CAIRO - Egypt's leading Islamic authority Al-Azhar said on
Thursday its clerics must be consulted on a law allowing the state to issue
Islamic bonds, setting it at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood which drove the
legislation through parliament last week.
It marks the first time
Al-Azhar, a thousand-year-old seat of Islamic learning, has said its Senior
Scholars Authority should be consulted on issues pertaining to Islamic law as
set out in Egypt's new, Islamist-tinged constitution.
intervention could set a precedent for clerical oversight of other affairs of
state. The Salafi Nour Party has said Al-Azhar must also approve an agreement
Egypt is seeking with the International Monetary Fund because it includes a loan
upon which Egypt will pay interest.
The Islamic bond, or sukuk law, will
allow Egypt to issue debt compliant with Islamic principles, allowing the state
to tap a new area of finance as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's administration
grapples with an unaffordable budget deficit.
The sukuk law has been a
source of friction between the Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party
leads the upper house of parliament, and more hardline Islamists who say it
should first have been approved by Al-Azhar.
At a meeting on Thursday,
Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Institute chaired by Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb
said it shared the view that the law should have been referred to the Senior
Scholars Authority, in line with the new constitution.
"The Institute is
of the opinion that the draft should have been referred to the Senior Scholars
Authority for discussion and so it could give its legal opinion, in line with
its duty," it said in a statement.
It criticised the law approved by
parliament last week, saying it empowered the prime minister to form the body
entrusted with issuing the Islamic bonds. It said this "disregarded the Senior
Scholars Authority of the noble Azhar".
The Nour Party, a hardline Salafi
group, had demanded the upper house of parliament refer the law to Al-Azhar
before MPs voted on it. But the FJP used its majority to pass the law despite a
fierce row with Nour Party members during the session.
The law must now
be ratified by Mursi.
Abdullah Badran, head of the Nour Party's
parliamentary bloc, said in a phone interview the group was now urging Mursi not
to ratify the law without first presenting it to the Senior Scholars Authority
The Nour Party believes Al-Azhar must sign off on a deal
Egypt is seeking with the IMF because it includes a $4.8 billion loan on which
Egypt will pay interest. The payment of interest is deemed as impermissible in
Al-Azhar's role in affairs of state is embedded in article four of
the new constitution. It says the Senior Scholars Authority must be consulted on
all matters pertaining to sharia.
It does not, however, say whether
Al-Azhar's view is binding on the government, nor does it make clear the scope
of Al-Azhar's role - ambiguity which critics say will cause future political and