“For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar [University] has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning,” declared then-President Barack Obama in a June 2009 address in Cairo. Obama opined that “Islam, at places like Al-Azhar,” maintains “a proud tradition of tolerance.”
The first statement was correct: Since the end of the 12th century, Al-Azhar University has been recognized as the foremost center of Sunni Muslim religious education. Egyptian observers have called it a “Vatican of Islam on theological issues.”
On Oct. 19, Al-Azhar’s authoritative Muslim theologians issued a fatwa on the ongoing conflict sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion and massacre. Notwithstanding Obama’s claims about Al-Azhar’s “learning” and “tolerance,” and absent any mention of Hamas’ jihad carnage, the fatwa ruled that all Israeli citizens are legitimate targets of jihadi violence.
Consistent with the willfully ignored legacy of jihad in historical Palestine dating back to the seventh century, this fatwa is part of a 75-year tradition sanctioning the jihadi genocide of Israeli Jews.
Following the United Nations vote for the partition of Palestine, Kermit Roosevelt wrote in a Dec. 1947 Saturday Evening Post essay, “The danger is a jihad, a holy war, preached from the mosques in every village. If a jihad is proclaimed, its scope and ending are unpredictable. The Arab governments might, in time, have to recognize it and join in.”
Roosevelt’s concerns were promptly realized. Al-Azhar clerics issued three fatwas calling for the global Muslim umma to wage jihad to destroy Israel. They were issued after the announcement of the 1947 partition plan, upon Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence and following the defeat of the Arab armies at the end of 1948. These Al-Azhar edicts were redolent with classical Islamic jihadism and conspiratorial Jew-hatred.
Seven years after the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and several Arab states, two more fatwas were issued on Jan. 5, 1956 by then-grand mufti of Egypt Sheikh Hasan Ma’moun and on Jan. 9, 1956. The latter was signed by the leading members of the Fatwa Committee of Al-Azhar, and restated and elaborated on the rationale for jihad against the Jews of Israel.
The rulings maintained that all of historical Palestine, having once been conquered by jihad, was the permanent possession of the global Muslim umma. It was “booty” or “spoils” to be governed eternally by Islamic law.
Muslims cannot conclude peace with those Jews who have usurped the territory of Palestine and attacked its people and their property in any manner which allows the Jews to continue as a state in that sacred Muslim territory. Jews have taken a part of Palestine and there established their non-Islamic government and have also evacuated from that part most of its Muslim inhabitants. … Jihad … to restore the country to its people … is the duty of all Muslims, not just those who can undertake it.
Since all Islamic countries constitute the abode of every Muslim, the jihad is imperative for both the Muslims inhabiting the territory attacked and Muslims everywhere else, because even though some sections have not been attacked directly, the attack nevertheless took place on a part of the Muslim territory which is a legitimate residence for any Muslim. …
Everyone knows that from the early days of Islam to the present day the Jews have been plotting against Islam and Muslims and the Islamic homeland. They do not propose to be content with the attack they made on Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque, but they plan for the possession of all Islamic territories from the Nile to the Euphrates.
A year after Israel’s decisive victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Al-Azhar convened the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research in Cairo, featuring prominent Muslim theologians not only from the Middle East, but also Asia, Africa and Europe. This seminal, if very nasty, conference marked the formal abandonment of pseudo-secular “Arab nationalism” as a guiding ideological rationale for the conflict with Israel.
Published in English in 1970, the Conference proceedings were the subject of a pioneering analysis by the late historian David Littman in 1971. Littman summarized the Conference’s six key “recurring themes” as follows:
1) Jews are frequently denoted as the “Enemies of Allah.”
2) Jews manifest in themselves an historical continuity of evil qualities … as described in the Quran.
3) The Jews do not constitute a true people or nation.
4) The State of Israel is the culmination of the historical and cultural depravity of the Jews. … It has to be destroyed by a jihad.
5) The superiority of Islam over all other religions is brandished as a guarantee that the Arabs will ultimately triumph.
6) It is outrageous for the Jews, traditionally kept by Arab Islam in a humiliated, inferior status, and characterized as cowardly, to defeat the Arabs, have their own state and cause the contraction of the “abode of Islam.”
Al-Azhar has continued to espouse this annihilationist theology. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, who held the position of grand imam from 1996-2010, and his successor Ahmed al-Tayyeb, have each reinforced this ignoble tradition of jihadism and Islamic Jew-hatred. Both Tantawi and Tayyeb sanctioned suicide bombing and killing non-combatant children and women.
Tantawi, a leading modern Quranic commentator, has championed the most virulent themes of Quranic Jew-hatred in his authoritative interpretations, including the description of Jews as “apes and pigs” (Quran 5:60) whose immutable perfidy merits eternal debasement (Quran 3:112). He exhorted Muslims to “use force with [the Jews] and treat them in the way you see as effective in ridding them of their evil. One may go so far as to ban their religion, their persons, their wealth and their villages.”
In 2013 and 2017 Egyptian national television interviews, Tayyeb rationalized permanent Muslim hatred of Jews by citing Quran 5:82 and spoke of an alleged 1,400 years of Muslim “suffering from Jewish and Zionist interference.”
As David Littman stated 50 years ago, Al-Azhar promotes ideas that “lead to the urge to liquidate Israel, politicide; and the Jews, genocide. If the evil of the Jews is immutable and permanent, transcending time and circumstances, and impervious to all hopes of reform, there is only one way to cleanse the world of them—by their complete annihilation.”
Jewish and all other decent religious and political leaders should denounce Al-Azhar’s promulgation of “sacralized” annihilationist Jew-hatred. Such condemnation is well-deserved and long overdue.