- 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.
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.
For this reason,
when in 2011 the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis launched overtly Islamic
extremist slogans, the university turned against them, pointing out that what
was taking place on the streets did not represent the true Islam, which by its
nature is a religion of the just middle ground, without excesses. Only al-Azhar
can represent the true Muslim faith, said the imam. It is responsible for the
formation not only of the Egyptian imams. Its campus is attended by tens of
thousands of young Muslims from all over the world.
made in recent months by the Imam al-Tayeb, at first glance, against the
Islamist government, only serve to safeguard this image in the eyes of the
Sunni Muslim world. The imams who study at al-Azhar are viewed with admiration
by the entire Muslim population.
Playing a double game to
Since the fall of
Mubarak the university's leaders, among them the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb, have
played a double game. Before the election, and they criticized the Muslim
Brotherhood and Salafis, asserting that Islam is the religion of the just
middle ground, represented by al-Azhar, giving the impression of being on the
side of the young people of the Arab Spring. When the Islamists won, al-Azhar
recognized their success, claiming it was the result of the vote of the
majority of Egyptians.
al-Azhar has maintained a moderate position, but it has never really stood up
to the Islamists. As pointed out by Noha El-Hennawy, in an article published
last January 7 in the Egypt Independent, it has always
been with the State. Its leaders are on the side of those in power.
On January 5 Salafist
imams issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from greeting Orthodox Copts for
Christmas, which falls on January 7 according to the Julian calendar. Al-Azhar
immediately pronounced itself against this position, knowing that no one would dare
to contest its view, also because it is a centuries-old custom. In this way,
the institution gained the admiration of Christians and moderate Muslims and
has not lost support among the population.
Al-Azhar's role in the
Muslim Brotherhood's victory
For decades, Egyptian
presidents were life-long leaders. Only Hosni Mubarak (1981 - 11 February 2011)
was deposed by a popular uprising. The Arab Spring was a novelty in our world,
a concrete example of change. But then how did the Muslim Brotherhood win the
The movement founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, was banned by the government
since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956 - 1970). There were openings under
Anwar al Sadat (1970 - 1981). He was closer to the position of the Muslim
Brotherhood and allowed them to participate in political life, but not to
expose their symbol. With Hosni Mubarak, they had about 20% of the parliament,
but entered under other names. Throughout the period, the Brotherhood entered
into the system, hiding under a different guise, but in fact it has been in
politics for decades.
In 2011, they
created a recognized party (Justice and Freedom), they emerged and found no
real political opposition. In the elections the party of Mubarak and his men
were sidelined, branded as members of the regime. The young leaders of the
protests splintered into dozens of movements. Amr Moussa, Mohamed el-Baradei
and Hamdeen Sabahi, the only political leaders or experts, formed three
different parties. The only solid block were the Muslim Brotherhood, followed
by Salafis and today they still are.
In Egypt, the
population is simple, about 40% are illiterate and blindly follows the
decisions of its religious leaders. For many Egyptians religion is the only
certain thing. Sharia and Islam are words that reassure people. For this reason
many voted for an Islamist majority and this Constitution, even if few actually
read it. People voted trusting in others, especially the Imams. They are all
trained by al-Azhar, which has several components within its structures,
including many close to radical Islam. If the University comes out against
those who promote Sharia and Islam it would be a scandal. It can only raise its
voice against the Salafists, considered too extreme, but it can not oppose
Muslim Brotherhood in strict sense.
The true nature of the Constitution
based on Sharia
As was the case
for the elections for the Constitutional referendum the people voted blindly.
The document was promoted among the people by imams and persons recognized as
But what is the
real significance of this Constitution based on sharia? What does the victory
of the "yes" in the referendum actually mean?
In Egypt, less
than 1% of the population can read or understand a legal text. This document is
actually a habitus, an ideological game of the Islamists to say: "We are
true Muslims and govern a Muslim country, trust us." But it is impossible
to build a State governed by this Constitution. In Sharia there are
unacceptable points for contemporary thought, especially all the physical
punishments (hudud) required by Islamic law. If you read the articles of the
Constitution, they do not have the precision that is expected of a constitutional
text, everything is very confused, generic, open to contradictory
interpretations. The attempt is to unite religion and state. However, the
population is becoming increasingly aware that it is one thing to act according
to the rules of Islam and another to have them within the civil law. One
example is the treatment of homosexuals.
