- The “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” is being portrayed as a “historic pledge of fraternity” and applauded as a “historical breakthrough.” The problem is that one of the two men who signed it, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, has repeatedly contradicted — when speaking in Arabic and appearing on Arabic media — all the lofty sentiments highlighted in it.
- Al-Tayeb’s predecessor, Egypt’s former grand imam, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi (d. 2010), had, “without even being asked, removed all the old books and placed just one introductory book, [but] when al-Tayeb came, he got rid of that book and brought back all the old books, which are full of slaughter and bloodshed.” — Dr. Islam al-Behery, a popular Egyptian theologian.
- “In March 2016, before the German parliament, Sheikh al-Tayeb made unequivocally clear that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Koran, while in Cairo he makes the exact opposite claims…” — Cairo Institute for Human Rights.
- It is difficult, therefore, to see this document as anything more than a superficial show, presumably for the West, and al-Tayeb’s signature on it unfortunately not worth all that much.
|A new document, signed by Pope Francis and Al Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, is being portrayed as a “historic pledge of fraternity” and applauded as a “historical breakthrough.” But al-Tayeb has repeatedly contradicted — when speaking in Arabic and appearing on Arabic media — all the lofty sentiments highlighted in it. Pictured: Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 4, 2019. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)|
The two foremost representatives of Christianity and Islam, Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb — the Grand Imam of Al Azhar who was once named the “most influential Muslim in the world” — just signed “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” The Document “forcefully rejects,” to quote Vatican News, “any justification of violence undertaken in the name of God,” and affirms “respect for believers of different faiths, the condemnation of all discrimination, the need to protect all places of worship, and the right to religious liberty, as well as the recognition of the rights of women.”
The Document is being portrayed as a “historic pledge of fraternity” and applauded as a “historical breakthrough.” The problem is that one of the two men who signed it, Dr. al-Tayeb, has repeatedly contradicted — when speaking in Arabic and appearing on Arabic media — all the lofty sentiments it highlights.
The Document, for example, asserts that,
“Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action… the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.”
Al-Tayeb, however, is on record saying that apostates — that is, anyone born to a Muslim father who wishes to leave Islam — should be punished. As to the penalty they deserve, in July 2016, during one of his televised programs, al-Tayeb reaffirmed that “Those learned in Islamic law [al-fuqaha] and the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence consider apostasy a crime and agree that the apostate must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.” To underscore the point, he cited a hadith, or tradition, of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, saying, “Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari vol. 9 no.57)
If those are al-Tayeb’s views on religion freedom, what about his views concerning the “other” — people born non-Muslim? The document he co-signed with Pope Francis calls for “respect for believers of different faiths, the condemnation of all discrimination, the need to protect all places of worship, and the right to religious liberty.”
Yet, many liberals and Muslim reformers in Egypt insist that the “unprecedented persecution” experienced by Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is directly traceable to the institution al-Tayeb heads: Al Azhar, the world’s pre-eminent Sunni university in Cairo.
After two churches, for instance, were bombed on Palm Sunday in 2017, killing 50 Christian worshippers, Dr. Islam al-Behery, a popular Muslim reformer, was interviewed on a Egyptian television program, Amr Adib’s Kul Youm (“Every Day”). After offering various details concerning the radicalized curriculum of Al Azhar, al-Behery estimated that “70-80 percent of all terror in the last five years [in Egypt] is a product of Al Azhar.” To bolster his argument, al-Behery quotedfrom a standard Al Azhar text that said, “whoever kills an infidel, his blood is safeguarded, for the blood of an infidel and believer [Muslim] are not equal.”
According to al-Behery, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi (d. 2010), Egypt’s former grand imam and al-Tayeb’s predecessor, had, “without even being asked, removed all the old books and placed just one introductory book, [but] when al-Tayeb came, he got rid of that book and brought back all the old books, which are full of slaughter and bloodshed.”
Similarly, Egyptian political commentator Dr. Khalid al-Montaser once marveled that,
“at this sensitive time — when murderous terrorists rest on [Islamic] texts and understandings of takfir [accusing Muslims of apostasy], murder, slaughter, and beheading — Al Azhar magazine is offering free of charge a book, the latter half of which and every page — indeed every few lines—ends with ‘whoever disbelieves, strike off his head'”?
The supposedly historic document al-Tayeb cosigned with Pope Francis, on the other hand, says that “we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
Other political commentators in Egypt have noted how, despite Al Azhar’s harsh attitude concerning “infidels” and “apostates,” when asked to denounce the Islamic State as “un-Islamic,” al-Tayeb refused. Egyptian talk show host Ibrahim Eissa commented:
“It’s amazing, Al Azhar insists ISIS are Muslims and refuses to denounce them. Yet Al Azhar never ceases to shoot out statements accusing novelists, writers, thinkers — anyone who says anything that contradicts their views — of lapsing into a state of infidelity. But not when it comes to ISIS.”
