Posted tagged ‘Al Azhar University’

Tunisian Religious Reforms Challenge Egypt’s Al Azhar

September 19, 2017

Tunisian Religious Reforms Challenge Egypt’s Al Azhar, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Hany Ghoraba, September 19, 2017

(Please see also, Look Who’s Fighting Extremism. — DM)

Essebsi is implementing reforms he deems necessary for his country’s social progress. These reforms already are having a ripple effect in the region and might lead to further social progress. Essebsi has done what al-Sisi called for about for more than two years ago, but never took any tangible steps to implement. These reforms may be not exactly what al-Sisi wanted when he called for a complete change of Islamic rhetoric that shuns all forms of extremism and violence. Nevertheless, Essebsi’s reforms are a bold step forward for total social and religious reforms that the Middle East desperately needs.

*********************************

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi marched straight into a battle with Egypt’s highest Sunni authority, Al-Azhar’s mosque and university, when he proposed social and religious reforms giving women more freedom in marriage and guaranteeing them equal inheritance rights.

A substantial part of that agenda became law last Thursday when Tunisia’s parliament ended the ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men. It is a direct result of controversial reforms Essebsi proposed, ending a ban imposed in 1973.This was done while proposing new law to secure gender equality in inheritance rights.

Egypt’s Al Azhar has ferociously condemned these reforms as un-Islamic, contradicting what it called the “Fundamentals of the Faith.” Marriage to non-Muslims may harm Muslim women due to differences in faith and traditions and could lead to women being prohibited from practicing their faith freely, said Al Azhar Deputy Imam Abbas Shoman.

Essebsi’s proposals mark the first time the leader of a Muslim-majority nation personally announced critical social reforms, which also include giving women equal inheritance to men despite traditional Shari’a-based laws. These reforms aim for gender equality in Tunisia.

Al-Azhar also opposes the inheritance changes, Shoman said, saying they contradict the Quran’s guidance. “Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females,” it says.

Though not wielding the same influence as the Vatican Pope’s over Catholics, the moral authority wielded over Muslims by Al Azhar’s grand imam is recognized in all four corners of the globe. Al Azhar once represented a pillar of modernity and moderation in the Islamic world, but that changed when ultra-conservative Wahhabism and Muslim Brotherhood Jihadist doctrine ascended during the 1950s. More radical Salafi doctrines became part of the core curriculum.

Opposing Modernity

Essebsi’s call for gender equality is a step toward a secular path, which is a radical departure from most predominantly-Muslim countries. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it generated a storm of protest and condemnation from the Al Azhar sheikhdom (administration). To them, Tunisia’s reforms counter straight-forward Quranic versesconcerning the distribution of the inheritance between women and men and marriage to non-Muslims.

Those verses dictate that a man receives twice as much inheritance as a woman. That’s because men traditionally pay for the expenses of the house that includes the family’s women until they get married and move into their own homes. Thus, a man should acquire twice as much as his sister or women counterpart to carry on with his duties. That mayhave made sense 1,400 years ago, but in the 21stcentury that is hardly the case anymore.

Women have attained huge milestones in the past two centuries and even in the Muslim majority nations. For example, Egypt’s feminist movement started in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s, Egyptian women had voting rights even before women in Switzerland. Egypt has a major representation of women in all political, economic and social fields. Countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Turkey had a female presidents or prime ministers.Today, more than a third of Egyptian households are financed by women, the Egyptian National Centre for Social and Criminological Research (NCSCR) reports.

The issue of Muslim women marrying non-Muslims has been a source of debate and conflict for centuries. Advocates of Tunisia’s reforms argue that the Quranic verses governing marriage outside the faith apply to men and women. The only prohibition is marrying an atheist or a follower of polytheistic religions.

Nevertheless, for more than 1,400 years it became the norm that Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men. Scholars argued Muslim women who married outside the faith might not be free to practicing their religion. Reform advocates believe that 21st century women freely choose their own life partners and are aware of any consequences.

Renouncing Al Azhar’s criticism, Essebsi condemned “foreign interference” in internal Tunisian affairs. Tunisian religious bodies, including the Diwan of Fatwa, support his reforms.

Counter-Reform Syndicate

Al Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb was reputed to be a moderate Sufist who many in Egypt hoped would counter the growing influence of the university’s radical alumni. Alas, he has faced criticism from liberal Egyptian intellectuals and secularists for blocking any tangible Islamic reforms. During his reign, Al Azhar has waged witch hunts against Egyptian Islamic reformers such as Islam Al-Beheiry. Al-Beheiry spent a year in prison for blasphemy because he dared to condemn some major Islamic traditionalist scholars’ works, calling them the source of modern terrorist ideologies. He was later released after being granted a presidential pardon.

More than two years ago, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made a historic call for a religious revolution targeting interpretations and misconceptions of religious scripture that drives jihadist ideologies. Al-Azhar’s sheikhdom met the call with defiance, despite displaying fake enthusiasm for the government and the media. As a result, no new laws have been introduced and no curricula have changed with Al Azhar’s influence on Egyptian state affairs is growing stronger.

Yet al-Sisi is not challenging the religious institution enough out of fear that the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Salafists might use the pressure to restore their influence in Al-Azhar. However, a confrontation with Al Azhar seems inevitable since it has already been infiltrated by the very Salafists and radicals whose influence al-Sisi wishes to eradicate.

Ironically, Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ennahda Party has been mostly vague about the social reforms. Despite the protest of some of its main leaders, no official statement has been issued Ennahda vice President Abdel Fattah Mourou said that marriage is a matter of personal freedom under Tunisia’s constitution.

Ennahda, which rose to power after the 2011 Arab Spring, was voted out just three years later. Now it is trying to appear as moderate as possible to regain its strength and weather the storm of anti-Islamist sentiment prevailing in many Middle Eastern nations.

Essebsi is implementing reforms he deems necessary for his country’s social progress. These reforms already are having a ripple effect in the region and might lead to further social progress. Essebsi has done what al-Sisi called for about for more than two years ago, but never took any tangible steps to implement. These reforms may be not exactly what al-Sisi wanted when he called for a complete change of Islamic rhetoric that shuns all forms of extremism and violence. Nevertheless, Essebsi’s reforms are a bold step forward for total social and religious reforms that the Middle East desperately needs.

Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.

In Egypt, Clashes Between The Institution Of The Presidency And The Institution Of Al-Azhar

August 21, 2017

In Egypt, Clashes Between The Institution Of The Presidency And The Institution Of Al-Azhar, MEMRI, August 21, 2017

Introduction

Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the most important institute of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, and its head, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, are currently facing a political and media attack led by the institute of the Egyptian presidency, headed by President ‘Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi. This is the latest episode in the past two years of ongoing tension between the two institutions, over Al-Azhar’s apparent refusal to comply with the president’s dictates in matters of religion.

