During a visit to Cairo by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb rejected any form of insults to the Prophet Muhammad and vowed to sue France over the publication of controversial cartoons.
Egypt’s Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at Al-Azhar on 8 November amid a dispute between France and the Muslim world over the publication of derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Tayeb said Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, rejects freedom of expression if it protects insults to the prophets.
"I'm the first to protest freedom of expression if it offends any religion and not only Islam," he said in a statement about his meeting with Le Drian, adding, “Insulting the Prophet Muhammad is unacceptable and we will pursue whoever does it in court, even if we spend the rest of our lives doing so.”
Tayeb also dismissed statements by French and Western officials linking Islam to terrorism and rejected the term “Islamic terrorism.”
“Al-Azhar represents the voice of nearly two billion Muslims, and I said that terrorists do not represent us and we are not responsible for their actions.”
The imam continued, “Muslims around the world reject all forms of terrorism committed in the name of religion and affirm that Islam and its prophet have nothing to do with terrorism.”
As anger continued to boil across the Muslim world, with calls for boycotting French products, Macron said he understands the Muslim sentiments over the cartoons.
President Al-Sisi of Egypt underlined the need to differentiate between Islam as a religion that promotes peace and tolerance and renounces violence and terrorist acts committed by those claiming to represent Islam.
The Egyptian leader called for spreading the values of coexistence between adherents of all religions via dialogue, understanding and mutual respect while avoiding insults to religious symbols.
“To insult the prophets amounts to denigrating the religious beliefs of many people,” said Al-Sisi.
Mohamed Hussein, a professor of international relations at Cairo University, sees Tayeb’s threat of legal proceedings against France over the cartoons as an attempt to de-escalate the situation. He explained that legal action is an effort to soothe Muslim anger by showing Muslims worldwide that the Sunni institution is determined to defend the prophet.
“A move by Al-Azhar to file a lawsuit against France will carry a strong political significance and send a message that all Muslims have the right to be angry over the offending images,” Hussein told Al-Monitor.
Hussein praised the way Al-Azhar's imam is dealing with the crisis. He said, “Sheikh Tayeb sent a clear and strong message that Muslims will never accept any insults to the prophet," speaking "in a very calm but effective tone, without offending anyone or calling for a boycott of French products.”
Darul Ihsan Media Desk