In a two-hour formal meeting that turned into a scholarly debate, the Deputy of Al-Azhar gave answers to the questions raised by the Head of the French Christian Party.
- Bait Al 'elah (Family House) is a unique Egyptian experience and a source of pride for us. Fighting is permitted in Islam to deter the aggression and defend the self.
- States which support extremist groups will no longer be protected from their evil.
- The international community should deal with this issue with transparency and clarity, and it should stop ascribing actions of the extremists to religions.
- We refuse to involve religion in the current form of politics. Real equality between men and women is legislated by the Islamic Shari'ah and it is not confined to the enforcement of Hudud penalties (Allah prescribed punishmens).
Prof. Dr. Abbas Shouman, the Deputy of Al-Azhar, had a meeting with Jan Frederic Poisson, Vice-President of the Law Commission of the French National Assembly and Head of the Christian Democratic Party in which the latter explained that the goal of the meeting is to know the facts about some recent controversial issues as Al-Azhar represents the greatest Islamic institution in the world. It has also a message that can be publicized to clarify a lot of issues. The main points of the discussion are stated below:
At the beginning of his speech, the Deputy of Al-Azhar pointed out that Al-Azhar has a humanitarian message derived from the Qur'an and the Sunnah aimed at serving the entire humanity. As for Bait Al 'elah's (Family House) experience, Shouman said that it is an Egyptian experience launched by Sheikh Al-Azhar that we are proud of as it is the place where Al-Azhar scholars and priests gather to discuss the current problems of the society and exchange ideas that serve the education and culture in Egypt. The place is presided by Sheikh Al-Azhar and Pope of Egyptian Church alternatively.
This idea arose after attacks were carried out against some of the churches in different parts of the world, including some of the Egyptian churches. Islamic militants are accused of perpetrating these incidents. Then, the announcement of the establishment of the Bait Al 'elah was made and the idea was welcomed and supported by the Egyptian churches that realize Al-Azhar's role in this regard
Bait Al 'elah takes serious steps to support the idea of coexistence and cooperation between the Egyptian people and has achieved a great success on the ground. Moreover, it has been further expanded to include 20 branches in Egyptian governorates and more branches are still under progress.
The most important attitude adopted by Bait Al 'elah is the total denouncement of any attack against the places of worship. In addition, it undertakes contribution to the restoration of the impacted churches with full support of Al-Azahr. As for the relationship between religions and violence, Prof. Shouman said that all divine religions stand united in the face of extremism, terrorism and violence.
But the real problem that we suffer from is the misunderstanding of the holy texts and the lack of ability to contradistinguish between the term violence and deterrence of aggression or self-defense and punishment of the aggressor. As in all religions, defending theself and deterrence of aggression are legitimate rights granted within specific limitations and codes.
There are people who take the holy verses about fighting in Islam as calling for violence, but in fact, they are not. All Qur'anic verses in this regard are to be perceived in the framework of deterrence of aggression and self-defense and this is an indisputable right mandated by all laws and regulations.
All religions call for denouncing violence and promoting peace among all human beings.
Al-Azhar and Extremist Groups
Concerning Al-Azhar's attitude towards the extremist groups, Deputy of Al-Azhar said that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is always keen on stating that the violent and extremist groups do not understand Islamproperly and proving to all people that these groups have nothing to do with the true religion; rather they are acting for political purposes.
If the international community wants to address these groups, it should abide by transparency and clarity and stop attributing the actions perpetrated by these groups to religions. The countries that support these groups should know that they are not safe from their threats. Therefore, they must refrain from supporting and covering up their actions, and start standing against their crimes.
Al-Azhar has announced its condemnation of all ideas propagated by these movements, especially the terrorist ISIS group. It held an international conference in December 2014 that was attended by representatives of different religions and sects. All participants agreed that all religions are innocent of terrorism and that all the divine religions have nothing to do with the actions of these terrorist groups. They called on the international community to address these groups and open a dialogue between East and West, North and South for promoting the values of peaceful coexistence among all people.
