The latest issue of Al-Azhar’s newspaper Sawt Al-Azhar (Voice of Al-Azhar), focused on the reignited crisis of the satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, in the wake of the tragic murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month by an 18-year-old Chechen radical Islamist.
The new issue takes on a new progressive leaning that the newspaper adopted in dealing with the issues related to Islam and its followers and the perceptions of non-Muslims about Islam.
The paper’s position on many issues seems to break away from the old editorial choices that took a more traditional approach.
Under a bold headline that carries the Quranic verse “Surely We will be sufficient for you against the mockers,” [Al-Hijr - 95] came an illustration on the front page of an Azharite teacher in front of a blackboard with the question “What do you know about the Prophet Muhammad?” The two students sitting in the class are Islamophobia and Extremism, and the teacher is telling them that they both failed in answering the question.
The first page is a clear rebuke of both extremism and Islamophobia and asserts Al-Azhar's position, denouncing offences to the Prophet Muhammad and violence as a response to it.
The newspaper also asserts its rejection of discrimination, double standards, offending religious senilities of all believers from all religions, employing religion for political ends, and justifications of violence and terrorist attacks. Instead, it promotes the stances of the prophet, embodying mercy, tolerance, and peace.
The caricatures crisis has been reignited after 18-year-old Chechnya-born Abdullakh Anzorov beheaded French teacher, Samuel Paty, on 16 October, for allegedly showing cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohamed in a classroom. Anzorov was killed by police.
The incident was largely denounced by Muslims around the world, but President Emmanuel Macron’s words in the eulogy of Paty, when he said that France will not condemn the cartoons, were seen as offensive by Muslims and steered the crisis in the wrong direction, agitating extremists and fuelling angry sentiments among ordinary Muslims on social media.
The new issue of the Voice of Al-Azhar sheds light on the reactions of the religious institution and its Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb to Macron’s statements. El-Tayyeb said “we are currently amid a systematic campaign aimed at including Islam in various political conflicts and discord.
"This began with the sinister attack on the Prophet of Mercy (peace and blessings be upon him). We will not accept our religious symbols becoming victims of election campaigns in the political arena. I say to those who justify insulting the Prophet of Islam, the real issue lies in your hypocritical ideologies and petty agendas," he said.
"I would also like to remind you that a leader's utmost responsibilities are to maintain civil peace and preserve social harmony, respect religions, avoid strife and not fuel conflict in the name of freedom of expression," he added.
The issue comes out also on the week where Muslims around the world celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohamed, which was an opportunity to put out his message of mercy.
Pages 4 to 7 are dedicated to articles on the way the prophet coexisted with believers of other religions and those who did not believe him and how his message focused on peace and tolerance even when he was insulted to his face and with those who assaulted him.
The paper republished statements by Pope Francis in 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where he said that “freedom of speech and expression are fundamental human rights. However, there should be limits to offending and ridiculing the faiths and beliefs of others.”