the crosshairs. Nashaat Zarraa, a scholar and grand imam at the Egyptian
Ministry of Religious Endowments and preacher at a mosque north of Cairo. (Al
Zarraa, a scholar and grand imam at the Egyptian Ministry of Religious
Endowments and preacher at a mosque north of Cairo, was recently demoted from
his senior status and forbidden from lecturing or giving Friday sermons. He
faced a vicious campaign by al-Azhar scholars apparently because he dared
critique the history of Islamic conquests.
outcry he caused within the religious establishment reflects the sensitivity of
any historical issues even remotely connected to religious heritage.
seems to have been exerted by al-Azhar on the Ministry of Religious Endowments
(Awqaf) to punish Zarraa. He publicly called for a review of the history of
Islamic conquests after al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb glorified them. In a
speech, Tayeb said it was because of conquests that Muslims were able to set
one foot in China and the other in Andalusia.
said: “The risk with sanctifying Islamic conquests in such an absolute way is
implicitly condoning the approach by that terrorist organisations that use
conquests as justification for jihad against all those who disagree with them
in thought and belief, despite the fact that Islam restricts jihad to
self-defence and does not justify the use of intimidation, killing and
enslaving women to spread the faith.”
Islamic State] ISIS entered Syria and Iraq, it applied the same approach about
the history of Islamic conquests,” Zarraa added. “Some jurisprudence books say
that, when an imam conquers a country, he has the right to kill the men and
capture the women.
extremists’ claims cannot therefore be rejected without first critiquing and
revising the heritage associated with the conquests and debunking the fallacies
surrounding them that have been used against humanity.”
of a review of the concept of conquests assert that Islam did not call for what
is known as “jihad of al-Talab,” attacking others because of their differing
beliefs and that the Quran sanctioned freedom of religion.
however, calls for “defensive jihad,” defending oneself and one’s homeland from
aggression. The problem of Islamic conquests is that they have been understood
by some as giving licence to the faithful to engage in unprovoked violence.
of what can be called “offensive Islam” realise that re-examining the history
of the conquests represents a step towards exposing claims of extremist
religious institutions reacted to the suggestion to review Islamic history as
though the call was meant to attack religion.
Mahmoud Shaltut, former grand imam of al-Azhar, criticised the aggressive
interpretation of the conquests in his book "Islam as a Doctrine and
Law." He argued that war in Islam should be for defensive purposes only.
Sheikh Shaltut’s opinions on the topic got him in trouble with Islamist groups
but he refused to back down.
intellectuals said it is not possible to revise traditional religious discourse
without re-examining the history of the conquests, since that history has
become a cover for extremist ideas.
intellectuals point to the example of the Vatican’s recognition of the errors
of the Crusades and its atonement for the Roman Catholic Church’s support of
the wars. The church has asked forgiveness for persecuting those who had
opposed it. That attitude stands in stark contrast to al-Azhar’s, which, in an
era of openness and intellectual and cultural liberation, insists on
Inquisition-style dealings with whomever disagrees with it.
disappointment expressed by Zarraa relates to the religious establishment in
Egypt reacting to efforts to reform traditional religious discourse by denying
them instead of engaging in serious and scholarly debate. Such an attitude
encourages the spread of extremist dogmas because scholars are denied the chance
to refute theories and arguments advocated by extremist organisations.
insisting on sanctifying the history of the conquests and considering them part
of religion is a catastrophe that would lead to justifying terrorist crimes
committed in the name of Islam.
of the call to re-examine Islamic conquests cite the example of Prophet
Mohammad’s companions who stopped all conquests when they became convinced that
they contradicted the concept of religious tolerance in Islam. Prominent historical
figures who had championed this view included Ali bin Abi Talib and Omar bin
case, the point was a contentious issue among the companions themselves, which
shows that the issue is part of the domain of human actions that may be right
dilemma remains in the fact that the intellectual stagnation demonstrated by
some leaders of religious institutions has moved to educational curricula.
stressed that al-Azhar students are taught at the secondary education level
that the conquests are sacred. Many intellectuals asked for a revision of that
teaching because, they said, it encourages extremist dogmas. They called for
banning books of jurisprudence that glorify the conquests and justify attacking
others from different faiths or beliefs.
al-Azhar’s traditionalists react to calls for reforms and the way they mistreat
scholars who bring forth for discussion contentious points in the history of
Islam do not bode well for the future of reforming religious discourse.
religious institutions have appointed themselves guardians of the faith and
adopted a policy of apparent reformism to be on the good side of the
government, while, in reality and in practice, they stand determined to exclude
and bring down anyone who tries to dig behind the extremists' arguments to
Headline: Daring to criticise Islamic conquests pre-empts extremist narratives
Source: The Arab Weekly
should be no objection to revisting the Islamic conquests. There needs a
balance between the advocates and opponents of a review of the concept of
conquests, in their approach to sanctifying or condemning conquests. It is the approach
of balance that can bear fruits in fighting against extremism and violence. The
balance, if missed between two different groups—with each taking interest in
evolving a renewed set of arguments to refute terrorism practiced in the name
of Islam, can lead to another clash.
subject is highly technical as the notions of conquests are generally
sanctified but what interpretations of the conquests need to sanctified and what
others need to be condemned, are not critically discriminated by common masses
as well as some scholars. In both areas of inquisition and analysis, there
comes a volley of questions to be dealt with, and it is only then that the
honest deduction can be brought into focus.