Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque and its associated Islamic university are widely respected as a historic and pre-eminent institution of Islamic learning, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar is the top Islamic authority for most of the world’s Sunni Muslims.
The 1000-year-old institution has big plans for this year: as a project of the al-Azhar department for fatwas and Islamic advice, two or even three satellite television channels will soon be launched to “speak in the name of the institution.”
Earlier this week, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb met with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and assured him that Palestinian resistance is a “legitimate right granted by the decree of Islamic Sharia as well as that of international charters.”
The Grand Imam also announced during the meeting “that Al-Azhar is in the process of organising a conference to discuss ways of counteracting the Judaisation of Jerusalem and reclaiming Islamic holy sites in the city.”
Ismail Haniyeh responded by declaring that the Palestinians will provide “no concessions […] on their choice of resistance until the liberation of Palestinian soil.”
Anybody familiar with the Hamas Charter should know what that means – and Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam can definitely be expected to be familiar with the Charter.
In recent media reports, Al-Azhar has been generally portrayed as “the voice of moderate Islam.”
It is obviously doubtful that the same media outlets that describe Al-Azhar as “the voice of moderate Islam” would use similar adjectives if – to conjure a purely imaginary scenario – the pope met with a violent Catholic terrorist group and told them that the bible sanctifies their “right” to “resistance.” Indeed, even if the pope just encouraged Nigeria’s beleaguered Christians to respond to their Islamist killers in kind, I doubt that anyone would describe this as “the voice of moderate Catholicism.”
In this context it is also interesting to recall that when the pope expressed concern about the bloody attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians a year ago, Al-Ahzar ended dialogue with the Vatican and Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb demanded an apology from the pope. In other words, when Christians are killed in a Muslim country, “the voice of moderate Islam” requires Christian leaders to shut up about it.