Makkah (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's foremost seat of learning, has called for radical education reform in Muslim countries in an effort to contain the spread of religious extremism.
Speaking at an international conference titled 'Islam and the fight against terrorism' in Makkah, Ahmed al-Tayeb explained the rise of religious extremism among Muslims on "the historical accumulation of extremist tendencies... that grew out of corrupt interpretations of some texts in the Holy Quran and Sunnah [Prophet Mohamed's teachings]".
In his view, "The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers." Hence, special education programmes need to be implemented to correct "false and ambiguous concepts."
He also called for a conference of Muslim scholars who focus on the common values that unite them, whilst leaving each country's people to follow agree upon teachings.
Al-Tayeb's speech comes in the wake of a string of executions by the Islamic State (IS) group "to purify" Islam and fight its enemies. On 4 February, the Jihadist group released a video showing a Jordanian pilot torched to death in a cage.
Before this, Al-Azhar had issued a statement slamming the "barbaric crimes" committed by IS. Reacting to the aforementioned incident, it stated that the Qur'an prescribes "killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs" for those who kill innocent people.
In Makkah, al-Tayeb did not explicitly mention IS, but denounced "terrorist groups . . . who have opted for savage and barbaric practices".
At the same time, he blamed unrest in the region on a plot by what he called "new global colonialism allied to world Zionism". For him, this plot has exploited "confessional tensions" in conflict-ridden Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
At the opening of the three-day conference, Prince Khaled read a statement from Saudi King Salman, custodian of Islam's holiest sites.
"Terrorism is a scourge which is the product of extremist ideology," the king said. "It is a threat to our Muslim nation and to the entire world."
What is more, the Saudi monarch said, terrorism has created a situation in which Muslims are now seen as "culprits and as a source of fear and concern." This has shaken the ties between Muslim and non-Muslim nations.