One aspect of the attack on Al-Azhar is President Al-Sisi’s direct criticism of Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb; another is criticism of Al-Azhar in the government press; and yet another is parliamentary moves led by Al-Sisi’s associates aimed at limiting the authorities of the Al-Azhar sheikh. There have also been calls for Sheikh Al-Tayeb himself to step down.

The main criticism against Al-Azhar is that the institution has failed to join the ideological war on terrorism that is led by President Al-Sisi. Critics say that Al-Azhar is not complying with Al-Sisi’s major goal, announced in 2014 and frequently reiterated by him, to promote a renewal of the religious discourse in Egypt, and also point out that it is refusing to level the accusation  of heresy against the Islamic State (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in the country.[1] It is also being said that Al-Azhar’s curricula encourage young people to turn to terrorism. In addition, there is criticism of Al-Azhar’s refusal to change how divorces are handled, as Al-Sisi has also demanded.

Al-Azhar representatives, headed by Sheikh Al-Tayeb, have rejected these criticisms, calling them deliberate lies that damage Islam. To show that it is indeed fulfilling its role and that it is a moderate Islamic institution, Al-Azhar has in recent months held international conventions on the subject of fighting extremism, as well as meetings with young people, and has waged anti-extremism and anti-terrorism campaigns.[2]

It should be noted that despite the harsh criticism of Al-Azhar, and of Sheikh Al-Tayeb, it still has the public’s sympathy, and significant support from many members of parliament.

This report will focus on the tension between the Egyptian presidency and Al-Azhar, as reflected in statements by the leaders of both institutions, in parliamentary activity against it,  and in articles in the Egyptian press.

Al-Azhar Institute (image: balkans.aljazeera.ne)

Tension Between President Al-Sisi And Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb

As stated, in recent months it has become evident that there is considerable tension between President Al-Sisi and Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb, as reflected in the president’s criticism of the sheikh both in public and in closed meetings. Currently, the main criticism against Al-Azhar is that it is not making sufficient efforts to advance the renewal of religious discourse in Egypt, as Al-Sisi has demanded. 

President Al-Sisi Repeatedly Reprimands Al-Azhar Sheikh – And Reportedly Threatens To Replace Him There have been several Egyptian newspaper reports concerning President’s Al-Sisi’s displeasure with Al-Azhar’s lack of action on this issue; he has made this clear in individual meetings with Sheikh Al-Tayeb and at public events.

At January 1, 2015 festivities marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad at the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments, Al-Sisi said to Sheikh Al-Tayeb: “The preachers are responsible to Allah for the renewal of the religious discourse and for improving the image of Islam. [On Judgment Day,] I will argue against you before Allah [if you do not do this].”[3]

Following a November 30, 2016 meeting between the two, the independent Egyptian daily Al-Misriyyoun reported on their chilly relationship and noted that the president was furious at Al-Azhar’s failure to vehemently attack political Islam organizations, specifically ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and for its continuing aggressive anti-Shi’ite position.[4]

There are, however, only a few such reports; for the most part, Al-Sisi is careful to express respect for Al-Azhar while at the same time clarifying his position vis-à-vis how it functions. Thus, he told the editors of government newspapers in a May 2017 interview: “Our general line is to protect the institutions of the Egyptian state, to urge them to fulfill their roles, and to develop them in a way that will suit the challenges and dangers that we face. Al-Azhar has a monumental status both inside and outside Egypt, and that is why we insist that it fulfill its role, because both the region and the world need it to do so.”[5]

At a June 21, 2017 event marking Laylat Al-Qadr, the night when, according to Muslim tradition, the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad, Al-Sisi praised Al-Azhar as a source of pride and for the position it has held for over a millennium. He went on to reiterate the need for a renewal of the religious discourse, calling it “a matter of life and death for the people and the ummah.”[6]

On July 26, 2017, four months after the April 8, 2017 Palm Sunday attacks on Mar Girgis church in Tanta and St. Marks Cathedral in Alexandria, Al-Sisi confirmed his decision to establish a Supreme Council for the Fight Against Extremism and Terrorism,” to be headed by him, and whose members would include the parliamentary speaker, the prime minister, the Al-Azhar sheikh, the Coptic Patriarch, various government ministers, the head of Egypt’s general intelligence service, the head of the Administrative Supervisory Authority, and public figures such as former Egyptian mufti Ali Goma’a.[7]However, even though the Al-Azhar sheikh is on the council, Egyptian media members who are close to the regime interpreted the establishment of the council as a blow to Al-Azhar’s authority; some even called it proof of Al-Azhar’s “demise.” The establishment of this council, they said, meant that the institution of the presidency had decided that it itself would act on the matter of renewing the religious discourse, instead of waiting for the Ministry of Endowments or for Al-Azhar to do so.[8]

Another serious dispute between Al-Sisi and Sheikh Al-Tayeb erupted over the issue of talaq ­– that is, a Muslim husband’s power to divorce his wife on the spot by merely telling her three times “I divorce you.” Al-Sisi again reprimanded Al-Tayeb in public. During a January 24, 2017 speech marking Police Day, he addressed him directly, saying: “You’ve tired me out, my friend.”[9] Al-Sisi went on to call for an end to this divorce practice, which is common in Egypt, and for divorce to be documented legally in order to reduce the rate of talaq divorces in the country.[10] In response, MP ‘Amr Hamroush hastened to prepare a bill regulating divorce.[11]

This demand by President Al-Sisi, which also garnered support from the Egyptian media, was perceived by the Al-Azhar institute as an affront to Islam, an attempt to secularize Egypt, and an attempt to circumvent the authority of the institute. In an announcement, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars clarified that “by virtue of Al-Azhar’s religious responsibility and its status in the Egyptian ummah, as determined by the constitution of Egypt,” it had in recent months convened todiscuss current social issues, among them the issue of divorce in a religious context, and that it had decided that talaq is permitted. In this way, the council made it clear that Al-Azhar does indeed have decision-making authority in matters of Islamic law.[12]

Al-Azhar cleric Dr. Yahya Ismail said: “The war against Islam and its rulings is an old war. There is an ongoing, focused campaign to secularize Egypt…” He added: “This is a conspiracy against Islam and its guidelines… The rulings and conditions regarding divorce are known… The game of [legally] documenting divorce is an old one, and it is Christian clerics who were behind it [and who] tried to persuade some of [Egypt’s] presidents in this matter…” Al-Azhar lecturer Ahmed Karima also criticized Al-Sisi’s demand, saying: “Who will successfully eradicate this [talaq]? Only Allah or His Messenger… “[13]

