The recent wave of sectarian violence Saturday night which claimed a dozen lives and left hundred wounded made my heart ache in a country where Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace for centuries. It is vital for the peace of the region and wider world that the place of all religious communities and their full participation in society should continue to be fully protected and assured. We therefore welcome the firm resolve and assurances of all those in authority to make sure such crimes will not continue to happen.
All Egyptians stand united against such behavior. Sectarian conflict is foreign to Egypt, and those who seek to use this as a pretext to stoke sectarian tensions need to be opposed in everyway possible. At such a sensitive moment, we Egyptians must not participate in the spreading of rumors of such tensions. Rather, we must remain united to ensure that they do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and continue to treat each other with the goodness and respect that has long characterized Egyptian society. This is in the best tradition of both Christianity and Islam which call upon us to observe without compromise the two great commandments to love God, and to love our neighbor.
I join many others in Egypt and around the world in expressing my deep condolences to both the Christian and Muslim families of the victims and speed recovery for the wounded. It is my solemn hope and prayer that this new era brings solace to their hearts, continuing calm to our nation, and a resolve from all Egyptians to work towards a peaceful future.
In the series of momentous events that our nation has been going through, we must move forward to implement the reform programs we all so ardently desire. Integral to this is to continue to stay tuned to the true spirit of the revolution and not to allow divisions to compromise the unity that has been so evidently on display among the great Egyptian people .
Many more steps must follow if our country is to fulfill its aspirations for a full transition. In order to achieve our goals, the country must not allow itself to be sidetracked by minor issues and trivialities, sectarian division, or political infighting. Instead, we must maintain our focus on the important challenges and issues affecting the future of our nation at this critical juncture.
One of the questions that has been raised in debates recently is about the role of religion and Muslim activists and groupings in the creation of a new Egypt. Egyptians are a deeply spiritual people, marked by a profound sense of religiosity. The Egyptian experience with Islam has been one of great tolerance and inclusion. Infused with a deep spiritual sense, Egyptian vision of Islam has always been one of flexibility and understanding. Islam, on this understanding, is not a static, authoritarian system unable to adapt to a changing world. Rather, it is a worldview which demands constant engagement and interaction with the world. This is as true of the Islamic legal tradition as it is of any other part of the religion.
This spirit of moderation, tolerance and flexibility is well reflected in the paradigm of al-Azhar which has long served the Egyptian people, by not only producing first-rate scholars, thinkers and intellectuals, but also by providing educational opportunities for men and women, instilling in them an ethic of integrity, leadership and service and devoting itself to spreading a balanced vision of Islam based on recognized and orthodox ideals infused with spiritual depth. We are confident in this great institution’s ability to restore its status as a historical giant, and exert its influence on the articulation of Islam in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world. Now is the time to support institutions that seek to articulate Islamic discourse suitable to the world we live in with impeccable scholarly credentials, and the worldwide prestige necessary to succeed in creating a better world.
As the Grand Mufti of Egypt, I announced that I will invite the various Islamic groupings and factions in the country to engage in dialogue and discussion regarding the state of the nation in the wake of recent political changes, and to study the various issues that now confront us. This proposal to hold a set of meetings is part of a far-reaching effort to set aside intra-religious differences and divisions among the various Islamic trends in Egypt, and instead strive for unity towards “a common word,” as the Koran advises us. The aim is to arrive at an agreement which can then be presented to the citizenry at large as a clear and focused program of unity and understanding. The only precondition for these meetings are those without which dialogue is impossible: a commitment to avoid from the outset the raising of irrelevant points of disagreement and meaningless accusations; as well as a desire to understand the matters before us carefully and thoroughly before undertaking or advising any action to address them.
In a letter addressed to all of the leaders and scholars of the various Islamic orientations, I announced my willingness to host these meetings at the premises of the Dar al-Ifta, the National Fatwa Office in accordance with Dar al-Ifta’s historic role in facilitating and guiding the religious landscape of the country. The Dar al-Ifta and its personnel are willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to accomplish a unity of purpose and program of tolerance among the religious groups, and to work in the best interests of the various regions and individuals of the country.
I stressed that it is necessary that all parties agree to implement the position endorsed by numerous scholars that anyone who adheres to one of the recognized schools of thought must be considered a Muslim, and treated as one. Under no conditions may he be deemed an infidel, and his blood, honor, and wealth remain inviolable. It is equally impermissible to anathematize followers of the Ash’ari doctrine of Islamic theology, those who practice legitimate Sufism or those who adhere to the authentic way of the salaf. In sum, it is forbidden to anathematize any group of Muslims that believe in God, His Messenger, and the fundamentals of faith, respects the fundamental ritual practices, and denies nothing that is unquestionably known to be part of the religion.
Rather, the principle which should guide any such meetings will be love of God, a love of nation, a love for one’s neighbor and unifying our cause in serving the wellbeing of our nation. Every effort must be made to unify the Muslim community on the agreed-upon religious foundations. All parties wishing to participate in them must do so with open ears and hearts, for it is only through mutual understanding that we will come together. This framework alone will enable these meetings to proceed in a productive manner, acting upon that which we agree, and putting aside that upon which we disagree.
While we are adamant that all Muslim groups must be allowed to participate fully in the creation of the new Egypt, and exercise all associated rights, we feel duty-bound to stress that any group must not claim to monopolize the interpretation of Islam as if they hold the unquestionable and divine truth, thereby precluding other interpretations and understandings of the role Islam is to play in the new Egypt. Our understanding of the role Islam is to play in Egypt is that of a custodian and advocate of the religious and social welfare of all Egyptians, and a representative of the community at large.
Ali Gomaa is the current Grand Mufti of Egypt and one of the world’s most recognizable Muslim scholars.