Why does Egypt's largest Muslim beacon, Al-Azhar, refuse to declare IS 'apostate'?

Taha Saker

April 14, 2017
Egypt Independent

After the Islamic State (IS) militant group declared its responsibility for Palm Sunday's deadly attacks that targeted two Coptic churches in Egypt's Delta and Alexandria city, several media figures and organizations launched severe attack against Egypt's largest religious institution, Al-Azhar University, considering its teachings as fostering religious extremism.

Through these outlets, Al-Azhar is now facing the backlash of taking part in supporting the IS-affiliated members through its insistance to refuse considering the IS group as 'apostates' and through maintaining some extremist teachings in the syllabuses that are taught to its students.
The backlash criticized the educational syllabuses that are being currently taught in Al-Azhar institution that include teachings from some prominent clerics. These teachings directly incite the brutal killing of anyone who does not follow Islam or who had been deemed to be an 'infidel'.
The criticism, released from those figures and other media outlets, accused the aforementioned teachings of Al-Azhar by increasingly contributing to generate numerous members affiliated to IS.
Moreover, Al-Azhar’s teaching are perceived by some as the main platform that legitimizes the killing and slaughtering which are currently being practiced by IS group in different parts of the world, in the name of Islamic (Sharia) law.
In several speeches, President Abdel Fatal Al-Sisi called on Al-Azhar officials to rapidly launch a campaign that aims to renew the religious rhetoric in Egypt, for the sake of providing the right explanation to the Islamic religion
Back in December 2015, Egypt's Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb publicly announced that he does not have the right to declare IS an 'apostate' group since IS members believe in God and doomsday (Youm al-Qiyama).
His statements have stirred massive controversy and criticism among social media users, as well as political and intellectual figures.
In 2015, he further asserted through footage that documented his visit to Cairo University, that Al-Azhar considers IS members as 'Khawarij' (sects that adopted rebellion against Islam's leaders following Prophet Muhammad's era and committed sins).
According to Al-Tayyeb's explanation, the Khawarij are Muslims who committed unprecedented sins, however they still believed in [Allah), therefore they cannot be considered as 'apostates'.
Regarding the punishment ordained for the Khawarij, according to Islamic law, Al-Tayyeb said that Islam orders their killing and slaughter, because they are "practicing corruption in Earth"; adding that IS members should receive similar punishment.
Similarly, Abdel Azizi Al Nagar, Head of the Cairo-based Islamic Research Complex, told Egypt Independent that Al-Azhar dos not have the ability to consider IS members as 'apostates', as it is only a religious institution that cannot practice the role of [Allah] God.
He added that if Al-Azhar institution considered the IS members as 'apostates' it will be an institution that is exactly similar to IS members, who regularly distinguish between people on a religious basis and perceive them as unbelievers on not.
"Al-Azhar considers them as 'Khawarij' and the punishment of this sec in Islam is more decisive and deterrent, as it is based on verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran,” he explained. 
Moreover Al-Azhar does not support IS in syllabuses that are being taught to students as rumored.
Concerning the syllabuses that contain extremist teachings against 'infidels' or non-Muslims which are allegedly being taught at Al-Azhar University, Abdel-Azizi stressed that these syllabuses have been terminated and are not currently followed.
On the other hand, the Islamic affairs researcher Ahmed Maher asserted that extremist teachings do still exist in Al-Azhar institution’s syllabuses, giving as examples the books that include such teachings.
"Extremist teachings are still heavily taught at Al-Azhar institution; among them, teachings from a book entitled 'El Eqenaa fe Hal Alafaz Abu Shogaa.’
This book includes teachings of one prominent Islamic cleric who calls on Muslims to eat the flesh of any 'apostate' or ‘infidel', Maher asserted to Egypt Independent.
In response to Maher's views, the head of the Islamic Research Complex noted that this book had been taught to the secondary stage at Al-Azhar earlier; but that nowadays this book has been removed.

"These teachings were indeed taught in order to give historical information to the students at Al-Azhar institution, not to instill such teachings in their minds,” Abdel-Aziz said.

On a different note, Maher wondered about the reasons that prevent Al-Azhar institution from considering members affiliated to IS group 'apostates'. He considered the statements issued by Al-Azhar 's officials regarding not having authority to consider someone as 'apostate' not “persuasive”.

"They [Al-Azhar clerics] have previously considered many public figures who have different views as 'apostates', such as the Egyptian prominent intellectual Taha Hussein and Farag Fouda. Al-Azhar does not want to consider IS members as apostates as they both are one entity,” Maher concluded.

