Posted tagged ‘Islamic reformation’

Reform Islam or Live the ‘New Normal’ Forever

November 1, 2017

Reform Islam or Live the ‘New Normal’ Forever, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, October 31, 2017

(What a great, original idea! It’s a shame that nobody thought of it before. But wait. Clarion Project has been promoting it for years, and so have reform groups as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. I have also argued that there is no other solution to the Islamic terrorism problem in America. In the linked article I suggested a few ways in which an Islamic reformation could be encouraged. Nothing useful has been done, so I suppose we, like most Europeans, must be content with the “new normal.” — DM)

Boston Marathon US Muslims

Two of the more repugnant Americans today are the moral narcissist judges from Maryland (Theodore Chuang) and Hawaii (Derrick Watson) who tried to upend Donald Trump’s travel ban.  They have metaphorical blood on their robes, whether they know it or not.

The fact is the travel ban is insufficient, not illegal.  It’s only a meager beginning in dealing with a situation that has not changed in any real sense since 9/11, as the events in New York Tuesday testify. If we do not move even more seriously to prevent them, they will indeed become the “new normal.”  Globally, they already have.

The ISIS-loving psycho killer who murdered eight and crippled more, Sayfullo Saipov, is from Uzbekistan, which is not on the banned list.  Not only that, he was admitted to the U.S. via something called the Diversity (yes, that word again) Visa Program, a blind lottery system that seems more like Russian roulette for existing citizens.  Spin the wheel and admit a mass murderer for Allah.

Trump, none too soon, evidently wants to do away with this insanity, but what about the travel ban? If you were realistic, you would have to include places like France and Belgium, even the UK, that are presently loaded with Islamists chomping at the bit to serve their deranged cause. (Yes, I know, these countries supposedly vet their travelers, but events within their own borders give little confidence.)

All politics may be local, but New York is far from alone.  According to TheReligionofPeace website, there were 34 jihadist attacks in 13 countries over just six days this past week (Oct. 21-27), resulting in 444 killed and 114 injured.  That doesn’t include the horrific suicide bombing in Somalia on October 28 that took over two dozen lives — “including three children and a beheaded woman.”

What most of us know — those who are even faintly honest anyway — is that Islam has a gigantic problem, the basis of which is that the so-called “radical” Islamists are actually practicing the fundamental version of their religion. What they do is approved, even required, by their holy texts.   Many of our liberals and progressives don’t know this — or don’t want to — but it’s the reality.  It is also the reason Muslim protest is so tepid and often focused on non-existent Islamophobia.

And it is finally those beliefs that explain why people like ex-Uber driver Saipov can, as was reported, seem so friendly and pleasant, and then turn around and mow down as many people as he can in a jihadist orgy. He may be psychologically disturbed in our terms, but in his own, he’s a believer.  And his belief system can ultimately be a more powerful and enduring adversary than communism or Nazism, because it promises eternal life.  (This is why I have always thought calling jihadists “cowards,” as so many of our politicians do,  silly.  They are more than willing to die.  Indeed, they crave it.)

Europe: Muslim Reformers Need Police Protection

September 22, 2017

Europe: Muslim Reformers Need Police Protection, Gatestone InstituteGiulio Meotti, September 22, 2017

Seyran Ates, a moderate imam, has received “300 emails per day encouraging me to carry on,” but “3,000 a day full of hate,” some with death threats.

In Germany, it is not the Muslim supremacists, such as those who preach killing homosexuals, who have to live under police protection; it is the Muslims who criticize the supremacists. The only “crime” these concerned Muslims committed was to exercise their democratic right to speak — not in Iran or Syria or Iraq — but in Europe.

These reformers try to keep alive the values of the Enlightenment — freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, equal justice under law — to break through the coerced silence of Islam, in which “blasphemy” is punishable by death. The price, however, has been exile, torture, ostracism, public marginalization, and too often life itself. Where are the “moderate Muslims”? In the Muslim world, they are in prison, in exile, in flight. In Europe, these genuine “moderate Muslims” have to live under police protection. Multiculturalism for them is a prison.

Abdelbaki Essati, the imam the authorities believe was at the center of terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona, was apparently a master of deception — “too polite, too correct“. He was apparently able to deceive European intelligence services by preaching a “moderate” version of Islam, while at the same time, orchestrating deadly jihadist attacks.

Another imam in Europe, Seyran Ates, preaches a genuinely “moderate Islam” but needs around-the-clock police protection.

