Sunday, June 8, 2008

Al-Azhar Cleric Addresses Controversy

By Lisa Munger
Photo by Jasmin Bauomy

Bootcamp students saved the hottest topic for the end of a question and answer session Sunday with Abd El Faltah Allam, the First Deputy of Sheikh Muhammed Sayed Tantawi, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar mosque.

The reporters pressed Allam and Abdel Naby Farag, a prime minister under the Sheikh, to explain a controversial fatwa issued by the Sheikh earlier this year. The religious dictate suggested journalists might be flogged for disseminating information that ran counter to the Sheikh’s positions.

Speaking through a translator, Farag said: “These words were in a [regularly scheduled] speech by Sheikh Al-Azhar. It didn’t have anything to do with journalists – the speech said Islam was against the spreading of false rumors. Some writers misinterpreted the speech. He didn’t mention the word ‘journalist’ whatsoever.”

The Al-Azhar school teaches Islamic studies; the Sheikh is appointed by the leader of Egyptian government.

Allam agreed with his colleague’s assessment of the disagreement.

“The Koran says those who spread corruption will be tortured in this life, and in the next,” Allam said. “The people were very happy about the speech. Those who misunderstood it have bad intentions.”

Allam said the bootcamp journalists’ focus on the matter was unfounded.

“Have you ever heard of anyone being lashed in Egypt?” he said.

Several other issues surfaced during the session, including gender equity, Christian and Muslim relations.

One student asked whether there is equality in Islam between men and women.

Allam said it's incorrect to apply the term “equality” to gender equity in Islam.

“We don’t use equality as the word- there are natural physical differences for men and women,” said Allam. “Islam made men and women equal in worship; there is no difference concerning how they worship God.”

Allam said relations between Christians and Muslims are harmonious as well.

“In Islam, other groups have rights completely, even if they are the minority – Christians, Jews, everything – all society has rights,” he said.

Allam said Egyptian Christians and Egyptian Muslims have the same rights under the law and should be treated as such.

“Cooperation is everywhere – in the street, in the school, in neighborhoods. It’s a relationship of love.”

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