Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Egypt: Another Revealing Interview With Sheikh Al-Azhar Tantawi

Another interview was conducted with Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, published in "al-Watany el-Youm" (The Homeland Today) newspaper on 19 September 2006. The interview was triggered by the recent conflict regarding the Pope's statement. However, the interview went farther from this subject and narrowed on the plight of the Baha'is in Egypt.

The interviewer asked the Sheikh: what was his opinion regarding the proposal of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights to eliminate the religion section from ID Cards?

Tantawi responded by stating that "they have no right to do so...religion section must remain, as it does not cause any discrimination...we have nothing to do with human rights...that section is necessary, necessary, necessary."

The next question was: "what is the use of it as you have asserted its necessity?"

Answer: "its usefulness is for the goal of its presence [on ID cards] so we can clarify the description of the human [individual] on official documents. There is no harm that could be done to anyone in showing his religion, so why do we eliminate it? The religion section must not be changed regardless of those who request that, as the human [individual] has the right to write in his religion in the specified section [on ID cards]."

Next question: "even if he is a Baha'i?"

Answer: "yes, he writes in it "Baha'i," there is no objection to that as long as this is his belief and had taken it for himself as a belief. Therefore writing Baha'i in the religion section liberates any other religion from him and prevents some from being linked to any of the other divine religions that are innocent [free] of them."

Next question: "does this mean recognizing it [Baha'i] as a religion?"

Answer: "Baha'i is not a religion, but writing it as a belief in the religion section is a real possibility as there is no harm in it, but it is a necessary distinction as they are outside of the divine religions."

Next question: "Your eminence are seeing Baha'i as "outside Islam," but after that you also speak of freedom of belief. Don't you find in this a contradiction?"

Answer: "freedom of belief is the right for all, and not for only one. What is meant by freedom of belief is that every human has his own belief, and is only accountable to God."

Earlier on in the interview when Tantawi was asked questions regarding the reaction to the Pope's statement, he said: "...the UN Security Council must expeditiously produce a legislation that forbids accusations directed at religions...."

The original newspaper publications have been added to this post in order to ensure its authenticity and accuracy. The online publication of the same article can be accessed HERE.

This interview and its publication have formally documented the current official stand of al-Azhar el-Sharif, represented by its eminent head Sheikh Tantawi, on the right of Egyptian Baha'is to enter their religion as "Baha'i" in the specified section of the newly government-issued ID Cards.


  1. I'm waiting for the waves of protest against what he said. I wonder though why the sudden change in position!

  2. Some kind of 'wisdom' may imply:
    There is always a way out, therefore change of position is not a big deal.

    I remember that last time, the gentleman was interviewd (
    he was able to find a 'way out' when asked about the call of the Azhar for the elimination of Baha'is by saying: . "They did not mean elimination by killing them .."
    Maybe he can find another way out of saying now that Baha'is can write their religion in the ID card. Or maybe he really is a nice guy, yet does not have much say in the institution he presides over !!

  3. The more opposition the Baha'i Faith encounters, the stronger and more established it becomes. Just like a tree in a windy environment or in the desert, its roots grow deeper.

  4. You really have to parse these people's words to get what they mean behind their words.
    Sheikh said that anyone can have a belief....and they can write that belief on their card. However what matters is the consequences of that action. I am "free" to run out into a street full of traffic, but there are consequences of that action, I would not be protected by the laws of Japan.
    In this case the Bahais can write their faith on the card it seems but the benefits of being recognized as a Bahai on the card don't seem to be the same as being recognized as a Sunni.

    Secondly the last comment, of course the Sheikh cannot apply the same standards to his or anyone's critical comments about the Bahais as he applies to the Pope's implied criticism of Islam.
    But as you have noted others, in other religions apply the same standards to Bahai as to Islam in their jurisdictions. Can the Sheikh explain their actions? No of course he can't. He would say that Islam is on a different plane, and Egypt is free to apply its own standards towards another group of people. So does he grant the right of other countries to apply any arbitrary standards to Egyptian Sunnis, etc. Would he object to their internal actions? OF course. He is thus stuck in a contradiction and the only way out for him is to be a "denier"?

    Isn't there something in the Qur'an about "deniers" of the Prophet when they have no reason for their opposition? Of course, so the Sheikh would have to limit the interpretation of the spiritual message of the Qur'an in order to be consistent with his actions towards Bahais.
    Edo River rising


Your opinion is valuable. Please share your thoughts.