Egyptian media has provided further details on a historic meeting between Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the grand sheikh of Al-Azar in which the Al-Azar sheikh blamed Israel and the West for terrorism and called for cooperation between both sides in order to spread “religious tolerance.” According to a report in Al-Masry Al-Youm:
The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar on Tuesday met with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s to discuss spreading religious tolerance in Egyptian society. In statements to the press, Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb said that during his meeting with Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie the two discussed ways to curb the wave of extremism, which he said risks ruining Islam’s image. The meeting between the religious figures marks the first of its kind since the Brotherhood was banned in 1954. Tayyeb said the meeting was not possible before the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which opposed such dialogues. Tayyeb added that recent developments in Egypt require all powers in the society to be open to one another. No entity should be excluded, he said. Badie said Al-Azhar will remain an important institution that protects Egypt. Abdel Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and a professor at Al-Azhar, said Tayyeb’s meeting with the Brotherhood was a friendly one that focused on cooperation between the two sides in order to spread religious tolerance. While Al-Azhar is a scientific institution that serves the call to Islam, Brotherhood members are the actors on the ground who serve this call, Barr added. Al-Azhar’s role is challenged by the recent rise of Salafis, particularly because Al-Azhar – the highest institution in the Sunni Muslim world – has long been seen as affiliated with the ruling regime. Tayyeb said that news of Osama bin Laden’s death is significant for the Islamic world. He said killing bin Laden will not eradicate terrorism. He said the West, not the Arab world, produces terrorism, which is fueled by the presence of Israel as an occupation power. Tayyeb added that Islam values humans whether they are dead or alive.
A post from yesterday provided initial details on what was described as a “first-of-a-kind” meeting between the Brotherhood leaders leaders and the Al-Azar grand sheikh,
Al-Azhar is considered to be the main center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world and was founded in 970. A 2003 articlepublished by Jamestown Foundation details the dominant role that Saudi Arabia had come to play at Al Azhar. In December 2005, young men from a Brotherhood student group dressed in black and held a military-style parade, complete with martial arts demonstrations, to protest restrictions on student political activities at Al Azhar. Such demonstrations are forbidden in Egypt and the event was the subject of a great deal of local and international media attention. In July 2008 Youssef Qaradawi, a Global Muslim Brotherhood leader and harsh critic of Israel, was elected to the Al Azhar Islamic Research Council. Another post discussed an October 2008 fatwa (Islamic ruling) that authorized computer hacking as a form of jihad against Israel and the United States.
Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Al-Azhar, died during a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010. Previous posts had reported on Sheik Tantawi’s conciliatory posture towards Israel which were at odds with other reports about Al-Azhar. Sheikh Tantawi appeared to have represented the less harsh side of Al-Azhar. Unlike Qaradawi who has issued fatwas authorizing suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, Tantawi condemned such operations and he appears to have attended an interfaith conference in Madrid that was sponsored by the Saud Muslim World League and which included Jewish participants. Qaradawi was also invited to the conference but declined the invitation on the grounds that “Zionists” were present. Although Al-Jazeera characterized Ahmed al-Tayeb, the new head of Alzhar, as a “moderate” the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood website, reported that Dr. Al-Tayeb has made positive comments on the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Brotherhood also demanded that the sheikh of Al Azhar be elected by Azhar scholars and not appointed by the president.