Ates, training to become an imam, seems to have thought there was no better place than Berlin to inaugurate her mosque, Ibn Rushd-Goethe. It is the first Islamic religious site open to unmarried women, homosexuals, atheists, Sufis, unveiled women — all those people that many fundamentalist Islamists have said they wish to silence or kill.

But after the flashbulbs of photographers came the death threats. Now, six German police officers are needed to protect Ates. She is not new to death threats. She closed her law firm in Kreuzberg (a Turkish district of Berlin) after almost being murdered in a terror attack. The bullet lodged between her fourth and fifth vertebrae. It took her five years to recover from the injury.

A week after the inauguration of “Berlin’s liberal mosque”, its prayer room was virtually empty. The number of faithful was the same as the number of security personnel. Muslims seem afraid to be seen there. Ates has received fatwas and threats from Egypt to Turkey. She says she has received “300 emails per day encouraging me to carry on”, but “3,000 emails a day full of hate”, some with death threats.

Berlin’s Seyran Ates, an imam who preaches a genuinely “moderate Islam”, needs around-the-clock police guards to protect her from fundamentalist Islamists. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Her fate, unfortunately, is not unique. Germany hosts many genuinely “moderate” Muslims who must live under police protection. They are journalists and activists who have challenged terror and radical Islam. Without protection, they would become “moderate martyrs”. Ayaan Hirsi Ali fled to the US after the Netherlands refused to continue protecting her.

In Germany, it is not the Muslim supremacists, such as those who preach killing homosexuals, who have to live under police protection; it is the Muslims who criticize the supremacists. The only “crime” these concerned Muslims committed was to exercise their democratic right to speak — not in Iran or Syria or Iraq — but in Europe.

These reformers try to keep alive the values of the Enlightenment — freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, equal justice under law — to break through the coerced silence of Islam, in which “blasphemy” is punishable by death.

It is they who penetrate that silence. They defend the right to democracy, to an independent judiciary, to education. The price, however, has been exile, torture, ostracism, public marginalization, and too often life itself. Where are the “moderate Muslims”? In the Muslim world, they are in prison, in exile, in flight — when not murdered — as was Salman Taseer, his lawyerbloggers from Bangladesh and countless others. In Europe, these genuine “moderate Muslims” have to live under police protection. Multiculturalism for them is a prison.

Hamed Abdel-Samad, an Egyptian writer and author of the book Islamic Fascism, is protected by the German police. The German sociologist Bassam Tibi has been under police guard for two years for having sponsored a “Euro Islam”: how Muslims might be assimilated in Europe, a concept opposite to the Islamization of Europe that the fundamentalists are trying to accomplish. In an interview with the German magazine Cicero, Tibi admitted his defeat and “capitulation”.

Ekin Deligöz, a representative of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, is under police protection as well, for having asked women to reject the veil as being “a symbol of inferiority and subjection”. Fatma Bläser, a victim of forced marriage and the author of the novel Hennamond, is today protected by police. She travels from school to school among young Muslims to raise awareness. Mina Ahadi, who founded the Council of Former Muslims, is also under day-and-night government protection.

When Turkey’s most courageous journalist, Can Dündar, former editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet — the only Turkish media that expressed solidarity with the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — left Ankara for Germany, he most likely would never have imagined that he would need police protection in Berlin, as well. In Turkey, the police searched his house for emails and articles; in Berlin, the police have to guard his house against the Muslim fundamentalists who want him dead. In Turkey, they wanted to kill him for criticizing political Islam; Europe is no different.

These are the real “moderate” voices in the Islamic world — unlike many supposed “moderate Muslims” such as Tariq Ramadan, who was recently caught defending female genital mutilation(FGM). These heroic Muslim reformers are far from the Islamic officials of the mainstream Muslim organizations, often funded by oil-rich Islamic dictatorships. Qatar, according to a major enquiry by the French daily Libération, is the main source of funds for the Union of the Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), the most prominent Islamic umbrella group there. The UOIF also evidently receives funding from Saudi Arabia and “benevolent associations” in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

These brave dissidents, who need our help, have been struggling to uphold values that are the pillars of Europe’s Enlightenment — those the entire West has come to accept. But not Islam.

These men and women have even been compared to heroes of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire. The French playwright, however, did not have a million enemies who, recognizing him from television, could then plot to behead him.

Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.

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.

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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.

