By Magdi Khalil – Special for Coptic Solidarity
As an institution, al-Azhar is considered one of the most important and largest Sunni institutions in all Islamic countries. It is an old institution that was founded over a thousand years ago. It has one of the largest universities in the Islamic world in terms of its number of students. Additionally, it has a large number of affiliated religious Azharicschools which comprise a wide-ranging religious educational system that exists parallel to the general educational system in Egypt. Al-Azhar Institution, together with Saudi Wahabi institutions, constitutes the primary religious authority that shapes the religious mindset and religious values of the vast majority of Muslims in the Sunni world.
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, has presided over al-Azhar Institution since 2010. He is also president of the World Council of Muslim Elders and works in full coordination with Saudi Wahabi institutions. In addition to his full control over religious affairs in Egypt, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb works actively to shape the political life in Egypt under el-Sisi’s rule. As a fundamentalist, he has steered al-Azhar towards more extremism.
This immense influence has a particularly serious security implication in view of the fact that the vast majority of imams of mosques in America, Europe, and Australia have studied at al-Azhar or at Saudi Wahabi institutions. It is therefore impossible to actually contain Islamic terrorism without attempting to contain the extremist thought which springs from these institutions.
In this article, we shed light on his true core Islamic thought, which he expresses within Egypt and within Islamic countries. Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb espouses double speech, one message which he addresses to Muslims, and another which he addresses to the West. Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies issued a statement on July 10, 2016 which condemns Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb’s double speak; “it is noteworthy that al-Azhar adopts two contradictory messages, one open, intended for export to the outside world, and another that supports violent extremism directed for internal consumption [i.e., directed towards audiences within Islamic countries]. In May 2016, while Egypt presided over the Security Council, Egyptian diplomacy utilized international forums to propagate a poorly understood role for the al-Azhar Institution in combating terrorism.” (http://www.cihrs.org/?p=18823)(Arabic)
Here are some of the most important thoughts of Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb, on a number of major issues:
Pronouncing Jews and Christians are infidels (Kuffar):
Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb has repeatedly pronounced Jews and Christians as unbelievers on official Egyptian TV. He claimed, “a Jew or a Christian considers me an unbeliever and I too consider him an unbeliever.” This is simply incorrect, for the concept of an “unbeliever” or Kafir (sing.) exists exclusively in Islam. Unbelief Kufr (n.) in Islam is a juridical status with legal consequences, namely execution and eternal existence in hell as al-Azhar teaches its students in its books. Unbelievers, Kuffar (pl.) according to clear verses in the Quran are “lost or gone astray, unjust, enemies of Allah, the most evil of animals, more gone astray than the beasts, the evil of the creation, incapable of understanding, unbelievers are enemies of Muslims and Allah who is an overt enemy of the unbelievers.” There are 25 clear verses in the Quran that call for battling the unbelievers.
What is certain is that Islamic terrorism starts with classifying people into Muslims and unbelievers, then gradually moves to verses of war, to the lethal bullet or poisoned dagger, cutting the necks or trampling people, and utilizing bombs or blowing up people. It is a form of racial supremacy that permits killing the other. (See interview with Ahmad el-Tayeb about the unbelievers Kuffar: English)
Refusing to pronounce ISIL members unbelievers:
As Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb declares Jews and Christians unbelievers, an open enticement to killing and to terrorism, he simultaneously refused to pronounce (members of) ISIL unbelievers, but said “they are believers, monotheists and people of the kiblah (i.e., people who pray facing towards Mecca), and it is not permitted to pronounce a Muslim an unbeliever regardless of his sins. (Refer to video: English)
Reversion al-Riddahor Apostasy (or conversion back to an earlier faith before Islam):
In a speech delivered before the German Parliament, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb stated that in Islam there is no punishment for apostasy or converting away from Islam. But when he returned to Cairo, he stated in a TV interview that religious jurists of old unanimously concur that the Muslim who leaves Islam should be killed, if he does not return to Islam. He noted that at the present time, the penalty for anyone who leaves Islam is deferred to the Muslim ruler who decides it, and it may amount to execution or crucifixion. (Watch video: English).
In another lengthy interview about leaving Islam or reversion riddah, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb stated that a Muslim who leaves Islam is a danger to society under all circumstances; that the act of leaving Islam is not a matter of freedom of belief; does not belong to civil rights, human rights, or civil law, but is a status in Islamic law whose punishment should be exclusively decided based on Shari‘a; that the Muslim who leaves Islam is lacking sight and insight amaa al bassar wal basira; and that reversion is a crime and a danger to .
