October 27, 2007

Koran Commentary for Children Published in Egypt Features Incitement to Fight Christians and Jews

In an investigative article in the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousef, journalist Asma Nassar revealed that a popular Koran commentary for children published in Egypt contains virulent incitement against Christians and Jews, and calls on both children and adults to fight them. Nassar's critical article presents excerpts from the book and comments from Muslim scholars who participated in its writing and from senior Al-Azhar figures.

The following are excerpts from the article:(1)

How Could Al-Azhar Approve This Book for Publication?

The article stated: "This Koran commentary, intended for children, includes erroneous ideas which incite against the followers of the [other] monotheistic religions. For instance, the interpretation of the Al-Fatiha Sura [the first Sura of the Koran], states that [the expression] 'those who earn Thine [i.e., Allah's] anger' refers to the Jews, and [the expression] 'those who go astray' refers to the Christians.(2) This [rendering] contradicts the tenets and the tolerant character of the Islamic faith.

"We wished to find out who was behind these inciting interpretations, especially since they are intended for children and teach them notions of hatred and extremism. It should be noted that the Muslim scholar Gamal Al-Bana was the first to call attention to this book, in his critical article about various Koran commentaries which contradict the principles of shari'a...(3)

"We discovered that the book was first published 10 years ago by Dar Al-Sahaba Lil-Turat in Tanta, and was edited by Sheikh Magdi Fathi Al-Sayyed. Since then, there have been five more editions, and the book has been translated into several languages, including Indonesian, Malaysian, and Turkish. The question arises: How could the [Al-Azhar] Academy of Islamic Research allow the publication of such ideas? After all, [one of its] duties is to monitor [publications] that misrepresent Islam and disparage the [other]monotheistic religions. Considering [the Academy's] involvement in cultural conflicts, and its persecution of anyone who has innovative ideas in areas of thought, culture and philosophy, its [scholars] ought to revert to their original role.

"The hidden poison [of extremism] has seeped into the pages of this book, which was approved [for publication] by the Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Research... [after being] examined by four of its scholars. [One of the authors] of the introduction is the president of Egypt's Koranic schools, and a hadith expert at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Ahmad 'Issa Al-Ma'sarawi..."

Deliberate Inculcation of Extremist Ideas

The article continued: "Overall, the book is characterized by incitement to extremism and by extremist interpretations that do not reflect the true meaning of the verses... [For example,] the book divests Islam of its most fundamental principle - [the principle of] peace - and even incites against this [notion] in its interpretation of the [following] verses: 'Forgive them, and overlook [their misdeeds], for Allah loveth those who are kind [5:13]'; 'And if the enemy inclines towards peace, then incline towards it and trust in Allah, for He is all-hearing and all-knowing [8:61].' [The book states that] these verses are abrogated by the 'Verse of the Sword,' which descended later, and which says: 'Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the Latter Day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book [i.e. among the Christians and Jews], until they pay the jizya [the Islamic poll tax on non-Muslims] and they are in a state of subjection [9:29].' [According to the book], peace and reconciliation agreements [with Christians and Jews] have been forbidden since this verse was revealed.

"In its interpretation of this verse, [the book] says: 'Allah commands the believers to fight all the infidels who do not believe in Allah and in the Latter Day [i.e. in the Day of Judgment], who do not follow His instructions regarding what is allowed and prohibited, and who do not believe in the true faith, which is Islam - i.e. the Jews and the Christians'...

"One of the most appalling parts of the book is a section quoting several verses from the Al-Maida Sura ['The Table Spread'], which the book labels as 'proof of the heresy of the Christians.' The ideas planted [by this section] in the children's minds are like a time bomb that will lead to civil war, since the children learn by heart [verses that indoctrinate them] to accuse the Copts of heresy. This is totally inexplicable, and also contradicts [the spirit of] the Egyptian constitution...
"In its interpretation of verse [9:41] - 'Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah's way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know' - the book says: 'Allah the Almighty told the believers - both young and old - to set out and fight for the sake of Allah.

"In explaining verse [9:66] - 'O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey's end' - the book says: 'Allah commanded the believers to wage jihad against the infidels by [fighting them] with the sword, and to wage jihad against the hypocrites by imposing upon them the punishments and constraints mandated for those who violate the commands of Islam..."

The article further stated: "The expected consequence of this [book] is that, in future, thousands of young children will be willing to blow themselves up [in terrorist operations] against [non-Muslims]. This is the danger [that this book represents]. [The book's aim] is not to interpret verses, but to deliberately instill children with ideas that incite [to extremism]. This is evident from its deliberate ignoring of other verses... that reflect the true [face of] Islam, which does not discriminate among the followers of the monotheistic religions but [calls for] brotherhood among them..."

Senior Al-Azhar Scholar: This is Ignorance, Taken from Outdated and Erroneous

Nassar's article also elicited various responses to its criticism of the book. Former Al-Azhar vice-president Dr. Mahmoud Zalat Al-Qasbi, who co-authored the book's introduction, said: "I never saw the interpretations [quoted in Nassar's article]. I was asked to write the introduction, and that was my only involvement with the book." Al-Qasbi added that, had he seen these interpretations, he would have requested to have them changed, since he believed that offensive references to other religions were contrary to the principles of Islam. He also said that, in his opinion, the Al-Fatiha Sura had nothing to do with the Christians or Jews, since 'those who go astray' can also refer to many Muslims.

Dr. 'Abd Al-Mu'ti Bayoumi, member of the Al-Azhar Academy for Islamic Research, likewise expressed reservations about the book, saying: "It is ignorance on our part [to rely on] old and erroneous [Koran] commentaries without examining and contemplating [the verses anew]. Islamic thought needs to be reformed..." Bayoumi went on to warn against instilling these poisonous ideas in the younger generation.

Nassar also presented statements by Islamic scholar Gamal Al-Bana, who exposed the book in August 2007. He said: "The interpretations [found in the book] are generally similar to commentaries by [the Muslim Brotherhood theorist] Sayyed Qutub and other [Islamic scholars] of his ilk, who harmed the image of Islam with their erroneous interpretations of the Koran. Islam is pluralistic by nature, and does not aim to judge other religions or accuse others of heresy - that [role] is reserved for Allah on the Day of Judgment..." On the interpretation of the "Verse of the Sword," Al-Bana commented:

"Conciliation, tolerance and peace are principles of the Islamic faith, and whoever rejects them, rejects the postulates of that faith... Children must not be exposed to these commentaries, just as they should in general be left out of arguments they cannot understand, since [religious disputes] concern only the experts."

(1) Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), September 21, 2007.
(2) Verses six and seven of the Al-Fatiha Sura say: "Show us the straight path - the path of those whom Thou [i.e. Allah] hast favored, not the [path] of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray."
(3) Al-Bana's article appeared August 1, 2007 in the Egyptian daily Al-Masril-Yawm.

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