Following the Paris attack tragedy and what happened on Friday , suddenly the West began to pay attention to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s call inside Al-Azhar for a religious revolution when it comes to Islamic thought and discourse. Some even began in Egypt and outside it to consider El-Sisi , a former military man as the Ultimate religious reformer and Islam’s Martin Luther too.
I do not know if those hopes and bets on El-Sisi to reform Islam and Islamic thoughts are just hopes or jokes to be honest with my due respect.
Religious thought revolution needs a true freedom of thought and expression to take place not under censorship and repression. Do I need to speak about the situation of freedom of expression in Egypt right now !? Do I need to speak about the situation of freedom of though in Egypt now when we are not allowed to comment whether on unjust legal verdicts or dare to discuss the military or security situation in Sinai !? Bassem Youssef’s show was shot down and no critical voices are allowed on TV.
Personally I believe El-Sisi’s words in Al-Azhar were more of a PR stunt to show the West how he stood against radicalism and extremism to Islam unlike Morsi. For his luck comes Charlie Hebdo’s tragedy and now he has become Islam’s Martin Luther in some sick joke. Ironically both Mohamed Ibn Abdel Wahab , the founder of Wahabism and Hassan El-Banna , founder of Muslim Brotherhood were considered as reformists ironically.
Needless to say even when you think about what El-Sisi said , you will know that that man was speaking unrealistically gathering the One billion and half Muslims all over the globe under one Islamic discourse and thought. Muslims are not the same , there are Sunni and Shiite as well Sufism orders in both sects. There are different schools in Islamic interpretation for the Religious and Holy text. Just to believe that the one billion and half will follow one discourse and one school of thought is something silly.
That true religious though and discourse revolution means liberating the religious though and discourse from both State control as extremism control.
I do not know how we are going to liberate the religious discourse from state control when one of the most effective weapons used by the State is the religious discourse when it needs. El-Sisi told Sheikh Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb that he would stand in front of God during the judgment day and would ask him and other Al-Azhar Sheikhs why they did not stand against extremism. Of course like famous Egyptian writer Belal Fadl said in his column in Al-Araby Al-Gadid Almighty Lord.
Anyhow I do not understand how Al-Azhar institution, Egypt and the world’s oldest Sunni Islamic institution is going to lead this religious revolution or reform itself without a complete cultural revolution in the Egyptian society. When you think about it Al-Azhar is just another state institution that needs a revolution of its own to save from it decay that hit all the state institutions in the past 30 years.
Some analysts believe that the fact that Al-Azhar was nationalized in 1961 by Nasser affected its discourse and thought.
Ironically Al-Azhar Institution was founded to be the regime’s religious arm spreading its beliefs. The Fatimid caliphate of North Africa established Al-Azhar in their capital “Cairo” to become the beacon of Shia Islam in the world or this is what they hoped for. Then came Saladin, the founder of Ayyubid dynasty and the hero who stood against the crusades. Saladin turned Al-Azhar from the Shia Islam beacon in the world to become the beacon of Sunni Islam in the world in some historical irony and currently it is against Shia.
Back to our topic despite politicians and rulers played a critical role across time in spreading religions and religious reforms most of the times for their own political gains , true religious revolution won’t happen by giving an order to a bunch of appointed sheikhs who care for their seats more than anything to fight extremism.
There many reasons for extremisms , one of them is outdated radical religious discourse and another reason is oppression. You cannot solve the problem without tackling all reasons.