03/08/2013, 00.00
EGYPT
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For Al-Azhar's grand imam, Christian-Muslim strife is not religious in nature

Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar University blames recent clashes on social tensions, not religion. He wants religious leaders to be educated, extremists isolated. Al-Azhar professor proposes to introduce the jizya, a tax Christians paid for centuries to caliphs and sultans to stay alive.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Continuous attacks against Egypt's Christian minority, arrests of Christians on alleged charges of desecrating the Qur'an and alleged conversions of Muslims have raises once again the spectre of sectarian strife between Egyptian Christians and Muslims. However, in a speech given at Al-Azhar's 'Family's House, Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar University, said that sectarian strife in Egypt is caused by political and social factors mistaken for religious issues. In his view, "Islam and Christianity are both religions of love, peace and forgiveness that don't result in the making of extremists".

Speaking at a session on Wednesday titled 'Together for Egypt', Al-Tayeb urged religious leaders, including representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches, to deal "wisely and flexibly" with extremists. He also said that he spoke with Salafist leaders who told him that they would avoid any causes of strife.

Yet, despite the grand imam's reassurances, Salafists continued in proffering threats against the Christian minority on radio, television and the internet.

Recently, Mahmoud Shu'ban, a professor at Al Azhar University known for his radical views, made clear that the Copts, Egypt's Christian minority, should pay the jizya, an Islamic poll tax.

According to the professor, it is logical for Christians to pay jizya because they would buy protection for themselves against persecution.

Following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2010, scores of Christians have been the victims of violence in dozens of incidents, mostly at the hands of Salafists or ordinary Muslims roused by local clerics against their Christian neighbours, often over land and money.

Since January of this year, Salafists and Muslim radicals have attacked Christians in four different areas, burning churches and homes.

In Bani Suef, a woman, her seven children and two other minors are currently in prison for religious reasons following a court order.

In Alexandria, a Salafist group killed five people suspected of building a church.

The latest incident occurred in Kom Ombo in Aswan province (Upper Egypt) over the alleged forced conversion of a young Muslim woman. Stirred by local religious authorities, a group of young Muslims attacked Coptic homes, setting some on fire, as well as a local church.

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