Monday, October 17, 2016

The Speech of H.E. the Grand Imam of AL-Azhar at the Conference of Dar Al-᾿Iftā᾿

The Speech of H.E. the Grand Imam of AL-Azhar at the Conference of Dar Al-᾿Iftā᾿


Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s Speech at the International Fatwa Conference entitled,

"Academic and Fatwa Qualification for the Preachers of Muslim Minorities' Mosques"


-    I reject any human legislation that directly or indirectly contradicts the teachings of the Noble Qur᾿ān or the Prophet's Tradition (Sunnah).

-    Lack of Fatwa development and legal reasoning has inflicted intense suffering and hardship on the public of the Muslim Nation.

-    Doing injustice and inflicting harm to one's wife on purpose is such a heinous crime.

-    Marriage-related religious laws have been passed for the benefit of the family and the whole society.

-    Homeless children are victims of families that slid into the chaos of divorce and marriage.

-    Muslim scholars in the past century were more courageous than our contemporary scholars in terms of applying legal reasoning and renewal to

     religious rulings which are desperately needed by the people.

-    If Muslim jurists abandon independent legal reasoning, they will leave a gap which will be filled only by others.

-    The term "Muslim minorities" is an alien term that did not exist in our Islamic culture. Therefore, Al-Azhar has always avoided using it in its issued

     documents and statements.

-    The term "Muslim minorities" implies feelings of isolation and inferiority.

-    Our Islamic culture disapproves the term "Muslim minorities" and replaces it with "full citizenship."

-    Jurisprudence of citizenship is invulnerable to the false evidence of our enemies and neocolonialism.

-    Establishing jurisprudence of citizenship among European Muslims is a crucial step towards the achievement of “positive integration” that protects

     the Islamic identity.

-    Neocolonialism uses the concept of "minorities" as a pretext for the division and fragmentation of countries.

The following speech was delivered by H.E. the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Professor Ahmad At-Tayyeb at the International Fatwa Conference entitled, "Academic and Fatwa Qualification for the Preachers of Muslim Minorities' Mosques"

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All praise be to Allah. May Allah's peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muḩammad and upon his family and Companions!

Eminent scholars and respected Muftis,

     Welcome to your second home; welcome to Egypt. Welcome to Al-Azhar institution. I hope this conference will meet some Muslim expectations and hopes in Muftis and fatwa institutions for bridging the widening gap between the needs of their present life, on the one hand, and what we may call ‘absurd jurisprudence’ on the other. By absurd jurisprudence, I mean the newly invented type of jurisprudence presented to Muslims day and night. It does not guide Muslims to mercy, ease, and simplicity of Islam but it rather throws them into a plethora of traditional extremist opinions that were expressed under very special circumstances which no longer fit into their real life.

     Unfortunately, such absurd jurisprudence has found groups of individual Muftis who managed to outdo many official fatwa institutions in our Arab world, and even all jurisprudence academies, particularly Al-Azhar Al-Sharif's Islamic Research Academy (IRA).

     The success of that absurd approach to jurisprudence was not due to its rationality, ease, or ability to make people's lives better. Rather, it has achieved success and drawn attention because of the advocates' ability to interact with people in the remote areas and far reaching villages. Moreover, its advocates have used mosques as perfect platforms to talk to people and give desirable responses to their requests. In the meanwhile, the fatwas issued by Dar al-᾿Iftā᾿, Islamic academies, and fiqh committees have acquired an individual nature and remained restricted to purely academic volumes that are of no benefit to millions of Muslims, or to academic forums where we, scholars, talk to each other and give a list of recommendations at the closing sessions. However, such recommendations often miss their way to sincere people who would apply them to people's real life. 

