Last weekend I posted about the refusal of scholars at Al-Azhar University to pronounce takfir (the accusation aimed at a fellow Muslim or Muslim of kufr, or unbelief) against the Islamic State. In my introduction, I characterized Al-Azhar, as I often do, as “the closest equivalent to the Vatican that can be found in Islam.”
A commenter named SC took exception to that statement and other aspects of my post. His remarks are worth reproducing here in their entirety:
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 [the time of ignorance before Islam].
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.
SC’s points are well-taken. However, most Westerners do not have any in-depth knowledge of Islamic law, nor any understanding of the intricacies of the history of Islamic sectarianism. In order to grasp the significance of what is happening in the news, they are reduced to analogy, which in many circumstances is the best they can do.
For that reason I shall continue to use analogies in my various introductory explanations about Islamic matters. An analogy must needs suffice until the reader learns more and understands the matter more deeply.
Our long-term goal, of course, is to learn to think like a Muslim. That’s the only way to gain a full understanding of the catastrophic process of Islamization that is gradually overwhelming the West.