Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Ignorance, Extremism Fall Under Same Category | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Al-Azhar University in Cairo. /Reuters

I was never one of those who criticize the Grozny conference, and I never cared to comment on it because it is just one of the dozens of government seminars that are held every year.

It is also the least important because it is sponsored by Chechnya’s President, who is assigned by the Kremlin, which selected participants from a group of “Muslim scholars.”

I believe that if you want to fight extremism, you should not include it in any dialogue process and you should not be biased towards any religious.

After reading Ahmad Adnan’s article in the London-based Al-Arab newspaper, I became interested to be engaged in the discussion as he transformed it into an absolute political controversy.

In my opinion, the best of what was written on the conference was by Dr. Radwan al-Sayyid for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Truth be told, no one was going to hear about the conference except for Chechens, who watch local TV stations.
However, people across the world heard about it after those excluded from Salafist and Brotherhood groups sent their outcries.

Notably, those who oppose the conference are the same as those being opposed as they also hold conferences without inviting people they disagree with.

I disagree for two reasons with what Adnan has stated; regarding Al-Azhar being the reference for the world’s Sunnis. The first reason is historical and the other reason is related to political theology.

First of all, Sunnis do not have a reference – unlike the Shi’ites who, like the Catholic Church for Christians, have a “divinely faultless reference.”

Sunnis neither believe in the singularity of the reference nor in its faultlessness. Therefore, Al-Azhar is a Sunni religious school of great significance in the Muslim world; however, neither its provisions nor other institutions’ provisions are considered a reference for the roughly one billion Muslim Sunnis across the world.

Yet, I agree with him that the religious political reference for Sunnis is Saudi Arabia, taking into consideration the status of the Two Holy Mosques and the government’s keenness to take care of all what matters regarding them.

During different historical eras, Al-Azhar used to be a reference, especially when it was the representative of the Ottomans as they governed the region, including the land of Hijaz, and considered religion to be the business of the Sultanate.

Moreover, it wasn’t the Salafists of Saudi Arabia who minimized the role of Al-Azhar on the political front – as Adnan hinted – it was the Egyptian government itself.

Late President Gamal Abdel Nasser diminished the role of all state religious institutions in favor of the socialist ideology.

The writer took things further when he decisively commented on the controversy of terrorism and considered it a by-product of Salafists.

No one denies that extremism is a problem and that terrorism and certain ideologies pose a threat; however, limiting it to one group falsifies our current history.

In principle, traditional Salafism – such as that practiced in Saudi Arabia – leaves politics to politicians and refrains from involving religious scholars in politics as Salafists consider it the responsibility of the guardian, the ruler, who will be held accountable before God on the Day of Judgment.

Nevertheless, what is happening is that during the last four decades Salafist rhetoric was mocked and came under pressure.

This happened as a result of its assimilation with other Sunni groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, which is known to accuse its critics of infidelity. The rhetoric then changed and a comprehensive theory of political governance was established.

This theory is based on the concept of the religious state, which resembles the “Twelvers” Shi’ite ideology that relies on one source of reference. Thus, they now have their own supreme guide too.

Salafists are a socially simple and politically naive group, but the Muslim Brotherhood is a politicized group with an eye on power.

The path of violence we have witnessed so far is due to these groups of which traditional Salafism exonerated itself from, long time ago.

The names of Salafist groups tend to be similar but, for example, Salafist Jihadism has nothing to do with traditional Salafism.

When an extremist man like Ali Belhadj in Algeria appeared and gave rise to a broad identity of Ahl al-Sunna and Al-Gamaa, he included all the Sunnis.

However, we all know that Belhadj is an extremist man like Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. All three men have nothing to do with traditional Salafism and are ideologically closer to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The bright writer elected Al-Azhar as a reference because he thinks the Salafists of Saudi Arabia are “takfirists” who eliminate others.

Yet, he, himself, eliminated them when he wrote that they are not Sunnis and they uphold a different doctrine.
The writer eliminated millions of Muslims because some of their statements accused Sufism of infidelity or adopted proposals that eliminate others.

He is right that some Salafists, including some prominent scholars in Saudi Arabia and other countries, are “takfirists” and they must be confronted. However, it is wrong to generalize.

Limiting the problem to Salafists and the Saudis does not solve the issues we are all facing today. We are against extremism, against accusing others of infidelity and against enhancing the role of clerics in society and the state.
In Al-Azhar too there are scholars who issued fatwas inciting murder and accusing others of infidelity; these are neither Salafists nor Saudis.

Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Karimah, who leads the campaign rejecting Salafists, is a takfirist.

He described Saudis and Emiratis in general as aggressors and said their dead will go to hell.

Another prominent Al-Azhar cleric accused all Salafists of infidelity and said that the use of hashish and opium does not invalidate ablutions!

Al-Azhar’s clerics espouse provisions that are as odd as those issued by extremist Salafists. They approved of Sheikh Ali Youssef divorcing his wife under the excuse of both having different lineages, and one of their clerics even allowed adults to be breastfed!

To conclude this strange comparison between these two perspectives, do you know that Al-Azhar clerics used to accuse those who attain a foreign nationality of infidelity?

The truth is that ignorance and extremism fall under the same category. They are not characteristics that are exclusive to Salafists or Ash’aris, to Sunnis or Shi’ites or Muslims and others.