With the aim of countering radical ideologies, “terrorism” and “Islamic State” (IS) propaganda, Egypt’s Islamic scholars have set out on several tours around Europe to “modify the image of Islam”.
Renewing the religious discourse has become the greatest concern of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Grand Mufti and Minister of Religious Endowments.
The surge in Islamic radicalism practiced by extremists has created a panic and growing Islamophobia, expressed in the increase of anti-Islamist movements and campaigns in the West. It has been joined by the inability of Muslims living outside the Middle East to integrate within their communities as a result of their religious affiliations.
Last April, anti-Islam posters were plastered on public transportations in the US city of Philadelphia. The posters equated Islam with Nazism as “Jews hating”. The German anti-Islam movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), established in late 2014, has enjoyed a minor spread to neighbouring countries, and holds marches against Islam and Islamists.
In February, three American Muslims were shot dead in North Carolina, causing a wave of anger on social media networks. In a separate incident later in February, a Swedish security guard attacked a nine-year-old Swedish Muslim. Both acts were linked to the religious affiliations of the victims.
The “Islamic State” attacks include, notably, the latest one in Garland, Texas, targeting a competition for caricature pictures featuring Prophet Mohammed, the numerous beheading and decapitation videos that have gone viral on social media networks and the burning of the Jordanian pilot are among many other crimes committed in name of Islam.
Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula has witnessed in the past two years many of these attacks, where “Islamic State” affiliates, currently known as “State of Sinai”, are implementing operations targeting security personnel and civilians for their cooperation with the Egyptian State.
Accordingly, as security forces are “fighting terrorism”, Egypt’s religious institutions have been engaged in a war of ideologies with Islamists internally and externally. This has fallen within the framework of “eliminating terrorism”, “clarifying Islamic teachings”, and to counter the rising Islamophobia in the West.
Former Undersecretary of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, Shawki Abdellatif, told Daily News Egypt that “renewing the religious discourse is a matter of great importance” internally and externally to counter “Daesh” (Islamic State) or IS’ false teachings of Islam delivered to the West through “Daesh” propaganda.
“Islam adapts in all times and places”, but there are certain fundamentals that cannot be changed. Other things are variable including the religious discourse, added Abdellatif.
In order to renew the religious discourse, certain tools should be used including qualified preachers, their approach, their connections, the language they use, communication methods to address the western public, he further noted.
Dr HA Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy in Washington DC, and the Royal United Services Institute in London, argued the renewal of the religious discourse is only one element – and it is also very unclear as to whether or not these calls are entirely serious. “Tajdid, or ‘renewal’ in Islamic history has meant a deep intellectual revival, rooted in the classical tradition – many of these calls seem to be far more superficial than that,” Dr Hellyer said.
Dr Hellyer, however, agreed that: “The renewal of religious discourse in Muslim communities is important and vital for stemming one element of what allows ISIS to exist.”
Abdellatif, on the other hand, noted that countering the IS “threat” through the religious discourse is meant to address people regarding the true Islam. This would be based on true Islamic ethics, such as tolerance, which will definitely find its way to people’s natural instincts.
He further noted that IS is falsely trying to be a part of Islam of which they know nothing. Through promoting the right Islam through choosing reliable preachers, resembling the true teachings of Islam which mainly call for tolerance in the first place, the threat will be “effectively countered”, Shawki added.
Religious institutions in Egypt are simultaneously addressing the matter to counter the Islamic Caliphate threat which IS is trying to push through the unification of the religious discourse, he added.