In principle the
four Sunni schools (85% of Muslims) considered homosexuality the equivalent of
adultery for married heterosexuals, who are punished with death by stoning, or
as immoral for those who are not married, a crime that carries with it the
penalty of flogging. In order to proceed with punishment condemnation, however,
is required which includes presenting proof, the testimony of four men, a
photograph, or a DNA test. According to the most famous Sunni jurist, the
Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi:
have had differing opinions about the punishment for this abominable practice.
Should it be the same penalty for zinā, or should both the
active and passive participant be killed? Although this may seem a cruel
punishment, it was advised to maintain the purity of the Islamic society, and
to cleanse it from these perverted elements.
In practice, few
Muslim countries apply these rules of law. In Egypt, the police sometimes put
homosexuals in jail, but frees them after a few weeks. If Sharia is applied to
the letter, officers would be required to kill them. Thank God they do not! In
fact, the idea of introducing Sharia law into society is very ambiguous. Until
now, its presence allows the Muslim Brotherhood to present themselves to the
people as true Muslims. However, no one knows how it will be applied in this
Constitution. Therein lies the problem.
Could Egypt ever become an
Egypt will never be
an Islamic state like Saudi Arabia or Iran. This would represent the major loss
of this government, which has already been subjected to strong criticism.
Throughout the history of the country no government has ever fought against an opposition
that embraces such a large part of the population.
Respect for the
dictates of Sharia is relative in modern Egypt. Islamic law should be
interpreted. The vagueness of the Constitution, and therefore its
interpretation mute the idea of a strict application of the law, but for
those who do not believe that Sharia is the "word of God" -
Christians, but also many Muslims - it is unacceptable.
The opinion of
many is that the Egyptian Muslim world has to experience an Islamic government
led by the Muslim Brotherhood to realize their true nature. To obtain approval,
the Islamists have always used their status as persecuted, portraying
themselves as victims of despotism and secularism. Now that they are in
government we will see if their system is correct or not, but in order to
decide, the people must first see them at work. In the coming months, they will
be judged on concrete issues: the economy, jobs and infrastructure. Not only on
ideas or adherence to Islam. If their presence corresponds, however, to the will
of the majority, tehn we must let them try.
The Christian victims of
extremism and responsibilities of al-Azhar
The vast majority of
Muslims are against violence against Christians and extremist attitudes, such
as those of Islamic radicals in Syria or against the Copts in Egypt. In some
videos filmed in the Syrian war many young militants are shown attacking
villages because inhabited by Christians, shouting "Allah Akbar" (God
is great). This phrase is both a prayer and a war cry. These small groups do
not represent Islam, but they are a reality that has been part of this world for
14 centuries. The Salafists, the most extreme fringe of Sunni Islam, are
fanatics, because rendered fanatics by the imam, who thanks to their authority
justify violent acts in the name of Islam and God. Al-Azhar has an immense
responsibility towards this world that has made its official entry into
Egyptian politics. Although the University does not explicitly follow and
indeed rejects the extremist line, it harbors a fanatical minority within its
structures which encourages people to use violence in the name of religion.
To fight an evil
we must recognize that it is an "evil". These contradictions have
their origin in the genesis of Islam. Many of the teachings that justify
violence are based on facts attributed to Muhammad. When a Muslim does something
violent, he always refers to a passage from the Koran or an episode in the life
of the Prophet. Changing this vision requires a real commitment on the part of al-Azhar,
not only statements issued by its religious leaders.
In order to
survive Islam must change. Many Muslims say that you can not grow while
believing that nothing has changed over the past 14 centuries. This is the line
of dialogue with other worlds and with faiths other than Islam. The Koran can
not be understood as text determined by God, and for this reason immutable and
impossible to interpret. A critical and fresh reading of the Koran is imperative,
at the risk of no longer being credible.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The lawful and the prohibited in Islam (Al-Falah Foundation,
nd), chap. 3, Section 1. The Physical Appetites, p. 165: "Sexual
Perversion: A Major Sin".