IS militants are Israeli soldiers: Saudi grand mufti

The Express Tribune
Published: December 28, 2015

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz has claimed that the Islamic State (Daesh) militants are Israeli soldiers and the Saudi-led 34-nation military alliance of Islamic countries will defeat it.The statement came after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the secretive leader of the terror group, called for an uprising in Saudi Arabia and pledged to attack Israel, in an audio recording released Saturday and attributed to him, AFP reported.

Terming the extremist group’s threat to attack Israel a ‘lie’, Aziz alleged that IS is a part of the Israeli army.

“This threat against Israel is simply a lie. Actually, Daesh is part of the Israeli soldiers,” said the grand mufti, who is also a chairman of Senior Scholars’ Commission and Ifta Council, during a telephonic interview with Saudi Gazette.

Criticising the militant group, he said the members of the terror outfit were causing a deal of harm to Islam and Muslims.

“They cannot be considered as followers of Islam. Rather, they are an extension of Kharijites, who rose in revolt against the Islamic caliphate for the first time by labeling Muslims as infidels and permitting their bloodletting.”

Earlier on Wednesday, senior foreign office officials said although Pakistan has joined Saudi Arabia-led 34-nation coalition against terrorism, but it will not support any move that destabilises Syria or strains Islamabad’s relationship with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia on December 15 announced formation of the coalition to combat terrorism, mentioning Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and Gulf Arab and African states as members.

Saudi grand mufti calls for demolition of churches

Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah says Christian religious sites in Arabian Peninsula must be razed in accordance with Muslim law

March 18, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric called on Tuesday for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula after legislators in the Gulf state of Kuwait moved to pass laws banning the construction of religious sites associated with Christianity

Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who serves as the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, said the destruction of churches was absolutely necessary and is required by Islamic law, Arabic media reported.

Abdullah, who is considered to be the highest official of religious law in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, also serves as the head of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas.

Last month, Osama Al-Munawer, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, announced his plans to submit a draft law calling for the removal of all churches in the country, according to the Arabian Businesses news site. Al-Munawer later clarified that the law would only apply to new churches, while old ones would be allowed to stay erect.

Saudi Arabia Declares Destruction of All Churches in Region

Charisma News

Earlier this month, news reports surfaced out of Saudi Arabia that raised the red flag for Christians.

Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia—the top Islamic official in the country of Saudi Arabia—has declared that it is 'necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.'" Nettleton goes on to note that the report hasn't surfaced anywhere except on the Council on Foreign Relations Web site, which was then picked up by The Atlantic.

As Saudi Arabia is ranked second on the Open Doors World Watch List (a compilation of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe), the news is not really a surprise. There is no provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom.

All citizens must adhere to Islam, and conversion to another religion is punishable by death. Public Christian worship is forbidden; worshippers risk imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture. Evangelizing Muslims and distributing non-Islamic materials is illegal. Muslims who convert to Christianity risk being subjected to honor killings, and foreign Christian workers have been exposed to abuse from employers.

Sheikh Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, created an implication with his assertion. Nettleton explains, "This was in a meeting with Kuwaiti officials who came to Saudi Arabia. They were asking this Islamic official, ‘What should we do about the churches?' His statement was, ‘There should be no Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula.'"

According to the report, the delegation wanted to confirm Shariah's position on churches. Essentially, Nettleton says, "If you have churches in Kuwait, which they do, they should be destroyed. The interesting thing about this is that there are no churches in Saudi Arabia. There are no church buildings that are allowed to exist there. So he clearly wasn't talking only for his own country. He was trying to export this ideology to the surrounding countries."

This proclamation could affect churches in Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Nettleton observes that "in most of these countries, we're not talking about a lot of churches; we're talking about a few that are allowed to exist primarily to serve foreigners that are living in that country."

However, the U.N. Human Rights Council has yet to take a stand on such blatant violations of freedom of religion. How the governments implement this declaration is yet to be determined.

"Most of these countries would consider their native population to be 100 percent Muslim," says Nettleton. "We could see more persecution. We could see churches closed or destroyed. We just kind of wait to see now."

The concern raised by this view has not escaped the notice of the U.S. government, though. The most recent International Religious Freedom report (annually issued by the State Department) remarks, "Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. ... The government officially does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country to conduct religious services, although some do so under other auspices and are able to hold services. These entry restrictions make it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with clergy. This is particularly problematic for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, whose faiths require that they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular basis."