Look Who’s Fighting Extremism

September 18, 2017

Look Who’s Fighting Extremism, Clarion ProjectMeira Svirsky, September 18, 2117

(Perhaps it would help if President Trump’s “helpers” would stop trying to disassociate “fundamentalist” or “radical” Islam from terrorism. It could not hurt. — DM)

Austrian imams sign declaration against terrorism. (Photo: ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images)

Yahya noted the damage done by that those who denounce any talk about the connection between fundamentalism and violence as Islamophobia.

“This must end. A problem that is not acknowledged cannot be solved,” he said.

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I. One of Indonesia’s most influential leaders, Yahya Cholil Staquf, is advocating for a moderate, modern Islam. He is the general secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Muslim organization with 50-million members. (See #2 below for more on the work of Nahdlatul Ulama to promote moderate Islam).

In a recent interview, Yahya spoke frankly, saying that to fight extremism, “Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam.”

Yahya explained, “There is a clear relationship between fundamentalism, terrorism, and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot gain victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam.”

Speaking words that would most likely be branded as bigotry if said by a non-Muslim, Yahya stated forcefully,

The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, the relationship of Muslims with the state, and Muslims’ relationship to the prevailing legal system wherever they live … Within the classical tradition, the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is assumed to be one of segregation and enmity.

Perhaps there were reasons for this during the Middle Ages, when the tenets of Islamic orthodoxy were established, but in today’s world such a doctrine is unreasonable. To the extent that Muslims adhere to this view of Islam, it renders them incapable of living harmoniously and peacefully within the multi-cultural, multi-religious societies of the 21st century.

Yahya noted the damage done by that those who denounce any talk about the connection between fundamentalism and violence as Islamophobia.

“This must end. A problem that is not acknowledged cannot be solved,” he said.

II. Yahya’s organization, the 50-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama, is partnering with the city government in Jakarta to train and educate Islamic preachers to spread non-extremist and tolerant messages.

His organization aims to train up to 1,000 preachers in programs beginning in November. The goal is to make the moderate and pluralist form of Islam called Islam Nusantara the dominant form of Islam in Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world. The program will especially try to place its preachers in mosques for Friday prayers, which have been targeted by extremists as prime fodder for spreading their ideology.

III. Also in Indonesia, parents have pulled their children out of a boarding school after authorities linked the school to ISIS. The parents further demanded the school be closed.

According to an investigation by the news agency Reuters, at least eight workers and four students in the school either left or tried to leave Indonesia to join ISIS between 2013-2016.

The school denied it supports ISIS or any other extreme groups or that it teaches any religious views that call for violence. One student from the school went to Syria when he was only 11 and died fighting on the front lines for Islamic State. His father, a jailed extremist, said teachers and students in the school that joined ISIS inspired his son to also join the brutal terror group as well.

In the past 10 years since the establishment of the school, 18 people who have links to the school were arrested and/or convicted for planning jihadi attacks inside Indonesia.

IV. In the summer of 2017, a group of 300 imams in Australia signed a declaration against “extremism, violence and terror,” and called ISIS the “black sheep” of Islam. The imams gathered outside a mosque in Vienna under a banner called “United against extremism and terror.”

The declaration also stated, “We, the Austrian imams, will continue to do everything they can to maintain peaceful coexistence here in Austria as part of this society.

“Nothing will stop us from using ourselves for peace, freedom, justice, equal opportunities for men and women, and social security based on reason and solidarity, and to make our active contribution to the preservation of society.”

 

V. Also in the summer, a group of 60 imams from across Europe initiated a “March of Muslims Against Terror.” The imams visited sites across Europe that had been hit by terror, from Paris to Berlin, Brussels, Toulouse and Nice.

The imams traveled by bus, stopping to pray for the victims of terrorism and make a statement that Islam could co-exist with other religions.

VI. In Germany this summer, hundreds of Muslims turned out for a peace march under banners of “Together against terror,” “Hatred makes the earth hell” and “Love for all, hatred for none.”

The march was led by Ahmadi Muslims.

VII. An anti-extremism summit is scheduled for October in Maguindanao, located in the Philippines. Organizers say that key Islamic leaders will participate along with youth, members of academia, professionals and other concerned sectors. The purpose of the summit is to help authorities “come up with a comprehensive remedy to the emerging growth of religious extremism in Muslim areas.”

VIII. After many years of closure because of political upheaval, Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments is reopening religious training camps to educate against extremism.

Al-Monitor reports, “In addition to targeting imams, administrative staff and mid-level department heads, the camps will target students of Al-Azhar institutes and, for the first time, female preachers.”

The move also marks the first time there will be female preachers appointed the ministry.