When al-Azhar’s Sheikh spoke about current international terrorism, he held the West responsible saying, “the American veto concerning the Palestinian-Zionist conflict is one of the most important causes of international terrorism, for enticing terrorism and for even participating in it in one form or another.” (Ref video:ُEnglish)
In another conference on the same topic of international terrorism, he reiterated that criminal terrorist organizations are executing worldwide schemes, behind which lies Zionist support which aims to destroy anything non-Zionist.” (View video: English)
More videos in English
Human Rights and International Charters:
In two TV interviews, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb attacked international human rights charters and considered them a product of a culture and values that are replete with time bombs and are different from “our Islamic values and culture.” According to him, “what the West considers human rights we consider a scandal,” and some of the human rights are moral and social diseases which specifically pertain to the West, and that “we will not accept any human rights charter that contradicts Islamic Shari‘a”. (See video in Arabic).
In a TV interview on adoption, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb said “adoption is a lie and false act based on lying…it is (based on) artificial sentiments aimed at anaesthetizing the emotions and leads to the suffering of the mother….it is impossible for adoption to satisfy maternal instincts of the woman who did not give birth….adoption is a Western deviation.”) View video: Arabic).
The Persistent attack on Christianity and Judaism:
Similar to what all Muslim Sheikhs do, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb persistently attacks Judaism and Christianity, stating that both the Torah and the Gospel texts have been altered by the Jews Yahude and Christians Nassarah. In one of the interviews, he negated the existence of Judaism and Christianity as religions in their own right emphasizing that there is only one true religion called Islam and that Judaism and Christianity are mere manifestations of this true religion, Islam. (View video in English).
“Denigration of Islam”:
Al-Azhar’s Sheikh takes a severe stance concerning freedom of opinion and expression and considers any opinion or criticism of Islam a crime of “denigration of Islam.” During his tenure, al-Azhar supported several lawsuits against Muslim intellectuals and reformers, against literary writers, and even against one of al-Azhar’s Sheikhs, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Nasr, who was imprisoned for a year for adopting opinions to reform Islam. In one of his interviews, al-Azhar’s Sheikh explicitly stated that insults aimed at companions of the prophet Muhammad expose the person who said (such insults) to (be considered) as having left Islam, i.e., he considers any mere critique of Mohammad’s companions equivalent to leaving Islam and an act of enmity against it worthy of execution according to Islamic jurisprudence. (see links).
The Muslim in the West:
In more than one interview on Muslims in the West, al-Azhar’s Sheikh delineated conditions for Muslims to assimilate in the West; they are to keep their Islamic identity, culture and values, and to absolutely not deviate from their religion or Shari‘a. In actuality, these conditions are a call for Islamic isolation in ghettos and not a call for positive integration. In many of its provisions, Islamic Shari‘a contradicts many Western constitutions and human rights standards. His call to obey Shari‘a is a direct call for the Muslim in the West to contravene or violate Western constitutions and laws. (See videos in Arabic).
The Islamic Caliphate:
Although Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb sees that it is difficult for the Islamic Caliphate to return at this time, he glorifies Islamic conquests and the Caliphate, and describes it saying, “the Caliphate is a beautiful dream that achieves the unity of Muslims and guarantees them power. The Caliphate is for guarding the religion and world polity, i.e. the mission Caliph is to guard Islam and uphold Shari‘a among the subjects.” (See videos in Arabic).
Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb sees that Muslims were masters of the world when they followed their Islamic religion and established the Caliphate, while the West did not make progress until it left Christianity (see video in English).
Thus, he considers Islamic conquests, pillaging and looting, and the destruction of old civilizations Islamic glories that must return!
Al-Azhar and its Sheikh, Ahmad el-Tayeb, hold a position that constrains women’s rights. When Tunisia recently announced that it was discussing equality between women and men in inheritance laws, al-Azhar issued a severely worded statement against Tunisia accusing the Tunisian regime of contradicting Islamic Shari‘a, and the Deputy of al-Azhar, Abbas Shewman, dared to say that equality harms women and is against their interests!
Here it the statement al-Azhar issued against Tunisia;
In a TV interview, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb said that women’s status is subject to Shari‘a, not to civil laws of equality. He added that polygamy in Islam solves women’s problems.
Although Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb spent part of his life in Paris and personally witnessed the fruits of freedom, democracy, human rights, and rational thinking, his religious conflict makes him consistently attack the West and Western civilization. In one of his interviews, he says that the Western civilization is deviant; that the prevailing moral value which underlies the Western civilization is “the end justifies the means;” that the Western civilization is a domineering civilization; that the West conspires against Muslims; that Western civilization liberated women from religion which led to moral dissolution; and that human rights, which are widespread in the West, “stem from a culture that is not our culture and a religion that is not our religion and contradict our Shari‘a.” (See video in Arabic).
