By Hoda Badri
Professor of Islamic Law at the University of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Karima, told Daily News Egypt that his visit to Iran was for academic purposes and not related to politics, adding that those who criticised him were Salafis and members of the Brotherhood.
What were the reasons behind your visit to Iran? Were you part of an official delegation representing Al-Azhar?
I wasn’t part of an official delegation. I visited the country because of a personal invitation from the General Secretariat of Seminaries in Iran. It was the first time I received such an invitation and the visit involved delivering Sunni comparative jurisprudence lectures for one week to Shiite and Sunni students.
Seminaries in Iran are similar to imam preparation institutions in Egypt, so I requested an official holiday from Al-Azhar University, enclosing the invitation letter and the programme with my request. Those who sent the invitation would notify the Egyptian embassy in Tehran.
I sent my request to the university on 31 August and waited until my travel date of 6 September. However, the university never showed reluctance, so I considered it implied consent, particularly because this was during summer break and I was not teaching any classes at the time.
I delivered lectures of Sunni Shafi’i jurisprudence in Kurdistan and in many other places with Shiite students. I visited various Iranian universities like the University of Religions and Denomination. All my activities during the visit were academic, but at the end of my visit I emphasised Egypt’s good intentions during 30 June and tried to clear up the confusion.
Do seminaries host Shiites only?
They host both Shiites and Sunnis.
Do Shiites receive Sunni jurisprudence lectures?
I’m an Egyptian citizen and an Azhari. I don’t know the nature of education there. I was only invited to give lectures in Sunni jurisprudence, and it’s none of my business who receives those lectures.
Were you indecisive about accepting the invitation in light of political tension between Egypt and Iran?
There are no political disputes between Egypt and Iran because Iran isn’t a border state with Egypt, and the original dispute was between Gulf states and Iran. We are not fighting Iran on behalf of Gulf states and it is wrong to have to bear the consequences of others’ actions.
How do you explain the severe attack against you upon your return from Iran?
This was an attempt on part of the Brotherhood and Salafis to settle their accounts with me. I was the only Azhari to confront them and publish a book about the Brotherhood; I’ve also criticised their terrorism academically and talked about Salafis in books and media.
If the attack was by Salafis and the Brotherhood, why did the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs suspend your membership?
The council is affiliated to the Ministry of Religious Endowment, and has research committees that have sought my membership. They need me, but I don’t want that membership anymore.
Why was your membership suspended?
It’s like a bid [plot]. There are Muslim Brotherhood cells in Al-Azhar, the ministry, the Senior Scholars Authority and the Islamic Research Academy, and I know their names, but I’m only willing to give them out to sovereign authorities if they want to remove those cells from Al-Azhar.
Is Al-Azhar aware of these cells’ existence?
Why did it not take action against them?
You can ask the Sheikh of Al-Azhar.
Did coordination take place with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before your visit to Iran?
I only notified the Egyptian embassy in Tehran.
Did you meet with Shiite leaders in Iran?
My mission was academic, and I didn’t meet with any political leaders, only religious ones. I didn’t memorise their names except for Da’wa supervisors, Mohammad Hassan Zamani, cultural advisor in Iran’s embassy in Cairo, and Hassan Ayoub.
Have you received objections from Shiites to portions of what you said during your lectures?
They were uncomfortable with some topics, like denying infallibility of imams, as they believe that imams are infallible, while we believe that only Prophet Muhammad is infallible.
Were they lectures or debates?
They were academic lectures followed by discussions. I laid out the Sunni jurisprudence point of view for people to either accept or reject.
Was the purpose of these lectures to converge Shiite and Sunni views?
No, they wanted to inform students of Sunni jurisprudence through a Sunni scholar, like having an English teacher who doesn’t speak Arabic teach English to Egyptian students.
I’ve also met some Shafi’i and non-Shafi’i lecturers at the University of Religions and Denominations who were there merely for academic purposes.
Were you investigated at the University of Al-Azhar?
No, I wasn’t. I continued my work normally when I returned to the university; however, I am ready for an investigation if there is one, but I would consider it invalid.
What makes the investigation invalid?
I like to keep my reasons behind legal matters quiet, but if it starts, that will all go down the drain.
Is it because you submitted a travel request?
There are other reasons I’ll skip mentioning, and I have a defence committee that is preparing the reasons that I will rely on.
Have you formed the defence body because you expect to be investigated?
I know that the Brotherhood and Salafis are devious and have their spies at the university who have been waiting for me to make a mistake, but I have a team of the biggest senior advisers in the country
I also have a team collecting information that will surprise them. This includes a list of delegations from Al-Azhar that have visited Iran, and I have four photos of Azhari leaders meeting with Shiites in Lebanon last week. Some of them currently work at Al-Azhar.
It’s not about Sunnis and Shiites, it’s about Ahmed Karima, supporter of the current regime and President, travelling. They want to eliminate a devoted supporter of the current regime.
Does the Brotherhood have the ability to provoke an attack against you within Al-Azhar?
The Brotherhood exerts great control within Al-Azhar and religious endowment ministry, and the minister being anti-Brotherhood is media propaganda.
