Al-Azhar University is considered Sunni Islam’s oldest and most distinguished institution of learning. The University was founded c. 1171 in Cairo when the Ayyubids under Salah al-Din overthrew the Shia Fatimid Empire in Egypt. The new Sunni rulers insisted that the instruction of Sunni jurisprudence should replace any Shia instruction and the new university would be centered around the Al-Azhar mosque (originally constructed c. 970-972). It was at this point, with the founding of the university c. 1171, that Al-Azhar (and Cairo) began to establish itself as one of the most authoritative Islamic institutions of the past nine-hundred years, remaining so today. Thus, the views of the scholars of Al-Azhar matter to many modern Muslims, particularly in the absence of a modern generally recognized caliphate, who often look to Al-Azhar for guidance on modern controversies. Consequently, I have found Al-Azhar’s commentary on issues related to the rise of the Islamic State (and related issues) troubling. Continue reading
I’d recently viewed a widely circulating clip showing Al-Azhar Professor Suad Saleh arguing that, in a legitimate war between Muslims and their enemies, Muslims can capture slave girls and have sex with them. This is disheartening because Al-Azhar is a more than 1000 year old seat of learning and perhaps the most respected in the Sunni Muslim world. It’s a particularly touchy issue because of ISIS’ recent actions with regard to the Yazidi people. The video is from September 12, 2014, but has been circulating in social media in recent days. You can view it here: http://www.memri.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5252.htm
It made me think of a something I had recently read in the book by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (New York: Harper Collins, 2015) concerning the well-publicized success of the Islamic State in capturing and enslaving up to 7,000 Yazidi women.
Stern (a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard University) and Berger (a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution) offer the following insight Continue reading