Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb (File photo: Reuters)
Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, has asked the parliament to allow him to attend a plenary session during which a controversial draft law on the Sunni institution will be discussed.
Al-Azhar believes the bill, which was provisionally approved by parliament last month, endangers its independence.
El-Tayyeb was quoted by Al-Azhar’s official Facebook page as asking to attend the session to give the institution’s view, in case the parliament insists on passing the bill despite the “constitutional violation” it comprises.
Drafted by Osama Al-Abd, the head of parliament’s religious endowments committee, and other MPs in 2017, the law aims at granting Dar Al-Iftaa, the state institution responsible for issuing Islamic religious opinions (fatwas), financial, technical and administrative independence, according to a report by a committee formed of members from the endowments, planning and constitutional parliamentary committees.
The law also aims to restructure authorities and powers of the grand mufti, the head of Dar Al-Iftaa, as well as the appointment procedures, period of tenure and procedures to renew the term of the mufti.
Al-Azhar believes the new law will establish an independent authority that is under the justice ministry and is not supervised by Al-Azhar.
El-Tayyeb, in his Sunday statements, said the draft law, if given final approval by the parliament, will build authorities “parallel” to Al-Azhar, and undermine its powers and message.
He also said that fatwas are part of Islamic affairs and religious sciences, which are referred to the supervision and review of Al-Azhar.
He presented a copy of a “circulated” report allegedly issued by the legislative department of the State Council, as the authority in charge of revising draft laws before issuance, stressing that it constitutes an “explicit violation” of the constitution.
The constitution designates Al-Azhar the main reference concerning all Islamic religious matters, including answering religious inquiries, presenting religious opinions on contemporary financial transactions and debunking misconceptions, said a letter sent by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars to the parliament in July.
The body warned that assigning an authority that belongs to the justice ministry and is not affiliated with Al-Azhar to carry out these tasks violates the constitution and the independence of Al-Azhar, adding that Dar Al-Iftaa will accordingly become an entity that is independent from Al-Azhar and will carry out its message without any participation from Al-Azhar.
“Any Islamic religious authority established and working to achieve its [Al-Azhar’s] message is necessarily considered an integral part of Al-Azhar’s message,” the letter said, noting that Al-Azhar should therefore supervise this newly established authority’s work, given the constitutional powers granted to Al-Azhar.
Osama Al-Abd has said the bill will stem the tide of bizarre fatwas.
Grand Mufti Shawki Allam told MPs there is a need to end fatwa “chaos” by “entrusting Dar Al-Iftaa with the exclusive prerogative to issue fatwas.”
“The law states that a Mufti Preparation Centre be set up to provide muftis with scientific training and qualifications. At the end of the preparation period, each mufti will be granted a diploma and licence to issue fatwas on specified religious issues. No religious scholars will be allowed to issue fatwas without the diploma,” the mufti said.
The July report considers this academic mission stipulated by the draft law to be a violation of the mission of Al-Azhar, which is tasked with issuing scientific certificates in Islamic sciences.