Egypt's Al-Azhar sponsors conference to educate 'brainwashed' Arab militants

Mariam Rizk , Thursday 4 Dec 2014

Al-Azhar has condemned militant groups as 'sinful' and committing 'crimes against humanity' as it called for moderate teaching to fight extremism

Egypt's most prestigious Sunni Islamic Institute, Al-Azhar called on clerics and religious men from 120 countries attending a terrorism-fighting conference Wednesday to educate the "brainwashed" Arab youth who join the extremist militant groups.

The two-day conference, sponsored by Al-Azhar and attended by 600 Muslim clerics and heads of Christian churches, comes as part of Egypt's ongoing attempts to respond to the radical image of Islam exported through the rising militancy in the region.

Egypt is part of the international coalition to fight terrorism, with high expectations from the international community about the significance of its role in fighting radical religious thought and spreading moderate Islamic teachings through its Al-Azhar organisation.

Since the ouster of former islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year, the country's authorities have branded Al-Azhar as the advocate for moderate Islam, saving the country from the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has, on several occasions, blamed religious discourse for the extremism that Egypt and other countries in the region are suffering from. 

In the second and final day of Al-Azhar's conference, the renowned institution condemned militant groups as "sinful" and having nothing to do with Islam.

"Terrorising the peaceful, killing the innocent, assaulting property and sanctities are crimes against humanity that Islam totally condemns," the final statement said.

It has called on the moderate clerics and institutions to hold training programs and learning sessions for the young Arab men who have been fed faulty interpretations of the Holy Quran and Islamic law, which led to terrorism.

A militant group calling itself the Islamic State, which has claimed control over large parts of Syria and Iraq, poses a real threat to the Arab countries and has been attracting thousands of fighters worldwide.

The group, establishing a self-proclaimed caliphate, drew support and allegiance from several militant groups including Egypt's Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

Al-Azhar said meanings of caliphate and Jihad should be set straight for the youths.

"All the recommendations (of the conference)…will be a clear agenda for fieldwork in the coming period in mosques, conferences with youth and training of Imams," Ahmed El-Torki, head of religious preaching and research department said.

"When Al-azhar talks, everyone else stays silent," El-Torki said. "It is the only institution qualified for taking that leading role in spreading moderate teachings of Islam."

Al-Azhar stressed that Muslims and Christians have lived in harmony in the Middle East for many centuries and will continue doing so, criminalising any action of forced eviction to Christian residents in areas controlled by militant groups.

"Assaulting Christians and believers of other religions through false piety is a disobeyance of the correct teachings of Islam," the statement said.

It has also called on "impartial thinkers and officials of the West" to correct Islam's image and to rethink the negative stances.

Head of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayyeb had blamed on Wednesday Western plots for "playing on the sectarian and racial tension."

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