with a voice as beautiful in all of Acre.”

Sheikh Mohammed Kiwan, the mosque’s head imam, or prayer leader, said Masri had not asked the administration before entering the bodybuilding competition.

“It is not permissible for him to expose his modesty in front of men, women and children,” he said.

However, the imam said he was in favor of giving Masri a final warning and agreed that he had a beautiful voice.

Masri worked out throughout his time as a muezzin and even helped open a club to train young people in Acre.

Amal Khatib, 19, said the club had helped him focus and to find a job.

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