Minority Copts in Egypt continue to live with discrimination, oppression and persecution from the Islamic majority. Muslim attacks on Christians, random and unprovoked, are based on jihad and often sanctioned by the state--Coptic victims often hauled off to jail for the crimes committed against them. In 1,400 years, not one Egyptian Muslim authority -- civic, social, or religious -- has apologized, denounced, or condemned these actions, including an entire succession of Al-Azhar grand imams, leaders of Sunni Muslims.
Recently, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, and his diplomatic envoy, Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, have requested that the newly installed Catholic head, Pope Francis, issue a public statement declaring that "Islam is a peaceful religion." We wonder why the Pope would choose to use prescribed words or succumb to urgings for commentary. Will Pope Francis be influenced by the fact that Al-Azhar made their request (last week in Al-Arabia news) their necessary condition to resume relations, interrupted since the time of Pope Benedict XVI, with the Vatican.
This, in part, explains why the grand imam's approval for Islam is sought from the head of the Roman Catholic Church and not from the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, with whom Al-Azhar could never hope to form a partnership of pretense.
Al-Azhar alone has the power to reform religious followers and change the misnomer, "religion of peace," into the truth
However, Al-Azhar alone has the power to restore matters with the Vatican but not by coercing the Catholic Pope. Voice of the Copts believes that the Al-Azhar grand imam instead should issue a formal, public statement directed to his followers in the Arabic language conveying an unequivocal message that Muslims attacking Christians in Egypt do not conform to a tenet of Islam and will no longer be tolerated. A clear denunciation of Muslim sectarian violence against Christians in Egypt by Sunni religious leaders would be welcomed as Al-Azhar seeks the Pope's endorsement of Muslim non-violence.
The head of Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, the Muslim community in Egypt and Muslims around the world should demonstrate to the whole world action through his own words uniquely beneficial toward curtailing violence (holy war) by its members and, in the process, reverse the stain upon the name of Islam -- a religion that many around the world see as warmongering and violent.
A real peace comes from within where the only real progress can be made
Favorable appraisals of Islam from leaders around the world, whether formulated out of pressure, denial or appeasement, will never repair Islam's disreputable image--one earned through a long history of aggression based upon a supremacy doctrine. Islamic authorities of Al-Azhar must first be willing to acknowledge that progress for Islam begins with their own steps toward equality and peaceful co-existence. If so, Egypt might become a hopeful example for human rights in the Middle East instead of what the world sees there today.
A forced statement elicited from Pope Francis could never change the reality of Islam, but only, at best, cause recognition of Islam as something that in practice it is not -- the latter exasperating the patience of all who decipher the truth. Al-Azhar is the pre-eminent institution of one of the world's monotheistic religions yet its agents stoop to efforts both demoralizing and worthless.
By Dr. Ashraf Ramelah