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Friday, September 30, 2016

The Speech of H.E. the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Nigeria

The Speech of H.E. the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Nigeria

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

May Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon our Prophet, his family and companions!

May Allah bestow His Peace and Blessings upon you!

     In the beginning of my speech, I would like to extend my profound thanks to Mr. President, Muḩammadu Buhari and his Deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo for inviting me to visit Nigeria and meet with its scholars, thinkers and intellectuals in order to foster the fraternal ties between the Egyptian and Nigerian peoples. These ties, as you know, are strong and historic, characterized by cooperation on various regional and international sides. Al-Azhar Al-Sharif's visit affirms to all the honored Nigerian sects that Islam, as we teach it and have been taught it at Al-Azhar, is the religion of humanity and regional and international peace. Islam has never called, and will never call, for violence, blood shedding, distress or disasters that strike the innocent.

     We have come here so that Muslims as well as non-Muslims would gain more certainty that Islam is a religion of peace. Islam does not only extend peace to the human beings, but also to animals, plants, inanimate beings and the entire universe. We also believe that the other Divine faiths dictate the same as Islam, for they all were revealed by Allah, the Exalted, who has described Himself in the Qur᾿ān as the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Most Loving, the All-Subtle, the Most Compassionate, and the All-Forgiving who forgives sins and accepts sincere repentance. Allah is also the All-Powerful, the Omnipotent, the Supreme Avenger and the Overpowering One over those who transgress against people, shed their blood and make them live in distress and sorrow. Allah has decreed that the wrongdoers will not escape his punishment whether now or later. Allah says, "Never think that Allah is unaware of what the wrongdoers do. He only gives them respite until a Day when their eyes will stare [in horror]."(Qur᾿ān , 14:42)

 

Dear Brothers,

     It never crossed the minds of the early Muslims that a day would come when the Muslims would have to travel everywhere to defend their religion and reveal its essence and reality because a group of those who falsely attribute themselves to Islam have made Islam a target of accusation and distorted its image. They have been keen on disseminating footages of beheading to international satellite channels in remarkable insistence, which proves that objective behind this hideousness broadcast globally is distorting the image of Islam globally and depicting it as a religion of violence, blood shedding and savageness. Search for those who benefit from this havoc, and those who stand behind these dreadful crimes by providing them with money at times, and with arms, supplies and plans at others. These criminals also find those who provide legal justifications for their crimes.

Dear Brothers,

     I do not wish to say reiterated statements as I remind you of things you already know, or even know by heart, about the tolerance and esteem that Islam offers for the others who differ from us in terms of religion, belief, race, color and language. Although this is not a context for elaboration, reminder is still needed as this affliction or satanic being has started to achieve its evil objectives represented in the spread of hatred for Islam and the Muslims among the followers of the other religions and the majority of the people of the West, who have begun to wonder apprehensively: "Is real Islam what Muslim scholars represent to us? Or is it what we see on TV channels? Undoubtedly, visually-depicted information is better perceived and more easily remembered than spoken or written information. Therefore, I deem it necessary to provide you with some facts that must be understood by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, facts that we have to declare at the present in order to find a way out of the bloody crises that are striking the entire world. Only the poor and misery-stricken people pay for such crises, shed tears and experience death, havoc, and loss of their beloved ones.

     I would like to pose a question, an honest answer to which, in my opinion, represents the first step towards regaining the proper understanding and the real conception of Islam. The question is this: What is the relationship between Islam and the Divine faiths that preceded it? Is it a relationship of tension, mistrust and apprehension? Or is it a relationship of cordiality and common understanding?

