On July 9, 2015, on its Facebook page, Egypt's Al-Azhar Institute issued a harsh condemnation of the expanding legalization of same-sex marriage, calling it "a satanic plan" to destroy moral values and "a crime against humanity" that degrades humanity to new depths. The move comes in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage countrywide, Pope Francis's calls for more openness on the part of the Catholic Church towards homosexuality and divorce, and the past decade's expansion of legislation across Europe to protect same-sex couples.
In response to the Al-Azhar statement, Egyptian journalist and Free Egyptians Party member Muhammad Zaki Al-Shimi attacked the institute's double standard, in a July 12, 2015 article in the new Egyptian daily Al-Maqal, which is owned by journalist Ibrahim 'Issa. He argued that while Al-Azhar defines same-sex marriage as "a crime against humanity," it not only downplays the crimes of the Islamic State (ISIS) and considers them errors or deviations from the straight path, but also supports child marriage, trading in slaves, and the capture of married women.
Below is the Al-Azhar statement, followed by excerpts from Al-Shimi's response:
Al-Azhar: Marriage In Islam Is Male-Female, And In Accordance With Shari'a Law; Same-Sex Marriage Is A Crime Against Humanity
The Al-Azhar statement on its Facebook page read:
"Al-Azhar condemns the calls to legalize sexual deviancy, and stresses the following:
"- These dubious calls actualize a satanic plan to destroy the system of human morals and values. Marriage in Islam is strictly between a male and a female, and in accordance with shari'a law. Al-Azhar is monitoring this propaganda, which is directed by global forces and organizations that use all ways and means, including media, conferences, recruitment of celebrities, and more, in order to spread the permissibility of sexual deviancy and to strive for its legalization.
"- Al-Azhar condemns this immoral campaign, which is conducted as part of feverish efforts by questionable elements to carry out a satanic plan to destroy the system of human morals and values shared by all faiths and [religious] schools of thought because they are in line with proper human nature, according to which Allah created man.
"- Al-Azhar stresses that this sexual deviancy and this moral breakdown do not constitute a victory for human rights, but contradict the honor that Allah gave to [man] by preferring him above all His creations, and [also] constitute humanity's degeneration into the depths of obscenity. This is undoubtedly a crime against humanity and a clear violation of human rights and freedoms.
"- Al-Azhar opposes all [such] deplorable attempts at invasion of the Islamic countries by means of calls for sexual deviancy under the headline of 'same-sex marriage,' after it was legalized in some countries and after it received the approval of the leaders of some faiths and sects. [Al-Azhar] stresses its opposition to calling such deviancy marriage, because marriage in Islam is solely between a male and a female, in accordance with the laws of shari'a, which have set out principles and conditions on this matter that must be strictly adhered to. [The shari'a] has banned all sinful relations outside of shari'a marriage, in order to protect humanity from degeneration to the depths of obscenity, and from degradation and the breakdown of society and the family unit."
Muhammad Zaki Al-Shimi: Al-Azhar Does Not Recognize Freedom Of Religion, But Speaks Of Human Rights
Muhammad Zaki Al-Shimi
In a response to the statement, Muhammad Zaki Al-Shimi, a member of the Free Egyptians Party, attacked Al-Azhar in the Egyptian daily Al-Maqal, writing: "Last Thursday, Al-Azhar issued a statement expressing its opposition to same-sex marriage. This is essentially a predictable and routine move by any conservative religious organ, but it was surprising in its timing - two weeks after same-sex marriage was legalized throughout the U.S.
"More important than Al-Azhar's position [on this] is the basis of its statement, which shows us once again the background for this debate: First, Al-Azhar speaks of same-sex marriage as 'a crime against humanity,' which makes us wonder whether Al-Azhar understands the meaning of the expressions that it uses. Does it know that such terms have a clear and defined meaning, and that it cannot distort their essence by repeatedly using it to mean something that is far removed from its [original] meaning?
"The strange thing is that Al-Azhar repeatedly calls [same-sex marriage] a blatant violation of human rights - this only increases [our] amazement at Al-Azhar's use of Western terminology, because what human rights does Al-Azhar recognize? Has Al-Azhar ever issued a statement of ideas - even in the form of leaflets like the ones that flood Egypt's streets - explaining the human rights that it does recognize?
"Does Al-Azhar recognize freedom of religion? Has it issued a statement stressing that all men are free to believe in the religion of their choice, without punishment? Has it distanced itself from the Koranic punishment for rida [leaving Islam, which according to the Koran is death]? The answer is no! Nevertheless, it speaks of human rights.
"Has Al-Azhar announced its opposition to slavery, trading in slaves, and sexual exploitation of children? The answer is no; on the contrary, it teaches its students that it is religiously legitimate to marry a [little] girl and to take the wives of others captive as booty. And yet it speaks of violating human rights.
"Al-Azhar calls ISIS criminals 'misguided' or 'deviating from the straight path,' but does not call them 'violators of human rights.' This is simply because it is acting like a peddler hawking his wares to customers, not as someone expressing authentic positions. When it discusses same-sex marriage, it is primarily addressing Western audiences, so it peppers its statements with expressions such as 'crime against humanity' and 'clear violation of human rights.' [But] when it speaks of ISIS's crimes, it is primarily addressing Muslim audiences - so it uses expressions such as 'unrelated to Islam,' 'they are misguided but we do not accuse them of being infidels,' and 'they kill too much.' Al-Azhar has no consistent norms - other than spewing verbal nonsense full of phrases that sound like those used by its target audience, with no real conviction behind them.
"Additionally, Al-Azhar's statement does not even distinguish between recognizing same-sex marriage and not defining same-sex relations as a crime. This is because it considers it all forbidden. It is entitled to [take] this stand - but when it claims that there is a campaign to 'permit' sexual deviancy, and that there is an effort 'to grant it special status in the law and ratify it,' it conflates two issues, [not once but] twice: First, [conflating] the prohibition on same-sex marriage in its own [Islamic] view with whether it is a crime under [civil] law; and second, [conflating the] anchoring [of same-sex] relations in law by granting them the status of marriage with the mere existence [of such relations]...
"Al-Azhar concluded its announcement by claiming a satanic campaign is being waged by dubious elements against shared values and human morals that are common to all faiths and schools [of religious thought. But] Al-Azhar only remembers such values in its struggle against homosexuals or atheists, or when it tries to outlaw contempt for its position, whether inside or outside Egypt. But it has no interest in opposing the crimes carried out by terrorist organizations that are based on religious texts and interpretations that it considers sacred.
"Obviously, Al-Azhar is entitled to express its view as it wishes. But the ridiculous thing is the difference that we see between its position on the world's real terrorists and its position on homosexuality or atheism. [Even more] ridiculous is [the difference] between the opposition to homosexuality expressed by religious conservatives in the West, which is based on an attempt to rationalize things or to give them moral and philosophical aspects; and Al-Azhar's [opposition], which is based on the view that anything that it opposes is a plot.
"Al-Azhar sees homosexuality as a crime against humanity and as behavior that contradicts human nature. But it sees the rape of children, the enslavement of women, and the slaughter of people as actions that indicate that the perpetrator of these deeds claimed to be a religious scholar but was mistaken - that is, that he attempted to interpret religious law but simply made a mistake."
 Most recently, at the October 2014 Synod of Bishops on the Family.
 Facebook.com/OfficialAzharEg, July 9, 2015.
 For Al-Azhar's position on ISIS, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5910, Al-Azhar: The Islamic State (ISIS) Is A Terrorist Organization, But It Must Not Be Accused Of Heresy, December 21, 2014.