In a recent TV interview, Gaber Asfour, the former Egyptian minister of culture, talked about the need for reform in religious thought and discourse. "Unless the religious discourse is renewed and undergoes reform, have no doubt that you will have people like ISIS in every neighborhood," he said in the interview, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on June 23, 2015.
Following are excerpts:
Gaber Asfour: With regard to the reform of the religious discourse, I believe that we were in need of a president like Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, who would take this task upon himself, because this issue is, in a nutshell, a matter of national security.
Interviewer: National security? In what way?
Gaber Asfour: Yes. I will tell you in what way. Unless the religious discourse is renewed and undergoes reform, have no doubt that you will have people like ISIS in every neighborhood. This is a matter of national security. It threatens the country. Take a close look at the Arab countries. Take your immediate neighbor, Libya. What happened to it? What happened to Sudan? To Syria? To Iraq? Everything that has happened is the outcome of deviation in religious thought. This deviation begins with the brain, which gives orders to the hand, which, in turn, perpetrates murder and terrorism, beginning with swords and ending with bombs.
Al-Azhar has less sway over the so-called religious discourse than all the religious institutions.
Interviewer:But it is Al-Azhar from which supposedly the moderate preachers graduate.
Gaber Asfour: That is true. However, the reformist preachers who graduate from Al-Azhar have become few and far between. Secondly, the preachers who do not subscribe to Al-Azhar, but to all kinds of Salafi groups instead, greatly outnumber the Al-Azhar preachers. Therefore, Al-Azhar does not have the same influence that we used to think it had. I believe that the Salafi discourse has much more influence than that of Al-Azhar.
Interviewer: Within Al-Azhar?
Gaber Asfour: No, in Egypt in general.
I always say that the issue of religious discourse is ultimately a matter of culture. The religious discourse is part of the general cultural discourse. So long as the general cultural discourse is backward, it is only natural for the religious discouse to be backward. Since life constantly renews itself, the religious rulings should also be renewed. The religious rulings are the effect, and (life) is the cause. If the cause changes, the effect should follow suit. Take, for example, the issue of women becoming judges.
The women who live in this day and age are entirely different from the women who lived in the days when the Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Islamic law were formed. This should be taken into consideration when you debate whether women should be allowed to become judges. The jurisprudents in several Arab countries have said this, and they allowed women to become judges. The result is that women serve as judges in many Arab countries, but are denied this in Egypt. Isn't this disappointing? Women serve as judges in Sudan, in Tunisia, in Algeria, and, I think, in Libya, but they cannot become judges in Egypt, which is the leader (of the Arab world). Isn't this disappointing?