Special Report: Egypt Deploys Scholars to Teach Moderate Islam, but Skepticism Abounds

Muslim worshippers walk in the courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo after Friday noon prayers in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi listens to the opening remarks of the panel "Egypt in the World" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. The meeting runs from Jan. 21 through Jan. 24. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi listens to the opening remarks of the panel “Egypt in the World” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. The meeting runs from Jan. 21 through Jan. 24. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Mahmoud Mourad and Yara Bayoumi, REUTERS

 
CAIRO (Reuters) — In his battle against militant Islam, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is relying not just on bomber planes and soldiers but on white-turbaned clerics from Al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center for Islamic learning. He wants clerics to counter radicalism in the classroom.

In a televised speech in January at an Al-Azhar conference center in Cairo, Sisi called for “a religious revolution” in Islam. Radicalized thinking, he told the audience of Islamic scholars, had become “a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”

That had to change – and the scholars had a leading role to play, in schools, mosques and on the airwaves.

“You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting. The entire world is waiting for your next word because this nation is being torn apart.”

Surprised by the president’s bluntness, the scholars went “white as sheets,” some of those in the audience told a Western official.

The president’s warning is part of a much larger project. To contain the radical Islamist movement roiling his nation, Sisi has most conspicuously been using the law and brute force. But he is also promoting a more moderate and less politicized version of the faith.

 

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