October 18, 2012
An open letter to Dr. Talaat Afifi, Egyptian minister of religion
Dear Dr. Afifi,
Many of us involved in global contacts between leaders of the world's major religions seek to understand the new Egyptian government views about non-Muslims. Last week, Mohammed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, gave the world a sample of his. In remarks published both in Egypt's official newspaper, Al-Ahram, and on the Brotherhood website, Badie launched this anti-Semitic call for Jihad: "Jews have increased the corruption in the world, and ... shed the blood of Muslims ... Muslims must realize that restoring the sanctuaries and protecting honor and blood from the hands of Jews will not happen through the parlors of the United Nations, or through negotiations. The Zionists only know the way of force."
We then searched online to learn more about attitudes of those in government about Christians, Jews and Hindus. Our search led to you, Dr. Afifi.
We found you on your government's official website, your photograph (under Ministry of Religious Endowments) and contact information providing your website as www.awkaf.org. We learned there that you also head the Faculty of Preaching at Al-Azhar, the venerable first among universities in Egypt, dating back over a thousand years. This means that you are uniquely suited to speak to our inquiries. You represent not only the government of Egypt, but also its theological brain trust.
Back in 1995, a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation had the honor of visiting the then Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. During our meeting we expressed our growing alarm over suicide bombings in the Middle East. While no one expected any major breakthroughs, we remember how we were received cordially and respectfully and that we returned that respect. The Grand Mufti did respond favorably upon our request for him to dialogue with Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and they did indeed meet eventually in Alexandria.
Frankly, Dr. Afifi, we are trying to figure out what has changed in the last two decades. Sheikh Tantawi spoke the language of diplomacy, but we find little respect or diplomacy on your website.
Under the heading "Non-Muslims," in a document entitled "Islam and others (sic) monotheistic Religions," we find open contempt, denigration and mockery of Christianity and Judaism -- all the while praising Islam for its universality and fairness.
The essay states, "only Islam possesses an authentic scriptures (sic)." It claims that the other monotheistic religions can only lay claim to corrupted texts and translations, and even what they do have they cannot accurately understand because "the languages of the former revelations to the Jews and Christians have long been dead. Today nobody can speak those languages." Apparently the people of Greece and Israel are unaware they are speaking dead languages.
Islam is praised for its universality while finding fault with Christianity. "The acceptance of secularism on principle virtually negates Christianity's claim to universality ... Christianity's propagation of the doctrine of the Trinity and the vicarious atonement of mankind's sins by Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) nullifies all its moral values." Is this an example of tolerance?
As for other faiths, it offers the following: "If Muslims cannot regard Judaism or Christianity on a plane of equality with Islam, the non-Muslim will wonder what kind of treatment Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics and atheists can expect to receive under Muslim rule?" "Only God can give His faith to whom He will, the Muslim regards every non-Muslim as a potential Muslim. For this reason, he is commanded to be fair and just even to those non-Muslims who are his confirmed enemies."
A far cry from "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Do some "enemies" merit fairness only because they remain potential converts, but not because all humans are created in the image of G-d?
Dr. Afifi, are these your views and the government you serve?
Recently, Egypt's new President, Mohamed Morsi told the United Nations General Assembly, "Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed..."
We respectfully suggest that you and your government spare the world any more lectures about religious insults -- until you acknowledge and deal with your own.
This essay was co-authored with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director of Interfaith Affairs.