Al-Azhar: No Takfir Against the Islamic State

The following pronouncement originated with Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Rulings by Al-Azhar are instructive, because there is no higher authority on Sunni Islamic doctrine. The institution is the closest equivalent to the Vatican that can be found in Islam.

Al-Azhar has now declined to pronounce takfir against the Islamic State, which would have placed the Caliph and his followers outside of Islam. This raises an important question: if Al-Azhar — whose scholars know more about Sunni Islam than anyone else in the world — will not anathematize ISIS, how can dilettantes such as Barack Obama and David Cameron declare so confidently that the Islamic State “has nothing to do with Islam”?

Al-Arabiya published an article about the ruling by Al-Azhar. Ritamalik has kindly translated it from the Arabic, and includes this introductory note:

Al-Azhar refused to pronounce takfir (Islamic anathema) on ISIS. However, their reasoning is really creative.

They basically say that nobody is outside of Islam unless he himself says he is. But the funny thing is, all these restrictions that they now suddenly feel in the business of anathematising ISIS because of have in the past always been completely absent whenever they rushed to pronounce takfir on anyone who wanted to somehow “reform” (water down) Islam or modernise the Quran or the Hadith. They just pronounced the takfir with no qualms about it, and the poor “reformer” fellow usually was put in prison or killed by vigilantes or went into hiding.

But now suddenly “moderate” middle-of-the-road Al Azhar cannot pronounce takfir on any ISIS member unless he renounces his shahada, the declaration that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”!

Below is the translation of the article. Ritamalik’s comments and explanatory remarks are in parentheses:

Al Azhar refused to pronounce takfir (anathema) on the group ISIS, and stressed the fact that a Muslim can not be denounced as kafir, regardless of his sins. Al Azhar announced on Thursday that during his speech in the assembly against violence and extremism at Noble Al Azhar, Sheikh Ibrahim Salih Al Husseini, the Mufti of Nigeria, didn’t agree to pronounce takfir on ISIS and groups like them, but explained their actions are not actions of the followers of Islam, but come forth from those who are not Muslims.

The statement pointed out that ISIS is neither explicitly nor implicitly anathematised by Sheikh Al Husseini’s phrase. All that he said was that: “Those (religious) innovators who act in a an extremist fashion are tainted with corruption, and the extremists and ISIS contrary to their claim to the Caliphate are nothing but muharibun (literally meaning ‘fighter’, but in Islamic lingo it means ‘fighters against Allah and his religion’) who spread corruption, indecency, and murder, and then they proceed to pronounce takfir on other people who try to check their thuggery and prostitution. And indeed their (religious) innovation is greater than those of the ‘Kharijites’ (a group among the first generation of Muslims who turned on and were put down by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, and were famous for pronouncing takfir on other Muslims and killing them under that pretext), who fought Musilm/Kafirs, and killed Muslims, and pronounced them kafir because of their actions.”

The statement made clear that all the scholars in the assembly know for sure that they cannot pronounce takfir on a believer, no matter how grievous his evil deeds are, but only through the determined principles of the Islamic faith which say: “Indeed a slave of Allah is not out of the faith unless he denies the doctrines that he affirmed in order to enter the faith, which were a testimony to the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad PBUH, and his sins, no mater how grievous, will not cause the slave of Allah to leave Islam.”

The statement points out that this assembly to begin with was convened in order to confront the idea of takfir of others and considering them outside of orthodoxy, pointing out that if we condemn them to takfir we would become like them and would begin to participate in the fitna (mischief) of takfir, and such an approach is not acceptable for the moderate institution of Al Azhar under any circumstances.

13 thoughts on “Al-Azhar: No Takfir Against the Islamic State

  1. It could be worthwhile to make a concerted effort to enter this piece of information into the wikipedia articles on both ISIS and Al-Azhar. It is no doubt easier said than done, because many would try to delete the entries, and a very high bar would probably be set by admins on referencing. How about it, anybody up for some wiki-eing?

    • Wikipedia banned me for making true statements about Islam. They are explicitly not about truth but rather the Multicultural Politically Correct Echo Chamber oops I mean “reliable sources.” Good Luck.

  2. How can the Death Cult condemn its naked expression?

    By their fruits… and nuts… shall ye know them.

    • By their murders, ye shall know them. Everything Islam & Al Azhar commands, ISIS has done. At least the “scholars” are consistent.

  3. This of course is THE most important story about ISIS in the past 18 months and fully deserves the widest and deepest coverage in the MSM. Let us recap: the foremost, arguably the singular, scholarly-academic authority on Islam has considered the question and refused to deem ISIS unIslamic.

    This slippery evasion by Al-Azhar is no accident or inadvertence: the endorsement of ISIS would officially establish once and for all that the most barbarous and aggressive Islamic insurgency aimed at recreating the Caliphate represents true Islam and thus set it in proper context vis-a-vis the West (indeed the whole non-Islamic world). To avoid that accurate characterization (which would threaten to undermine the whole “wolf-in-sheep’s clothing” PR campaign engaged in by Muslim’s for decades with amazing success) Al-Azhar has instead done what it has done in the most significant act of taqiyya this century.

    It is a pity that this happened after Joe Biden presumed to lecture Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “Now let me tell you something about Islam!”; a lecture Hirsi Ali declined to listen to or respond to.