Dear honorable Sheikhs,

     Please excuse my frankness in addressing this crucial topic and do not think I am criticizing or condemning you. Allah forbids! I even cannot imagine myself acting in this manner because I am certain that I am addressing an elite group of great scholars and formidable thinkers from our Arab and Muslim world. I am the first of you to shoulder this great responsibility before Allah the Almighty and the Muslims. Perhaps, I am more in touch with such miserable people and have been aware of the problems and sufferings that may have driven them homeless and destroyed. All this is due to a lack of fatwa development and scholars' fear to employ legal reasoning. I thought that we, as the people of knowledge and fatwa, could fully comprehend the religious texts we use for issuing fatwas, but we may not know how to apply the rulings of these texts to our daily life. Likewise, we may not ponder over the impact of these rulings and the amount of social and psychological sufferings they might cause to ordinary people.

     Here is an example of a real-life problem related to the chaos of practicing polygamy and divorce in our society and the amount of suffering a wife may encounter as a result of this phenomenon, not to mention destruction of families and homelessness of children, who often become disobedient and criminal.

     I stress here that I am not calling for legislations that annul men's right to polygamy; I totally reject any human legislation that directly or indirectly contradicts the teachings of the Noble  Qur᾿ān or the Prophet's Tradition (Sunnah). However, I want to block the way for those who would misinterpret my words and decontextualize them in order to make some personal gains. I wonder what makes a poor Muslim man, for example, marry a second wife and abandon his first one along with her children, leaving them vulnerable to suffer poverty and family fragmentation! Does not such a man feel any remorse at misusing this religious right and taking it too far away from its objectives?

     In my opinion, the answer to the above-mentioned question is that the true teachings of Islam concerning this issue have never reached such people. Moreover, there have been too many fatwas on the conditioned practice of polygamy but a few fatwas on the condition itself, namely doing justice and causing no harm to the first wife. It is well known in jurisprudence that the absence of the condition entails the absence of the conditioned and not vice versa. However, many ordinary people misunderstood this Islamic ruling and thought that polygamy was made lawful without any conditions or responsibilities that might hinder fulfilling their wishes and sexual desires, as long as they are fulfilled through lawful means!

     The rulings of the Islamic Sharia, which we have been taught and still learn from the books of Islamic jurisprudence, particularly in the chapters on marriage, sate clearly that marriage is conditioned with five rulings under certain circumstances. Accordingly, marriage could be dislikable or prohibited under certain conditions. Jurists of the Hanafi School of jurisprudence hold the view that marriage is prohibited if the husband knows certainly that he would do injustice to his wife. Thus, the wisdom behind marriage is to achieve certain goals, such as protecting oneself from sins and gaining reward from Allah for giving birth to good children who worship Allah. However, if one's marriage would result in doing injustice or causing harm to others, the husband is considered sinful in accordance with the Islamic principle stating that, “warding off evils takes precedence over gaining benefits”.

     Despite the fact that there is generally jurist consensus that marriage is obligatory in case one fears that he shall fall in zina (illicit sexual intercourse); the jurists conditioned it by the avoidance of malfeasance. The Hanafi jurists even state that when a conflict occurs between one’s fears to fall in illicit sexual relations if s/he does not marry and fears that s/he may act unjustly towards his spouse, the latter prevails over the former and, thus, marriage becomes forbidden. They argue that, “injustice is a violation of people’s rights while the sin of illicit sexual intercourse violates a right belonging to God. The rights of people take precedence over that of Allah in the cases of conflict, because people are always in need of help whereas God, the All-Sufficient, is never of any need.” The same view finds further echoes in the legal understandings of Maliki and Shafi‘i jurists. Here is a lesson to learn: acting unjustly to one’s spouse is a crime worse in effect than the crime of zina. As such, the crime of zina is, by analogy, a minor sin compared to injustice towards women, the latter being a major sin.

     Evidently, this is the case when a man has only one wife, not to mention the second or third marriages accompanied with fears of committing injustice or with the firm intent to hurt the first wife by the practice of polygamy! One may argue that a wife may ask for divorce in case of harm and if the husband uses his authority to refrain from divorce arbitrarily, she may sue him and ask for khul‛(i.e. a legal separation in return for a refund of the marital gift that the husband had given to her). As such, let a husband remarry as he likes but let a wife either accept it or take recourse to khul‛.