     You might be surprised when I note that this question could be deemed illogical because, according to the Qur᾿ān , Islam does not denote a particular religion but rather a name for the common religion that all the Prophets have called for, and which was adopted by those who believed in their messages. The Qur᾿ān dubbed Abraham (pbuh) as submissive (Muslim) and Hanif (devoutly obedient to Allah) even though Abraham was not a follower of the message of Muḩammad (pbuh) that came thousands of years after Abraham. Allah has used the same description for the other previous prophets. He has cited Ishmael and Isaac as saying, "Our Lord, make us submissive (Muslims) to You and from our descendants a submissive (Muslim) nation to You." (Qur᾿ān, 2:128) He has also cited the children of Jacob addressing their father by saying, "We will worship your Gode and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, one God. We are Muslims (submissive) to Him." (Qur᾿ān, 2:133) Noah is quoted as saying, " I have been commanded to be one of the Muslims (submissive ones)."(Qur᾿ān, 10:72) Moses is cited as saying, "My people, if you have believed in Allah, then rely upon Him, if you are really Muslims (submissive)."(Qur᾿ān, 10:84) The disciples of Jesus say, "We have believed in Allah and do testify that we are Muslims (submisive to Him.)" (Qur᾿ān 3:52)

     Based on this fact, the Qur᾿ān states another fact stressing that the message of Islam shares the same core and essence with the previous Divine messages. This means that Allah (Glory be to Him) has not sent for Muslims a completely new religion; rather, Allah has revealed to Muslims the same message revealed to the previous Prophets and nations, as Allah says, "He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [Prophet Muḩammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus, to establish the religion and not be divided therein. Difficult for those who associate others with Allah is that to which you invite them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]." (Qur᾿ān, 42 13)

     Thus the Qur᾿ān confirms the previous Divine Scriptures. Moreover, the Qur᾿ān has described both the Torah and the Gospel as containing guidance and light, the same as the Qur᾿ān. The Qur᾿ān reads, "Indeed, We sent down the Torah in which there was guidance and light. The prophets who submitted [to Allah ] judged by it for the Jews," (Qur᾿ān , 5: 44). It also says, " We gave him (Jesus) the Gospel in which there was guidance and light, confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous." (Qur᾿ān, 5: 46)

     The Qur᾿ān states that each one of these Divine Scriptures confirms the previous ones. Prophet Muḩammad has described the relation between him and previous Messengers, no matter how remote they may be in times or places, in a very impressive way when he said, "I am closer to Jesus son of Mary than the whole of humankind both in this worldly life and the life to come. All the Prophets are of different mothers, but they belong to one religion." He means that all the Prophets are like brothers who have the same father but different mothers; the father in this figurative simile is the faith which is shared by all of them, but the mothers, who are different, are the legislations given to every Prophet, which differed pursuant to the difference of nations and the time in which that particular Prophet was sent. In this regard, we have a famous legal maxim which states that "the laws of the past nations form our Sharia as long as they are not abrogated."

     Based on this Qur᾿ānic stance which is as clear as daylight, it is not a matter of exaggeration to disregard any question about the relation between Islam and other religions because such question seems as a question about the relation between parts of one and the same thing. It is totally illogical, is not it?

     You may wonder: Given such a relation of mutual respect, love and preservation of rights between Islam and the other Divine religions, what about the followers of other man-made religions?

     My answer is that the Qur᾿ān has detailed the rules of the relation with the Jews and the Christians because Judaism and Christianity represented the biggest religions adopted in Arabia and the surrounding areas of Persia and Rome at the time of the revelation of Qur᾿ān. As for other religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, they were unknown for the Arabs at that time. However, the teachings of the Qur᾿ān and the Prophetic Sunnah have covered the relation with such religions, stating the general rule that govern the relation between Muslims and non-Muslims in general, basing this relation on the values of justice and fairness with the followers of any other faith or ideology so long as they do not transgress against the Muslims or expel them from their lands: "Allah does not forbid you from being righteous toward those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes, - , so act justly toward them as Allah indeed loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from making allies with those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion. Whoever makes allies of them are indeed the wrongdoers." (Qur᾿ān, 60: 8-9)

     The Qur᾿ān bases this stance on the fact that it looks equally to humans as they all are the children of one father and one mother; a non-Muslims is a brother of a Muslim either in religion or in humanity. Thus, it is a human unity in which one approaches the other, and no one is preferred to another except with good deeds.

Gentlemen!

