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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Future of Egypt

Al-Azhar Document on the Future of Egypt endorsed by a group of the elite

       Upon the honorable initiative of the Grand Imam of Al-­Azhar, Professor Aḩmad At-Ṭayyeb, a distinguished group of Egyptian intellectuals from various ideological and religious streams met with several of Al-­Azhar's senior scholars and thinkers. In a series of meetings, they discussed Egypt's most crucial post-January-25 Revolution issues and their significance in steering Egypt's future towards its noble goals to attain the Egyptian rights of freedom, dignity, equality, and social justice.

       The participants agreed on the necessity to pave the way to the country's future on the basis of universal principles and comprehensive rules to be discussed by the different forces of the Egyptian society. Such rules and principles will help in finding the right path for formulating the governing intellectual frameworks underlying the foundations of society and its proper path.

       Realizing the significant role Al-Azhar plays in guiding towards the right and moderate Islamic thought, all the participants in the meeting stressed the importance of Al-Azhar and its role in determining the relationship between the state and religion and in clarifying the basics of the correct legal policies to be followed. The role played by Al-Azhar is based on its great and wide experiences as well as its scholarly and cultural history which can be summarized as follows:

  1. The jurisprudential dimension that focuses on reviving and renewing religious sciences following the doctrine of Ahlu Sunnati wal-Jamā‘ah (the People adhering to the Sunnah and forming the Mainstream Muslim Community), which reconciles reason with tradition and elucidates the rules of interpreting religious texts.
  2. The historical dimension of the important role of Al-Azhar in leading the national movement towards freedom and stability.
  3. The cultural dimension to revive the different natural sciences, literature, and arts including their several fields.
  4. The scientific dimension in leading and guiding the movement of the society and shaping the public opinion of the Egyptian society.
  5. The universal dimension combining scholarship, renaissance, and culture in the Arab and the Muslim world.

       The participants were inspired by Al-Azhar's great sheikhs known for their contributions in thought, renaissance, progress, and reform, including Sheikh Ḩasan Al-‛Aṭṭār and his student Rifā‛ah At-Tahṭāwi, Sheikh Muḩammad ‛Abdou and his students, such as Al-Marāghi, Muḩammad ‛Abdullah Dirāz, Muṣṭafa ‛Abdul-Rāziq and Shaltout, among many other prominent luminaries.

       Meanwhile, they were also inspired by the senior Egyptian intellectuals who contributed to the human and cognitive development and to the formation of the modern Egyptian and Arab mind, including philosophers, law makers, men of letters, arts, and other branches of knowledge which shaped the public thinking, sentiments, and awareness. The participants focused on laying down the principles common to them all. These common principles seek to accomplish the sublime objectives accepted by the country’s intellectuals and thinkers.

       This is added to determining the governing principles to understand the relationship between Islam and the state at the current critical stage. This is practiced according to an acceptable strategy shaping the desired modern state and the ruling system in it and stimulating the nation’s march towards the path of development and progress in a way that ensures the transition to democracy and guarantees social justice, ushers Egypt into the world of science and knowledge production and promotes prosperity and peace. This all comes in full preservation of the spiritual, human and original cultural values, and in full protection of the Islamic principles deeply rooted in the Muslim awareness as well as in the conscience of scholars and thinkers. Such principles shall be safeguarded from neglect, defamation, extremism, and misinterpretation. They should remain safe from any exploitation on the part of the deviated trends that may raise some sectarian or ideological slogans that go against the consonance and commonalities of the Muslims.  Apparently, such behavior conflicts with Islamic moderation and goes contrary to the essential Islamic values of freedom, justice, and equality. It is even diverted from the tolerance of all the heavenly-revealed religions.     

