CAIRO: Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s top center of religious learning, called on Monday for a “modern, democratic” and secular state in Egypt where places of worship are protected.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, in a news conference broadcast live, revealed a document formulated by Al-Azhar and Egyptian intellectuals that aims to define “the relationship between Islam and the state in this difficult phase.”
The document supports “the establishment of a modern, democratic, constitutional state” based upon the separation of powers and guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens, he said.
However, he said that the principles of sharia, or Islamic law, should remain “the essential source of legislation” and that Christians and Jews should have their own tribunals to which they can have recourse.
The document urges “the protection of places of worship for the followers of the three monotheistic religions” and considers “incitement of confessional discord and racist speech as crimes against the nation.”
The move came amid widespread debate about the future of institutions after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, and amid the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best-organised Islamic movement.
Secular Egyptians and the Coptic Christian community fear marginalization if Islamists take power in September’s planned parliamentary elections, after which a new constitution will be drafted.
In April, the military council that assumed power after Mubarak’s ouster said it would not allow Egypt to be governed by “another Khomenei,” in reference to the ayatollah who led Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.
Sheikh Al-Tayeb also called for “the independence of Al-Azhar,” whereby the imam of the institution would no longer be appointed by the president but elected by a college of clerics.