- Al-Azhar will not call mosque attackers non-believers
- The decision has sparked anger in Egypt
- But takfir is not permitted in mainstream Islam
- Others say: you cannot brand all bad Muslims non-Muslims
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Following an attack on a mosque which killed 305, Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar has sparked anger after refusing to call the perpetrators “infidels.”
“It is not within the power of Al-Azhar to declare the attackers of Al-Rawda as infidels,” spokesperson Abbas Shuman said Sunday of the deadly assault on worshippers in North Sinai.
“Al-Azhar does not judge people, it declines from the issue of takfir because this opens doors we cannot close.”
Takfir is the Arabic term for the act of calling someone a kaafir or nonbeliever.
Many Egyptians have slammed al-Azhar’s failure to verbally excommunicate the people behind the bomb and gun attack, for which no organization has yet claimed responsibility.
The theological institution is regarded as one of the most respected authorities within Sunni Islam.
Well-known presenter Amr Adib asked “why aren’t you declaring them as infidels?” Egypt Independent reported.
“Don’t you realize these people have millions of followers who they convince of their ideas using the Quran and Sunna [sayings of the prophet]?”
There were similar comments online immediately after the attack. @Mou7taram tweeted “More than 155 martyrs. Does that not deserve the honorable Azhar to call ISIS infidels?”
“Al-Azhar must call the ISIS fighters, the Muslim Brotherhood and any scum who kill us infidels,” wrote @samehhanafym.
“Maybe if one of their mothers tells him 'you will die an infidel' he might listen to her. Al-Azhar could save lives through this fatwa.”
Even some scholars from within al-Azhar have called for it to “issue a strong response to these people by declaring them as infidels.”
“The crimes of these terrorist groups have crossed a red line. Destroying houses of God is a major crime,” they said, according to Egypt Independent.
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Takfir has a controversial place in Islam. The judging of fellow Muslims in this way is largely considered unacceptable in its mainstream.
In fact, extremist groups such as ISIS have been denounced as “takfiri” because of their attacks on other Muslims deemed to be “apostates.”
In a backlash against criticism of al-Azhar, many Egyptians have backed the decision not to call them disbelievers.
“No one has the right to call someone else an infidel, tweeted @walid_nazm.
“If Al-Azhar called a disbeliever any man who has said ‘there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’ then what is the difference between the ISIS and Al-Azhar…”
Another Egyptian on Twitter, @ahmedsamir1981, suggested that it was not possible to call every one of the world’s billion Muslims that had killed someone a disbeliever.
“This is a religion, not a youth center where you can withdraw the membership card if someone does a crime.”
Many supported al-Azhar’s stance, warning that if they engaged in takfir then it might set a precedent for ordinary Muslims to denounce their fellow religionists.
This is not the first time al-Azhar has come under pressure to call extremists “apostates.” Similar calls have been regularly issued since the 2015 emergence of a terrorist insurgency in the Sinai.
But it has remained opposed to the practice of takfir, even ousting President Ahmad Hosni Taha in May for calling a prominent critic of Islam an ‘apostate’.
In September Dr. H. A. Hellyer of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East wrote for the Atlantic Council that “when it comes to declaring members of ISIS as non-Muslims—it’s not remotely needed.”
“Muslims recognize that Muslims can do bad things, and should be fought, imprisoned, and so on—even executed, in countries that have capital punishment.”
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