Scholars Seek Autonomy As Arbiters of Islamic Law

At Al-Azhar Mosque, the seat of Sunni theology, senior Islamic scholars asserted the mosque's need for independence from government, to preserve its impartiality as final interpreter of Islamic law, Ahmad al-Buyairi reports.

al-monitor Egyptians arrive to attend the Friday prayer at Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, May 21, 2010. Photo by REUTERS/Suhaib Salem.

Topics covered

sunnis, al-azhar

Sep 6, 2012

In their first meeting headed by Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb in Al-Azhar Mosque yesterday [Sept. 5], members of the Senior Ulema Council [a council of senior religious scholars] stressed the need for Al-Azhar to achieve full independence from the government and to assume its role at the international level since it is a basic component of the state and society. The scholars added that, according to the body’s new legal framework and structure — which has restored the previous status of Al-Azhar following the amendment of the Al-Azhar Law No. 103 from 1961 — the council now makes the final decision in cases of disagreement on religious issues.

After deliberations that lasted for four hours, the council members discussed the law concerning the formation of the council and its legal functions. The participants declared their confidence in and allegiance to Tayeb as Sheikh of Al-Azhar and head of the Council of Senior Scholars.

The council members discussed Al-Azhar’s recommendations regarding the second article in the new draft constitution, [which stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Law form the major source of legislation in Egypt]. They also discussed Al-Azhar’s position on articles 3 and 4, which concern Al-Azhar’s independence and note that it is an essential component of society and the state.

The council members announced their full support for keeping the second article in the proposed constitution in the exact form as in the 1971 Constitution. They also support the new article concerning the independence of Al-Azhar, which says that “the senior scholars have the final say in cases of disagreement on issues related to Islamic law.” The council added that the principles of Islamic law cover all necessary issues, along with jurisprudential and fundamental rules adopted by Sunni doctrine.

They also endorsed the article which states that “Christian and Jewish Egyptians should apply the principles of their religions regarding personal affairs and religious rites, and choose their spiritual leaders.” They added that the venerable body will carry out its tasks in serving Al-Azhar, the Muslim nation and all humanity.

The first meeting of the Ulema Council was attended by all board members except for Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi — president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) — who apologized for not being able to attend, and Dr. Abd-al-Mo’ty Bayoumi who died last month.

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