For the most part, says Nettleton, the Mufti's statement will be buried in the mainstream media. However, he's encouraging believers to ask God to continue to intervene. There are Christ followers in Saudi Arabia who "take great risk to follow Jesus Christ," he says. "They take great risk to even talk about their faith with another person. We can pray for God's protection over them. We can pray for encouragement."

What's more, ask God to continue His intervention. While the Arabian Peninsula isn't a place for the more traditional approach to sharing Christ's story, there are still many who are encountering the gospel.

"Pray that Muslims will come to know Christ," Nettleton says. "One of the things that's happening, not only in Saudi Arabia but across the Middle East, is Muslims encountering Christ through dreams and visions and other supernatural ways."

Saudi Grand Mufti Calls for "Destruction of All Churches in Region"


According to several Arabic news sources, last Monday, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region."

The Grand Mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a delegation from Kuwait, regarding the position of a Kuwaiti parliament member who recently called for the "removal" of churches (he later "clarified" by saying he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait). The Kuwaiti delegation wanted to confirm Sharia's position on churches.

Accordingly, the Grand Mufti "stressed that Kuwait was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it."

As with many grand muftis before him, the Sheikh based his proclamation on the famous tradition, or hadith, wherein the prophet of Islam declared on his deathbed that "There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula," which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.

While the facts of this account speak for themselves, consider further:

Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah is not just some random Muslim hating on churches. He is the Grand Mufti of the nation that brought Islam to the world. Moreover, he is the President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Accordingly, when it comes to what Islam teaches, his words are immensely authoritative.

Considering the hysteria that besets the West whenever non-authoritative individuals—for instance, a fringe, unknown pastor—offend Islam, imagine what would happen if a truly authoritative Christian leader, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of "intolerance" and "bigot," demands for apologies if not termination, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse.

Yet the Grand Mufti of our "friend-and-ally" Saudi Arabia gets a free pass when he incites Muslims to destroy churches—as if any extra incitement was needed (not a month goes by without several churches being bombed and destroyed throughout the Islamic world). In fact, at the time of this writing, I have not seen this story, already some three days old, translated on any English news source, though "newsworthy" stories are often translated in mere hours.

Likewise, consider how the Grand Mufti's rationale for destroying churches is simply based on a hadith. But when non-Muslims evoke this particular hadith (or the countless others that incite violence and intolerance against the "infidel"), they are accused of being "Islamophobes," of intentionally slandering and misrepresenting Islam, of being obstacles on the road to "dialogue," and so forth.

Which leads to perhaps the most important point: Islam's teachings are so easily ascertained; there is no mystery in determining what is "right" and "wrong" in Islam. The Grand Mufti based his fatwa on a canonical hadith, which Muslims and (informed) non-Muslims know is part of Islam's sources of jurisprudence (or usul al-fiqh). And yet the West—with all its institutions of higher learning, including governmental agencies dealing with cultural and religious questions—is still thoroughly "confused" as to what Islam teaches.

All of this is nothing short of a scandal—a reminder of just how deep the mainstream media and most politicians have their head thrust in the sand.

Meanwhile, here is the latest piece of evidence of just how bad churches have it in the Muslim world, for those who care to know.

100,000 Saudi security for hajj pilgrimage


December 4, 2008

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia deployed some 100,000 security personnel to keep order as Muslim pilgrims flooded into the holy city of Mecca in preparation for the annual hajj, beginning on Saturday.

Nearly 3 million pilgrims from around the world are expected to perform the hajj in Mecca and its nearby holy sites this year, according to Saudi authorities.

Every year sees a massive security deployment for the pilgrimage — mainly to manage traffic of the crowds, prevent friction and ensure safety.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz said security forces had "no information" suggesting any threat of violence during the hajj. "We must be ready and not rule out the occurrence of anything that might take us unawares," Saudi television quoted Nayef as saying Thursday after touring hajj facilities.

The hajj takes place just over a week after terror attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital, in which suspected Islamic militants killed 171 and injured more than 300 others in assaults on upscale hotels, a restaurant and other sites across the city.

Last year, Saudi police arrested 28 militants who were allegedly planning to attack sites around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina during the hajj.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press there were no fears of any attacks this year. He said the security deployment was similar to last year's of 90,000.

The most pressing security concern during hajj is to prevent accidents like fires or stampedes that have killed hundreds in past pilgrimages as the millions of faithful move among holy sites over five days, staying in sprawling tent cities.

