April 7, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 363

Leading Egyptian Government Cleric Calls For: 'Martyrdom Attacks that Strike Horror into the Hearts of the Enemies of Allah'

April 7, 2002
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 363

Within the past year, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the top Egyptian cleric of Al­Azhar University, has shifted his position regarding the targeting of civilians in suicide bombings. While he previously stated that Palestinians should refrain from targeting civilians,[1] he recently declared that martyrdom (suicide) operations and the killing of civilians are permitted acts and that more such attacks should be carried out. Tantawi's positions were posted on, a website associated with Al­Azhar. The following are excerpts from the report:

"The great Imam of Al­Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy, and described the martyrdom operations as the highest form of Jihad operations. He says that the young people executing them have sold Allah the most precious thing of all."

"[Sheikh Tantawi] emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land and cause the cruel Israeli aggression to retreat…"

These words were spoken at a reception held by Sheikh Tantawi for Israeli Arab Democratic Party leader Abd Al­Wahhab Al­Darawsheh and the delegation that accompanied him. During the meeting, Al­Darawsheh stressed the depth of relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian peoples, and stated that the Palestinian people was steadfast, would not abandon its land and would continue in its path until it achieved one of two good things: victory or martyrdom.[2]

Egypt's new mufti, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al­Tayyeb, also expressed his support for suicide attacks. Sheikh Al­Tayyeb took office when the term of his predecessor, Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasil, was not renewed due to his opposition to Sheikh Tantawi's previous religious rulings against suicide attacks.

Until now, in all of his interviews with the Egyptian press since becoming mufti, Sheikh Al­Tayyeb has avoided discussing suicide bombings. But since Sheikh Tantawi's call for suicide attacks, Sheikh Al­Tayyeb has declared that "the solution to the Israeli terror lies in a proliferation of Fidai [martyrdom] attacks that strike horror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah. The Islamic countries, peoples and rulers alike, must support these martyrdom attacks."[3]

It should be noted that a March 18, 2002 demonstration at Al­Azhar University featured eight students who had been trained to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis.[4] Volunteering for suicide bombings against Israelis has become a popular expression in Egypt – so much so that Mahmoud Al­Zahhar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, told the Israeli Arab weekly Kul Al­Arab, "Two days ago, in Alexandria, enrolment began for volunteers for martyrdom [operations]. Two thousand students from the University of Alexandria signed up to die a martyr's death. This is the real Egyptian people."[5]

[1] Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy, "Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy," May 2, 2001.

[2], April 4, 2002.

[3], April 4, 2002.

[4] Al­Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 19, 2002.

[5] Kul Al­Arab (Israel), April 5, 2002.

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