RECOMMENDED READING: “Al-Azhar’s Double Game To Islamize Egypt And Maintain Power”


Asia News has posted an article titled ” Al-Azhar’s double game to Islamize Egypt and maintain power” that looks at the role of Al-Azhar in the Islamization of Egypt. The article begins:

01/14/2013 16:06 EGYPT -Cairo (AsiaNews) –  After replacing the heads of the Constitutional Court, officials close to the Islamist line President Mohamed Morsi and the passage of the Constitution, only the University of al-Azhar has the power and the authority to stop the spread of Islamic extremism in Egypt. The entrance of the Sharia into civil law concerns not only the Christian minority, but also Muslims. Until now, the most important university of Sunni Islam has maintained a moderate position and more than once its Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb gave the impression of being on the side of the secular opposition against the establishment dominated by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis. However, according to the great scholar of Islam Samir Khalil Samir, such behavior is just a tactic employed by al-Azhar to maintain power. Starting from the very history of the university, responsible for the formation of thousands of imams, the priest examines the situation in Egypt, a victim of an Islam that uses ignorance and illiteracy to dominate the population. The constitution based on Sharia law approved in December is the result of this strategy and will not turn Egypt into an Islamic state. It is confusing and full of contradictions and is being used by Islamists to show the Egyptians that they are ‘true Muslims.’ For the scholar of Islam, al-Azhar has a great responsibility in the current situation in the nation. The university forms all imams in Egypt and most of the Sunni Muslim religious authorities throughout the world. For centuries, al-Azhar, has followed the ruling power. The rector of the University is appointed by the President of the Republic. The expenses of the organization and the formation of its imams are largely paid for by the government. As a result its support for the Constitution that binds civil law with Islamic law and its future support to the Muslim Brotherhood is not surprising. On the one hand the university presents itself as the spokesman for more balanced and representative Sunni Islam. On the other, it is opposed to the Salafists, but only because the majority of the population considers them too extreme. By supporting them, it would lose support.

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U.S. media has reported on the struggle for control over Al-Azhar in Egypt, an important mosque and one of the oldest educational institutions in the Islamic world. According to a Washington Post report:

The revolution that began here two years ago with calls for justice and freedom has become a rout by Islamist forces that have racked up victory upon victory at the polls. But within Egypt and across the region, the real source of fears that the country is careening toward theocracy lies in an unlikely place: the ancient stone corridors of al-Azhar, a Cairo mosque and university complex that has long been known as a respected beacon of moderation. This month, the Muslim Brotherhood held funerals at al-Azhar mosque for members who were killed in clashes with secular demonstrators. That reputation is under threat, as far more hard-line elements of Egypt’s Islamic mosaic stage a rear-guard action for control. It is a battle that will gain newfound urgency on Saturday, when voters are expected to approve a draft constitution that gives al-Azhar extraordinary power to pass judgment on the religious merits of the nation’s laws. Al-Azhar leaders say they didn’t want the role but were pressured to accept it by adherents to a puritanical, Saudiinfluenced school of Islam known as Salafism, whose clout has surged in Egypt’s newly democratic era. “The Salafis want to make Azhar a part of the political system, which we are against,” said Abdel Dayem-Nossair, an adviser to al-Azhar’s grand sheik and a member of the assembly that wrote the new constitution. “We don’t like to put the law in terms of a religious dogma that says ‘ This is right’ or ‘ This is wrong.’ ” But under the new constitution, that is exactly what the millennium-old institution will soon be doing. Dayem-Nossair said he believes the Salafis insisted on the provision because “they think they’ll take over al-Azhar.” The fight over al-Azhar’s nature and role is one with profound implications for Egypt, but also far beyond. As much as anything, the Arab Spring uprisings and the tumult that followed have turned on the question of where Islam fits in society and who gets to interpret Islam. Al-Azhar has played a venerated role in that debate for centuries. It is widely considered the most distinguished center of Sunni Islamic thought, and it annually educates millions of students, many of whom travel here from across the globe.

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Numerous earlier posts have covered the changing nature of Al-Azhar:

  • post from last November reported on a speech given by Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi before Friday prayers at the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, his first speech ever at Al-Azhar  and where he called for Arabs and Muslims to unite In confrontation With Israel.
  • post from October reported that Salah Soltan, a notorious anti-Semite and formerly part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood,, had been appointed as Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIF) attached  to the Egyptian Ministry of Waqf. The appointment was made by the Minister Dr. Talaat Mohamed Afify Salem who has been described as a member of the Salafist movement in Egypt and as an “ally” of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Ministry of Waqf (Islamic Endowment) is reported to have influence over Al-Azhar.
  • post from May reported on what was describef as a “first-of-its-kind” meeting between Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Azhar leaders.
  • post from Npvember 2011reported that a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo held at the Al Azhar Mosque was a “venomous anti-Israel protest” that featured calls to “kill all the Jews.
  • In March  2010, a post reported on the appointment of Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb as head of Al-Azhar, replacing Mohammed Sayed Tantawi who had died recently on a trip to Saudi Arabia. 
  • In October 2008, posts reported on the election of Qaradawi to the Islamic Research Council of Al-Azhar. 

For other reports on the battle for control of Al-Azhar, go herehere, and here.

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