Shi’a Islam is harming Egypt’s social fabric, leading Cairo religious establishment warns

Shi’a Islam is harming Egypt’s social fabric, leading Cairo religious establishment warns

Al-Azhar University holds conference to fight ‘Shi’ite expansionism’ in Sunni-dominated state

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Muslim Brotherhood supporters demonstrate in Cairo (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim Brotherhood supporters demonstrate in Cairo (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Egypt’s top religious establishment has sounded the alarm about a growing Shi’ite influence in the country through the establishment of mosques and worship centers, warning against “Shi’ite expansionism.”

Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s bastion of state-controlled Sunni Islamic scholarship, held a one-day conference Sunday to discuss the alleged perils of the Shi’ite faith to Egypt’s society. The conference brought together academics, leaders from the spiritual Sufi stream, and politicians from the Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Salafist movement to formulate a joint stance towards the Shi’ites, establishment daily Al-Ahram reported.

Shi’ites constitute a minuscule portion of Egypt’s 90% Muslim population, but mounting tensions between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Arab Gulf states surrounding Bahrain have fanned the flames of sectarianism in Egypt. In their closing statement, however, the Egyptian clerics insisted their concern was with matters of faith, not politics.

“Al-Azhar, along with all Sunni Muslims, declares it is not hostile to this or that Islamic state, ” the statement read. The clerics voiced concern from what they viewed as the growing number of Hussainias, or Shi’ite congregational halls, across the country.

“Al-Azhar also declares its fervent and adamant opposition to all attempts to construct houses of worship other than mosques, meant to sow sectarianism,” the statement read.

Hussainias are used by Shi’ite communities across the Muslim world to commemorate the death of Hussein bin Ali, grandson of Muhammad and a key figure in Shi’ite Islam. The ceremonies held there often include vitriolic denouncements of early Islamic figures as hostile to the Shi’ites, figures venerated by Sunni Muslims.

The recent visit to Egypt of Lebanese Shi’ite cleric Ali Kawrani, as well as rumors of private Hussainias in people’s homes, have led Al-Azhar to convene Sunday’s meeting, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported.

“Sunnis should not spread their faith among Shi’ites and Shi’ites should not spread their faith among Sunnis,” said Hassan Shafi’i, an adviser to Al-Azhar head Sheikh Ahmad Tayyeb. “This leads to disharmony and civil strife.”

Ironically, Al-Azhar itself was founded as a Shi’ite learning center in the tenth century by the Fatimids, who ruled Egypt at the time.


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