     In response, this argument would harm the wife in two forms: first, she would suffer separation; and second, she would have to sacrifice all of her rights in the case of khul‛. Meanwhile, the husband then has two benefits: first, he would then achieve his desires against the laws of Sharia that instruct a restrain of them; and second, he would also gain back all that he had paid to the wife who, under the pressure of injustice, would have to give up her own rights.

     It is for this reason that we find no evidence, explicit or implicit in the juristic discourse on this issue, allowing marriage when fears of injustice are most likely to occur, even after giving the aforementioned options to the wife: to accept polygamy or resort to khul‛.Jurists’ expressions, therefore, assert the moral responsibility a marital partner has to bear toward a spouse. Evidently, the rule they regard in this context relies on the rights that the marital institution entails, rather than being a means to satisfy one’s accidental whims and desires. Surely, marriage is a major responsibility that the Qur᾿ān calls a “firm covenant”: “And How can you take it back (women’s dowry) when you have intimate access to each other and they have taken a firm covenant from you” (Qur᾿ān, 4:21). Marriage is not meant to harm one’s spouse. Apparently, the laws of marriage only intend to achieve benefits for all family members in all communities. Statistics on homeless children prove that no less than 90% of them are victims of miser marriages and tragic divorces. Furthermore, all the moral and social crimes that they commit originate from the arbitrary use of legal rights or misunderstanding of legal facts, the case which results in a wide gap between the legal understanding of texts and the proper perception of realities.

     As witnessed in several real experiences, I think that the reason for that is the barrier of fear that precludes the scholars and jurists in charge of fatwas from the practice of ijtihād (legal reasoning regarding the legal rulings and the evidence in their support). They have to follow the proper perception of the issue in question with due evaluation of the anticipated benefits and harms.

     It is painful to say that our scholars and muftis of the past century proved themselves more courageous than today’s scholars. At their time, they bravely explored issues and cases of urgent need for people from new perspectives applied in legal reasoning and judgment. For example, their ijtihād-based conclusion that the tripartite divorce declared in the same session is only regarded as one divorce. However, a counterview still enjoys a very wide agreement among the earlier scholars. For example, Judge Abdel-Wahhab Al-Maliki deemed it a heretical view while Ibn ‛Abdel-Barr said, “It is not an opinion of the people of knowledge.” However, Al-Azhar scholars found no qualm at that time to discuss this case and issued an official fatwa contradicting the dominant schools of law on this issue. They also sought for evidence to support their fatwa from the traditional jurisprudence. Eventually, they concluded that this formula counts as only one divorce in practice.

     This ijtihād-based case took place in 1929, which was later adopted as a law in the Marital Status Laws. More to the point, Dar al-Iftā’ (the Egyptian House of Fatwa) approved this fatwa approximately ninety years ago. Unfortunately, Dar al-Iftā’ along with the Islamic Research Academy are now vacillating in fear and hold back from exploring more serious issues in the area of family laws than the tripartite divorce. The barrier of fear, which we have mentioned, thwarts their endeavors and discourages them. The issue of ijtihād continues to be a closed zone in the face of those concerned with the pains of Muslims, a case which may lead Sharia to withdraw from the life realities of people and societies and thus restrict it to the circles of research and study.

     Some smart contemporaries have observed this phenomenon and declared that if jurists’ abstention from Ijtihād will eventually leave the Muslim communities prey to the willful influence of “the Other”, it becomes a kind of separating religion from life or separating life from religion, which is denounced as a slogan but practiced in reality.

Dear Respected Scholars,

     It is necessary to acknowledge that we experience a real crisis, the price of which all Muslims have to pay everywhere, as a result of fear and discouragement in dealing with the Sharia, which we depict as eternally compatible and effective, regardless of time and location. We have to present proper responses to all new cases and urgent incidents. This crisis also rises from the absence of the Maqasidi-oriented vision (a vision based on the “Supreme Objectives of Sharia”), the case which inevitably confuses the ijtihād-oriented vision driving jurists away from seeking proper legal solutions to the cases in question. Moreover, there are also the ready-made and imported cross-national fatwas, which pay no attention to the circumstances of local communities, in total disregard of the variant customs, habits, cultures, languages and races.