Following the media uproar over the divorce issue, there was an attempt to calm the waters by both sides, and to show that things had returned to normal. On February 26, 2017, Al-Sisi stressed, in a meeting with Sheikh Al-Tayeb, that Al-Azhar is like a lighthouse for moderate Islamic ideology.[14] Al-Tayeb advisor Muhammad ‘Abd Al-Salam also denied that there was any disagreement between the two institutions of Al-Azhar and the presidency.[15]

Measures Against Al-Azhar: A Bill To Limit Al-Azhar Sheikh’s Authority And Establishment Of A Committee To Examine Al-Azhar Curricula

One manifestation of the anger at Al-Azhar was recent parliamentary measures against it and its sheikh aimed at limiting his authority and independence. Recently, MP Muhammad Abu Hamed, known to support Al-Sisi, proposed a change to the 1961 Al-Azhar Law regulating the authority of both the institute and its head. This bill was supported by parliamentary speaker Ali ‘Abd Al-A’al, who argued that the bill did not harm Al-Azhar.[16]

The main points of the amendment bill proposed by Abu Hamed make it clear that it is aimed at limiting the Al-Azhar sheikh’s authority and at increasing governmental control of the institute itself. For example, Section 2 of Abu Hamad’s bill states that the Al-Azhar sheikh is the Grand Imam of all Muslim clerics and that he represents the institute, but also states that his term is six years and that he can be reelected only once. The 1961 law did not mention the length of the sheikh’s term. Also according to the bill, the candidates for the position of sheikh are to be selected not just by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars, as has been the case to date, but jointly by the council and Al-Azhar’s Academy of Islamic Research. Further, according to Section 5 of the  bill, if two-thirds of the members of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars feel that the sheikh is not fulfilling his role appropriately, he is to be sent before an investigative committee comprising seven of this council’s leading members. This committee has the power to warn him, reprimand him, or “revoke his authority.” The original 1961 law included nothing regarding internal oversight of the Al-Azhar sheikh.[17]

Section 8 of the bill authorizes the president to appoint the imam and preacher of Al-Azhar’s mosque, from among three candidates that are to be put forward by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars.[18] Also, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars is to determine the content of the Friday sermons delivered at Al-Azhar mosque, and set regulations for religious, social, and cultural activities at the mosque.

It should be noted that an addition to the general definition of Al-Azhar’s role focuses on the importance of its role in developing religious discourse in a manner highlighting humane principles and unifying the Muslim ummah, and undermining the sources of the extremist discourse that crudely interprets Islam.[19]

Abu Hamed said of the bill that in today’s circumstances it is inconceivable that the Al-Azhar sheikh cannot be fired, and emphasized that three senior members of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars are MB members.[20]

A further parliamentary step taken against the Al-Azhar institute relates to its educational curriculum. The chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee in the parliament, Osama Al-‘Abd, said that the committee has established a working group to examine the curriculum at the institute as part of a process to renew religious discourse in Egypt.[21]

Despite Abu Hamed’s bill and the examination of the curriculum, it is evident that there is much support in parliament for Sheikh Al-TayebAbu Hamed’s bill was criticized by several MPs who said that they had been unaware the law harmed the status of the Al-Azhar sheikh and asked that their signatures be removed from the bill. Further, MP Osama Sharshar wrote a memorandum to the parliamentary speaker that was signed by the majority of the 406 MPs demanding that the bill be opposed and not submitted because it was clearly aimed at harming one of the institutions of Egyptian society. Al-Azhar is a red line, he said, much like the military, and firing the Al-Azhar sheikh is practically heresy.[22]

For his part, Abu Hamed rejected the MPs’ request that their signatures be removed, and said that he would try to enlist the support of additional MPs and re-submit the bill during the next parliamentary session.[23] In this context, parliamentary sources revealed to the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq that top-echelon officials had ordered that the bill be shelved.[24] Nevertheless, on several additional occasions Abu Hamed stressed that he intended to submit the bill, and that he had the signatures of 80 MPs who support it.[25]

On May 9, a delegation of MPs met with Sheikh Al-Tayeb, who thanked them for their opposition to those aiming to harm Al-Azhar and warned that any affront to it was a blow to Egypt’s position as defender of Islam and its moderateness.[26]

Allegations In Media That Al-Azhar Is Not Acting Against Terrorism; Calls For Sheikh Al-Tayeb To Resign

The establishment media hastened to stand by President Al-Sisi and fiercely attacked Al-Azhar, by publishing dozens of articles criticizing Al-Azhar on several fronts: its refusal to accuse ISIS of heresy; its curricula, which they alleged encourages extremism and even terrorism; extremist statements made by Al-Azhar clerics, including allegations of heresy against Christians[27] and against Egyptian philosopher Islam Behery.[28]

For example, in several of his columns in the government daily Al-Ahram, Ahmad ‘Abd Al-Tawab criticized  Al-Azhar, stating that it is not implementing President Al-Sisi’s orders to promote the renewal of religious discourse in Egypt. He wrote: “Without beating around the bush, [I will say that] the religious institutions have not taken a single serious step in order to comply with President Al-Sisi’s call for a religious revolution… Over two years have passed since the president’s call [for this], which was welcomed by the members of Al-Azhar, but the [number of] days [that have passed since] proves that the flexibility that they showed [at the time] was [just] so that the wave [would pass over their heads] quietly…”[29]

In another article, Al-Tawab wrote: “Al-Azhar’s scholars hastened to welcome President [Al-Sisi’s] call for a revolution [in the religious discourse], but this was not translated into real action. Furthermore, for the [past] two years, [Al-Azhar’s] activity has been in the opposite direction – merciless attacks on anyone whose opinion is different without hesitating to use the weapon of accusing them of heresy, filing lawsuits that put several people behind bars [and that were] based on laws which are up for amendment to bring them into line with the new constitution, and so on…”[30]

On January 26, 2017, Muhammad Al-Baz, editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Dustour, called on the Al-Azhar sheikh to resign. He wrote: “Political experience since 2011 has proven that Dr. Al-Tayeb is not the right person for the position of [Al-Azhar] Sheikh… I believe in the sincerity of Dr. Al-Tayeb’s intentions to keep Al-Azhar distant from political activity, but is he actually doing this?…

