Speech of His Eminence Prof. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif to the House of Lords, 11 June 2015

  • | Thursday, 11 June, 2015
Speech of His Eminence Prof. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif to the House of Lords, 11 June 2015

Baroness D'Souza, the speaker of the House of Lords,

Respected Ladies and Gentlemen,

Members of the House of Lords,

Peace be upon all of you. 

Allow me to express to you how delighted I am to be among this distinguished group, the grandsons and daughters of the makers of civilization and modernity, the guardians of social justice, the advocates of freedom and human rights- freedom of religion, opinion and creativity.

I came to speak to you and to listen to you with the hope that our thoughts and opinions can meet at a point for the good of all the people in the west and the East. 

Allow me also to speak to you briefly about Al-Azhar whom I represent. Al-Azhar is a scientific and educational institution.  Its roots go centuries back as it was founded in 972 CE.  It was built to be a mosque for worship and teaching together.  This continued from that time and it carries the responsibility to spread the knowledge about this religion (Islam).  It is also responsible to convey its scientific and spiritual message in a pure form to all people today.  In modern ages Al-Azhar developed to be one of the biggest institutions including the oldest university in the world.  This university is composed of seventy one different faculties that spread all over Egypt from Aswan in the south to Alexandria and Damietta at the Mediterranean in the north.  More than 300,000 students study the different branches of knowledge in all its faculties including the knowledge of the Islamic Shar'iah, which is taught in specialized Islamic faculties; and the natural sciences which are taught in the faculties of science, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, agriculture and other.  Among these students of Al-Azhar University there are 14,000 overseas students from 110 countries from around the world.  There are 10,000 educational institutes before the university level where two million students, boys and girls, study, many of them are also overseas.  In addition to this, there is the Islamic Research Academy.

I believe it is important to refer to the fact that the curricula taught to the students in Al-Azhar since childhood until they graduate from university is based on multiple thoughts and different points of view.  It involves the study of the different Islamic sects within Shar'iah and Islamic jurisprudence.  It is also based on presenting all the opinions that may even contradict each other.  As such, the students receive their knowledge in Al-Azhar from the age of ten. They are taught that these different views together are sound and correctly express Islam. This way actually helps the mind of the students of Al-Azhar to accept different opinions.  It also makes them liberated from being narrow- minded in sticking to one opinion or doctrine viewed right by one group and wrong by another.  This multiple topic methodology in which students become rooted gives these students an open mind and immunity against extremism, exclusion, violence and labeling other disbelievers. 

Ladies and gentlemen, look at the leaders of terrorism and extremism, do you find among them a graduate from Al-Azhar?  It will be very difficult to find one like this, except for one well known Azharite. 

I apologize for this lengthy introduction which, I hope, is enough to put right Islam that is faithfully expressed in Al-Azhar.  I hope it managed to prove you the falsity of the news that some of the terrorist and militant movements were borne from the womb of Islam, and that the teachings of this religion had made ‘ISIS’ and other terrorist movements.  It is also not true that Islam is responsible for this black terrorism.  Unfortunately, these bad rumors spread widely and were welcomed and ended up by ‘the Islamophobia’ phenomenon, which played and still playing a very bad and serious role in fuelling the clash of civilization between the west and the east. 

Let us now agree, my friends, on a principle which we all can refer to.  This principle is that it is not fair or acceptable to judge religions by the acts of some terrorists and criminals who follow these religions.  This is for a logical reason which is very simple that the teachings of religions are the first to condemn these terrorists and their terrorist inhuman crimes.  If we as Muslims dare not to condemn the Christian and Jewish religions because of what some of the followers of these religions committed against Muslims like killing, displacement and aggression, whether now or in the past, then why Islam should be responsible for the acts of those people who behave against its teachings.  We say this in spite of the clear condemnation of Muslims for the crimes of these militant groups in America, Europe and Arab world and all that they do such as, beheading, burning people alive and claiming to do this in the name of God and the name of Islam.

The reasons that stop us, ladies and gentlemen, from judging Judaism and Christianity by what is committed by some of their followers against Muslims is that our Islamic faith would never be complete except by believing in these two religions and all the previous heavenly messages.  We believe in all the prophets and messages of God like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace  be upon them.

Reading the history of the crusades, I have noted that Muslim historians have avoided calling it crusades.  They call it the wars of the foreigners.  I have also noticed that the word ‘crusade’ was not included in the modern Arabic literature except when it was translated from European literature. 

