Egypt's al-Azhar exploits religion to support Qatar diplomatic tensions

Egypt's top Islamic authority exploits religion to back the regime's Qatar dispute stance
3 min read
08 Jun, 2017
Egypt's top Islamic authority has backed the recent diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar in the latest politically motivated edict from the regime-dominated religious institution.
Al-Azhar has long been accused of being a mouthpiece for the Sisi regime [Getty]

Egypt's top Islamic authority has backed the recent diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar in the latest politically-motivated edict from the regime-dominated religious institution.

Al-Azhar said on Tuesday in a statement that it backs the move by Egypt and some Gulf states to isolate Qatar, prompting accusations on social media that it is exploiting Islam.

"Al-Azhar confirms its support for the joint Arab decision to break off relations with regimes, which support terrorism," the statement read.

"We look forward to the doubling of efforts of the Arab nation to stop the malicious attempts by some stray regimes, which pose a threat to the security and stability of the region."

It then quoted from the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed to help give weight to its endorsement of the spat, which has become the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf region in several years.

"The wolf eats the sheep that strays off on its own," the religious institution said quoting the Islamic prophet. "Whoever deviates from the community, deviates into fire," it added. 

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain led a string of countries this week tp cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

Egypt, which has long been at odds with Qatar over its alleged support for the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood, quickly followed suit.

Qatar strongly denies the allegations and has expressed a willingness to engage in talks to resolve the crisis.

Along with al-Azhar, the Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Muslim World League have also expressed their support for the moves against Qatar.

Al-Azhar has long been accused of being a state mouthpiece, which issues religion rulings that favour the military and political elites of Egypt.

It has often used prophetic sayings to legitimise the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came into power in 2014 a year after overthrowing the country's first freely elected leader Mohamad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Recently however, tensions have simmered between Sisi and the Sunni Muslim world's seat of learning over its refusal to declare Islamic State group militants as "infidels" and to recognise the president's assertion that a verbal declaration of divorce is not valid without government documentation.

On social media, many people from around the Arab world have harshly criticised the move as being overtly political.

"This is a dirty appropriation of religion and heritage… Sisi has already done the deed why does al-Azhar have to become involved," said one Twitter user.

"These days you can just pay and get yourself a fatwa," quipped another.

"Unfortunately, the situation has reached this level of ridiculousness this is a religious institution what does it have to do with politics," said another user.