A new chapter in the conflict that has been going on for more than three years between Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, came to the fore with the announcement of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars last Saturday, its rejection of the draft law on regulating the Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa (Egyptian Fatwa House), hours before it was discussed in Parliament.
The Council leaked a letter containing Al-Azhar’s opinion on the bill that it sent to Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal No. 166 on February 20. The Council of Senior Scholars announced in the letter that it rejected the draft law and proposed amendments that it confirmed are consistent with the provisions of the constitution, unlike the draft that was submitted to Parliament by the former Rector of Al-Azhar University, MP Osama Al-Abd.
Al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars announced its opposition to the bill that aimed at regulating Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa, stressing that it “violates its autonomy”.
Local media in Egypt reported on Saturday the text of Al-Azhar’s statement addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, Ali Abdel-Al, which included the opinion of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars on the draft law regulating Dar Al Iftaa.
Al-Azhar expects that the bill will be passed by the House of Representatives (Parliament), which will ignore the view of the Council of Senior Scholars on the bill. But some sources within Al-Azhar said that members of the Council will not remain silent towards this, and that they will take necessary legal measures if this occurs, by challenging the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The sources emphasized that the main objective of the bill on regulating Dar Al-Iftaa is to create an entity parallel to Al-Azhar, and to empty and marginalize Al-Azhar’s role in favor of the Dar Al-Iftaa entity that will be under the authority of the executive power, adding that the main target is the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib, whom Sisi sees as a competitor and rival.
The Council of Senior Scholars said in the letter sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, that according to the first paragraph of Article 7 of the Constitution, “Al-Azhar is an independent scientific Islamic institution, with exclusive competence over its own affairs. It is the main authority for religious sciences, and Islamic affairs. It is responsible for preaching Islam and disseminating the religious sciences and the Arabic language in Egypt and the world.”
The letter added that if Al-Azhar, according to the constitution, is the basic authority and reference in all those matters, most prominently the Iftaa and deciding on all matters related to Sharia … and other legal matters included in the draft law, and assigned it to a body affiliated to the Ministry of Justice, and not affiliated to Al-Azhar, this would involve a constitutional violation and an affront to the independence of Al-Azhar, making Dar Al Iftaa an entity that is not related to Al-Azhar, operating in isolation from Al-Azhar.
Al-Azhar confirmed that the articles of this draft violate the Egyptian constitution and affect the independence of Al-Azhar and its affiliated bodies, namely the Council of Senior Scholars, Al-Azhar University and the Islamic Research Academy.
It explained that the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that Al-Azhar is the main reference in all legal matters, including Fatwa (advisory).
It continued: “All advisory bodies in Egypt throughout the Ottoman era were in the hands of Al-Azhar scholars, the most famous of which was the advisory of the Sultanate, Cairo and the districts.”
It explained that the bill included an abuse of the competence and autonomy of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars.
The bill seeks to reorganize everything to do with the mufti in terms of: his professional status, appointment and selection procedures, duration of his mandate, renewal, powers and authority, and the person who acts on his behalf in generally managing the affairs of Dar Al-Iftaa when necessary.