Cairo (Agenzia Fides) - After hosting the International Conference on Peace and having reserved a warm welcome to Pope Francis, during his visit to Egypt, the University of al Azhar is shaken by controversy and personal conflicts that have to do with disputes over the relationship between Islam and modernity.
The recent turmoil at the highest spheres of al Azhar began after University President, Sheikh Ahmed Hosni Taha, in a TV interview branded Islamic intellectual al Behairy as an "apostate" (kafir), accusing him of attacking the foundations of the Islamic law. After the Pope’s visit in Egypt, al Behairy had defined the Peace Conference organized by al Azhar as a "comedy", and had renewed the criticisms that had been made against the Sunni University in the past, which he represented as a bastion of religious backward and obscurantist thought. The controversy broke out after al Azhar's President's television talk and accusation of apostasy against al Behairy, also because the Egyptian intellectual has already been sentenced to five years in prison - then reduced to one, and ended before the deadline for the granting of presidential grace - on the charge of having offended Islam. Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyib, the Great Imam of al Azhar, has ordered the removal of President Taha and his ad interim replacement with Mohamed Maharasawy, dean of the Arabic language faculty. The latest developments within al Azhar are related to the reaction of the vice-president of the University, Sheikh Mohammed Mahmud Abu Hashim, who threatened to resort to the judiciary against the decision of the Great Imam al Taiyyb to name as ad Interim President of al Azhar not him but Maharasawy. On Monday, May 8, some members of the academic staff of al Azhar organized a protest demonstration, expressing solidarity with the demands of Vice-President Hashim on the basis of senior service.
The events regarding al Azhar can be seen as a reflection of the tensions triggered by the university's academic body by so many appeals - also by President Abdel Fattah al Sisi - who asks the prestigious Sunni institution to counteract and defeat the Qur'anic jihadist readings more decisively. An answer to the criticisms towards al Azhar came from Anba Paula, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Tanta: in a recent interview, the Bishop of the diocese rejected the attacks of those who blame al Azhar of connivance with the currents of thought that fuel jihad, reserving words of appreciation for the recent Peace Conference organized by the Sunni University and Great Imam Ahmed al Tayyib, praised by Anba Paula for the perspicacity with which he leads a Institution that he knows very well. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 10/5/2017)