In Selected Opinion

by Raymond Ibrahim – The Stream –

The more than 1,400 Israelis who were brutally slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, got what they deserve—according to the most prestigious university of the Muslim world, Al Azhar, located in Cairo.

fatwa, or authoritative decree, issued on Oct. 19, 2023 by Al Azhar’s Fatwa department, asserts that

The term “civilians” does not apply to the Zionist settlers of the occupied land.  Rather, they are occupiers of the land, usurpers of rights, deviators from the straight path embodied by the prophets, and blatant disregarders for the sanctity of the historic city of Jerusalem, which encompasses the city of Jerusalem’s respectable Islamic and Christian heritage.

Needless to say, that last bit about “respectable … Christian heritage” was included for PR points.  On Al Azhar’s very own native turf, Egypt, the indigenous and ancient Coptic Christian heritage is far from respected—and often thanks to Al Azhar’s own teachings.

But the main point of the fatwa seems clear enough: because the entire nation of Israel is seen as an illegal occupier of “Palestinian”—or more to the point, Muslim—land, not a single Israeli can, according to the Islamic law experts of Al Azhar, be seen as a “civilian.”  They must all—including the 1,400 Israelis slaughtered on Oct. 7—be seen as enemy combatants, and dealt with accordingly.

To be sure, the fatwa is careful to mention only “settlers,” but this appears to be a bit of tawriya to fool the infidel, since virtually every Muslim will understand this ruling as applying to every single Israeli citizen, as the entire state of Israel is widely seen as occupying Muslim land.

On the one hand, this may appear to be a startling development.  Al Azhar, after all, is regularly hailed—including in the West—as the world’s most prestigious Muslim university.  In 2009, Barack Obama chose it as the site from which to deliver a speech to the Muslim world.  Of the Islamic university, he said:

For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning…. As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.

So, the Muslim university that has all but just legitimized the killing of every Israeli as an enemy combatant, is also, according to this “student of history,” the same university to “pave the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

On the other hand, none of this is shocking—including Obama’s absurd remarks.  Al Azhar is, indeed, the Muslim world’s most prestigious school, but that is precisely because it treats all branches of Islamic study seriously and with care.  It does not teach politically correct or “progressive” Islam, but authentic Islam.  As such, not a few Muslims, including former students, accuse it of promoting the same brand of Islam that terrorist groups such as ISIS do.

For instance, after being asked why Al Azhar, which is in the habit of denouncing secular thinkers as un-Islamic, refused to denounce the Islamic State as un-Islamic, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Nasr said:

It can’t [condemn the Islamic State as un-Islamic].  The Islamic State is a byproduct of Al Azhar’s programs.  So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic?  Al Azhar says there must be a caliphate and that it is an obligation for the Muslim world [to establish it].  Al Azhar teaches the law of apostasy and killing the apostate.  Al Azhar is hostile towards religious minorities, and teaches things like not building churches, etc.  Al Azhar upholds the institution of jizya [extracting tribute from religious minorities].  Al Azhar teaches stoning people.  So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic?

Similarly, while discussing how the Islamic State burned some of its victims alive—most notoriously, a Jordanian pilot—Egyptian journalist Yusuf al-Husayni remarked that “The Islamic State is only doing what Al Azhar teaches.”  He then pointed to a standard text (by Ibn Kathir) used by Al Azhar that extolls the exploits—or rather atrocities, including burning infidels alive—that Islam’s early heroes engaged in.

One need only look to the head of Al Azhar—its Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, once named the “most influential Muslim in the world”—to understand what the university is all about.  While saying one thing to the West—namely, what it wants to hear about “tolerance” and “coexistence”—he is (when speaking Arabic) on record legitimizing virtually everything that is otherwise dismissed in the West as a product of “radical” thinking, including the punishment of apostates and blasphemers, and the inferior status of women and religious minorities.  He has also pronounced Christians and Jews as “infidels”—a rather deadly classification in Islam—and called on Muslims in the West not to assimilate but keep their Islam in their “hearts.”

None of this really matters, of course.  Just as Obama praised Al Azhar, so other Western leaders, such as Pope Francis, take the university’s Grand Imam, al-Tayeb, as a confidant and trusted advisor.

According, for example, to one of their many joint statements:

In the name of God … Al-Azhar al-Sharif [the Noble] and the Muslims of the East and West, together with the Catholic Church and the Catholics of the East and West, declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.

In short, the world’s leading Muslim university has all but just decreed that no Israeli—by Muslim definition an “occupier”—is a civilian, that all are enemy combatants, to be treated just as they were on Oct. 7, while the West offers only praise and friendship to this same Islamic entity.


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