The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the world's leading Sunni Islamic institution, Ahmed El-Tayyeb expressed categorical rejection of the act of insulting Prophet Muhammad and vowed to sue perpetrators at international courts, Al-Azhar said in a statement.
His remarks came in a Sunday meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is visiting Egypt to help de-escalate tensions that followed France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Islam.
Macron defended the right to draw cartoons on Prophet Muhammad, saying that France would not renounce the cartoons. Also, several campaigns were launched in the Islamic world, mainly on social media, calling for the boycott of French products as a response.
If you consider insulting our prophet -peace be upon him- freedom of speech, we categorically reject it, the statement read.
"I am the first to protest freedom of speech when this freedom offends any religion, not only Islam," the grand imam said.
"Europe is indebted to our prophet Muhammad and to our religion, due to the light this religion has introduced to all humanity," El-Tayyeb said.
"We reject calling terrorism 'Islamic,'" El-Tayyeb said, adding that everyone has to immediately stop using this term, as it hurts the feelings of Muslims worldwide and it contradicts the truth known by everyone.
El-Tayyeb affirmed that Muslims around the world reject terrorism acting under the cover of religion, and stressed that Islam and its prophet has nothing to do with terrorism.
"Al-Azhar represents the voice of nearly two billion Muslims, and I said terrorists do not represent us and we are not responsible for their actions. I announced that in all international forums, in Paris, London, Geneva, the United States, Rome, Asian countries and everywhere."
"When we say this, we do not say it as an apology. Islam is above apologies," he added.
"I and this Al-Azhar turban carried the roses at the Bataclan Square — in Paris — and declared rejection of any form of terrorism."
"Violations are available among followers of all religions and under all systems. If we say that Christianity is not responsible for the New Zealand incident, we also have to say that Islam is not responsible for the terrorism of those fighting in its name."
The grand imam also referred to the educational and ideological role of Al-Azhar across time in facing terrorism, saying that it put new curricula affirming that terrorists are criminals and that Islam is not responsible for their acts.
El-Tayyeb hailed Le Drian’s remarks during the crisis sparked by Marcon’s controversial statements, saying his remarks represented the voice of wisdom.
In press remarks, Le Drian affirmed France’s deep respect to Islam, including its role in culture, history, and French sciences, as well as to Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam El-Tayyeb’s role in calling for tolerance and moderation.
He added that Muslims in France are an integral part of the French society and are able to practice their rituals under the state’s protection.
The only battle that should be fought along with partners in Egypt is that against terrorism and extremism and those who distort the religion for political purposes, Le Drian said.
The French minister said his country differentiates between Islam and those extremists, affirming that Muslims are the main victims of terrorism.
"With a great institution such as Al-Azhar, we have to fight against this combination of extremists’ religious hatred and delusions," he said.