EGYPT: Al Azhar repudiates Coptic bishop's comments on the Koran
The world's most influential Sunni Muslim institution, Al Azhar, has denounced comments by a Coptic bishop in which he suggested that some verses of the Koran inferring that Christians were infidels were added after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
In a meeting held by the Islamic Research Council over the weekend, Azhar's top cleric said he was "shocked" by the remarks made by Bishop Bishoy, the secretary of the Coptic Church's Holy Synod. "This kind of behavior is irresponsible and threatens national unity at a time when it is vital to protect it," Ahmed Tayyeb said in a statement.
Tayyeb also warned against repercussions that these sorts of statements can have among Muslims in Egypt and abroad.
Bishoy caused a media furor when the text of a lecture he was scheduled to give at a Coptic conference last week suggested that some versus were added to the Koran during the reign of the third righteous caliph Uthman ibn Affan (644-656), more than 10 years after Prophet Muhammad's death. Muslims believe that the holy book was handed down by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet during the last 23 years of his life, and that the words have remained undistorted since then.
Bishoy's lecture was later canceled. He attempted to defend himself last week, saying: "Questioning whether some verses of the Koran were inserted after the death of the prophet is not a criticism or accusation toward Islam."
The controversial comments were aimed at a specific verse, which Bishoy interpreted as meaning that Christians were considered to be infidels. Such interpretation was rejected by both Copts and Muslims, who fear that the bishop's quotes could intensify sectarian tensions in Egypt.
It is reported that Pope Shenouda was also angered by the remarks, which were similarly condemned by Egypt's biggest religious and political opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tensions between Muslims and Copts in Egypt have recently escalated following the disappearance of a priest's wife, who is reportedly locked up in a Coptic monastery in southern Egypt after she revealed her conversion to Islam.
Three Muslims are still on trial over the killing of six Copts, who were on their way out of a Coptic Christmas Mass in the town of Nagaa Hamadi, also in southern Egypt, last January. Copts form around 10% of Egypt's population and have long claimed they are being marginalized by the Muslim majority.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Al Azhar's grand cleric Ahmed Tayyeb. Credit: Associated Press