“He has immersed himself in political activity, entered into struggles, and sided with opinions that were not in the best interest of the state. He has given his protection to people wandering around his office who he knows very well support the MB, and he has defended them with all his might. Instead of complying with the call to renew the religious discourse, he has continued with his activity to obstruct this call…

“I demand that the Al-Azhar sheikh submit his resignation – out of affection [for him], not hatred, [and] out of concern for him, not disparagement of his capability… I entreat him to comply with what we are demanding of him, and not to listen to the entourage surrounding him that wants him to remain in office to serve its own interests.”[31]

The attack on Al-Azhar and its head Sheikh Al-Tayeb escalated greatly following the Palm Sunday terror attacks on the Mar Girgis church in Tanta and St. Marks Cathedral in Alexandria; many journalists felt that Al-Azhar was to blame for the attacks because of its refusal to accuse ISIS of heresy. On April 14, 2017, the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ daily, whose board of directors is headed by Khaled Sallah who is close to the Al-Sisi regime, published an article titled “Why Does Al-Azhar Fear the War on Terrorism and the Renewal of Religious Discourse… Al-Tayeb Opposes ISIS’s Crimes, But Refuses to Accuse It Of Apostasy…”[31]

The article in Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’, April 14, 2017

Egyptian Writer: Al-Azhar Must Be Purged Of Extremism

Many articles stated that Al-Azhar is rife with clerics whose views are extremist. Sayyed ‘Abd Al-Magid, columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, wrote that Al-Azhar has an extremist majority that is protected by the Egyptian establishment, and called for purging it: “It is true that there are also enlightened people [at Al-Azhar], but they are a minority, against the vast majority that has it in its power to threaten, accuse of heresy, and to grant indulgencesThey are protected by several apparatuses, and are hosted by the sick government media. For this reason, purging Al-Azhar has become essential and cannot be delayed… Even though I do not agree with MP Abu Hamed, I absolutely support his efforts to limit the term of Al-Azhar Sheikh [Al-Tayeb], as long as [Al-Tayeb] does not manage to rectify the distortions [and renew the religious discourse], so that he will give way to another, who perhaps will carry out his duties…”[33]

Egyptian Writer: Al-Azhar Is Refusing To Accuse ISIS Of Heresy – But Accuses The Copts Of Heresy

In her column in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Sahar Al-Ga’ara wrote that the Al-Azhar clerics who consider Christians to be infidels, such as Dr. Abdallah Rushdi,[34] actually reflect the position of Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb. She said: “…Dr. ‘Abdallah Rushdi, a spoiled child of Al-Azhar, boldly danced on the blood of the victims [of the April 2017 terror attacks] at the Mar Girgis church in Tanta and St. Marks Cathedral in Alexandria… Rushdi did not deviate greatly from the Al-Azhar line, following in the path of the Grand Imam [Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb], who had in the past expressed the same opinion, saying, ‘Yes, they [the Christians] are unbelievers because they do not believe in Muhammad or the Quran, and from this point of view they are considered unbelievers as far as I am concerned. But because I, as a Muslim, do not believe in the Holy Trinity or in Christianity as it is now, I [too] am considered by them to be an unbeliever…”[35]

“Al-Azhar does not accuse ISIS of heresy… but the Copts – they are like prisoners in a wounded homeland, who can be easily expelled from their homes, whose women are easily taken captive, whose churches can easily be blown up, who are easy to humiliate and remove from positions of leadership in the country [based on] the Islamic law [stating] ‘an unbeliever may not rule over a Muslim’…”[36]

Egyptian Writers: Al-Azhar Clerics Support The MB And Wahhabism

Numerous articles claimed that many Al-Azhar clerics are extremist and support the MB and Wahhabism. For example, ‘Ali Al-Fateh wrote in his column in Al-Masri Al-Yawm about the “spread of Salafi Wahhabism in Al-Azhar and outside it under the protection of the state apparatuses.” He added that Al-Azhar embraces Salafi-Wahhabi leaders and extremist ideology.[37]

Writer Khaled Montasser wrote in the Al-Watan daily: “We have said, reiterated, and clarified, again and again, that there is no rivalry and no battle against Al-Azhar as an historic entity, but [rather] with the Wahhabi stream that wants to hijack it.”[38]

Dandrawy Al-Harawy, acting editor of the government daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’, wrote: “‘Abbas Shuman, [Al-Azhar Deputy Sheikh and] the strong man among the clerics who control the administration of this institute, which the world regards as a beacon of moderate Islam, in not the only one who declared his sympathy for the MB and its president Muhammad Morsi. Apart from him there are four others, no less important and powerful than he…  as well as dozens of Al-Azhar University lecturers who are [MB] sympathizers and fans.”[39]

Also, Egyptian researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher stated, following the Palm Sunday church bombings, that the Salafis and Wahhabis had taken over Al-Azhar, and called for holding Al-Azhar accountable for its teaching of “depraved and criminal jurisprudence.” To see a MEMRI TV clip of his remarks, see:

(Video at the link. — DM)

Al-Azhar Rejects Criticism, Egyptian Writers Speak Out In Its Defense

Al-Azhar Sheikh Al-Tayeb, and Al-Azhar representatives rejected the accusations against the institute. In his weekly sermon on Egyptian television, Sheikh Al-Tayeb said that several media outlets were waging a campaign against Al-Azhar. There are elements acting deliberately to harm the roots of the nation, first and foremost Al-Azhar, he said, and noted that Al-Azhar is an element of stability in Egyptian society and in all Islamic societies. He said:

“The masses, not to mention the researchers and experts, feel that certain media outlets are waging a deliberate campaign against Al-Azhar. Those waging this campaign fall into two groups. [First,] the ones who know that what they are spreading in their programs on this [issue] is false and baseless, but [nevertheless regard] this as an opportunity to attract viewers and advertisers. In other words, they are guided by the financial criterion of [making a] profit… Every night [they] deceive public opinion, because when viewers constantly hear, on more than one program, that Al-Azhar’s curricula [spread] terror, and that Al-Azhar is the one cultivating terrorists, this [accusation] sticks in their mind… The second group that attacks Al-Azhar on certain media outlets is an organized and financed group which manufactures clashes between the ideological and religious values of societies [on the one hand] and the new material culture [on the other] in order to realize calculated plans that aim to destroy every authentic aspect of this umma, starting with Al-Azhar.”[40]

In other statements, during the April 26, 2017 “Religious Scholars of the East and West” conference at Al-Azhar, Al-Tayeb warned about the lies told by media that were linking terrorism to Islam and accusing Islam and Al-Azhar of being behind the two recent church attacks.[41]

