Egypt′s Grand Mufti, politics and religion | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.07.2016
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Egypt's Grand Mufti, politics and religion

Shawki Ibrahim Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt was a guest at the University of Bonn in Germany. In a panel, he called for inter-religious dialogue; however, political issues were not addressed.

Terrorism cannot be based on Islam. Religion does not in any way legitimize acts of terror. Terrorists cultivate a random interpretation of religion that has nothing to do with established theology, says the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Ibrahim Allam.

During a panel discussion in Bonn, Germany, Allam made it clear that jihadists and other criminals are appropriating religion for their own ends. He and his colleagues at Dar al Ifta, the Egyptian fatwa office, have analyzed jihadist writings of various authors. He said, "Theologically, they are all untenable."

Scholars in many other fatwas have said the same. In 2014, Allam and 120 other Islam scholars had expressed this opinion in an open letter to the leader of terror organization "Islamic State" condemning the crimes committed in the name of the religion.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt holds the highest religious office in his country. As a religious authority, he is responsible for issuing religious legal opinions published by the Egyptian government agency he heads, Dar al-Ifta' al-Misriyyah, the Egyptian fatwa agency.

Since his election in 2013, Shawki Ibrahim Allam has been promoting a moderate and open Islam. Wherever he goes, he seeks to establish dialogue. He feels that people all over the world should respect cultural and religious diversity. Allam encourages people to speak to each other; otherwise they will not overcome their distrust of each other. A religion shows how good it is in its achievements. "The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind," he said, quoting the founder of Islam, Mohamed. He maintained that people must accept differences.

Bonn Veranstaltung „Im Namen des Islam?

Ahmad Mansour (European Foundation for Democracy), Prof. Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf (University of Cologne), Prof. Christine Schirrmacher (University of Bonn)

The sins of the West

That is how Allam created a basis for a relaxed and uplifting dialogue, as often fostered in such events. The Cologne-based Islamic scholar, Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf, recalled the problematic role that religion has played in the West for over 200 years. It has repeatedly interfered in politics and society in the Middle East and often dictated conditions. Arabs needed religion to counter the West's excessive power- this comes as no surprise.

"The fact that Islam acts as an ideology is rooted in its origin, which is not Western; it is not an ideology imported from the West. Instead, people can put faith in something authentic that belongs to them," Damir-Geilsdorf explained.

Actually, repentant Westerners should be asking different questions about the shortcomings of the Arabic world. After all, most Arabic states have been independent for at least a half a century - like Iraq, Syria and Libya - and have also brought forth numerous autocrats. Egyptian is also familiar with a long tradition of authoritarian governments.

But the subject of the Muslim states' responsibility was like a great void, an almost unutterable taboo that none of the participants dared to touch on. Only the Berlin psychologist, Ahmed Masour, dared to address difficult issues by mentioning Wahhabism, an ultraconservative Sunni movement based in Saudi Arabia. But his conversation partners did not take up the subject.

Missed opportunities

The panel participants did not discuss any other urgent subjects. Actually, they should have reviewed the Egyptian government's gross human rights violations. Hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death in mass trials; thousands are still in custody.

Secular oppositionists face a similar fate. How do Egyptians react to this situation? How does the Grand Mufti view the authoritarian leadership style of the Egyptian government? How does he explain the rampant terrorism that has developed in Egypt since the fall of Morsi's Islamist government?

Neither Islam scholar Christine Schirrmacher, who moderated the evening, nor any members of the audience addressed issues that are being discussed intensively around the world and are significant for Egypt's political future. Although the discussion contained many poetic moments, in the end, it failed to realize its full potential.