During another televised interview, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah Nasr, a scholar of Islamic law and Al Azhar graduate, went one step further:
It [Al Azhar] can’t [condemn ISIS as un-Islamic]. The Islamic State is a byproduct of Al Azhar’s programs. So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic? Al Azhar says there must be a caliphate and that it is an obligation for the Muslim world [to establish it]. Al Azhar teaches the law of apostasy and killing the apostate. Al Azhar is hostile towards religious minorities, and teaches things such as not building churches, etc. Al Azhar upholds the institution of jizya [“protection money” demanded of non-Muslims subjects]. Al Azhar teaches stoning people. So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic?
Al-Tayeb’s response to all these critics has been to accuse… Israel. During a March 2018 televised Egyptian interview, he said:
“I have noticed that they are always telling us that terrorism is Islamic. All those mouthpieces that croak — out of ignorance or because they were told to — that the Al-Azhar curricula are the cause of terrorism never talk about Israel, about Israel’s prisons, about the genocides perpetrated by the Zionist entity state… If not for the abuse of the region by means of the Zionist entity, there would never have been any problem.”
This is apparently the true face of Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb — at least as he is known in his Egyptian homeland, where he speaks Arabic freely and plainly — as opposed to when “dialoguing” with Western leaders who are all too eager to believe what they would like to hear. As the Cairo Institute for Human Rights noted in a statement:
“In March 2016, before the German parliament, Sheikh al-Tayeb made unequivocally clear that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Koran, while in Cairo he makes the exact opposite claims…. Combating terrorism and radical religious ideologies will not be accomplished by directing at the West and its international institutions religious dialogues that are open, support international peace and respect freedoms and rights, while internally promoting ideas that contribute to the dissemination of violent extremism through the media and educational curricula of Al Azhar and the mosques.”
It is difficult, therefore, to see this document as anything more than a superficial show, presumably for the West, and al-Tayeb’s signature not worth much.
If Sheikh al-Tayeb is dressed in disappointing sheep’s clothing, Pope Francis is apparently a starry-eyed shepherd leading his flock to the slaughter.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Pope Declares UAE ‘Homeland of Tolerance’
Update from the Clarion Project:
On his “historic” trip to the Arabian Peninsula this week, the pope declared the sharia-governed United Arab Emirates the ‘homeland of tolerance.’ This could not be any farther from the truth.
Had Francis condemned their human rights violations and assistance in Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen, then perhaps we would have an opportunity to begin initiating something approaching tolerance in the Middle East.
Francis was in the UAE to take part in the “International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity” and speak to the UAE’s ruling body as well as representatives of other Islamic governments.
At the end of his talk, Francis co-signed with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the Document on Human Fraternity, which declares that “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
Francis said such “tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings.”
Two factors should be seen here. The first is the co-signee, el-Tayeb, head of Sunni’s Islam premier establishment worldwide. He is considered by some as a moderate within the Sunni world, including the pope. The two of them came together after el-Tayeb breached relations with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI requested greater protection for Christians in Egypt following a New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria which killed 21 people.
El-Tayeb is the most influential Muslim leader in the Sunni world, yet el-Tayeb is a advocate of hardline sharia law. In a television interview on June 16, 2016, he stated, “The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in sharia. An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”
In December 2015, when questioned about why al-Azhar University had not yet issued a formal statement condemning ISIS as a genocidal terrorist organization (which would have given the group the status of kufr, or un-Islamic), Tayeb responded, “Al Azhar cannot accuse any [Muslim] of being a kafir [infidel] as long as he believes in Allah and the Last Day – even if he commits every atrocity … I cannot denounce ISIS as un-Islamic, but I can say that they cause corruption on earth.”
Is this someone whom we can count upon to promote peace and human rights?
The pope asserted that “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism…” While historically there have been those who have committed atrocities and who represented Christianity (i.e. the Crusaders), that does not mean that Catholic doctrine or the gospels call for such measures.
For example, the sacking of Constantinople in 1215 was condemned by Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the Venetians who carried out the raid.
At the same time, it cannot be said that the Muslims who carry out terror attacks are divorced from Islamic doctrine, which encourages jihad.
In other words, we cannot dispel the notion that the perpetrators do not refer to passages found in their religious texts that justify such incursions. For example, take the passage:
“Fight against those who have been given the Scripture [People of the Book: Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who forbid not that which Allah has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow [adopt] not the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture.”—Sura 9, 29
This is something that Francis did not touch upon.
Yet, had he done so, el-Tayeb surely would not have been at his side, nor would he have been invited to the UAE by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi himself, Mohamed bin Zayed.
While the pope conducted one of the largest public masses in the Arabian Peninsula—the attendance was estimated at 170,000 faithful—that does not mean that the UAE is a country of “tolerance,” nor should the pope have kept silent on the aforementioned atrocities committed in and by the UAE in the name of Islam.