Saudi officials say they have set hundreds of thousands of fireproof tents in Mina, a site outside Mecca where pilgrims will camp for three days beginning Monday.

The government has banned cooking in tents, threatened fines for anyone using a gas stove, and butane gas cylinders will not be allowed at the holy sites. Caterers contracted by the Saudi government will use electric cookers to provide food.

Top security police chief, Gen. Saeed al-Qahtani, said in remarks published Thursday that pilgrims will not be allowed to use portable tents. Most pilgrims stay in official camps, but every year, hundreds of thousands of "unregistered pilgrims" squat on the streets in makeshift tents, complicating movement for the crowds. Saudi officials have tried with little success in the past to bar them.

"A special security unit has been established to prevent the use of portable tents," he was quoted as saying.

All able-bodied Muslims are required by their faith to perform the hajj at least once in their lives, if they can financially afford it, to cleanse their sins. Traveling to Mecca for the ceremonies of prayer and contemplation is a lifelong dream of many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.

It is also an annual test for Saudi Arabia's organizational skills, and the kingdom is constantly adapting infrastructure to avert tragedies that have marred past pilgrimages.

In 1990, 1,426 people were killed in a crush inside a tunnel leading to the holy sites. In 2006, 363 people died in a stampede at Mina as they passed through the Jamarat, a giant platform where pilgrims throw stones at three walls representing the devil.

This year, the platform has been expanded to four stories to avoid congestion.


Sheikh seeking to 'terminate' Jews honored

Awarded 'Islamic Personality of the Year' at international event

October 26, 2005

A Muslim cleric who has prayed to "terminate" the Jews was awarded Islamic Personality of the Year at a ceremony in which he called Islam a religion of "harmony and kindness" that rejects terrorism.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais – the veteran Quran reader and imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia – prayed to Allah in 2003 in front of 2 million followers to "terminate" the Jews, who he called "the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, prophet killers ... pigs and monkeys."

But he was honored Sunday during the closing ceremony of the Dubai International Holy Quran Award, an annual event in the United Arab Emirates capital during Ramadan aimed at promoting Islam's main text.

According to the event's website, the Islamic Personality of the Year "must have an honorable history in serving Islam and Muslims."

In his remarks upon receiving the award, the sheikh said, "The message of Islam and Muslims is modesty, fairness, security, stability, sympathy, harmony and kindness."

In his April 2003 address in Mecca, however, Al-Sudais urged Arabs and Muslims to abandon peace initiatives with Israel – comments carried worldwide by Reuters and the Associated Press.

While some media at the time suggested his racist characterization of Jews was a singular occurrence, Al-Sudais has described Jews variously as "evil," a "continuum of deceit," "tyrannical" and "treacherous," WND reported.

Last December, Al-Sudais was listed as a "specially invited guest" of an Islamic conference in Florida. Following media exposure, however, his name disappeared from conference materials.

On the International Holy Quran Award website, the event's organizing committee said Al Sudais "has been selected for his devotion to the Quran and Islam."

"His remarkable and ear-catching intonation of the Quran during the Haj [pilgrimage] season and during the Taraweeh [special night prayers during Ramadan] in the holy mosque has made him very famous and beloved among the Muslim community," said Saeed Hareb, vice chairman of the organizing committee.

Al Sudais reflects a bright picture of Islam and Muslims, Hareb added.

"He became a recognized personality among the Muslim community through his Quran reading and working as a specialized professor in Fuqoh [Islamic jurisprudence]," he said.

The award selection is carried out through nomination by states, universities and specialized institutions, according to the website.

The winner's "writings or stances should be universally recognized," it says.

Al Sudais was born in 1961 in the Al Qaseem area of Saudi Arabia where he reportedly memorized the Quran at the age of 12.


Cleric slams West's 'war on Islam'

Mon 9 Jan 2006

More than two million Muslim pilgrims made the climactic ascent to Mount Arafat, Islam's most sacred site, to pray for salvation, and Saudi Arabia's top cleric called for Islamic unity in the face of what he called the West's war on Islam.

After offering prayers on the mount, tens of thousands of the faithful rushed down the hill to the Muzdalifah, a few miles distant, where they collected pebbles to use in one the last rituals of the hajj, the stoning of the devil.

Under a fatwa, or religious edict, issued two years ago, the stoning now may begin before dawn prayers on Tuesday.

The decree was an attempt to ease the terrible crowding at the site of the stoning, the al-Jamarat, where hundreds of pilgrims have died in stampedes over the past quarter century.