     A religion based on such values and clear-cut texts cannot be described as a religion of violence, terrorism or extremism. It is not a matter of wisdom to judge religions by the atrocities of few of their followers who grow blinded and misguided. Anyway, it is better for non-Muslims to be fair and to negate such unfounded claims; otherwise no Divine religion will be free from the accusation of terrorism and killing innocents in the name of religion.

     Having stated such a stance, it is necessary to understand how Islam regulates the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. Is it a relationship of peace or killing?

     To answer such a question, it is good to start with a hopefully clear brief of some Qur᾿ānic verses that provide us with Divine laws that govern this issue.

     The first law is that which we can call the law of variation, that is the Will of Allah to create His creatures different from one another. Had Allah willed to create humans with one faith, color or language, He would have done so. This difference is a reality and we know that there are no two persons with the same fingerprints or iris recognition. As the Qur᾿ān states this law of variation, it affirms that it will continue to the end of life. Allah says, "If your Lord had so willed, He would have made all humankind one community; but they will not cease to differ, except those whom your Lord have shown mercy; and it is for this that He has created them." (Qur‛ān, 11: 118-119) "To each of you We prescribed a law and a method." (Qur᾿ān, 5: 48) "It is He who created you; among you there is the disbeliever, and among you there is the believer. Of what you do Allah is All-Seeing." (Qur᾿ān, 64: 2)

     Thus, variation among people is a Divine law as stated in the Qur᾿ān in decisive texts. This necessitates that the relationship between those varied people should reflect the nature of variation itself rather than contradict it. It is illogical that Allah wills to create humans different, and then asks them to force one another against their own nature or orders them to kill each other due to something against their choice. Therefore the Qur᾿ān states the freedom of religion:

  • “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Qur᾿ān , 2: 256)
  • “So whoever wills, let him believe; and whoever wills, let him disbelieve.” (Qur᾿ān , 18: 29).
  • “Would you compel people to become believers?" (Qur᾿ān, 10: 99)
  •  “If Allah had so willed, He would have united them upon guidance. So never be of the ignorant.” (Qur᾿ān , 6: 35)
  • “You are not a controller over them.” (Qur᾿ān , 88: 22)

     Here, the Qur᾿ān answers our question about the societal and international relations in Islam. It states that so long as Allah has created humans different from one another and consequently granted them the freedom of faith, there is no way to deny that the relations between them should be one of peace. To use the Qur᾿ānic term, a relation of ta‛āruf (knowing one another); the Qur᾿ān says, “Humankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female and made you peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Indeed, Allah is Most Knowing, Most Acquainted.” (Qur᾿ān, 49: 13)

     As such, the major issues are put in the Qur᾿ān in a logical order, which is not open for distortion; it is variation in human attitudes which leads to freedom of faith. This entails a relation of peace among the humans. In this way, Islam is perfectly a religion of peace, as it is perfectly a religion of equality. Having understood this, it becomes completely wrong to say–or unfortunately apply the false claim-that the motive behind fighting in Islam is the others’ disbelief. This is a lie about Islam and a contradiction to the conduct of the Messenger of Islam. The truth that should be stated in this regard is that the motive of fight in Islam is to resist aggression and not to eliminate the difference in religion. Otherwise, how could we understand the literature of fiqh that have kept for us the rules of fighting and how Muslims should behave in new regions!

     Muslims have always given the inhabitants of any country they conquered the right to keep their faiths and granted them the rights of citizenship as they applied the rule: "They have the same rights and duties as ours." In no one case did Muslims compel peoples to accept Islam or threaten to kill them for this. This is what the message of the Prophet to the people of Yemen approved, as the message stated, “Those who are Jews or Christians should not be forced to abandon their religions.”

