Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has called for a “revolution” in religious discourse to confront extremist ideology during a speech celebrating the birth of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad on Thursday.
Sisi called for “revamping religious speech in accordance with the tolerant Islamic religion” during the celebration organized by Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments). The Egyptian president called on the Awqaf Ministry and Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority in the country, to do more to combat extremist ideology and promote a moderate understanding of Islam.
“This renewal [of religious discourse] must be conscious and preserve the values of true Islam, eliminating sectarian polarization and addressing extremism and militancy,” the president added.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Egypt’s Awqaf Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said: “My ministry, which overseas around 200,000 mosques across the country, is exerting unremitting efforts to develop religious discourse by using modern technology to immunize Egyptians, and particularly the youth, against takfirist and destructive ideas.”
Gomaa called on Egypt’s scholars to return Islamic discourse to its rightful place, stressing that this must be “flexible” and open to different interpretations.
“The ministry is in the process of preparing for an international conference set to take place in February on this issue and which will discuss correcting and renewing Islamic religious discourse,” he added. Gomaa said that the summit will seek to address some of the “mistakes” being promoted by groups affiliated with Islam and which are harming the youth’s understanding of the religion.
“Islamic religious scholars from across the world will confirm in one voice: ‘no’ to extremism, and ‘yes’ to tolerance,” he said.
During his speech, Sisi specifically called on Al-Azhar scholars to lead the process of revitalizing religious discourse in Egypt and confronting extremist ideology and incitement to violence, an implicit reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian state holds responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in the country following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University Abdul Halim Mansour said: “Renewing religious discourse requires a return to the religious discourse that was present during the time of the Prophet which was characterized by flexibility, without imposing itself on anybody.”