In the majority of his speeches, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb condemns what he calls Islamophobia in the West. After every terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims in the West, al-Azhar’s Sheikh issues statements warning against Islamophobia and against attacks on Muslims, as if the problem is Islamophobia and not Islamic terrorism!
Al-Azhar’s Sheikh’s persistent talk about Islamophobia leads to spreading resentment among Muslims in the West and implies that they are persecuted in western societies. This is similar to the message of extremist Islamic organizations, which hold the West responsible for all of Muslims’ problems.
Sheikh el-Tayeb accuses the West of “focusing the spotlight on what they call Islamic terrorism, ignoring Jewish and Christian terrorism.” (See video in Arabic).
See another video in English
Al-Azhar’s Sheikh does not see problems in Islam that require reform. To the contrary, he and his institution work to imprison and prosecute reformers, charging them of “denigrating of Islam.” Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb personally worked to imprison two of the contemporary reformers, Islam el-Behery and Sheik Mohammad Abdullah Nasr.
More importantly, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb believes in and spreads old fundamentalist Islamic (exegetical) rules e.g. the meaning lies in the direct Qur’anic text, but is not derived from the circumstances of the inspiration of the (Qur’anic) verses; and that no (exegetical) effort (is permitted in interpreting) the Qur’anic texts, which means he has entirely nullified the idea of interpreting Qur’anic text in light of contemporary developments or changes. He has completely eliminated the concept and basis for religious reform. These old rules have been used as grounds for prosecuting reformers throughout Islamic history. (See video in English).
Islam a religion and a state:
Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb believes that Islam is a religion, a state, and a Shari‘a that should be applied. The ruler is the supreme imam of the Islamic state. This positions Sheikh el-Tayeb outside the framework of the modern secular state and places him within the framework of a religious state that governs according to Islamic Shari‘a, and solely within Islam’s values and culture.
Additionally, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb does not believe that civil rights stem from nationality but that all rights, duties, freedoms and citizenship stem from religious Qur’anic texts, which means that he basically does not acknowledge the foundations of the modern (secular) state but endorses a religious Islamic state.
Sheikh el-Tayeb sees homosexuality as a social and moral disease, and a crime according to Shari‘a, but not a human right or a right to be protected under secular law. The Sheikh believes that the penalty for homosexuality should be based on Shari’a and from historical examples describing how the prophet’s companions dealt with homosexuals-which means execution. (Refer to video: English).
The position of Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb regarding the rights of Coptic Christians is the same position of old Islamic jurisprudence which could be summarized in the following succinct points: (See videos in Arabic).
- Copts have to accept being ruled under Islamic Shari‘a, for they do not have any rights outside Shari‘a, which has delineated their rights throughout history.
- A unified law for houses of worship should not be enacted because the status of Mosques and Churches are not equal in the lands of Islam, and because the whole of Egypt is one large mosque.
- A Christian president of Egypt is not permitted because the religion of Islam does not accept it.
- Churches may be built in Egypt on condition that they should not harm the national security of the country! i.e. He views the construction of churches as a threat to Egypt’s national security.
- In an interview with German TV, he stated that talk about persecution of Copts in Egypt is not based in facts. While he was speaking, Coptic pilgrims on a bus in Minya, in southern Egypt were being massacred.
- In 2011, al-Azhar’s Sheikh established an organization named “House of the Egyptian Family” to sanction evasion from punishment for the crimes committed against Copts through arbitrary “reconciliation sessions” away from the prevue of the law.
Teaching old jurisprudence:
The previous Sheikh of al-Azhar, Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, deleted the teaching of many of the old Islamic jurisprudence books from al-Azhar’s curricula as these books increased hatred and killing of non-Muslims and spread falsehoods. When Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb took over the presidency of al-Azhar, he reintroduced these books to the curricula. One example of a book he returned is taught to third year secondary religious (or Azharic) school students, in a chapter titled “The jurisprudence of Abu Hanifa al-Nu ‘mani.” In it we read the following text, “battling unbelievers kuffar is a duty of every rational, free, and able Muslim man, for there is no excuse for anyone for not killing, waging battle or war against the unbelievers Kuffar, all unbelievers within and outside, around the world and all over the world…., we fight them and pour fire on them with catapults, ruin their crops and their trees and burn them, and kill them and take from the killed, his weapon, his clothes, and his horse.” (See video in Arabic).
Art and creativity:
Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb adopts an Islamic fundamentalist perspective on art and creativity. He stated that the morality of the youth has declined by about 90% due to art alone. Based on this, during the tenure of Ahmad al-Tayeb, al-Azhar intervened to imprison two literary writers, Ahmad Nagy and Karam Saber, both of whom spent years in prison as a punishment for their literary works. Karam Saber is still in prison.