Do you support the idea of confronting any Brotherhood preacher in the ministry even if he has not taken part in violence?
We do not antagonise Brotherhood employees, but there is a line of thought that has penetrated Al-Azhar. I know the names of people who have weight in Al-Azhar and the ministry and will give them to political bodies if they request them.
I, as a Sharia scholar, do not call for adversity, but respect for laws and regulations, in that preachers keep their political views to themselves and do not take advantage of their position.
You taught the Ibadi Doctrine in the Sultanate of Oman through a secondment from Al-Azhar with the current endowment ministers, so why are you facing attacks for teaching Sunni jurisprudence in Iran?
Shiism differs from the Ibadi Doctrine. The latter is contrary to the dogma but no one objected to my teaching of non-Sunni jurisprudence in Oman. But, a few lectures for Shiites in Iran and everyone went crazy, even though Shiite jurisprudence is taught in graduate studies in comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar and masters or doctoral degrees are not granted to students unless they have studied Shiite philosophy.
But isn’t Shiite ideology studied by students in Al-Azhar for the sake of curiosity?
Yes, and this shows that the entire issue is centred on Iran. They discuss Shiites outside of Iran and that is not considered a problem.
So this confirms that there is a sensitivity regarding Iran at an individual level in Egypt?
Scholars should not display sensitivity and I am not affiliated politically with anyone, nor do I have any interest in political matters. Academics offer advancement to any human being and according to the words of Allah in the verse of Sural At-Tawbah: “And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah.”
Have you been in contact with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar following your return from Iran?
I respect the Grand Imam and I know he is well-intentioned, but some figures surrounding him do not want him to be in contact with sincere advisers, and I know them by name.
Did you ask to see him and were prevented from doing so?
It is not a matter of being prevented. I have met him three times and offered him suggestions but those around him have developed a specialty in pushing away every sincere advisor…This is the old Egyptian disease where every leader is surrounded by a corrupt gang.
Why do they prevent you from meeting the Grand Imam?
I do not waste time on them. They are very scared about maintaining their status and position and are only concerned with this life.
Do you think that the important issues do not reach the Grand Imam because of those surrounding him?
The mission of any leader anywhere is to know where his feet are, and wisdom says that if you know, that is a catastrophe and if you do not know, that is an even bigger catastrophe.
What is it that you wish to convey to the Grand Imam?
I say to the Grand Imam “And fear a day when you will be returned to Allah. Then every soul will be compensated for what it earned, and they will not be treated unjustly.”
Some are afraid of engaging with Iran out of fear that Shiism will spread in Egypt.
Egypt must be its own sovereign decision-maker and must not be influenced by others…the fact there are problems between Iran and the Gulf states should not influence Egypt. We have to get out of Mubarak and Sadat’s mantle.
It is unreasonable that we have relations with Israel and have no relations with Iran.
Despite our relations with Israel, the former Mufti Ali Gomaa was attacked intensely after his visit to Jerusalem.
Gomaa travelled to Palestine and the attacks are a result of a backward, popular culture that fails to be multidimensional. At the time, I supported the Mufti’s visit to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque because it was legitimate. The Prophet went to Jerusalem when it was under Byzantine control.
But there are those who rejected this visit so as not to give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation.
We have weakened the Palestinians with this erroneous idea; visiting the imprisoned does not mean recognising the jailer. Not to mention that the Mufti did not obtain an Israeli visa.
Every Muslim should support the Palestinians so that they are not left unprotected, but Arabs just seek to comfort themselves.
Why was Al-Azhar fearful of the visit at the time?
Will you use the report on the visit issued by the embassy in Tehran?
The report is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I request that it be presented to the public.
Why was it said that you were part of an official delegation?
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are liars. I want to give an example for the Salafists: they say that Shiites curse the Prophet’s companions and this is of course a crime because the Prophet’s companions have all the respect and reverence as state in verse 100 in Surah At-Tawbah “And the first forerunners [in the faith] among the Muhajireen and the Ansar,” but in contrast, the Salafists curse the Prophet himself when they say that his father and mother were infidels…which is worse, insulting the Prophet’s companion or insulting the Prophet himself?
Ask any Salafist ideology what is the rule over the Prophet’s parents and they will say that they are infidels and are in hell. And as such, they are attacking the purity of the Prophet.
In your interpretation, why the spokesman for the Salafist movement attacked you on TV over your visit to Iran and said that you present Shiism in a positive light?
Because he was unable to respond to academic answers in two of my books and avoided a debate in the media. Only the weak resorts to rumours and propaganda, and unfortunately many agents and state officials lent them an ear.
Do you think that the Salafists will be able to gain a large number of seats in the next parliamentary elections?
Any citizens who lets a Salafist enter the House of Representatives means that he/she has allowed ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham) to enter as well, because Salafists are either Al-Qaeda or ISIS sympathisers. ISIS was borne out of Salafism and the people who, in their stupidity, elected Morsi said that they are voting for a person and did not know they voted for a gang. This gang turned out to be difficult to get rid of without spilling blood.
But the Nour Party representative was present at Sisi’s speech on 3 July 2013.
That happened for a reason, but now anyone who wants to harm Egypt’s national security will ally with Salafism.