Al-Azhar clerics rejected the claims that the institution’s curricula encourage extremism and violence. In an announcement, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars stated: “The truth that is denied by the enemies of Islam, and also by the enemies of Al-Azhar, is that Al-Azhar’s curricula today are the same as yesterday…”[42]

Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars member Dr. Ahmad ‘Omar Hashem clarified that in Al-Azhar and its books there are no calls for extremism, violence, or terrorism, and that all the criticism of the institution is incorrect.[43]

Editor Of Egyptian Daily: Al-Azhar Cannot Possibly Be Blamed For The Spread Of Terrorism And Extremism

Defenders of Al-Azhar also made themselves heard in media outlets. Akram Al-Qassas, acting editor of the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ daily which is close to Egyptian intelligence apparatuses, stated that Al-Azhar cannot be held responsible for terrorism because terrorism and extremism are the result of economic, social, and cultural circumstances from years past. He wrote:

“Understanding the principles that underpin the relation between Islam and the state may be a better solution than clashing with and attacking Al-Azhar and blaming it for terror and extremism. It is better to conduct an open and honest dialogue among all the political and cultural elements in society. All signs indicate that terrorism, sectarianism and hatred result from factors that have built up over decades for many reasons – political, economic, social, educational and cultural. Moreover, it is impossible to ignore [the role played by] exported ideas that originate in other societies whose religious and ethnic makeup differs [from those of our societies]…

“We must not place the blame for the hatred, sectarianism and terror on one side only. It is important to review the circumstances, the way in which ISIS and organizations of its ilk emerged, and the extent to which they are influenced by doctrines that are theoretically related to Islam but whose content [actually] has nothing to do with religion. Proof of this can be seen in Iraq, which for decades after gaining its independence maintained its religious and ethnic diversity, but sectarianism only broke out [there] after the American invasion…  All this brings us back [to the conclusion] that holding Al-Azhar responsible for extremism is an exaggeration and ignores the [real] reasons and motivations [for extremism]…”[44]

Egyptian Writer: Al-Azhar’s Status Is Phenomenal And It Should Be Supported

‘Imad Hijab, columnist for Al-Ahram, wrote that instead of criticizing Al-Azhar, people should support it, in light of the danger threatening Islam and its image in the world. He stated:

“The great Imam, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, is held in the highest esteem by Sunni Muslims… all over the world, not only in Egypt…  as befitting  the great sheikhs of Al-Azhar who graced this honorable [institution] with their knowledge, experience, and humility…

“The current harsh criticism, and the hostile discourse of common citizens and the media, is directed at the role of Al-Azhar in general, not just at the Sheikh of Al-Azhar. It relates to the danger facing Islam and its image in the world with the increase in extremism and zealotry and the advent of organizations that spread terror and spill blood in the name of Islam, some of which are supported and funded by [various] countries and intelligence apparatuses. This great challenge requires [people] to support Al-Azhar instead of accusing it of exporting terror and terrorists.”

Alongside his defense of Al-Azhar, Hijab also criticized it and called on it to reform its curricula: “Al-Azhar must make an effort to fulfill its great and crucial role in meeting the needs of the hour, and present a program for renewing the religious discourse and the curricula so as to preserve the status of Islam.”[45]

 

* C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI.

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[1] The term “renewal of the religious discourse” was first coined by ‘Adly Mansour, acting president of Egypt (2013–2014)  following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in the country. It refers to rectifying the misunderstanding of the meaning of Islamic law in Egyptian society, in order to stop the spread of extremism and terrorism. For more on Al-Sisi’s call to Al-Azhar to advance the renewal of the religious discourse and the criticism of its failure to do so, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6114, Egyptian Columnists On Al-Sisi Regime’s Campaign For ‘Renewal Of Religious Discourse’ As A Way Of Fighting Terrorism, July 23, 2015; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6549, Three Years Later: Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s Supporters Express Disappointment, Call His Regime Tyrannical, July 28, 2016; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6585, ‘Al-Ahram’ Columnist: Despite Al-Sisi’s Call For Revolution In Religious Discourse, Al-Azhar Scholars Continue On Their Extremist Path, August 24, 2016. For more on Al-Azhar’s refusal to accuse ISIS of heresy, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5910, Al-Azhar: The Islamic State (ISIS) Is A Terrorist Organization, But It Must Not Be Accused Of Heresy, December 21, 2014. It should be noted that a recent statement by Muhammad Zaki, secretary general of Al-Azhar’s Supreme Da’wa Council, may indicate a change in the institution’s position on this matter. He said on April 14, 2017, in a response to a journalist’s question on the possibility of accusing two ISIS terrorists who blew themselves up at the churches in Tanta and Alexandria in April 2017, that a suicide bomber belonging to an extremist organization is an infidel if he believes that Islamic law permits this murder. He stressed that Al-Azhar issues accusations of heresy only based on certain principles and conditions, and added: “If he [the terrorist] considered the murder to be permitted, then he has committed heresy, and if he considers this an operation permitted by Islamic law, then he has committed heresy. If he thought this way and sacrificed his life for this, then he has committed heresy against that which was brought down to the Prophet Muhammad [i.e. the Quran]…”  For more on this, see Alarab.co.uk, April 17, 2017. It should be mentioned, however, that this was an isolated comment that has not so far been repeated by Al-Azhar officials. Moreover, Zaki himself said in a January 2017 interview that Al-Azhar cannot accuse ISIS of heresy. For more on this, see Albawabhnews.com, January 6, 2017.

[2] For more on the campaigns by Al-Azhar representatives with young people in the various provinces, see Al-Watan (Egypt), December 7, 2016; on the campaign titled “No to Violence, No to Blood” in cooperation with the Youth Ministry, see Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, December 14, 2016; on the international conference in Alexandria sponsored by Al-Azhar, see Al-Ahram, Egypt, January 21, 2017.

[3] Al-Watan (Egypt), January 1, 2015.

[4] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), December 1, 2016. This was Al-Sisi’s and Al-Tayeb’s fourth meeting that year, against the backdrop of internal struggles between Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Endowments. See Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), December 2, 2016.

[5] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 18, 2017.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), June 22, 2017.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 27, 2017.

[8] Rassd.com, April 10, 2017; Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), April 19, 2017.

[9] Rassd.com, January 27, 2017.

[10] Rassd.com, January 24, 2017.

[11] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 6, 2017.

[12] Azhar.eg, February 5, 2017.

[13] Rassd.com, January 29, 2017.

[14] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 27, 2017.

[15] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), February 11, 2017.

[16] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 8, 2017.

[17] Egypt.gov.eg.

