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By Raymond Ibrahim – Exclusive to Coptic Solidarity – 

Soon after the suicide bombings of two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, Islam al-Behery—a popular Egyptian reformer who frequently runs afoul of Islamists in Egypt who accuse him of blasphemy and apostasy from Islam—blasted into Al Azhar on live television. He went so far as to say that “70-80 percent of all terror in the last 5 years is a product of Al Azhar.”

In 2015, al- Behery’s televised calls to reform so irked Al Azhar that the venerable Islamic institution accused him of “blaspheming” against Islam, which led to his imprisonment.

Now Behery says that, ever since President Sisi implored Al Azhar to make reforms to the way Islam is being taught in Egypt three years ago, the authoritative madrassa “has not reformed a single thing,” only offered words. “If they were sincere about one thing, they would have protected hundreds, indeed thousands of lives from being killed in just Egypt alone, said the reformer.”

By way of examples, Behery pointed out that Al Azhar still uses books in its curriculum which teach things like “whoever kills an infidel, his blood is safeguarded, for the blood of an infidel and believer [Muslim] are not equal.” Similarly, the head of the Islamic institution, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, has promoted the belief that ISIS members are not infidels, though they are deluded; but those whom they kill—such as the bombed Christians—are infidels.

Accordingly, Behery is calling on the Egyptian government not to rely on Al Azhar to make any reforms, and to take the reins of reformation itself.

Debating Behery was an Al Azhar spokesman who naturally rejected the reformer’s accusations against the Islamic madrassa, adding that the source of problems in Egypt is not the ancient institution, but rather “new” ideas that came to Egypt from 20th century “radicals” like Hasan al-Bana and Sayyid Qutb, founding leaders/ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Behery’s response was refreshing; those many Western analysts who follow the same line of thinking—that “radicalism” was ushered in only after thinkers like Bana, Qutb, Mawdudi (in Pakistan) or Wahhab (in Arabia) came on the scene—would do well to listen. After saying that “blaming radicalism on these men is very delusional,” the reformer correctly added:

The man who kills himself [Islamic suicide bomber] today doesn’t kill himself because of the words of Hasan al-Bana or Sayyid al-Qutb, or anyone else. He kills himself because of what the consensus of the ulema, and the four schools of jurisprudence, have all agreed to. Hasan al-Bana did not create these ideas [of jihad against infidels and apostates, destroying churches, etc.]; they’ve been around for many, many centuries…. I am talking about Islam [now], not how it is being taught in schools.

By way of example, he said if anyone today were to walk into any Egyptian mosque or bookstore and ask for a book that contains the rulings of the four schools of jurisprudence, “everything that is happening today will be found in them; killing the people of the book [Christians and Jews] is obligatory. Let’s not start kidding each other and blaming such thoughts on Hassan al-Bana!” Behery added:

There is a short distance between what is written in all these old books and what happened yesterday [Coptic church bombings]—the real bomb is in the books, which repeatedly call the people of the book “infidels,” which teach that the whole world is infidel… Hassan al-Bana and Sayyid al-Qutb are not the source of the terror, rather they are followers of these books. Spare me with the term Qutbism which has caused the nation to suffer terrorism for 50 years.

His criticism against Al Azhar is that, although they are best positioned to reform these rulings, they have not. Worse, whereas the former grand imam, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, had “without even being asked removed all the old books and placed just one introductory book, when al-Tayeb [current grand imam, regularly portrayed in the West, especially the Vatican, as a “moderate”] came, he got rid of that book and brought all the old books back, which are full of slaughter and bloodshed.”

Behery does not blame Al Azhar for the existence of these books; rather he, like many reformers, wants the Islamic institution to break tradition, denounce the rulings of the four schools of law as the products of fallible mortals, and reform them in ways compatible to the modern world. Because the current leadership of Al Azhar is very far from doing so, Sisi and the Egyptian people can no longer rely on it and need to proceed accordingly.


Photo Credit : Islam al-Behery By Youm7

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