Heavenly religions, ladies and gentlemen, first and last are nothing but messages of peace to human beings.  I even claim that it is a message of peace to animals, plants and the environment.  We need to know that Islam as a religion does not allow Muslims to use weapons except in one condition, which is to defend oneself, property and country.  It never happened that Muslims fought others to force them to adopt the religion of Islam.  In addition, Islam does not see non-Muslims, Christians and Jews from the perspective of enmity, tension and violence, but from the perspective of human brotherhood and kindness.  There are clear verses in the Qur'an - all of which I do not have time to mention - which state that the relationship between Muslims and those who live peacefully with them, regardless of their religions or sects is a relationship of love, fairness and righteousness.  It is not fair to mention that Islam, revealed to Muhammad - peace be upon him, expresses itself, through the Qur'anic texts, as an opposite religion to Christianity and Judaism. However, it presents itself as the last link of one divine religion chain called Islam starting with Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and ending with Muhammad, peace and prayer be upon them all.  Moreover, Islam states that the origin of religion is one in all these messages and that is why the Qur’an mentions the Torah and the Gospel with very respectable words.  It recognizes their impact in restoring humanity from going astray.  This is why Allah, the Almighty, describes the Torah and the Gospel in the Qur'an as “guide and light”[1] and He also describes Qur’an as a Book that confirms the truth in the scriptures that preceded it i.e. Torah and Gospel.

Islam is linked with all other heavenly religions with physical links, however it has a special relation with Christians.  It’s written in the Qur’an that they are the nearest people to Muslims. The relationship between the two religions is friendly and brotherly. Christians as described by Qur’an are humble people who are not haughty.[2] The followers of Jesus, peace be upon Him, are given compassion and mercy in their hearts by God.[3] Many of the Christian clergymen express their joy at what they read in the Qur’an and the prophetic sayings (Hadith) about Christianity and Christians in general and about Jesus and Mary, peace upon them, in particular.[4]

I think that the messages of religious fraternity communicated by Islam and Christianity are enough to build bridges of continuous understanding and closeness between Muslims and Christians in the East and the West, especially when the two religions are academically and objectively considered away from the rule of materialism, politics and misinterpreting religion, distorting its teachings and making use of its sanctity to achieve personal benefits and interests at the expense of universal and moral values. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the House of Lords,

Unfortunately, the current international situation is dominated by fear from the terrorism that is expanding in many regions. We have to pay attention to the fact that if ISIS is expanding now in the Middle East, it will expand in any place in the world in the future unless we have a serious international will to confront this destructive epidemic. We need to be frank in analyzing the reasons which led to its emergence and its fast expansion so that it would be possible for us to combat this grave danger and eliminating its sources and potentials. 

It became necessary, ladies and gentlemen; that the relation between the East and the West should be one of peace and understanding that is based on mutual respect for their different doctrine, identity and cultures.  Above all, we need to have a sense of global and human brotherhood.  You may be surprised to know that the scholars of Al-Azhar gave attention, from the very beginning, to the necessity of this brotherhood.  The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Maraghi sent a message to an international conference held here in London on 3rd July 1936, in which he reached the conclusion that there was no way for humanity to resolve the international conflicts except by achieving international collegiality between all nations. He presented a detailed programme that cannot be elaborated on here due to time constraints.

I would like to assure you that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif gives priority, at the present time, to unveiling the falseness of this extreme thought and its great deviation from the Islamic Sharia. Al-Azhar held an international conference in last December in which all oriental churches and religious and ethnic minorities as well as Sunni, Shi'ite, ibadi scholars and others were represented. They all made a clear statement (a copy of which will be given to you) which criminalized violence, extremism and blood-shedding. The statement also stated that heavenly religions are innocent from killing people and infringing on their rights.  It also denounced the practices of forced displacement of non-Muslims in Iraq from their areas and called on them to remain in their homes and fight such practices. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We came at an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury full of honest desire to achieve mutual understanding, close co-operation, complete respect for the religious and cultural differences in order to achieve our dream of international peace so that the poor and rich, alike, can enjoy such peace.  Do I have the right to have such a dream? 

Thank you for listening.



Ahmad al-Tayyib

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar




[1] Qur'an (3: 43) and (5:44)

[2] Qur'an (5: 82)

[3]  Qur'an (57: 27)

[4] Abd al-Rahman 'Atiyya, Al-Muslimoon wa al-Nasaara, (Syria, Aleppo 2007) p. 34

Categories: Speeches