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EGYPT: Islamic institution bans book amidst Copts' protests

December 18, 2009 |  7:36 am

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In what is seen by many as an unprecedented response, Al Azhar's Islamic Research Academy has decided to stop publishing a book criticized for defaming Christianity.

'The Scientific Report', written by Muslim intellectual Mohamed Emara, was released alongside the institution's monthly magazine in November. The author said the work was commissioned by the Research Academy to refute a book written by a Christian Coptic writer a few months ago that was regarded as denigrating Islam.  

However,'The Scientific Report ' was criticized by many Copts as vigorous attack on Christianity, as the book described the religion to be one form of paganism. Copts were further angered because book was released under the supervision of the country's highest Islamic institution, which suggested that Al Azhar had endorsed Emara's argument.  

Consequently, the Egyptian Anglican community demanded an official clarification from Al Azhar's grand sheik, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, regarding the matter. Coptic lawyer and chairman of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, Nabil Gobra'eel, filed a report to the attorney general, accusing Emara of blasphemy and contempt to Christianity.

"We want to end the fire sparked by some extremists from both Muslims' and Christians' side, and that is why Azhar has decided to ban 'The Scientific Report,'" said general secretary of the Islamic Research Academy, Aly Abd El Baqi.

While the media reported that Azhar's decision might have been influenced by recommendations from the country's state security, who wanted to avoid any clashes between Muslims and Copts, the move was generally met with wide approval and relief from Coptic figures.

"Al Azhar should be thanked for their instant reaction. It puts an early end to any future problems that could have evolved because of the release of such [a] book," said a statement by Al Kalema Center for Human Rights.

Copts comprise 8 million of Egypt's population of 80 million. Clashes between Muslims and Copts have been on the rise as of late; Copts complain of oppression from the Muslim majority, and Muslims accuse Copts of trying to broaden their presence in the Islamic country.
 
Al Azhar is the most influential Sunni Islamic institution in the world, supervising an Islamic university and handing down fatwas to guide Muslims in their religion, behaviors and rituals. 

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Al Azhar Grand Sheik Mohamed Sayed Tantawi. Credit: EPA

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