Cairo: An Egyptian ultra-conservative Salafist has drawn sharp criticism for saying that it is religiously permissible for Muslim men to spy on women while bathing if they intend to marry them.

“If you have real sincere intentions to marry the girl, and you are able to hide and watch her secretly to see things that she wouldn’t allow you to see before marrying her, then it is permissible because acts are judged by intentions,” Salafist preacher Osama Al Qusi said.

Al Qusi, who is a medical doctor by profession, added: “Peeping aims at knowing if the woman suits you [as a wife] and if she has an acceptable body and beauty.”

The fatwa (a religious edict) drew an angry reaction from Egypt’s Islamic officials. “We ask this man and his like: What sort of manhood and gallantry is this?” said Minister of Waqfs (Religious Endowments) Mohammad Jumaa. “Do you accept this for your daughter? If you do, you should know that the nature of the faithful and civilised Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians, do not approve it,” the minister added in a statement. “Moreover, the Islamic Sharia confirms that decency is a basic rule in all heavenly faiths.”

Jumaa demanded that issuing fatwas in the predominantly Muslim country be limited to licensed clerics only. Pro-women activists, meanwhile, accused Al Qusi of inciting sexual harassment, which has become a major problem in Egypt in recent years.

Al Qusi later recanted his fatwa, saying he issued it more than 10 years ago. “I announced this and other odd fatwas in the past when I embraced erroneous and extremist ideas,” he told private Egyptian ONTV last week. “Now I have revised and abandoned all those fatwas.”

He accused what he called “gangs of online extremism” of reviving and propagating such fatwas “in order to distort my moderate image”.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who took office in June, has repeatedly called on the country’s religious institutions to “modernize”religious discourse to uproot radicalism.