Moreover, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif has established Al-Azhar Observer in Foreign Languages which works day and night on monitoring the ideas propagated by these extremists groups and reply to their false allegations in several languages.
Furthermore, Al-Azhar has, in cooperation with the Muslim Council of Elders, sent Peace Emissaries to spread peace and moderation of Islam. These convoys were warmly welcomed and achieved great success, which underscores the role of Al-Azhar and its ability to confront the ideas of violence and extremism. We are ready to send the advocates to all world countries to preach these values.
We, the people of Al-Azhar, see that some of these groups resorted to the use of violence for political goals. As for ISIS, it was established by entities which we do not know, but we are sure that they feel hostility towards the whole region. The best proof of that is the occupation of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which lies in the heart of the desert; we wonder how ISIS car fleets moved without being spotted by the satellites that monitor the region day and night! How does ISIS get this advanced technology?! From where did the group get money, clothes, luxury watches and qualitative and advanced weapons?!
As for the religious texts used by ISIS as pretexts for burning and murder, they are either interpolated and have nothing to do with Islamic Shari’ah, or being interpreted according to their whims.
Many countries, including France, adopt wrong approaches in addressing the extremists, opening the door for the radicals to address this call. Moreover, they depend on disqualified people and abandon the qualified scholars of Al-Azhar who are able to preach the right religious discourse. How many Azhari advocates in France compared to scores, or perhaps hundreds, of hard-line advocates who stand up for advocacy of Islam in Europe? Violence will not stop as long as these ideas are present, and the best proof of this is that the coalition that was formed to eradicate ISIS did not achieve the desired success; that is the elimination of this terrorist group. It became rather stronger. Some media reports even stated that the coalition provided ISIS with weapons.
Commenting on the claim that the Qur’an contains contradictory Meccan and Medinaian veses, Shouman said:
“The whole Qur’an is one entity, yet there are verses which were been revealed to the Prophet in Mecca while others were in Medina. As for the Meccan verses, they were sent down to address different circumstances surrounding the Da‘wah (the preaching of Islam). They advised the Prophet (PBUH) and the Prophet's Companions to be patient and to tolerate the hardships and difficulties they encountered. The Meccan verses did not allow the Prophet and the companions to fight back their enemies, and thus they endured the severest forms of torture.
As for the Medinaian verses, they were sent down in different conditions. They gave the Prophet and the companions the permission to ward off aggression against them, but not to start it.
Accordingly, both of the Meccan and Medinaian revelations are complementary to each other with no contradiction at all.”
Dealing with non-Muslims
In response to a question asked by the head of the French Christian Party on whether or not it is permissible in Islam to killing him and confiscate his properties because he is a Christian, Shouman said:
“Our Sharī‘ah neither allows your killing, nor does it allow the confiscation of your properties. Instead, it prohibits taking the lives and properties of the Christians and Jews who are not hostile to Islam, exactly as it prohibits the taking the lives and properties of Muslims. In addition, it decides that whoever commits aggression against those who are peaceful to Muslims shall be inflicted with the same punishment to be applied if the same aggression is committed against a Muslim. At this point, it is enough to tell you one Hadith of our Messenger (PBUH) in which he states, "Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling)."
Furthermore, our Prophet instructs us to give non-Muslims kind treatment and to be good the Copts of Egypt. Al-Azhar’s relationship with Churches, inside and outside Egypt, is a definitive answer to your question.
In reality, the Sharī‘ah of Islam has laid down the foundations of a comprehensive and perfect system that defines the relation between Muslims and non-Muslims; system that I see far exceeding the man-made laws, to the effect that I think that they are unable to bring the like of it.”