Al-Azhar’s Sheikh also persistently attacks secularism, ties it to atheism, and demands religion be used as a weapon to stand against atheists and secularists. (See video in Arabic).
Conferences sponsored by al-Azhar’s Sheikh:
In his efforts to shape political and intellectual life and to define a system of rights, duties, and values for Egyptian society, al-Azhar has sponsored many conferences since the January 25th, 2011 revolution, among them:
- The first conference, June 20, 2011, published “al-Azhar’s document concerning the future of Egypt.” The goal of the conference was for al-Azhar, as a religious institution, to define an Islamic vision for the future of Egypt!
- The second conference, January 10, 2012, published “al-Azhar and the intellectuals: On systems of freedom”, which was an attempt by al-Azhar’s Sheikh to Islamicize rights and freedoms according to the constraints of Islamic Shari‘a.
- The third conference, December 2014, “al-Azhar’s Conference on combating terrorism”, which concentrated on absolving Islam of terrorism, advocated the idea that followers of all religions have practiced terrorism, and warned the West against Islamophobia.
- The fourth conference, February 27-28, 2017, “al-Azhar’s Conference on Freedom and Citizenship” during which al-Azhar attempted to define citizenship according to Shari‘a, i.e. exchanging a modern concept of citizenship with a new type of Islamic citizenship.
- The fifth conference, April 28, 2017, “al-Azhar’s International Conference on World Peace” – which was attended by the Pope Francis. This conference aimed to defend Islam as a religion of peace. Al-Azhar’s Sheikh stipulated that Pope Francis issue public statements stating that Islam is a religion of peace, as a condition for restoring the relations between al-Azhar and the Vatican which were severed after statements by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 regarding Islam. This conference took place after Pope Francis acquiesced to al-Azhar’s conditions. (Listen to the speech of al-Azhar’s Sheikh from the conference in Arabic).
Al-Azhar’s June 2017 bill to criminalize hate:
In June 2017, al-Azhar’s Sheikh, Ahmad el-Tayeb, presented a bill to criminalize hate speech. Upon first glance, the bill appears to be a positive step towards criminalizing hate speech, which is rampant in Egypt. However, articles of the bill reveal the real objective for introducing the bill, namely protecting Islam, not preventing hate speech.
– It seeks to expand the penalty for the so-called crimes of denigration of Islam by
prohibiting attacks on the divine being, the prophets, the messengers, and holy books.
– It expands restrictions on all matters related to rights, general freedoms, and interaction with the outside world as it seeks to protect the society against instilling erroneous concepts
– Prohibits violation of provisions of the law by using freedom of creativity, of expression, or of the media as a justification.
The bill actually criminalizes freedom of opinion, expression, and the media under the pretense of protecting religion.
22.Al-Azhar’s Sheikh and the Muslim Brothers:
In one of his TV interviews, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb stated that the disagreement between him and the Muslim Brothers is political, not intellectual, noting that the majority of al-Azhar’s students are members of the Muslim Brothers. In a journalistic interview, he described the known Muslim Brothers leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as his professor and teacher. He clearly means that he shares the same fundamentalist ideology of the Muslim Brothers in their hate of non-Muslims, especially hate of Jews and Christians; in their anti-Semitism; in their hate of the West and America; in their goal to establish an Islamic Caliphate, in their jihad against unbelievers, in the legitimacy of utilizing suicide attacks, in their enticement of violence against Israel, and in their enmity to freedoms, human rights, and equality between men and women, etc.)See video in Arabic).
23. Al-Azhar’s disagreement with President el-Sisi:
President el-Sisi publicly called for renewal of religious discourse. He intended to focus on morals and on avoiding anything in (Islamic) heritage that would hurt the image of Islam internationally. But al-Azhar’s Sheikh did not take the call seriously as he believes that Islam does not need reform and that Islamic heritage does not need purification for it is a unity complete (whose components) complement each other. For example, President el-Sisi requested that al-Azhar issue a religious edict fatwa abolishing the right of a Muslim husband from orally divorcing his Muslim wife by merely uttering the word “divorced.” But al-Azhar’s Sheikh refused to do so, for he believes it is the right of the Muslim man to divorce his wife merely by uttering the word “divorced,” without being reviewed by any agency. This led President el-Sisi to openly blame the Sheikh, saying, “you’ve tired me, reverent Sheikh.” (see video in Arabic).
In this paper, I have attempted to convey some of the statements made by al-Azhar’s Sheikh, Ahmad el-Tayeb, verbatim from his interviews and articles and his true ideas, so that the reader and researcher know his true ideas apart from the falsehood and the duplicity, which this man spreads in the West.
Photo Credit – Cairo – Walid Abdul Rahman