October 21, 2001
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A dispatch from Cairo in today's New York Times runs under the headline, "Moderate Muslims Fear Their Message Is Being Ignored."
The "moderate" Muslims in question are at Al Azhar, which the Times describes as "the revered mosque, the distinguished university, the leading voice of the Sunni Muslim establishment." The Times reports that Al Azhar "has sought to advise Muslims around the world that those who kill in the name of Islam are nothing more than heretics." The Times refers to Al Azhar's leaders as "mainstream," and characterizes the mosque's grand imam, Sheik Muhammad Sayed al-Tantawi, as being "unready to stand up to Israel" and "pliant to American demands." It says the clerics there have cast themselves as "the guides to a gentle Islam." The article concludes by quoting one cleric who says "Al Azhar is the only institution in the world that has learned the moderate Islam and taught it in a moderate way without fanaticism, and without abiding by the teachings of a school that promotes rigidity or violence."
"Moderate"? "Gentle"? Nonviolent?
Here are some facts about Al Azhar and its leader, Sheik Tantawi, that have been widely reported elsewhere, yet are entirely absent from today's Times article:
In August 2001, Sheik Tantawi told students that the claim that Solomon's Temple was on Temple Mount in Jerusalem was "false." "The temple of our lord Solomon is not to be found underneath Al Aqsa mosque as the Jews claim," Sheik Tantawi said, according to Egypt's state MENA news agency, in a report that was picked up by Agence France-Presse. "The Israeli claims are false and aim at misleading world public opinion," he said.
On November 16, 1999, according to the Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sheik Tantawi called on the Arabs and the Muslims "to acquire nuclear weapons as an answer to the Israeli threat." Sheik Tantawi continued, "The instruction that our master Khalifa [Caliph] Abu Bakr [the first successor to the prophet Muhammad] gave to Khaled Ton Al-Waleed [one of the first Muslim commanders] when he called upon him to fight the enemy was: 'if they fight you with a sword fight them with a sword; if they fight you with a spear fight them with a spear.' If Abu Bakr had lived today he would have said, 'if they fight you with an atomic bomb you must fight them with an atomic bomb.'" (Translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute.)
In comments to an Israeli Islamic weekly, Al-'Ahd wa Al-Mithaq, on December 12, 1998, Sheik Tantawi said, "My animosity towards the normalization of relations [with Israel] is greater than that of others. I've been fighting normalization for over thirty years. This is proved by the dissertation that I wrote in 1966 entitled 'The Israelites in the Koran and Suna [Following the way of the Prophet]'. In this dissertation I discussed their dark history, their ways of deceiving Islam and Muslims, their atrocities as depicted by the Koran, their false claims and the ways in which they were answered by the Koran, the punishments Allah imposed on them, and the stages of the Zionist invasion into Palestine. . . There is not a single Egyptian that maintains the normalization and whoever does so is a traitor to his religion and his nation." (Translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute.)
Sheik Tantawi told the newspaper Al-Hayat on August 4, 1997, in response to a question on whether he condemned the suicide bombing attack on Jerusalem's Mahneh Yahuda market, that he had no option but to urge the Palestinians to "defend yourselves, your rights, your land and the honor of your women -- with all the means sanctioned by Islam and good morals." While Islam did not permit the killing of women, children and the elderly, those who had carried out the Jerusalem operations had done so in "lawful self-defense against aggressors incapable of feeling pity for children, women and the elderly," he added. Asked specifically to state the position of the Shari'ah, Islamic law, on someone who kills himself in an explosion, Sheik Tantawi said: 'Those who say such action is haram [forbidden] must first ask themselves: what is the reason behind it? Why do youths feel compelled to sacrifice themselves? What do we expect the Palestinians to do when the Israeli prime minister repeats everyday that al-Quds [Jerusalem] is Israel's permanent capital -- a statement no mind, religion or law can accept?. . . Injustice leads to explosion, and when human beings are confronted with excessive injustice, they tend to sacrifice themselves," he said adding that "honorable people prefer death to life in dishonor."
The Israeli foreign ministry has compiled a series of other statements by Sheik Tantawi defending suicide bombings. In the Egyptian newspaper Alwafd, April 27, 1996, Sheik Tantawi said, "One who blows himself up among enemies, in order to defend his land, is considered a martyr." According to the newspaper Al Hayat, June 11, 1996, Sheik Tantawi says, "Since the Jews cause us evil, we must fight them courageously. If I die in defense of my religion, my land and my property, I am a martyr." On April 4, 1996, according to the Egyptian paper Al Sha'ab, Sheik Tantawi said, "the youth of the Islamic resistance who blow themselves up in order to cause casualties, are considered the greatest of those who die, because they die as martyrs."
This Sheik Tantawi isn't just some isolated crazy -- he's the Egyptian-government-appointed leader of Al Azhar, what the Times calls the "revered mosque, the distinguished university, the leading voice of the Sunni Muslim establishment." The New York Times would have its readers believe he is "moderate" and "gentle" and "has sought to advise Muslims around the world that those who kill in the name of Islam are nothing more than heretics." The Times may feel that calling for Egypt to acquire the atom bomb, denying the siting of the Temple on the Temple Mount, opposing the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt, and endorsing suicide bombings as martyrdom constitutes moderation. There are indeed some Islamic clerics and institutions even more violent and anti-Western than Sheik Tantawi and Al Azhar. But there are lot of Times readers who would probably disagree with the proposition that Sheik Tantawi is a "moderate Muslim."
Duane Reade: An article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports on the sale of a typewriter repair shop. The article quotes one customer as saying, "The irony of all ironies is she is now across the street from a Duane Reade, which is the epitome of non-service and customer abuse." The New York Times doesn't bother to include any comments from representatives of the Duane Reade drugstore chain defending its service.
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