Why the meeting between the pope and the grand imam of Al Azhar is historic

Pope Francis talks with Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (L), Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque, at the Vatican May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi

RELIGION – Last Tuesday, I was invited to major international conference at the Paris City Hall, the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, in honor of the grand imam of Al Azhar, the highest authority of Islam in world, Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, who lives in Cairo, Egypt, headquarters for more than 1,000 years of this regal institution of Islam.

For his first state visit to the West, the grand imam met Pope Francis and the President of the French Republic, 24 hours apart. It was also gathered before the Bataclan, bruised by the unprecedented terrorist attacks last November. In the West, the great Imam and Al Azhar are relatively unknown institutions, which play a major role in the Muslim East.

It is indeed the highest authority of Islam in the world for over 1,000 years, since the launch in Cairo of the eponymous mosque in 969 J-C. Under the Fatimids, a Shiite dynasty of Egypt, Al-Azhar was the epicenter of the Ismaili propaganda (the mainstream Shia Islam), then he became the real seat of Sunni Islam, after the takeover Saladin, sultan of Kurdish origin, who, as everyone knows, notably recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Al Azhar is therefore beyond a religious institution, already ancient history, which has witnessed the fate of the Mediterranean, and actor more or less bellicose relations, more or less peaceful, Eastern and from Europe.

The Al Azhar grand imam where the throne is a platform for theological and legal decisions for Sunni Islam, and the representation of the body structure of the ulama (the “clergy” Muslim) in the person of the great Imam. Al Azhar is recognized as the guarantor of theological and legal traditions of Sunni Islam. But it also has the authority and legitimacy to reform these traditions.

We know the challenge of a well-urgent reform of the Islamic tradition. From a practical point of view, first, Al Azhar has almost the prerogative of the fatwa; he can declare what is lawful and unlawful in Islam, and because of its history, these decrees are unanimously recognized. On legal and legislative issues, so it is with Al Azhar that the Western states, which have problems with the political demands of their Muslim minorities shall discuss: the issue of the veil, the ritual slaughter of coeducation , etc. Only Al Azhar be the interlocutor of Western states.

That there is such an institution is important, because the crisis of the Sunni religious thought, murderous, was caused in part by a crisis of authority. We observed since the late Ottomans, but even more for the dismissal of the Egyptian monarchy in the 1950s, the proliferation of Muslim pulpits, which caused some dissonance of the “voice” of Islam, chaotic, inaudible, and that destabilized believers, lack of an absolute reference.

This context of crisis of authority was one of the most efficient enzymes to totalitarian extremists, who embodied an absolute proposition and unity, certainly misguided. The electoral instrumentalisation of religious fields Muslims in Europe, but also in Canada, supported this phenomenon, fed in complicity with what some call the Consular Islam; in particular, Islam consulates of North Africa and Turkey, who used the religious field to influence in Europe and Canada, via its large diaspora.

These countries have nurtured the failure of integration, then monetize their assistance in the institutional organization of Islam in the countries of immigration. As if tomorrow Spain and Italy were among the other states where immigrated population, institutional actors of Catholic Christendom. To combat extremism and Islamic terrorism, it is necessary to restore the role and authority of the historic Al Azhar in the world.

Thus, the beneficial initiative of the Pope should be followed by other heads of state in Europe and Canada, where the problems arise from “the islampolitique” and the integration of Muslim immigrants and their descendants. The historic meeting of the grand imam with Pope handed Al Azhar on the stage of history, and is poised to strengthen it in its historical role as “Vatican” of the Muslim world.

In the coming years, Al Azhar, which was commissioned by the Egyptian President al Sissi for reform of Islam will play a global role. Indeed, the institution launched a canonical texts of exegesis of work of the Islamic tradition, and comments by the “classic” thinkers.

Recognizing that the problem is above all reading texts, their exegesis has become a necessity for Islam, archaic, to enter into modernity. Proofreading texts, aided by modern disciplines from hermeneutics, language and new historiographical research is the key ideological struggle and thought against extremism and terrorism.

It is in this sense that Al Azhar opened under the leadership of Sheikh Osama Nabil, director of the French office of the eponymous university, intellectual and renowned in Egypt, the Observatory of Al Azhar, under the direct authority of the grand imam, watching extremist propaganda and correct, from these observations, ideas and misguided concepts.

Surely, the Holy Father he noted the extraordinary efforts and without interruption of Al Azhar to end the wave of terrorism and sectarian wars. Also he kindly receive its grand imam.