Why doesn’t Al-Azhar condemn ISIL as being un-Islamic?
The Al-Azhar university in Cairo is a prestigious and venerable Sunni Islamic institution. Founded around 970 AD, it is described by some as being equivalent to the Vatican of the Sunni world, although it is more apt to liken it to the Harvard or Oxford of Sunni theology and praxeology. So the scholars and imans of Al-Azhar should know a thing or two about what constitutes Islamic belief.
Al-Azhar considers ISIL’s ideology to be a false form of Islam and they reject their liberal use of takfirism.[*] In the aftermath of ISIL’s immolation of the captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, Al-Azhar called for the “killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs of ISIS terrorists.” However, for all of their disagreements with ISIL they have not declared it as being apostate or un-Islamic.
The question that arises is why doesn’t Al-Azhar officially declare ISIL as being un-Islamic? After all President Barack Obama has stated that “ISIL is not Islamic.” Fortunately for us this question has been answered by an Islamic scholar from Al-Azhar, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Nasr. His answer was:
“It [Al-Azhar] can’t [condemn ISIL as un-Islamic]. The Islamic State [ISIL] is a byproduct of Al-Azhar’s programs. So can Al-Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic? Al-Azhar says there must be a caliphate and that it is an obligation for the Muslim world [to establish it]. Al-Azhar teaches the law of apostasy and killing the apostate. Al-Azhar is hostile toward religious minorities, and teaches things like not building churches, etc. Al-Azhar upholds the institution of jizya [extracting tribute from religious minorities]. Al-Azhar supports stoning people. So can Al-Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic?”
So there you have it, the most prestigious institution of Sunni Islamic learning cannot denounce ISIL as being un-Islamic, because to do so one would also have to denounce Al-Azhar’s teachings as being un-Islamic! But we probably shouldn’t take Muhammad Abdullah Nasr or even Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who has a Ph.D in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad) seriously on such matters. It is Obama and Kerry and the other Western officials who are the true experts when it comes to Islam. And since they say ISIL is not Islamic, then that must be the truth.
No, it is Nasr and al-Baghdadi who actually understand what Islam is and for this reason we should pay attention to what they say. But our leaders seem stuck in a land of fantasy when it comes to Islam and ISIL. They keep repeating that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. They are unable, or unwilling, to accept that ISIL’s violent and intolerant interpretation of Islam, while being one among many others, is a largely valid interpretation. In other words ISIL is compatible with Islam. It is only when Obama and company accept this reality that they will be able to understand ISIL’s ideology and why people are drawn to it. Only then will we have a chance to successfully counter ISIL ideologically.
[*] Takfirism can be thought of the doctrine of declaring other Muslims as being un-Islamic or apostates due to their behavior and beliefs.