A Prominent Muslim Cleric Joined the Pope in Embracing Religious Tolerance. His Arabic Statements Suggest Something Else

Feb. 13 2019

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.

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More about: Egypt, Islam, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Pope Francis, Religion & Holidays

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat