An award-winning Egyptian writer has caused an international row after he appeared to propose the construction of a second Ka'bah, the cube-shaped building in Mecca that is the focal point of prayer for a billion Muslims.
Progressive thinker Sayyed al-Qimni suggested in an interview with an Egyptian television listings magazine that a religious shrine on Mount Sinai would provide an affordable alternative destination for poor pilgrims as well as generating an income of more than £3bn for his country.
He also said it could improve relations between the three Abrahamic faiths because Mount Sinai is significant in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Qimni is a divisive figure in his home country, attracting opprobrium and sometimes death threats for his views.
His detractors have accused him of blasphemy and apostasy because of his critical approach to Islam and his fondness for secularism.
His previous brush with controversy was last year, when he received the State Award of Merit in Social Sciences from the ministry of culture. It sparked a legal and media campaign to have him stripped of the prize.
But it is his comments about the Ka'bah, said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, that have inflamed opinion outside Egypt.
In London the Saudi embassy said: "This is impossible. There can only be one Holy Ka'bah. This is a sacred place, sacred to all Muslims." The Saudi writer and journalist Muhammad Diyab said in his Asharq al-Awsat column that Qimni had "fallen into an abyss" and had "officially shifted from the list of fools to the list of madmen".
The Association of British Hujjaj, a national organisation for British pilgrims, also condemned the "atrocious proposal" for turning Mount Sinai into a place of pilgrimage and a tourist attraction.
Qimni sought to defuse the anger by insisting he was talking about a place of worship and spirituality that all three religions could benefit from, rather than a substitute for the Islamic site, and that he had used the word Ka'bah because of its immediate religious connotations.
Dude, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. Story via The Guardian UK