Al-Azhar's Grand Imam to respond to Salafists' 'plan' to remove him

Ahram Online, Monday 24 Dec 2012

Preacher Yasser Borhami says Islamists reached a temporary deal with Azhar to pass a sharia-based constitution, but hope to remove the Grand Imam from his post by a law creating a retirement age for the job

Egypt's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb (Photo:Reuters)

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb is to hold a press conference on Monday responding to allegations made by Salafist preacher Yasser Borhami that Islamists reached a deal with the Imam whereby Al-Azhar's representatives in the Constitutuent Assembly agreed to give more prominence for Sharia in the draft constitution in exchange for Islamists agreeing to immune the Imam from removal.

In a video circulating on social media networks, Borhami, a member of the assembly that wrote the country's draft constitution, was seen apologising at length to a Salafist conference organised last month for "his inability to convince the assembly to remove the article making the Al-Azhar Grand Imam immune from removal."

The controversial preacher, however, told his audience the non-removal clause could be circumvented by issuing a law in a new parliament that sets a retirement age for the head of the prestigious Sunni institution.

Borhami further explained that he would not have been able to pass an interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) had he not coupled it with rendering the Grand Imam immune from attempts to unseat him.

According to Borhami, Article 219 of the draft constitution which included a stricter definition of the "principles of sharia" named in Article 2 of the draft as the main source of legislation, could only pass in exchange for rendering El-Tayeb's position immune.

Article 219 states that "the principles of Islamic sharia include general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community."

"The article, which puts sharia above all in society, was accepted by the Christians in the assembly because they are unfamiliar with our religious terminology," Borhami gloated to an excited audience in the video.

Borahmi said he will also be seeking for the next Grand Imam after El-Tayeb to be chosen by Al-Azhar sheikhs, and not appointed by the president.

El-Tayeb has been criticised by many Islamic groups for his loyalty to ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who appointed him to the position of Grand Imam.

Borhami explained at the conference, which was organised to rally Salafist support for the draft constitution, that he was also able as a Constituent Assembly member to restrict human rights and freedoms.

The one-time surgeon turned preacher said Islamists in the assembly maneuvered to limit personal and political freedoms by adding phrases which insist that freedoms must not violate "societal values and the state's basic tenets."

Borhami attempted to calm critics among Salafists who charge the draft document is weak on achieving their goal of implementing sharia by saying penalties in the new constitution will not only be dictated by laws but also by a constitution governed in its totality by sharia.

Article 76 states that "there shall be no crime or penalty except in accordance with the law or a constitutional article," Borhami assured his listeners.

Yasser Borhami is known as an influential Salafist preacher and one of the founders of the Salafist Call in Egypt, a Salafist movement that spawned Al-Nour Party in 2011.

Borhami is often hailed as a prominent scholar of strict, literalist Islam. He is also known for having made several controversial statements in the past, including one in which he reiterated his stance on Jews and Christians, describing both as infidels.

El-Tayeb will be holding a meeting with Al-Azhar Constituent Assembly members and several of his consultants to formulate a response to the statements made by Borhami, after which he will be holding a press conference.

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