     According to another narration reported by Abdul-Razzāq, the Prophet (pbuh) says, “He who hates Islam from among the Jews or the Christians should not be forced to abandon his religion.” The books of Tafseer (Exegesis of the Qur᾿ān) all agree that the verse stating that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Qur‛ān, 2: 256) was revealed regarding a man from Al-Ansar (Medina population who supported the Prophet) who had two Christian sons. He asked the Prophet: "Should I force them to accept Islam, for they refused to abandon Christianity?" The Prophet (pbuh) did not allow him to do so. Thereafter, the above-mentioned verse was revealed. So, in face of these clear-cut proofs and the application of the Prophet (pbuh), there is no way to accept the wrong interpretation and the misleading understanding that present Islam as a religion that loves blood shedding, killing, capturing free women and selling them in a humiliating manner.

Dignified scholars,

     You may agree with me that there is no way but to promote the sound understanding of our religion that the Muslims have adopted over ages. Besides, it has become necessary for scholars to interact with the real world and assume the responsibility of issuing sound fataws (religious verdicts). It is the duty of Muslim scholars to present the true Islam as a religion of fraternity, mutual acquanitance, and cooperation with the others. They have to promote peace among people in the East and the West and forbid aggression against people. This is the way we find appropriate in Islam. Islam is unique in how it forbids intentional killing and imposes severe penalty upon the killer in the worldly life and the Hereafter.

Venerable scholars,

     It is inevitable to regain the sound fiqh of diversity which was one of the most significant factors of the progress of the Muslim nation. Through understanding the fiqh of diversity, we can distinguish between praised variety and dispraised difference, for the later has seriously affected the Muslim Nation. In light of this difference, indecisive issues turned into decisive ones; uncertain texts were dealt with as clear ones; and general rules turned into specific rules. In light of the fiqh of diversity, we can regain common grounds that all the Muslims agree upon in terms of creed and Shariah, and to let people adopt the opinions they have always been following. The criterion differentiating between right and wrong is the consensus of all the Muslim scholars of the Muslim Nation. In addition, we cannot identify only one Maȥhab (a school of Islamic jurisprudence) for people to follow in faith and worship, imposing it through intimidation. We have to teach our coming generations how the righteous predecessors among the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) differed with one another, but they did not disunite. It was the chaos of difference, shortage of knowledge, which spread takfeer (excommunication) and violence and enabled evil powers to weaken our unity.

Dignified scholars,

     I know that I have discussed in detail some issues that are known to you, but most likely they are vague to many of our young generation, especially the Muslim and non-Muslim university students. I do not know till now any curriculum, whether in the university or pre-university education, that seriously discuss these issues to reveal their truths and eliminate their ambiguity in the minds of the youth and protect them against falling preys to the armed violence calls in the name of Islam. Since last year, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif started teaching two curricula to the students of Al-Azhar institutes to counter issues of terrorism such as takfeer, migration, hakimiyyah, jahiliyyah (ignorance of pre-Islamic period), caliphate, and other issues that the terrorists adopt. Moreover, we started sending peace envoys all over the world, the last one being sent to Nigeria last April. Also, we provide training to the preachers from different counties all over the world at Al-Azhar, and we hold conferences in which the most prominent Muslim scholars from all over the world participate. Among them came Nigerian scholars, including in particular the Nigerian Mufti, Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hoseiny.

Gentlemen,

     Please, accept my apology for the long speech which I wish to conclude by stating that my visit to Nigeria is a visit to the whole Nigerian people with its different groups and constituents, hoping to support its unity, stability and educational and scientific progress. I hope it will help the progress of all Africa and bring back the ancient glory of the Nigerian people in gathering both religious and worldly sciences in harmony.

     Al-Azhar is pleased to offer support for this civilizational process. You may know that more than 3,500 students of your young people study at Al-Azhar, and about four hundred of them receive scholarships. For years, Al-Azhar has been offering thirty scholarships for your young people. On this visit, Al-Azhar has decided to increase that number to fifty scholarships per year to students who desire to study at Al-Azhar University, provided that this increase be allocated to students of scientific faculties such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering, etc. Through its missionary and educational envoys, Al-Azhar promotes proper religious knowledge that is completely far from hateful sectarian ideas which incite hatred and sow disunity among the Nigerian people.

Thank you for your attentive listening!

Peace be upon you

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

Professor Ahmad At-Tayyeb.

 

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