       Then, the participants in the meeting agreed on the following principles in defining the nature of the enlightened Islamic authority represented mainly by a number of the universal issues extracted from the religious texts noted for their conclusively acceptable narration and decisively explicit indication, which reflect the proper understanding of religion. They were laid down in eleven points which may be summarized as follows:

       First: Supporting the establishment of a national, constitutional, democratic and modern state founded on a constitution approved by the nation, which maintains the separation of the state’s authorities and its governing legal institutions. Such a constitution should guarantee the rights and the duties of all the citizens equally in accordance with the true Islamic concepts. Throughout its legislations, civilization and history, Islam has never recognized what is known in other cultures as a religious or a theocratic state which oppressed its people. The Islamic state allow people to manage their societies and choose the mechanisms and institutions which best serve their interests, on condition that the universal principles of the Islamic Sharia remain the main source of legislation in a way that allows the followers of other heavenly religions to follow their own religious laws in the matters of personal status.

       Second: Approving the democratic system based on free and direct elections, which represents the modern formula to achieve the Islamic precepts of shūrah (consultation). This includes pluralism, peaceful transfer of power, running the affairs of the state in accordance with the law, eliminating corruption and achieving full transparency and freedom to access and circulate information.

       Third: Upholding all basic freedoms of thought and opinion, with complete respect for the rights of the human beings, women and children, emphasizing pluralism, respecting heavenly religions and considering citizenship as the basis of responsibility in the society.

       Fourth: Full respect of the ethics of debate and dialogue, while avoiding accusations of apostasy and treason, exploitation of religion to disunite citizens and pit them against each other, and considering acts of instigating sectarian strife or racial discrimination crimes against the homeland. Equivalent dialogue and mutual respect shall be the way of dealing with all the citizens without any discrimination with regard to rights and duties.

       Fifth: Commitment to international conventions and resolutions and to the achievements of culture and human relations, which are in line with the tolerant Arab and Islamic traditions as well as with the long experience of the Egyptian people, through different eras, in fine behavior, ideal examples, and goodwill for the entire humanity.

       Sixth: Utter diligence in defending the dignity of the Egyptians and their national glory, full protection and respect for the houses of worship of the followers of the three heavenly religions, ensuring free and unrestricted practice of all religious rites, and respect for all the manifestations and forms of worship without scoffing at the culture of the people or distorting their original traditions. The participants are also keen on upholding the freedom of artistic and literary expression and creativity within the general framework of our steadfast cultural values.

       Seventh: Education and scientific research are both considered the main way of cultural progress in Egypt, and so there is a need to dedicate much efforts to make up for what we have missed in such fields, mobilize all the energies of the society to eliminate illiteracy, and invest all the human resources in achieving great future projects.

       Eighth: Setting priorities for achieving development and social justice, fighting despotism and corruption and eliminating unemployment in a way that stimulates the energies and creativity of the society in the economic, social, cultural and media fields, and regarding medical care as the duty of the state to all its citizens.

       Ninth: Building up Egypt's relations with its sister Arab and Muslim states, the African zone, and the world's countries, supporting the rights of the Palestinian people, protecting the independence of the Egyptian will, regaining the leading and historical role of Egypt on the basis of cooperation for the common good of all. It is also necessary to maintain the interests of peoples in the framework of reciprocity and complete independence, enhance all the efforts for human progress, protect the environment, and achieve just peace for all the human nations.

       Tenth: Supporting the independence of Al-Azhar institution, and reviving the Senior Scholars' Council which shall be entrusted with nominating and electing the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and developing Al-Azhar's curricula, so that the institution can restore its original intellectual role and international influence all over the world.

       Eleventh: Al-Azhar should be considered the authorized body to be consulted in matters related to Islam and its sciences and heritage, as well as the modern Jurist and intellectual issues of ijtihād (deriving religious rulings from authentic sources), without depriving others of the right to express their opinions if they meet the conditions necessary for issuing opinions, and honor the etiquette of dialogue and the consensus of the Muslim scholars.

       Finally, Al-Azhar scholars and the intellectuals who took part in preparing this document call on Egypt’s political parties and trends to continue working towards Egypt's political, economic, and social progress within the framework of the fundamentals specified herein.

Al-Azhar Headquarter

Ragab 17, 1432 AH (June 19, 2011 CE)

Al-Azhar Scholars,

A group of the Intelligentsia,

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

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