By MEMRI –
In the recent years, Al-Azhar has consistently refrained from proclaiming the members of terror organizations, chief of them ISIS, to be infidels. Al-Azhar’s position is that, despite the criminal nature of the terrorists’ actions, a Muslim who has not renounced the shahada (the declaration of faith proclaiming that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger) cannot be accused of heresy; furthermore, the decision to proclaim someone an infidel can only be taken by a sharia judge. Another argument presented is that, if it accused ISIS and its ilk of heresy, Al-Azhar itself would be no different from the terrorists, who readily direct such accusations at their fellow Muslims.
Al-Azhar’s position has evoked much criticism in the Egyptian press. This is in addition to the criticism voiced by Egyptian President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi against the institute for failing to sufficiently mobilize to renew the religious discourse in Egypt in order to fight extremism.
The criticism against Al-Azhar resurfaced recently following the attack carried out by ISIS in Sinai against Egyptian forces on the morning of Eid Al-Fitr (June 5, 2019), in which an Egyptian officer and seven other servicemen were killed. Karam Gabr, head of Egypt’s National Press Authority, wrote in the government daily Al-Akhbar that Al-Azhar’s justifications of its refusal to proclaim ISIS infidel were no longer convincing or acceptable. He called on the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayeb, to reconsider the institute’s position and amend it, because “faith does not entitle a terrorist to slaughter our children.”
The following are excerpts from his article:
“The evidence Al-Azhar presented four years ago to exonerate ISIS of heresy is no longer convincing today. The Great Imam [i.e., Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb], whom we greatly esteem and respect, as well as [other] respectable clerics, should watch the video of the terror operation that [ISIS] circulated on the morning of the [Eid Al-Fitr] festival, discuss it, and give us a religious ruling [on this matter]. The video shows a pickup truck [mounted with] a machine gun, and the terrorists, while calling out religious slogans as though they are setting out on a holy war, threaten to kill and burn the infidels and destroy their fortress, chanting ‘Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar, slaughter the enemies of Allah.’
“Honorable Imam, the ‘enemies of Allah’ [they killed] were ‘Amru [the killed officer] and his comrades, simple children of Egypt who came to serve in the army. [They were] Muslims who declared that ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger,’ with a zebibah on their forehead and a Quran in their hand… These are our children, the fruit of our loins, the eyes through which we see the world, the staff on which we lean, fair youths of Egypt who believed in their God and their homeland.
“By contrast, the criminal terrorists, whom Al-Azhar refuses to accuse of heresy, have no religion and no homeland. They do not believe in Egypt, its soil, its skies, its flag or its anthem. They are a criminal terrorist gang that seeks out every swamp of blood and fire to carry out its black terror and barbaric crimes… They come by night in their gun-mounted pickup truck to kill our children, [the Egyptian soldiers], as they prepare for the holiday prayer. Tell us what religious ruling exonerates these bloodthirsty wolves, whose hands drip blood, [of the accusation of heresy]. The evidence presented to us by Al-Azhar years ago is no longer convincing. The claim that ‘Al-Azhar does not proclaim someone an infidel as long as he believes in Allah and in the Day of Judgement’ is unacceptable and illogical. Our children who were killed also believed in Allah and in the Day of Judgment. This belief does not entitle terrorists to slaughter our children, who stayed awake at night for Allah’s sake, to defend their homeland.
“I [also] no longer agree with the claim made by a cleric I respect, that ‘if we proclaim ISIS [members] to be infidels we provide them with an excuse to do the same.’ They do not ask for our consent or permission, and they have already proclaimed us infidels and ruled that good, devout people deserve to be slaughtered.
“It is not sufficient to regard them as ‘corrupters of the land’ and sentence them to death, because what they do is not [just] corruption [of the land] but rather a crime against Allah’s religion, which calls for peace, virtue and morality, forbids to harm either Muslims or non-Muslims and protects their lives and their honor. Terror has never been a product of Islam.
“Oh Great Imam, this time we must face the facts, in order to confront these murderers, and reconsider our heritage, criticize it and amend it.”
 On this see MEMRI reports: Special Dispatch No. 7376, Egyptian Religious Establishment Continues To Refuse To Accuse Islamic Terrorist Organization Activists Of Heresy, March 9, 2018; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1326, In Egypt, Clashes Between The Institution Of The Presidency And The Institution Of Al-Azhar, August 21, 2017; 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, 2019; Special Dispatch No. 5910, Al-Azhar: The Islamic State (ISIS) Is A Terrorist Organization, But It Must Not Be Accused Of Heresy, December 12, 2014.
 Raialyoum.com, June 5, 2019.
 Al-Akhbar (Egypt), June 2, 2019.
 A mark on the forehead of some Muslims, caused by contact of the forehead with the prayer mat during worship. Considered a sign of piety.
 A phrase that appears in the Quran. On Al-Azhar’s claim that ISIS terrorists “corrupt the land,” see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7376, Egyptian Religious Establishment Continues To Refuse To Accuse Islamic Terrorist Organization Activists Of Heresy, March 9, 2018.