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Islamic Research Center member: 'Religious discourse is a shared responsibility'

Wednesday 31-05-2017 - 07:37 AM
Islamic Research

Cairo - The increasing criticism against Egypt’s Al Azhar has reached an unprecedented level as of late, said member of Islamic Research Center Dr. Mohamed Al Shahat Al Guendi, adding that Egypt’s Islamic institution faces a systematic campaign targeting its scholars and Grand Imam. He refuted claims that blame the Al Azhar's educational curricula for causing the spread of terrorism, stressing  that the Al Azhar’s role is to promote moderate ideas.

Below is an interview with Al Guendi where he talks about the Al Azhar and its role in society.

What is your response to claims attributing violence to Al Azhar’s educational curricula?

This is not true. The Islamic institution has taught these curricula for over 1060 years. The Al Azhar and its curricula has maintained its national role, as its students have played a major role in building up the Egyptian renaissance. Students and graduates include prominent scholars as Refaa Al Tahtawy, Mohamed Abdou, Omar Makram and Hassan Al Attar.

There are people claiming that the Al Azhar does not do enough to halt sectarian tensions. What is your comment?

Such claims aim to undermine the role performed by Egypt’s Islamic institution. The Al Azhar made a number of calls for unifying the Egyptian people and expressed its condemnation on all terrorist operations that target Egyptian Christian citizens. The institute has also been very active in establishing the 'Family House', headed by Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb and Pope Tawadros II, whose members discuss means to maintain the unity of the Egyptian people. A large number of prominent religious leaderships participate in its meetings.

Do you think that that the Al Azhar has failed to renew religious discourse?

It is not fair to say that the Islamic institution has failed, as religious discourse is not the exclusive responsibility of the Al Azhar only. It is a shared responsibility that should be upheld by different institutions, including educational, cultural and religious institutions. The Egyptian family must also be very active in teaching their children correct values and Islamic teachings.

The Al Azhar has organized many cultural events aiming to promote moderate ideas and to reject ideologies promoted by extremist groups. It has also established centers to correct these extremist ideas, including the International Azhar Center, and the Family House. It has also launched a large number of preaching convoys in the difference cities, towns and villages that travel all over the country. The Grand Imam is also active in conducting a large number of foreign trips to correct the image of Islam abroad.

How do you assess the attempts aimed to raise skepticism over religious practices and rites under the banner of 'freedom of expression'?

This is one of the most serious threats facing the Islamic Sharia and faith, Islam spread in a short period of no more than 80 years after the mission of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This could only have been achieved by maintaining the rites of religion, including justice, acceptance of the other, freedom, equality, Shura, and unity.

The term, “Renewal of religious discourse” is increasingly used, yet it is still not clear for many people what it means exactly. How do you interpret such ambiguity?

The ambiguity is a result of an accumulation of parallel education and parallel fatwas from people and movements embracing extremist ideas that contradict the moderate approach adopted by Egypt’s Al Azhar. These movements adopt the principle of 'hear and obey', including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. The ideas promoted by such groups are considered the major challenge poised against the renewal of religious speech.

The matter is not limited to the renewal of religious discourse, as it extends to the renewal of religious ideas. It is important to renew religious ideas to pave the way to face social problems witnessed in, not only the Egyptian community, but also the Arab world in its entirety. These problems have been accumulating for decades and will not be resolved in just two or three year. It needs many years to change the mentality of people and to improve their ideas.

Do you expect that the Al Azhar will restore its leading role during the coming period?

Of course. I think that Egypt’s Islamic institution will achieve notable achievements during the coming period, as the current efforts exerted by the Al Azhar and its scholars will bear fruit. The Al Azhar is doing its best to correct extremist ideas and to underline social issues facing our societies. This includes the increasing violence that has dominated our communities due to extremist ideas promoted by extremists. It also supports the principles of citizenship and peaceful coexistence.

What are the negative sides of media discourse during Ramadan?

The increasing drama shows and other works that gravely contradict the sanctity of the holy month of fasting. Such works could prevent a large number of Muslims from performing prayers. I call upon officials of media and TV satellite channels to take into account the sanctity of the holy month.



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