[18] From reports and commentaries about the bill, it emerges that this clause is another restriction on the authority of the sheikh of Al-Azhar, who can no longer choose the imam for the mosque. For more information see soutalomma.com from May 3, 2017.

[19] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), April 24, 2017, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 25, 2017.

[20] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 26, 2017.

[21] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 20, 2017.

[22] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), May 3, 2017, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 9, 2017, Al-Shurouq (Egypt), May 9, 2017.

[23] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 30, 2017, May 3, 2017, August 3, 2017, Al-Shurouq (Egypt), May 8, 2017.

[24] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), May 15, 2017.

[25] Masralarabia.com, June 2, 2017.

[26] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 9, 2017.

[27] Following the Palm Sunday attacks on the churches in Alexandria and Tanta, Dr. ‘Abdallah Rushdi, an Al-Azhar scholar and the imam of the Al-Sayyida Nafisa mosque in Cairo, was interviewed on the TV show of Egyptian media personality Ahmed Moussa, who is close to the Egyptian regime, and stated that Christians are infidels. For more, see Al-Dustour(Egypt), May 22, 2017. In the interview, that was posted on the Al-Bawaba website, Rushdi expressed his opposition to the attack on Al-Azhar, and said that its graduates can fight extremist ideas. In answer to a question about why Al-Azhar does not accuse ISIS of heresy, Rushdi noted that their doing so would open the door to accusations against every thief or murderer, and then all of Egypt would be considered full of apostates. He also said that ISIS would turn this to its benefit and say that Al-Azhar is not adhering to Sunni custom. For more, see Albawabhnews.com, May 3, 2017. Following his anti-Christian statements, the Ministry of Endowments banned Rushdi from delivering sermons or teaching about religion. For more, see Al-Ahram, Egypt, May 16, 2017.

[28] Islam Behery is an Egyptian researcher and philosopher who was convicted of insulting religions and was released from prison by President Al-Sisi as part of a mass pardon of 82 prisoners. For more, see: Al-Hayat (London), November 17, 2016.

In a May 3, 2017 Egyptian TV show, acting Al-Azhar president Ahmed Hosni Taha called Behery an “infidel” and added that he had attacked the streams of Islam. The next day, in an apparent attempt to head off the attack in the Egyptian media that was sparked by Taha’s statement, the Al-Azhar sheikh fired Taha. However, the Al-Azhar spokesman did not explain the reason for his firing. Taha himself published an apology stating that he had not meant any offense and that his mistaken statement represented him alone, not Al-Azhar. Nevertheless, his apology did not convince Egyptian writers, who came out against his statements about Behery and cast doubts on the sincerity of his apology. For more see: Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), May 4, 2017; rassd.com, May 5, 2017; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 5, 2017; and also articles by Sahar Al-Ga’ara and Hamdi Rizq, columnists for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt, May 5, 2017.   

[29] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 25, 2016. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6585, Al-Ahram’ Columnist: Despite Al-Sisi’s Call For Revolution In Religious Discourse, Al-Azhar Scholars Continue On Their Extremist Path, August 24, 2016.

[30] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 6, 2016.

[31] Al-Dustour (Egypt), January 26, 2017.

[32] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 14, 2017.

[33] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 18, 2017.

[34] See note 27.

[35] It should be noted that websites identified with the Salafis in Egypt have quoted these statements by Sheikh Al-Tayeb without noting where he made them. See also Fath-news.com, December 19, 2016; Anasalafy.com, December 20, 2016.

[36] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 17, 2017.  Many Muslim scholars mentioned this principle, among them medieval Quranic exegete Ibn Al-Mundhir Al-Naysaburi (855-930), who wrote: “All the scholars who studied the Quran have agreed unanimously that an infidel may not rule over  a Muslim.” See dorar.net.

[37] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 15, 2017.

[38] Al-Watan (Egypt), April 18, 2017.

[39] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 16, 2017.

[40] Azhar.eg, April 21, 2017.

[41] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 27, 2017.

[42] Rassd.com, April 19, 2017.

[43] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 20, 2017.

[44] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), April 21, 2017.

[45] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 7, 2017.

Egypt goes about the task of reforming the religious rhetoric

July 29, 2017

Egypt goes about the task of reforming the religious rhetoric, Al ArabiyaMashari Althaydi, July 29, 2017

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi finally announced the establishment of the Egyptian supreme or national council for combating terrorism and extremism. 

This is an enlightening path and a blessed move. There is unquestionable determination to work and exterminate extremism that produces awful violence that targets markets, streets, schools, mosques, churches and airports. Terrorists are monsters who operate like zombies that rose from their dark graves.

The council is chaired by the president himself. Among the members are the parliament speaker, Al-Azhar Sheikh, the Coptic pope and state officials such as the education, awqaf, interior and intelligence ministers. The aim of the council is to set plans, execute them and supervise them.

All this is good and it’s rather a duty and a requirement. This is the work of the state and the society. We wish Egypt luck and success and we hope Muslims and the entire world succeed in winning over Islamized terrorism and the culture behind it.

Task before Al-Azhar

Previously, Sisi had informed Al-Azhar officials that religious reform is a must and said he will quarrel with them before God if they don’t achieve the task.

The determination and honesty of the responsible Muslim man, Sisi, are beyond doubt. However, the task of religious reform is not a military one which he can simply approve and it gets done. We wish it were so, as that would have been much easier.

The issue is also not just about Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia or Senegal. It is about defeating the culture of terrorism and extremism – and I emphasize extremism here. It is a global task that concerns all people considering the news about terrorism coming daily from across the world.

There are many Arabic, Islamic and even European initiatives and centers that work to confront Islamized terrorist cultures, whether Sunni or Shiite, on the ideological and media levels. It’s worth noting that Sunni ones are more than Shiites. The diversity of such work is of course good and beneficial.

My only note is that we focus on media and quantitative activity at the expense of qualitative and intellectual activity when the problem’s core is educational and not relevant to media activity.

I’ll be more frank and ask: Is there a serious and specialized discussion before politicians and media figures talk about concepts such as Sharia, governance, Caliphate, secularism, international law and its moral obligations, women’s rights etc.?

This is where we must begin, as late author Khalid Mohammed Khalid put it.

Saudi Advisers to King Condemn Muslim Brotherhood

June 22, 2017

Saudi Advisers to King Condemn Muslim Brotherhood, Clarion ProjectMeira Svirsky, June 22, 2017

(Claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood merely “doesn’t care” about the beliefs of the sunnah may be a clever way to reject the erroneous thesis that  Muslim Brotherhood terrorism is “not Islamic.” — DM)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia (center) (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, attacked the Muslim Brotherhood, saying the organization doesn’t care about the beliefs of the sunnah (the crucial oral tradition of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammad).

