During his historic visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Pope Francis signed a joint statement with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, who, by dint of his position as the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University, is widely considered Sunni Islam’s leading religious authority. The document strongly condemns religious coercion and religiously motivated violence, while praising freedom of conscience and tolerance. Yet Tayyeb, much like Mahmoud Abbas and Yasir Arafat before him, seems to espouse very different views when speaking in Arabic, as Raymond Ibrahim writes:
Tayeb . . . is on record as saying that apostates—that is, anyone born to a Muslim father who wishes to leave Islam—should be punished. As to the penalty they deserve, in July 2016, during one of his televised programs, Tayeb reaffirmed that “those learned in Islamic law [al-fuqaha] and the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence consider apostasy a crime and agree that the apostate must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.” . . .
[Moreover, the] document Tayeb cosigned with Pope Francis . . . says “we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility, and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.” [But] political commentators in Egypt have noted that, despite al-Azhar’s harsh attitude concerning “infidels” and “apostates,” when asked to denounce Islamic State as “un-Islamic,” al-Tayeb refused. . . .
Tayeb’s response to [his Egyptian] critics has been to accuse Israel. During a March 2018 interview on Egyptian television, he said, “All those mouthpieces that croak—out of ignorance or because they were told to—that the al-Azhar curricula are the cause of terrorism never talk about Israel, about Israel’s prisons, about the genocides perpetrated by the Zionist entity state . . . If not for the abuse of the region by means of the Zionist entity, there would never have been any problem.” . . .
It is difficult, therefore, to see this document as anything more than a superficial show, presumably for the West.