     Consequently, the same fatwa (legal response from a mufti) is given to all Muslims everywhere regardless of their countries, customs, and conditions of peace or war, riches or poverty, knowledge or ignorance. Is there any logic in that? Is it acceptable that all Muslims receive the same fatwa in Cairo, Niamey, Mogadishu, Jakarta, New Delhi, Moscow, Paris, and other capitals of the world in the east and the west for the legal cases similar in form while different in realities, possibilities of harmful effects and compelling benefits?

     In respect with the topic of the conference, I seek the permission of my brother H.E. the Grand Mufti of Egypt to present my remark regarding the term of “Muslim Minorities” used in the title of the conference. It is an imported term, alien to our Islamic culture. As such, Al-Azhar would avoid using it in speeches, documents and statements. Actually, it implies the seeds of seclusion and inferiority. It also paves the way for the seeds of sedition, disunity and disintegration. It denies the minorities many of their religious and civil rights. As far as I know, the Islamic culture never knew this term. Rather, it denies and denounces using it. Instead of this term, it uses “full citizenship” as affirmed in the Charter of Medina. Indeed, the Islamic citizenship is all about rights and duties that everyone equally enjoys in conformity with the basic standards and criteria which ensure the achievement of justice and equality: “Surely, Allah enjoins justice and kindness” (Qur᾿ān, 16:90). [The Prophet also says], “They [the Jews] are entitled to receive rights equal to ours and to do duties equal to ours.” As such, the Muslim citizen of Britain is a full British citizen, entitled to have equal rights and duties. Likewise, the Christian Egyptian citizen is a full citizen, who has rights and duties equal to that of all other citizens. In no way can we describe this full citizenship as a minority, a term implying bias and disparity, in disagreement with the citizenship.

     I think that promoting the proper legal understanding of citizenship among the European Muslims and other multi-cultural communities, rich with diverse identities, is a very indispensable step on the way of “positive integration, for which we have called in numerous European capitals. Actually, this guarantees national security and solidarity and strengthens national affiliation as a basis for the social unity. This concept enhances the acceptance of cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence and eliminates the bitter feelings of alienation which confuses the national unity. As such, the migrants suffer a painful conflict between their love of their birth homeland whose graces they have enjoyed on the one hand, and their love to a deluded home to which they seek refuge to, on the other. Moreover, there will also be a painful feeling of one's being a member of a menaced minority.

     If we promote the fiqh of citizenship, building it deeper in the Muslim minds and cultures, it will act as a strong barrier against the colonial claims which have frequently employed minorities in political conflicts to achieve their schemes for hegemony, expansion, and dominance. They have maliciously used the “minorities” issue as their preferred means for national division and partition, the case which signify the two basic mechanisms of the new colonization.

     Preparing preachers for the mission of iftā’ is a highly important issue. We deeply appreciate the attention and care that Dar al-Iftā’ (the Egyptian House of Fatwa) pays to this issue. Actually, much may be said about this urgent obligation. Al-Azhar has also contributed to the formation of the preachers delegated overseas to gain the necessary awareness of all the issues of urgent need to Muslims living there in various fields. 538 preachers have attended the courses held by the World Association for Al-Azhar Graduates (WAAG) in Cairo. They came from different regions and countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kurdistan of Iraq, China, Indonesia, Britain and Yemen as well as African and Latin American States. In this regard, I hope there would be a kind of coordination with the World Association for Al-Azhar Graduates to build on the available expertise instead of beginning from scratch.

Dear brothers,

I have expatiated my discussion, so I beg your kind pardon. Thank you very much for listening to me.

As-Salāmu ‛Alaykum wa Raḩmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

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