In addition, the council said the Brotherhood’s way is to foment rebellion against their host countries. In a series of tweets, the council — which is tasked with advising the king on religious matters — said the Brotherhood’s primary goal is to use their host country’s political system to assume political power.

Following the pronouncement, the Assembly of Islamic Researchers, a branch of Al Azhar (the highest religious body in the Sunni Arab world located in Egypt), said they would be reviewing the Saudi announcement with the intention of the possible publication of a similar declaration.

The manager of the department of dawah (outreach) of the assembly, Abed el-Aziz Anajar, stated, “These words [of the Saudi council] are coming very late. This group [the Brotherhood], since their beginning, have used violence, assassinations and explosions against everyone that stands in their way.

“Everyone who follows the history of this group can see that there were times that they made deals with politicians in order to achieve all kinds of things from officials. Then, when these achievements were taken from them, they turned into human wolves, and they took revenge against all of society that didn’t stand with them.”

Anajar noted when the Brotherhood assumed power in Egypt during the presidency of Mohammed Morsi, they failed to make the changes they had promised during their campaign.

“They condemned the previous government for not implementing the sharia of Allah, [yet when they were in power], it didn’t happen, they were just driving the country into the ground,” he said.

Anajar praised the “awakening” of the Egyptian people and the “wisdom of the youth” for deposing the Brotherhood-led government.

In a similar vein, the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdallah Salah, condemned the Brotherhood saying the organization is responsible for the current civil war in his country.

Salah was talking during a meeting of the political branch of Al-Mo’tamar Ash-Sha’abiy Al-‘Aam,  the General People’s Congress, the political party in Yemen which he heads.

“The terrorists that belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, who are connected to the organization abroad, caused the nakba [catastrophe] in Yemen by refusing to change the regime in a peaceful way. If they were really Muslims, they would have avoided hurting the people and country. They are extremist, terrorists,” Salah said.

The Mauritanian minister of transportation Mohammed Abdallah Wallad Awdah also recently accused the Brotherhood of deceiving his country and cast aspersions on their morality.

His declaration caused members of Tewassoul, the Islamist political party in Mauitania to walk out of the parliament. Tewassoul demanded an apology for his remarks, but Awdah refused.

Defeating Extremist Islam – A Western Imperative

June 5, 2017

Defeating Extremist Islam – A Western Imperative, Gatestone InstituteSaied Shoaaib, June 5, 2017

The infiltration of this ideology is reminiscent of the spread of communism and should be defeated similarly — not with weapons, but by exposing its true nature and providing an alternative. The West first must abandon, however, the notion that radical Islam is an internal Muslim issue, any more than communism was a “Russian issue” that “the Russians” needed to solve.

In addition, the views of liberal Muslim scholars, who reject the whole premise of extremist, political Islam, should be supported and widely circulated.

Finally, imams in Western countries must be held to the same standard as members of other professions. They should be required to receive occupational licenses, based on criteria determined by the state, in conjunction with modern Muslims seeking a peaceful life and the ability to integrate into their societies without fear of repercussions at the hands of fundamentalists.

Many imams in the West — citizens of the United States, Canada and other countries — use their pulpits to promote practices that go against democratic values and ultimately lead to terrorism.

Some call on their flock to kill Jews, Christians and “infidel” Muslims who do not adhere either to the strictest interpretation of Islam. Others justify the marriage of grown men to nine-year-old girls. There are those, too, who defend the spousal “right” of husbands to rape their wives.

Contrary to some claims, the type of clerics who preach murder and sexual abuse in North American and European mosques do not suffer from poor socioeconomic conditions and are not mentally unbalanced. Rather, they are loyal followers of an interpretation of Islam that envisions the establishment of a worldwide caliphate governed by sharia law. They deeply believe that the only way to enter Allah’s paradise is to live by the letter of the Quran and the Hadith (the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed).

It is from such imams, most of whom are graduates of renowned Islamic institutions in the Middle East and Asia, that Muslims in the West have been receiving guidance. Key among these institutions is Al-Azhar, a Cairo-based Sunni center for higher learning, attended by students from all over the world. Its curriculum includes extremist content, such as tenets that killing “apostates” is a Divine obligation; that it is a Muslim’s duty to humiliate female prisoners through sexual abuse; that adulterers should be stoned to death, and that Christians and Jews are the “enemy of God.”

Many imams in the West are graduates of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, a Sunni center for higher learning. Its curriculum includes extremist content, such as tenets that killing “apostates” is a Divine obligation; that it is a Muslim’s duty to humiliate female prisoners through sexual abuse; that adulterers should be stoned to death, and that Christians and Jews are the “enemy of God.” (Image source: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons)

Whenever confronted by critics in the West calling them to task for spreading such violent teachings, many imams respond by cloaking their real objectives, saying that the texts should be read in the context of the time that they were written, and by highlighting peaceful and tolerant Quranic verses. Other clerics — those who do not know how to tailor their rhetoric to Western ears — openly admit their religious ideology’s true intentions.

The infiltration of this ideology is reminiscent of the spread of communism and should be defeated similarly — not with weapons, but by exposing its true nature and providing an alternative. The West first must abandon, however, the notion that radical Islam is an internal Muslim issue, any more than communism was a “Russian issue” that “the Russians” needed to solve.

Islam and Muslims are part and parcel of Western societies, and Islamist terrorism is a global problem.

In addition, the views of liberal Muslim scholars, who reject the whole premise of extremist, political Islam, should be supported and widely circulated. Among these are prominent intellectuals — such as the late Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd from Egypt; Mohammed Arkoun, an Algerian who died in France in 2010; the late Egyptian Supreme Court justice Muhammad Sa’id al-‘Ashmawi; Egyptian talk-show host Islam Bahiri; and the late Sudanese theologian Mahmoud Muhammad Taha — all of whom have provided evidence, based on knowledge of the Quran and Hadith, that the “caliphate” is merely a project to colonize more land, as all the old empires did, and that the hostility toward Jews connected to the Muhammed’s battle with the Banu Qurayza in the 7th century should have ended long ago.

Muslim innovators abound in the West, as well, and should be the ones establishing mosques, educational institutions and media outlets, to provide followers with an alternative to political Islamism. Finally, imams in Western countries must be held to the same standard as members of other professions. They should be required to receive occupational licenses, based on criteria determined by the state, in conjunction with modern Muslims seeking a peaceful life and the ability to integrate into their societies without fear of repercussions at the hands of fundamentalists.

