An Italian news agency has reported that Danish authorities have approved the establishment of an “Azhar institute” in Denmark. According to the report, the new institute will:
…teach the Islamic religion, confront misconceptions about Islam and explain the true Islam to the European society. The Islamic community in Denmark received initial approvals from authorities for the establishment of the institute, said Al Azhar Undersecretary Sheikh Abdel-Fattah Allam. Similar institutes have been established in Britain and Austria, he added. The decision came after Danish newspaper the Jyllands-Posten published Muhammad cartoons on 30 September 2005. The newspaper claimed that this publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. The published cartoons outraged numerous reactions in the Arab world starting with protests to boycotting Danish products and called for several initiatives for interfaith dialogue.
A post from July 2007 reported on plans for a similar Azhar Academy in London which opened in September. As that post noted, Al-Azhar in Egypt is considered to be the main center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world and was founded in 970. A 2003 article published by Jamestown details the dominant role that Saudi Arabia has come to play at Al-Azhar raising the possibility that the new academies might serve as yet another vehicle for the propagation of Saudi-style Islam in Europe although it is likely that the facilities will be under closely scrutiny by authorities. The relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Azhar is another matter and not entirely clear. Although the organization is under tight control by the Egyptian state, recent years have seen the increasing presence of Muslim Brotherhood students at Al-Azhar. A note of caution might in order considering that as part of a statement about the moderation espoused by Al-Azhar, the new head of the London academy referred to “the good neighborly ties that [the Prophet]had with the Jews of Medina until they breached the terms of the treaty.” Another earlier post detailed anti-Semitic statements made by he head of the English department of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University in Egypt.