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.
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.
The statements 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 maintain power
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.
Until now, 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 elections?
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 true Muslims.
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:
"The jurists 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.