Saied Shoaaib is a Muslim writer and researcher, specializing in Islamic movements. He can be reached at: saiedshoaaib@gmail.com

Egypt’s Battle Against Islamic Extremism

June 3, 2017

Egypt’s Battle Against Islamic Extremism, Gatestone InstituteShireen Qudosi, June 3, 2017

Sisi faces more than just militant and political extremists within Egypt’s borders; he is also walking a theological tightrope. Egypt is home to the regressive theocratic influence of the most revered Islamic institution in the Sunni world, Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which openly views freedom as a “ticking time-bomb.”

Being held hostage intellectually by the grip of Al-Azhar University ensures that there is a constant supply when it comes to producing the next generation of militant and political Islamists.

President Sisi’s response to the brutal slaughter of peaceful Christian worshippers is being called rare but should not be surprising, considering the aggressive measures that need to be taken to hold extremism at bay, and to eradicate the threat that local groups pose to the Egyptian people. Coming out of the Riyadh Summit, where President Trump and a host of Muslim nations, including Egypt, agreed to drive out extremism, Sisi’s reaction was necessary.

 

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When it comes to regional interests in the Middle East, the priority is the most dominant and violent force.

Egypt stands out as a primary target, given the cocktail of challenges that position it as a center of radical Islam. Egypt faces political, violent, and theological militancy within its borders.

For a nation to do what it must to survive, it needs the steadfast support of world powers. Step one is annihilating all sources of violent Islam.

 

For a Western audience, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a complex figure, who was shunned by the Obama administration. There appear truly pressing, immediate priorities in Egypt, such as developing the economy and combating the avalanche of extremist attempts to overthrow him. Among Middle East and North African territories, Egypt stands out as a primary target, given the cocktail of challenges that position it as a center of radical Islam.

President Sisi faces violent extremist hotbeds in the Sinai Peninsula, and the still-destabilizing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood (a political arm of violent radicals). Most notably, Sisi brought a reality check to the Arab Spring when he led the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, ushering a spiritual and cultural Islamic reformation with widespread popular support from Egyptians on a grass-roots level.

Sisi faces more than just militant and political extremists within Egypt’s borders; he is also walking a theological tightrope. Egypt is home to the regressive theocratic influence of the most revered Islamic institution in the Sunni world, Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which openly views freedom as a “ticking time-bomb.”

Being held hostage intellectually by the grip of Al-Azhar University ensures that there is a constant supply when it comes to producing the next generation of militant and political Islamists.

Egypt also faces extremist infiltration from neighboring Libya, a nation caught in a power vacuum after the murder of its leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. This vacuum has been readily filled by Islamic militants, including ISIS.

Upon returning home in April from his first visit to the U.S. since 2013, Sisi faced a series of domestic terror attacks that once again put Egypt in a global spotlight. On Palm Sunday, in April, two suicide bombings in Coptic Christian churches killed more than 45 people and injured another 120. For Egypt, one of the last regional strongholds that still has a vibrant non-Muslim minority population, violent eruptions on major Christian holidays have become routine.

In England, just days after the May 22 Manchester suicide bombing, attention was once again on Egypt where 29 Coptic Christians were gunned down on a bus traveling to a monastery near the city of Minya. The attack was launched by masked terrorists who arrived in three pick-up trucks and opened fire on the passengers, many of whom were children. Egyptian intelligence believes the Minya attack was led by ISIS jihadists based in Libya. In February, the aspiring terrorist caliphate also launched a campaign against Egypt’s Christian population. The Egyptian military responded swiftly with air strikes against terrorist camps, along with a televised warning against sponsored terrorism.

President Sisi’s response to the brutal slaughter of peaceful Christian worshippers is being called rare but should not be surprising, considering the aggressive measures that need to be taken to hold extremism at bay, and to eradicate the threat that local groups pose to the Egyptian people. Coming out of the Riyadh Summit, where President Trump and a host of Muslim nations, including Egypt, agreed to drive out extremism, Sisi’s reaction was necessary.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (front row, far-right) attended the May 21 Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, along with U.S. President Donald Trump (front-center). The problems of Islamic extremism and terrorism were much-discussed at the summit. (Photo by Thaer Ghanaim/PPO via Getty Images)

In a war that is equally ideological and kinetic, Muslim nations and others trying to survive the plague of Islamic terrorism will need to be as ruthless as their extremist counterparts. That is something that the warring political factions in the U.S. quickly need to understand. When it comes to regional interests in the Middle East, the priority is combating the most dominant and violent force. If that force wins, human rights are completely off the table. Beyond Egypt, President Trump has received considerable backlash in the U.S. for siding with what are seen as repressive regimes, whether it was hosting Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House or engaging with dictators and monarchs during the Riyadh Summit.

In order to bring security to the region, alliances need to look at the real instigators and agents of chaos. There is a metastasizing threat that requires a new coalition of the willing. For a nation to do what it must to survive, it needs the steadfast support of world powers. Step one is annihilating all sources of violent Islam.

Shireen Qudosi is the Director of Muslim Matters, with America Matters.

Double Bombing Hits Egypt on Palm Sunday

April 9, 2017

Double Bombing Hits Egypt on Palm Sunday, Clarion ProjectElliot Friedland, April 9, 2017

At least 37 people were killed and more than 100 injured in two separate bombing attacks that struck churches in Egypt. The blasts ripped through services for Palm Sunday on April 9.

The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A bomb placed under a seat in the main prayer hall of St. George’s Coptic Church in Tanta, northern Egypt, ripped the hall apart, killing at least 26 and wounded 60 others.

“Everything is destroyed inside the church,” eyewitness Peter Kamel told media outlets after the attack.

A suicide bombing hit Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria a few hours later. According to state TV reports, police officers prevented the suicide bomber from entering the Church, and he detonated his device outside.

At least 11 people were killed and 35 others wounded in that attack. Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, had just lead mass for Palm Sunday but is unharmed as he reportedly had just left the building.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, The head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious institution of learning in Sunni Islam, condemned the attack, calling it a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

The Coptic community in Egypt has long faced discrimination, but that has worsened since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak and replaced him first with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s president Mohammed Morsi and then with former general, President Abdefattah el-Sisi.

Breakaway Muslim Brotherhood factions and ISIS affiliates have been targeting Coptic Christians in an effort to destabilize the state and cleanse Egypt of non-Muslims.

In February, ISIS released a propaganda video featuring a terrorist who carried out a previous attack on St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, threatening to eliminate Egypt’s Christians and “liberate Cairo.”