“The role of female preachers is as important as that of clerics,” said Sheikh Jaber Tayeh, head of the ministry’s religious department. “Their influence reaches society and mosques.”

The camps will address three basic themes: ethics and conduct; fighting extremism and raising awareness about plots to topple the state; and raising awareness about the risks of overpopulation.

 

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.

Islamic Reform: How Firm a Foundation?

July 30, 2017

Islamic Reform: How Firm a Foundation? Jihad Watch

Pipes writes with realistic optimism, Islamists “know their movement is doomed because Muslims will opt for the benefits of modern life.” To what extent Muslims can find such modernity within Islam remains an open question illuminatingly posed by Douglass-Williams.

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“If this book [Quran] came from God and it’s divine and perfect, then the Jihadis are justified,” states Islam reformer Shireen Qudosi in The Challenge of Modernizing Islam: Reformers Speak Out and the Obstacles They Face. Her sober conclusion amidst an illuminating collection of interviews with her like-minded colleagues in Christine Douglass-Williams’ indispensable recent book indicates the daunting obstacles facing any Islamic doctrinal reform.

Analogous to the recent thinking of the Muslim apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Douglass-Williams’ interviewees distinguish between Islam and Islamism. For Salim Mansur, Islam is a “personal faith, just as to Christians” while Zuhdi Jasser, a “Jeffersonian type of Muslim” who believes “society should be run by reason,” equates Islamism as “interchangeable with the term ‘political Islam.’” Islamists, elaborates Islam scholar Daniel Pipes in a book forward, are “advocates of applying Islamic law in its entirety and severity as a means to regain the medieval glory of Islam.”

Douglass-Williams herself concedes that “normative Islam is Islamism” and notes the standard objection to any Islam/Islamism dichotomy. “It is often argued that there is no distinction between the words ‘Islamism’ and ‘Islam,’ because Islam is inherently political” as a comprehensive, even totalitarian, belief system encompassing both piety and politics. As Pipes stated to her, an “aggressive Jihadi sentiment, an Islamic supremacist ambition” forms the “hallmark of Muslim life over 1,400 years,” while the Egyptian-American Tawfik Hamid notes that “reformists were killed throughout history.”

Normative Islam’s history is no accident, as Robert Spencer in his own forward reveals in Quran 5:3 a seemingly insurmountable hurdle for Douglass-Williams et al. “Traditional and mainstream Islamic theology holds that Islam is perfect, bestowed from above by the supreme being, and hence not only is reform unnecessary, it is heresy that makes the reformer worthy of death.” As Pipes notes, within and without Islam, reformers “are threatened, marginalized, and dismissed as frauds,” like Mansur in Canada; “I cannot even go to mosque. The leaders of the mosques in my own city have publicly declared me an apostate.”

Ahmed Subhy Mansour, now living in the United States after imprisonment in Egypt, offers a striking contrast between himself and Cairo’s Al Azhar University, where he was once a professor before his dismissal. Sunni Islam’s “leading seminary for more than one billion Muslims…Al-Azhar is like the Vatican for the Catholics,” but “is a stagnant bog of ignorance and traditional ideas that belong to the Dark Ages.” Alternatively, Mansour’s “International Quranic Center, in spite of its role in reforming Muslims overseas, is just one room in my house in Virginia. Our powerful website was destroyed several times by the fanatics.”

Accordingly, Spencer notes that “tension between high hopes and harsh realities runs through these interviews” in Douglass-Williams’ book. Indeed, “not every attentive and informed reader will come away from these pages convinced that every person here interviewed is being in every instance entirely forthright.” Such concerns become evident precisely because the book interviews are “unique in their probing honesty.”

Douglass-Williams’ honesty is part of a critical inquiry into Islam that strives to relativize dangerous Islamic canons on the basis of human reason. “Thinking has to be above and superior to the text to a reformer,” states Hamid. Influenced by Robert Reilly’s study of reason and faith in Islam, Qudosi similarly concludes that “we need to look at natural law and man’s law to understand what God wants for us.”

Jasser seeks Islamic reform “without divorcing Muslims from scripture and without divorcing yourself from the example of the prophet Muhammad,” but various Quran passages make this project difficult. Qudosi first reading of Allah’s supposedly perfect Quran made her “extremely depressed,” while Jasser’s reinterpretation of Quran 4:34, cited throughout Islamic history to justify wife beating, remains novel. Even his reform hermeneutics leave a “passage that is difficult for me,” namely Quran 5:38’s injunction to amputate thieves’ hands, “because that is pretty clear. I prefer to see it as a metaphor, because I can’t believe God can say that.”

