Saturday, December 22, 2012

Salafis and Al-Azhar

Basim sent me this:  (all are his words in this post)

"That reputation is under threat, as far more hardline elements of Egypt’s Islamic mosaic stage a rear-guard action for control. It is a battle that will gain newfound urgency on Saturday, when voters are expected to approve a draft constitution that gives al-Azhar extraordinary power to pass judgment on the religious merits of the nation’s laws. Al-Azhar leaders say they didn’t want the role but were pressured to accept it by adherents to a puritanical, Saudi-influenced school of Islam known as Salafism, whose clout has surged in Egypt’s newly democratic era.
“The Salamis want to make Azhar a part of the political system, which we are against,” said Abdel Dayem-Nossair, an adviser to al-Azhar’s grand sheikh ... Dayem-Nossair said he believes the Salafis insisted on the provision because “they think they’ll take over al-Aha.”
Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayib, a Mubarak appointee, has managed to hold on to his job and has become a leading advocate for using dialogue to bridge Egypt’s widening chasm between President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist backers on one side and the loose coalition of liberals, leftists and Christians who oppose him on the other. Critics say, however, that Tayib’s survival as grand sheikh owes to his willingness to bow to the new Islams order."
My comment (still Basim): Salafis rather despise al-Azhar as the nominal leading center of Sunni thought and fiqh. Whereas the Wahabi/Salafi belief system rejects the idea of four schools of Sunni jurisprudence entirely and are most rabid in their hatred of the Jafari (Shi'a) school - which al-Azhar officially acknowledged in 1959 when Mahmoud Shaltout issued this fatwa - their desire for more control of al-Azhar is only to sully its reputation (even further) by their extremist positions and to see its ultimate fall. There is also the undertone of the Saudi (supporting the Salafi positions) and Qatar (supporting the Ikhwan) rivalry that plays some role, but the Salafis have always been jealous of the relative prominence of al-Azhar compared to their own standing in the Muslim world. Their influence on the institution is not just suspected but a reality. As you know, one of the bedrocks of the Salafi belief system is its opposition to Shi'ism:
Prominent scholars of Egypt’s Al-Azhar religious center have been holding meetings recently to discuss how to prevent the spread of Shia Islam. Al-Azhar Islamic Center had Shia roots and was turned into a Sunni center at the time of Salaheddin Ayubi. But it is for the first time in its history that Al-Azhar hosts meetings to oppose spread of Shia Islam.
The “Committee for Confronting Shi’sim” that was set up in Al-Azhar after consultations were made with Salafists, Sufis and Muslim Brotherhood, has proposed holding he meetings.
Sheikh Ali Abdul-Baqi, secretary general of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Studies Center, has been overseeing the meetings about Shi’ism. He says Al-Azhar’s efforts to confront Shi’ism actually serves Muslims. “A line of thought (Shi’ism) has entered Egypt and Al-Azhar has the right to clarify the differences between Shia and Sunni thoughts in order to eliminate this Fitna,” he has been quoted as saying.
Egypt’s grand Mufti Ali Guma has also warned against the spread of Shia Islam in Sunni states, stressing that growth of Shi’ism in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Southeast Asian and Persian Gulf countries would mean a spread of sedition and division in these countries."