The Ideological Extremism of Al-Azhar —By Maher Gabra on Fikra Forum

An entrance to the mosque and university

An entrance to the mosque and university. Photo: Wikipedia

(Egyptian writer Maher Gabra explores the contradiction of Al-Azhar’s claims regarding ISIS and the extremism of its own members. Gabra presents several examples of extremist rhetoric by Al-Azhar officials and argues that extremism must be challenged in its many forms in order to prevent radicalization.- David Pollock,Director, Fikra Forum)

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of the prestigious Al-Azhar institute, did not equivocate when responding to the 2015 Paris attacks: “We denounce this hateful incident. The time has come for the world to unite to confront this monster [ISIS].”

Yet a sizable roster of Muslim reformers, scholars, researchers, and media figures in Egypt have denounced Al-Azhar’s position toward ISIS with equal conviction. Despite the religious and educational institute’s public condemnation of some of ISIS’s activities, a debate swells over whether Al-Azhar systematically espouses the intolerance and violence preached by the group.

Among the most prominent Al-Azhar skeptics is Egyptian TV anchor Ibrahim Essa, who argues that the institute’s curriculum is in some ways ideologically indistinguishable from what ISIS promotes. He has supported his claim by pointing to an excerpt from a book used at Al-Azhar high schools, Persuasion: On Decoding Abu Shuga’s Terms/Expressions. In a January 2015 TV program Essa noted how this text claims that fighting infidels, even if they have not attacked Muslims, is a religious obligation for every able and free Muslim man. The rationale is that since infidels do not convert to Islam even though Islam is a well-known religion, then Muslims should attack and kill them whenever possible. This reasoning seems to differ little from the calls of ISIS encouraging Muslims to kills those who do not believe in Islam.Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of the prestigious Al-Azhar institute, did not equivocate when responding to the 2015 Paris attacks: “We denounce this hateful incident. The time has come for the world to unite to confront this monster [ISIS].”

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