On the day that a group of British Muslim scholars today launched an online magazine, Haqiqah, aimed at protecting young Muslims from radicalisation a leading Catholic authority on Islam praises the Grand Mufti who refuted terrorists’ claims to adhere to a pure form of the faith describing it as a major step in the fight against Islamic extremism
The Grand Mufti of Egypt recently issued a statement on terrorism and extremism, condemning the violence being perpetrated as “a complete violation of Islamic law and norms”.
Shawki Allam is Egypt’s most influential Muslim cleric after Dr Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, a prestigious centre of Sunni learning.
Allam’s statement is a welcome and important intervention that spells out that the atrocities we are seeing being carried out in the name of Islam in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria are unacceptable and there is no place for Muslims to harbour sympathy with the perpetrators’ aims.
The statement, published in the US weekly Newsweek, appeals to the Qur’anic teaching on the sanctity of life. He quotes Q 4:29 “Do not kill each other, for God is merciful to you.” He could have mentioned the oft-quoted verse: “if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land – it is as if he kills all mankind” (Q 5:32). There is in fact much on warfare in the Qur’an and the Sunna (Tradition), providing elements of a just war theory, not only as regards jus ad bellum but also jus in bello.
The terrorists and extremists are obviously not following these injunctions.
And perhaps more significant is Allam’s insistence that “the fanatics and extremists have reduced the prophetic example to a set of rituals, crooked projections and warped logic that run counter to the true essence and mission of the Prophet.”
True faith, he says, means establishing a relationship with God. This, one could add, implies observing the Islamic principle of al-takhalluq bi-akhlaq Allah, clothing oneself with the Divine Attributes, or imitating God, for example, in his forgiveness, mercy and compassion, and also with regards to his justice and equity.
The Mufti concludes that these fanatics (he mentions no group by name) have no competence in matters Islamic. Yet he concedes that mainstream Islam’s legitimate authority is challenged. This makes it difficult to win over these people through arguments. They will not listen to their own religious scholars, and even less to non-Muslims.
He insists that the world needs to understand the factors that have provided a rationalisation for terrorism and extremism, though he does not spell out what these are. In his eyes, Islamophobia could be one, since he makes an appeal that Islam not be demonised. The call “to stand together and process these horrific incidents in a way that is fair and reasonable” shows that the Mufti is addressing not only Muslims but a wider audience. In this context it is good to remember the initiative of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, who is bringing together priests and imams so that they may learn to co-operate in combating sectarian violence.
There is a need, Allam continues, for religious leaders who understand the reality of the modern world. This surely echoes the repeated recommendations by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi that Islamic scholars renew their understanding and presentation of Islam. Only in this direction will there be hope of peace for the Islamic world and indeed for the whole world, Allam concedes.
The present is a time of travail for Muslims everywhere, and particularly for Muslim scholars. Many are seeking to reformulate the teachings of Islam in a way more suitable to our contemporary, pluralistic society. For this undertaking they need the sympathy and support of everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is a former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He was nuncio to Egypt from 2006 to 2012