“Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people. There is a need for a new vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam—rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”
General El-Sisi’s speech, Armed Forces’ Department of Moral Affairs – January 2014
How has al-Azhar, often referred to as the highest reference in Sunni Islam, navigated the recent Egyptian upheavals?
The institution, both a Mosque and a University, could have cloistered itself away from the course of History, waiting for the dust to settle. Instead, it found itself at the very center of events, both as an actor taking sides and position, and as the object of opposing national and constitutional projects for Egypt.
Such a central and active role in a highly volatile environment, where today’s victors are tomorrow’s fools, has not been without contradictions and conflicts within and around the institution. This may ultimately come at a high price for the already weakened authority and legitimacy of al-Azhar in Egypt and beyond.
The following article intends to shed some light on al-Azhar’s role in contemporary Egypt (I), rectifying certain misconceptions about its status in Islam, before analyzing its positioning during the Nile Revolution (II) and since the restoration of the military rule (III). Continue reading