Professor Mohamed Othman Elkhosht, the President of Cairo University, said at a January 28, 2020 conference that was streamed live on Al-Azhar University's YouTube channel that the religious sciences are in a state of stagnation, and he criticized the fact that critical analysis, scientific analysis, and methodologies from the humanities and social sciences are not used in this field. He said that Islamic scholarship has failed to enter a new era and called for interdisciplinarity. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, responded that shari'a law, Islamic jurisprudence, and the Islamic heritage that Professor Elkhosht criticized were the same things that united a bunch of warring Arab tribes that "couldn't tell right from left" and enabled them to expand as far as Al-Andalus and China. Sheikh Al-Tayyeb also said that Islamic heritage barely plays a role in people's lives today and that the Arab and Muslim identity is meaningless. He further argued that Western leaders such as Trump and Netanyahu make all the decisions for the Arab world, that the conflict between modernity and the Islamic heritage is made up by the West in order to hold the Muslim world back, and that there is an "accursed and vicious machine" directing the way people view Islam.
To view the clip of Mohamed Othman Elkhosht and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb on MEMRI TV, click here or below.
"I Call For The Development Of The Religious Sciences, And Not For Their Revival, Because Such Revival Means To Adopt The Religious Sciences Of The Past En Bloc"
Professor Mohamed Othman Elkhosht: "The religious sciences are in a state of stagnation. They are based on copying and reproduction.
"There is no critical analysis, no scientific analysis, and no use of methodologies from the humanities or social sciences. All the battles of the old days are being repeated. We still live in the times of the fitna of the Caliph Othman. The same old battles are present today. All the battles of ISIS are identical to the battles at the advent [of Islam], because we have been unable to enter a new era. So I call for the development of the religious sciences, and not for their revival, because such revival means to adopt the religious sciences of the past en bloc."
"Where Did We Get This Idea Of 'Single Opinion' Or 'Single Truth'? Not From The Imams Of The Past"
"Some people accuse Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal of being an extremist. I'm speaking here to very knowledgeable scholars. In most of the matters of jurisprudence that appear in the books of the Hanbali school, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal had three different opinions for each question.
"Where did we get this idea of 'single opinion' or 'single truth'? Not from the Imams of the past... If I call for the establishment of new [religious] sciences, it doesn't mean that I treat them with disrespect. I am calling to follow their example rather than their school of jurisprudence.
"In the framework of the renewal [of religious thought], we must depart from the closed circle [of religion] and open up to other circles of the humanities and social sciences. I also call for interdisciplinary studies rather than viewing religious sciences as a desert island. The jurisprudents and the scholars of shari'a, exegeses, and hadith have become desert islands. We are now in the age of interdisciplinarity."
"Describing The [Islamic] Heritage As Something That Bequeathed Weakness And Backwardness Is Unfair Towards The [Islamic] Heritage"
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb: "Sir, the [Islamic] heritage that is being derided today... We deride it and make people afraid of it... This [Islamic] heritage took a bunch of Arab tribes that used to fight each other and that couldn't tell right from left, and in the course of 80 years, enabled them to place one foot in Al-Andalus and another in China. That is because they focused on the strong points of this heritage. This heritage created an entire nation and coexisted with history. Tell me, sir – and you are our teacher in this field – how did the Islamic world advance before the French invasion [in 1798]? What set it in motion? Wasn't it the shari'a and the [Islamic] heritage?
"Therefore, describing the [Islamic] heritage as something that bequeathed weakness and backwardness is unfair towards the [Islamic] heritage."
"This War Between Heritage And Modernity Is Also Made Up In Order To Hold Us Back"
"Between me and you, do you think that [Islamic] heritage is implemented today? I do not think that our heritage is implemented today. I mean, we eat like the Europeans with a knife and fork using both our hands. We use European and American cars.
"We think like Europeans. Our school curricula are like theirs. Our policies follow the European-Western way. Islam – and not [Islamic] heritage, to be honest – is implemented maybe in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and nothing else. So where is that... As a matter of fact, I do not see where... On the contrary, I was expecting people to say that the heritage is missing from our lives."
Professor Mohamed Othman Elkhosht: "All of the heritage?"
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb: "Our identity has been lost. Tell me, sir, what does our identity as Arabs and Muslims mean today? Nothing."
Professor Mohamed Othman Elkhosht: "Nothing."
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb: "Nothing, today. Our matters are decided by others. I was utterly ashamed when I saw Trump with that [PM] of Israel... They are the ones who plan, say, decide, and solve our problems. There is no Arab or Muslim [among them]. That is where we should be fighting. I hope that you are aware of what is going on behind the scenes. This war between heritage and modernity is also made up in order to hold us back. If you asked someone... You must be from a village. Go ask anyone working on his plow if what ISIS are doing is a part of Islam. He will surely tell you that what they do is not a part of Islam. We, as scholars and clerics from Al-Azhar, have said it more than once, and held one, two, or ten conferences. We have said that Islam and the Muslims are innocent of this terrorism. Even so, we had to face constant accusations about the terrorist nature of Islam, and had to hold conferences to say that terrorism is not a part of Islam. There is an accursed and vicious machine that directs the way people think [of Islam]."