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Azhar and Brotherhood Face Off over Sukuk - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Egyptian students from Egypt's Islamic Al-Azhar University take part in demonstration in front of Sheikh Al-Azhar's office in Cairo on April 2, 2013, after hundreds suffered from food poisoning at a dormitory. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED AL-SHAHED)

Egyptian students from Egypt’s Islamic Al-Azhar University take part in demonstration in front of Sheikh Al-Azhar’s office in Cairo on April 2, 2013, after hundreds suffered from food poisoning at a dormitory. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED AL-SHAHED)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—After student protests following a mass food poisoning scandal forced Al-Azhar University President Dr. Osama Al-Abd’s sacking, sources within Egypt’s top religious institute have claimed that this is part of Muslim Brotherhood efforts to pressure it to pass a controversial sukuk (Islamic bonds) law.

Egypt President Mohamed Mursi referred a law allowing the state to issue Islamic bonds to a panel of top Muslim scholars on Sunday under pressure from the public. The Muslim Brotherhood-led Shura Council had previously approved the law last month. The controversy over the sukuk bonds law has coincided with upheaval in Al-Azhar University after almost 500 students had to be taken to hospital because of mass food poisoning. Following this, hundreds of students stormed the office of Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, Egypt’s top Muslim cleric.

One Al-Azhar official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “The demonstrations by university students about the mass food poisoning was really to pressure Al-Azhar to pass the sukuk law that the Senior Scholars’ Authority is currently reviewing.”

The source added, “The Muslim Brotherhood is exerting pressure directly on Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb to pass the draft law that President Mohamed Mursi has referred to the Senior Scholars’ Authority, according to Egypt’s constitution.”

The Al-Azhar source stressed that “the Al-Azhar student demonstrations that also called for the sacking of Azhar Grand Sheikh Dr. Al-Tayyeb, also sought to topple one of his strongest supporters, namely Al-Azhar University President Dr. Osama Al-Abd.” Abd was dismissed by Tayyeb earlier this week.

The Al-Azhar official claimed that the students’ protests are a form of “psychological war” against the Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh by the Brotherhood for political reasons, particularly after their attempts to secure his dismissal proved fruitless.

Azhar Grand Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb is known to have a checkered history with the Muslim Brotherhood, and sources claim that the current Brotherhood–Al-Azhar controversy is part of attempts to settle scores.

The Al-Azhar official also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the committee that was formed, and which includes fiqh [experts in Islamic law] and jurisprudence scholars and Islamic economic experts, to discuss the sukuk law continued to carry out its tasks during these demonstrations that even reached the office of the Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh. This was an attempt to influence their deliberations to expedite the adoption of the sukuk law.”

The source stressed that the Al-Azhar committee, headed by Dr. Al-Tayyeb, will put forward its position on this sukuk law in an accurate and precise manner without falling prey to outside influence.

“President Mursi should take whatever actions he deems appropriate,” the source added.

Al-Azhar has repeatedly issued statements disavowing the sukuk law as un-Islamic. Although the Shura Council had passed this law, a panel of senior Muslim scholars and judges must confirm its Islamic legitimacy.

Sources within Al-Azhar informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the rising revolutionary tone coming out of the traditionally conservative Islamic institution are hampering Al-Azhar’s attempts to play a leading role in Egypt, which in turn is strengthening the Brotherhood’s position. Al-Azhar students have taken a number of escalatory positions in post-revolution Egypt, particularly over the sukuk issue, the protests that greeted Ahmadinejad’s visit to the country, and rapprochement with the Salafi trend.

The unnamed Azhar official also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Muslim Brotherhood will seek mass support to secure the position of the new university head, and will strongly put forward candidates who belong to the Brotherhood.”

In other news, the Salafist Al-Dawa Movement, and its political wing, the Nour Party, is holding a conference on Friday to address what they claim is the “spread of the Shi’ite tide in Egypt.” The conference is set to take place in the Amr Ibn Al-‘As Mosque in Old Cairo.

Sheikh Sherif El-Hawary of the Salafist Al-Dawa Movement warned against Shi’ite expansionism in a statement to the press, saying, “Egypt is a real catch because the Shi’ites see it as the main base for Sunni Islam, which they want to overtake. They believe their Mahdi [twelfth Imam] will only appear once Egypt is in their reach, but God willing, this will not take root.”

“We truly believe that the Shi’ites will fail in spreading their influence just as they did when they initiated the Al-Azhar Institution and ruled for 260 years to take over Sunni Islam,” he added.