  4. It would seem that the Institute’s refusal to pronounce takfir upon ISIS is tantamount to tacit approval of them. Maybe the Institute is waiting for ISIS to push the envelope further, and past the precedents allowed in the Hadith. Stay tuned, film at 11:00

  5. Googling “Al azhar” and “takfir” yields numerous articles suggesting that the ulema opposes on principle declaring takfir against any self-identified Muslim and has done so for years before ISIS surfaced.

    Of course, the also say ” their actions are not actions of the followers of Islam, but come forth from those who are not Muslims;” that means they blame non-Muslims for what they describe as the non-Muslim actions of Muslims. What a world view.

  6. On a pedantic note – does the refusal to condemn Isis as “infidels” amount to approval of their actions?

    Would be good to see Al-Azhar’s pronouncements on other cases for a comparison. Were there many cases when they declared takfir against someone?

    • I believe it’s called trying to have your cake and eat it, GI. Or sitting on the fence, which is not comfortable for long.

  7. I can think of two cases in Egypt where people who never declared themselves to be apostates were nevertheless punished for the crime of apostasy with the tacit or overt approval of Egypt’s Islamic Establishment (Al-Azhar University):

    1. Ahmed Subhy Mansour an Egyptian-born activist, whose website describes him as an Islamic scholar with expertise in Islamic history, culture, theology, and politics In May 1985, Mansour was discharged from his teaching and research position in Egypt due to his liberal views, which were not acceptable to the religious authorities who controlled much of university policies and programs. Because of his unconventional scholarship, Al-Azhar University accused him of being an enemy of Islam. He was tried in its canonical court, and expelled March 17, 1987. In 1987, beginning with his arrest on November 17, and in 1988 he was imprisoned by the Egyptian government for his views, including his advocacy of religious harmony and tolerance between Egyptian Muslims, Christian Copts, and Jews.

    Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, was an Egyptian Qur’anic thinker and one of the leading liberal theologians in Islam. In 1993 he was lost a case against the Council of Cairo University because of his liberal Islamic scholarship. In 1995 his marriage to Ibtihal Younis was nullified on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to an apostate.

    So the excuse that Al-Azhar University is giving, that no Muslim can be declared an apostate (other than himself) is what it is: just an excuse.

    The judgement of Nasr Abu Zayd stated that:
    “the defendant’s proposition that the requirement of Christians and Jews to pay jizyah (poll tax) constitutes a reversal of humanity’s efforts to establish a better world is contrary to the divine verses on the question of jizyah, in a manner considered by some, inappropriate, even for temporal matters and judgments notwithstanding its inappropriateness when dealing with the Qur’an and Sunnah, whose texts represent the pinnacle of humane and generous treatment of non-Muslim minorities. If non-Muslim countries were to grant their Muslim minorities even one-tenth of the rights accorded to non-Muslim minorities by Islam, instead of undertaking the mass murder of men, women, and children, this would be a step forward for humanity. The verse on jizyah, verse 29 of Surat al-Tawbah, which the defendant opposes, is not subject to discussion”. (p. 16 of the judicial opinion)
    Further, the judgment stated that the denunciation by Abu Zayd of the permissibility of the ownership of slave girls, a principle considered “religiously proven without doubt”, is “contrary to all the divine texts which permit such provided that the required conditions are met” (p. 16 of the judicial opinion).

  8. This article is one of the reasons I simply cringe at discussions of Islam by one-off references to Jewish or Christian institutions, terminology, and typology.

    Although very powerful and influential, Al Azhar is not the Sunni equivalent to the Vatican.

    Takfirism is NOT Islamic anathema. The repeated use of the term anathema in the article is both disturbing and distorting.

    Takfirism is NOT a recognized Sunni instrument outside of Taymiyyan Hanbalism – and within it Wahhabism. This is among the most central of friction points between Taymiyyans (100% of Wahhabis are Taymiyyan but only 85% of Taymiyyans are Wahhabi) and the broader Sunni Islam. Takfir can be traced to Ibn Taymiyyah. While Al-Azhar has been vulnerable to initiatives to mainstream takfirism from time to time, in the main, it has opposed the doctrine and been among the more pronounced centers of opposition.

    Can anyone show al-Azhar ever calling someone Takfir where it was not a Wahhabis who got on staff through Saudi (or other Persian Gulf Wahhabi state) influence?

    The Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world outside of Wahhabi states is often attacked by mainstream Sunni – and even Salafi – groups from trying to bring takfirism through the backdoor through the Brotherhood developed concept of jahiliyyah.

    On the note by RN, immediately above, these men were not declared takfir and executed. They were found guilty of apostasy in an Islamic court. They were both actually found guilty for the very reasons RN states – because what they said constitutes actual apostasy in Islamic law. Islam does not have “canonical courts,” they have shariah courts in a part of the world where shariah is recognized and understood to be the law of the land.

    While I am not a fan of shariah and am not planning on converting to Islam anytime soon, one needs to recognize the actual boundaries of Sunni Islam qua Sunni Islam and judge from that standard.

  9. Who would have ever thought that an illiterate, psychopathic, mass-murdering pedophile could have contributed so much to humanity. On behalf of everyone, I’d like to say thank you to the perfect being, the “prophet” Mohammed, and to your followers now and for the past fourteen centuries. I’d also be remiss not to mention the murderous, totalitarian deity Allah that we all must be slaves to and submit to in all aspects of our lives. The “religion of peace” is a source of hope and inspiration to us all.

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