Remarks by the grand imam of Al Azhar, widely regarded as the world's most prestigious Islamic institution of learning, have been condemned by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies as serving to "aid and nourish extremist thinking and preaching."
In a statement titled, "The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Calls on Al Azhar's Sheikh to Renounce His Remarks Which Contradict Religious Freedom and Support Violent Extremism," the institute blasted Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb's recent remarks concerning apostasy, first reported in the English here.
Though Tayeb is often portrayed as a "moderate" and "reformer," the prominent human rights organization expressed its "deep regret at the recent remarks recently released by Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, which waste a basic freedom—that of religious freedom—and which aid and nourish extremist thinking and preaching."
Previously on his daily televised show running throughout Ramadan, Dr. Tayeb said that
Contemporary apostasy presents itself in the guise of crimes, assaults, and grand treason, so we deal with it now as a crime that must be opposed and punished.... Those learned in Islam [al-fuqaha] and the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence consider apostasy a crime and agree that the apostate must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.
The institute remarked on what many have noticed: that Al Azhar has two faces, two dialogues: one directed to the West, which preaches freedom and tolerance, and one directed to Muslims, which sounds not unlike radical groups such as ISIS:
It should be noted that Al Azhar adopts two contradictory speeches: one is open and directed externally, while the other supports violent extremism, and is directed internally.
The statement gave several examples of al-Tayeb preaching freedom of religion in front of Western audiences:
In March 2016 before the German parliament, Sheikh al-Tayeb made unequivocally clear that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Koran, while in Cairo he makes the exact opposite claims.
A conclusion of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies very much echoed what many Egyptians have been saying:
Combating terrorism and radical religious ideologies will not be accomplished by directing at the West and its international institutions religious dialogues that are open, support international peace and respect freedoms and rights, while internally promoting ideas that contribute to the dissemination of violent extremism through the media and educational curricula of Al Azhar and the mosques.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.