Enforcement of Sharī‘ah
A lot of people mistakenly understand the concept of the enforcement of the Sharī‘ah. I think your question hints to applying the legal penalties. In fact, the Sharī‘ah of Islam is more comprehensive than this aspect. It is a integrated system that includes acts of worship and dealings among people. Moreover, it organizes the behaviors of people in order for them to live in peace and security. As a matter of fact, most of the Islamic Sharī‘ah with regard to acts of worship and dealings is applied in the Muslim countries. As for the legal penalties, we can view the man-made penalties as deterrent and incorporated in the Islamic Sharī‘ah, and thus remain certain crimes for which legal penalties are prescribed and which many people refer to when they talk about the enforcement of the Islamic Sharī‘ah. As a matter of fact, the rulings of these legal penalties are decisive and cannot be altered or changed. Therefore, rulers must apply them whenever there are people who are ready for them and whenever crimes are definitively proved.
But, societies should not be declared disbelievers or corrupt because of the non-application of this simple but important part of the Sharī‘ah. It is worth mentioning to know that the criminal, in light of the application of this part of legal penalties, may escape the punishment in this worldly life in case proofs are not sufficient or conclusive like the non-existence of witnesses or the existence of any doubt that may eradicate the foundations of the crime.
This was why Caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab would not cut off the hand of a thief during the year or Ramadah (a year of starvation) due to the dire need of money, which represented a valid excuse for not applying this severe punishment. The main purpose of punishment is deterrence, and deterrence is not confined to these forms of punishments. Rather, the knowledge of the lawful and the unlawful must be more deterrent than punishment, because a criminal may escape punishment in this life, but he will receive the punishment in the Hereafter, which will definitely be severer.
Religion and Politics:
Regarding the relation between religion and politics, the Deputy of Al-Azhar said that religion aims at achieving the welfare of humans. It includes an integrated system of morals, ethics and behaviors that people have to abide by. When religion is correctly perceived, it shall not contradict politics, which aims also to achieve the welfare of humans. As for Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, it refuses to mix religion with politics in its modern form. Religion cannot go without moral standards, while politics does not mostly care about moral values. In addition, many issues in politics relate to the worldly affairs, that change constantly, and some of these affairs have nothing to do with religion. Our Prophet said about worldly affairs, "You have better knowledge in the affairs of the world." All that come from politicians, when it is in conformity with the general objectives of Shari’ah, then it does not contradict religion. If it does not conform to the basics and principles of Shari’ah, then it has no relation with religion. In our Shar’iah, there are no static formulae that politicians have to strictly abide by. Rather, there are a group of values and guiding principles that politicians can benefit from. As an institution, Al-Azhar keeps itself away from politics and recognizes not the concept of theocratic state.
Equality between Men and Women
The true equality between men and women is the one sanctioned by the Islamic Shari’ah. Islam has given women their rights, ensured them their full freedom, financial independence and the rights to choose their husbands and has given women a share of inheritance. Moreover, Islam has made it obligatory for men to protect women, either as a daughter, a wife or a mother. This means he has to protect her from birth till death. In the perspective of Islam, a woman is not less than a man in rank. Many forms of equality perceived in the West as gender equality is not as such. For example, the equality between men and women in inheritance, as some call, is grave injustice. It is man who shoulders the financial obligations and is fully responsible financially for the woman. If a man has two wives one lives in a city, while the other lives in a rural area, it would be unjust for the one living in the city to give her an equal amount of money as the one living in the rural area, because the expenses of living in a city would be more than living in a rural area. If a man has a son in the preparatory school and a daughter in the university, it would be unjust to give them equal amount of money. On the other hand, the difference between men and women in salary –as the case in some Western countries- is unfairness for women because salary is paid for one’s work which does not differ from men to women. Thus, the true and just equality between men and women is that promoted by our Shari’ah, not that which is claimed by some people.
At the end, the vice-president of the Law committee in the French National Assembly and the chairman of the French Christian Democratic Party said, "As a member of the French Parliament, I cannot criticize the Parliament outside the country. However I’m not happy with the way the French government deals with ISIS. There are many decisions to stop ISIS expansion that have not been taken such as conducting an investigation on the case of buying oil from ISIS."
He thanked the Deputy of Al-Azhar for clarifying many issues that had been ambiguous for him and for his colleagues in the Parliament. He wished as well to see the Deputy of Al-Azhar and other scholars from Al-Azhar in Paris to clarify these issues.