Raheel Raza, like Jasser, interprets the Quran in light of her implicit rejection of the orthodox Islamic understanding of Allah as an inscrutable will:

Koran reformists are not changing the words of the Koran, because Muslims believe it is the word of God.  They are instead giving options of other ways it could be translated and interpreted to be more compassionate, humane, and merciful.  If you understand the persona of God to have these attributes, then you will translate his words the same way.

Douglass-Williams goes beyond reinterpretation of Islamic sacred texts and examines the “strong case against the Muslim holy book’s infallibility” as part of the Quran’s “desanctification.” Likewise Hamid and Mansour’s Koranic Movement challenges the authenticity of the hadith, canonical narratives that supposedly relate the seventh-century life of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Because the hadith emerged centuries after his life, Douglas-Williams writes, the “Koranic movement holds that the Hadith is an unreliable source, and that the Koran is comprehensive and sufficient in itself.”

Rejection of the hadith is central for Hamid’s understanding of oft-noted controversies over Islamic teachings that Muhammad consummated a child marriage with his nine-year old bride Aisha. “Muhammad has nothing to do with this story, because it is not mentioned in the Koran,” Hamid states, although some observers have noted that Quran 65:4 implies consummation of prepubescent child marriage. “If I believed it, I would have never followed this faith. You can’t follow someone who is described in this way of having sex with a nine-year-old child and asking the world to become followers, and see him as a role model.”

“You cannot reform a faith by saying its founder was an immoral person,” Jasser similarly argues and offers his own understanding of Muhammad and Aisha:

It is definitely part of history that he was married to Aisha when she was nine.  Many Muslims believe that marriage was not consummated for many years after that, and we could debate that it was 15, 18, but I just do not believe it was consummated at the age of nine.  Am I deluded?  All I can tell you is that is what I was taught.

By contrast, Qanta Ahmed examines the Aisha controversy in a cultural context; for seventh-century Arabia, “it’s conceivable that marrying Aisha was appropriate for that era.” Likewise Muhammad’s polygamy “was for tribal and political reasons as a means to unite various tribes in Arabia.” As Raza states, a “reformed Muslim essentially understands that there are issues and practices in the glory days of Islam that are not suitable for this time and place.”

Such views of Muhammad and other Muslim founding fathers as historically-limited justify Muslim reformer rejection of the Islamic doctrine of Muhammad as a “good example” of conduct. Rather than seeing a “perfect man” whose role model should eternally guide all people, Mansour declares that the “prophet Muhammad was not infallible.” “Islam sees Muhammad as infallible, but I don’t,” agrees Qudosi.

Muhammad’s fallibility sounds more credible than some of the questionable claims by Douglas-Williams’ interviewees such as Mansur, who asserts that “Muhammad fought because he was attacked.” Jalal Zuberi similarly argues that Muhammad “never took any personal insult to those people who opposed him,” notwithstanding various Islamic accounts of individuals assassinated on his orders. Zuberi also claims that “although the verses of the Koran contain the punishing of women, Muhammad himself never raised his hand,” despite a reputedly sound hadith recounting his striking of Aisha.

Douglass-Williams’ book demonstrates the struggle of various Muslims to redeem their personal piety amidst unconscionable faith-based political doctrines. As Raza states, the “history of Islam is based on conquests and violence, but there is the spiritual message also which is important to me.” Douglass-Williams similarly references Islamic civilization’s past “Golden Age” achievements and optimistically claims that the “primitive and rigid nature of Islamist theology is a perversion of an ancient pluralistic faith.”

Raza’s theological selectivity reflects Douglass-Williams’ questionable dogma: “In all faiths, humans are the instruments of religious practice and can choose what they accept and what they reject regarding the letter of their faith.” Her oft-made analogy that “Islam needs to have its own reformation similar to the Catholic Reformation” ignores that reason rejects relativism among Catholics such as Reilly and Spencer within a Church that is flawed like all human institutions. The Catholic Church’s papal infallibility doctrine corresponds to the belief, famously advocated by Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 Regensburg address, that an ordered God’s all-encompassing truth regulates both body and soul.

Such objectivity includes the Biblical doctrine that all of humanity is made in the image of a loving God, with universal spiritual and material needs. Despite the “current Islamist hegemony,” Pipes writes with realistic optimism, Islamists “know their movement is doomed because Muslims will opt for the benefits of modern life.” To what extent Muslims can find such modernity within Islam remains an open question illuminatingly posed by Douglass-Williams.

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.