Leading center of Sunni learning criticizes but does not accuse Islamic State of apostasy

The Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is behind many attacks, swore allegiance to Islamic State last month.

ISIS militant (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISIS militant
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The head of Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s top center for Sunni learning, issued a statement that rejected labeling Islamic State as an apostasy, but still criticized the group for distorting Islam.
“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said, the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Saturday.
More than 700 Islamic and Christian scholars from 120 states attended the conference earlier this month at Al-Azhar on “countering extremism,” The Cairo Post reported on Saturday.
“Takfiri” is a term for a hardline Sunni who sees other Muslims as infidels, often as a justification for fighting or killing them. The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, is one of the groups which practices this.
“All the clerics and religious figures who attended the counter-terrorism conference are well aware that they cannot issue such judgments against any believer, regardless of his sins,” continued the statement.
“It is one of the tenants of Islam that only when one denies the shahada [the creed declaring that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger] that somebody can be said to be an apostate,” reported Asharq al-Awsat.
“Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb said.
Islamic State are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam,” he added.
The Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is behind many attacks, swore allegiance to Islamic State last month.
The Mufti of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini, also made a similar claim at the conference, saying the radical Islamic group is spreading “false” Islam, yet did not go as far as calling the group apostate.
Tayeb was quoted at the conference as blaming a “plot” by “enemies” as possibly being the main cause of rising violence in the region, Ahram Online reported earlier this month.
"The plot plays on the sectarian and racial tension along with providing these parties with weapons," he said.
"I just wish the arms factories in the west would experiment with their weapons and their efficiency in the desert instead of the bodies and the installations of Arabs."
The Al-Azhar head has justified Islamic anti-Semitism in the past.
In an Egyptian TV interview last year, Tayeb said, according to a report by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute): “See how we suffer today from global Zionism and Judaism, whereas our peaceful coexistence with the Christians has withstood the test of history. Since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago, we have been suffering from Jewish and Zionist interference in Muslim affairs. This is a cause of great distress for the Muslims.”
“The Koran said it and history has proven it: ‘You shall find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews and the polytheists.’ This is the first part. The second part is: ‘You shall find the closest in love to the believers to be those who say: 'We are Christians,'” he said.
“The third part explains why the Christians are ‘the closest in love to the believers,’ while the Jews and the polytheists are the exact opposite.