"It's better to go now before the crowd gets too big. They have had a lot of problems - stampedes and other horrors. We want to finish early," said Turkish pilgrim Jawat Ahmet.

Speaking at a mosque on the plain of Mount Arafat, Sheik Abdul-Aziz al-Sheik, the kingdom's grand mufti, said Muslims were facing critical challenges, among them accusations of terrorism and human rights abuses and calls for revisions in their school textbooks, many of which make nonbelievers, especially Jews.

"Oh, Muslim nation, there is a war against of our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion," he said.

"Islam's enemies want to empty our religion from its contents and its meaning," said al-Sheik, the Saudi kingdom's top religious authority.

"But the soldiers of God will be victorious," he said.

The faithful called out: "Amen."


Hajj pilgrims: Death to Israel and America

Islamic pilgrims shout hateful slogans, hear speech on 'satanic policies of Zionism'
Yaniv Berman

As two million Muslim pilgrims flooded Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a speech said to have been written by Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah 'Ali Khamanai was delivered by his representative for Hajj affairs, Muhammad Muhammadi Reyshahri.

The speech - one of the Hajj’s first events - spoke of "the mercenary government of Israel" and the "satanic policies of international Zionism," as well as targeting the United States.

Typical was an attack on the "colonial methods" used by the "Great Satan." During the speech, many members of the audience held up yellow placards reading "Death to America" and pink placards reading "Death to Israel.”

Comments of this nature made by the Iranian regime are far from new. But as The Media Line's analysts explain, the fact that they were expressed by an Iranian official on Saudi Arabian soil in the language of the Saudis (and not in Farsi, the Iranian language), should be a source of concern to Washington. Saudi Arabia is considered one of America's most important allies in the Middle East.

Following are some excerpts from the Khamanai speech, as read by Muhammad Muhammadi Reyshahri:

"The Muslim nations face today a post-modernist colonialism. They have to benefit from their experience, and prevent the enemy from repeating the unsheathing of its sword in the shape of oppression against their values and fate."

'Great Satan'

"Today, the fleets of the arrogants are advancing once again, using cunning methods to perpetuate and strengthen their rule over the Muslim nations. The slogan of spreading democracy and human rights is one of the deceiving methods used. The Great Satan (common phrase in Iran, depicting the United States) is incarnating evil and violence against mankind, while raising the flag of defending human rights, and calling the Middle East nations to democratize."

"America and all other usurpers mobilized all their media outlets and political forces, in order to thwart the Islamic renaissance, or to oppress it if they can. The Islamic nations must understand the situation today, and to follow it with caution. The religious clerics, the religious authorities, the intellectuals, the students, the writers, the poets, the artists, the youth, and the elite – must all take with all seriousness the appropriate initiative, in order to prevent greedy America from beginning a new phase in its colonial rule over the Islamic nations."

"The Muslim world has to get rid of the constant state of learning from others, and to rely on its own resources, aiming at scientific creativity."

"The blind and brutal terror, which the occupiers use as an excuse to attack Islam and Muslims, and to continue their military invasion, is something that the Islamic values reject and denounce."

When The Media Line presented the above excerpts to the U.S. State Department for comment, a spokesman replied that, “Remarks such as these are outrageous and unacceptable. These remarks reflect an openly anti-Semitic and anti-U.S. platform from Iranian leadership that we find both troubling and destabilizing. We have been very clear about the troubling nature of Iranian behavior including its support for international terrorism, its pursuit for weapons of mass destruction, its deplorable human rights record, and its opposition to regional peace-making efforts.”

Saudi Arabian officials and the Ministry of Hajj failed to respond to numerous requests for comment by The Media Line.


Saudi Arabian cleric slams veil remarks


Saturday, November 18, 2006

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's top Muslim cleric described the Egyptian culture minister's recent criticism of the veil as a "calamity," a Saudi satellite channel reported on Saturday.

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni expressed nostalgia for the days in Egypt when women did not feel compelled to don headscarves. The remarks followed significant gains by Islamist groups in Egypt's legislative elections in November and December last year.

"It is a calamity that struck Islamic lands and contradicts the teachings of the Quran," Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz al-Sheik responded. "It is truly painful to hear such declarations from within Islamic lands, from people who are considered Muslims," he added in a statement aired by Al Majd television, a religious channel.

The response to the Egyptian minister's remarks highlights the growing conflict between conservative Muslims and secularists in the Arab world.

Other Muslim leaders also criticized Hosni's remarks, with some saying that officials should not make such comments.