The fight of Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta against extremism, Islamophobia
Cairo - To make it difficult for religious extremists to attract young people, Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s institution for religious edicts — fatwas — established two observatories to combat “takfiri” fatwas and extremist opinions and to monitor Islamophobia, which can adversely affect communities abroad.
In an interview with The Arab Weekly, Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawky Allam, head of the General Secretariat of Fatwa Authorities Worldwide, said the challenge of confronting extremism must consider the diversity of extremist forms of exploitation of Islam and politics.
Allam said the Dar al-Ifta seeks to have better control over and correct terminology used in the media by extremist groups. It has asked the term “political Islam” be replaced with “political Islamist groups” following the transformation of Islam by those groups into a political tool based on extremist perceptions aimed at destroying the foundations of the state.
He said Dar al-Ifta’s observatory of takfiri fatwas continually monitors and following up on takfiri discourse in print, audio-visual and digital media. The observatory quickly responds to inaccuracies and misleading claims. It publishes correct content and interpretations of the faith by communicating in 18 foreign languages.
Dar al-Ifta uses the same strategies and means used by extremist groups to establish a presence in social media. It has 8.6 million Facebook followers after upgrading the page through publication of clear and concise fatwas, instead of the previous long-winded explanations.
The Egyptian official institution has begun a publication in English called Insight to counter Dabiq and Roumieh magazines published by the Islamic State (ISIS). Dar al-Ifta also created an animation and video graphic unit to publish digital art and content in cyberspace because those art forms can cross language barriers.
Allam said he considers that given the chaos prevailing in the field of fatwas and given the existence of contradictory fatwas around the world, coordination among fatwa-issuing bodies worldwide has become imperative. The goal is to consolidate moderate views, correct misconceptions and promote global stability and peaceful co-existence.
Allam said he is keen on addressing all kinds of issues concerning fatwas, even those related to the most basic details of daily life, to prevent the average citizen from being manipulated by extremists. In 2019, it issued about 1.1 million fatwas that have had great effect on Muslims everywhere.
He added that political Islam groups, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, sowed seeds of religious extremism and provided ISIS with the ideological background and cover for dividing the Muslim Ummah and branding Muslim societies as godless, especially following the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood political project, which was based on false Islamic precepts, wrong moral values and false and hollow slogans.
Dar al-Ifta’s observatory of takfiri fatwas was founded five years ago to restrict religious extremism and explain its causes and contexts. Allam said the observatory offers a comprehensive system to confront extremism and its endeavours to spread sectarian strife.
It continuously monitors the hard-line fatwas issued by extremist groups, analyses them based on a solid scientific approach and responds to them in comprehensive detailed reports. Since its creation, the observatory has issued more than 500 reports.
The observatory has monitored more than 5,500 fatwas worldwide, most of which were deemed to give incorrect or misleading opinions about the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Islam; 70% of the fatwas prohibited Muslims from dealing with non-Muslims and 20% of them strongly advised against it.
Allam stressed the need to renovate religious discourse to keep pace with the times and achieve the purposes of Islamic law without violating its constants or disregarding known solid part of religion. The new discourse must be built on avoidance of conflict and promoting moderation, away from fanaticism and hatred.
The Committee of Religious Affairs and Endowments of the Egyptian parliament is preparing draft bills seeking to turn Dar al-Ifta into a full-fledged international religious body and to restrict public issuance of fatwas to scholars with the specialised competencies to do so.
Allam pointed out that Dar al-Ifta works globally to prevent distortion of the image of Islam through its Observatory of Islamophobia. The observatory was established to monitor Islamophobia and counter errant perceptions about Islam and Muslims in non-Muslim countries.
Its efforts include sending Dar al-Ifta scholars on lecture tours around the world, keeping close communication links with Muslim communities, training imams of Islamic centres and establishing training programmes in jurisprudence to prepare a new generation of enlightened preachers able to address and interact with younger generations.
Cairo has hosted the General Secretariat of Fatwa Authorities Worldwide since its establishment in 2015. The body aims to be an umbrella organisation for fatwa and religious advisory bodies and institutions to coordinate efforts in a disciplined and organised fashion and contribute to correcting distorted images and concepts of Islam.