The Jakarta Post
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Muhammad Ahmad Al Thayyib, visited Jakarta for the first time on Monday to further enhance cooperation with Indonesia in promoting moderate Islam. The Jakarta Post's editor-in-chief Endy M. Bayuni and reporter Anggi M. Lubis interviewed him on various matters, ranging from democracy to homosexuality. The following are excerpts.
Question: What is your view of Indonesia and its position in the Muslim world?
Answer: As the country with the largest Muslim population in the world Indonesia has assumed a very strategic position for Islam and Muslims. Indonesia also has close and good relations with Al-Azhar Asy-Syarif, which is based on Indonesia's confidence in the role of Al-Azhar in spreading the moderate message among Muslims.
Consider the abovementioned, we in Al-Azhar Asy-Syarif pay great attention to various educational, religious and cultural institutions in Indonesia. We provide scholarships in large number to Indonesian students to study in Al-Azhar University.
In addition, Al-Azhar also receives Indonesian ulema to attend various training programs on various contemporary issues. This is possible thanks to the cooperation with the Muslim Expert Council of which I am the chairperson. The Caliph of Peace is one of various international peace caliphs that have ventured to various continents. This Caliph of Peace also has the purpose of straightening out various misunderstandings and thoughts and it stresses the importance of respecting the value of morality and humanity, which unite all citizens of a country.
Can Islam adapt to democracy and acknowledge the principles of democracy, such as individual freedom and human rights?
Islam is not against democracy. Indeed I myself assert that it was Islam that initially confirmed democratic values. The Medina Charter drawn up by Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, at the initial birth of the Islamic state constitutes strong evidence that Islam, a very long time before, laid down a clear constitutional basis and foundation that protects the rights of all citizens, not only among Muslims but also between Muslims and non-Muslims in one community.
Several examples indicate the upholding of principles such as freedom and human rights, in which Islam first observed these matters in the Koran and the Sunnah, as well as in the intellectual inheritance throughout this time. Therefore it is impossible to say that Islam is against the values of freedom and human rights.
With regard to the method of holding an election for leader, it is truly Allah's blessing that Islam alone provides the basic framework of elections that can materialize the purpose and wishes of the community in the form of justice, equality of rights and noble living. Islam gives freedom to Muslims to determine the proper mechanism and methods to elect leaders that can realize such a variety of purposes. Hence such a mechanism and methods will automatically produce leaders who serve their people and work to materialize their nation's ideals.
Nevertheless, we would like to warn everyone that the meaning of democracy in the West has gone beyond proportion; there anyone can take any action toward religions, even removing the role of religion in guiding the life of people and the community.
What is your comment on the poor relations between Shiites and Sunnis?
It was Al-Azhar that started efforts to make peace between them and hold mutual-understanding events for the Sunnis and Shiites, as at that time the dissemination of Shia teaching was limited only within their own followers. At the time there were not yet any organized propaganda efforts within Sunni areas as there is now. We do not reject the Shia school as a school. What we reject are the efforts to promote this school and its message in various areas inhabited by the Sunni, as these activities are merely politically motivated and will not succeed.
Previously efforts such as these have ended in total failure, although supported by very strong financial power. Because what is right remains right before Allah the Almighty as He creates humans and their differences in terms of religion, belief and teaching.
Propagating the Shia school among the Sunni at present ' regrettably ' has become a grand design with the purpose of meddling in and controlling various Sunni countries. However, we continue to ask them to live in coexistence, as they have done for centuries without dispute and violence.
We hold dearly to several principles that will be briefly discussed and we endeavor to avoid any problems that may create disputes.
At present, in Indonesia there has been a heated discussion on homosexuality. What should Muslims do in regard to this?
This major propaganda is orchestrated by various international institutions and organizations using all kinds of methods and instruments such as the mass media and seminars, involving a number of celebrated figures and other possible means. The objective is to promote and solidify homosexuality.
Al-Azhar, in a previous statement, reiterated that the amoral and satanic propaganda launched by these various, vicious, parties has the purpose of destroying the human moral order respected by all religions and schools, because this moral order is in line with humanity's innate quality ( fitrah ) created by Allah.
Promoting homosexuality and this moral decadence is not a victory for human rights but is a moral disease that undermines humanity's fitrah and is contrary to the nobility granted by Allah to human beings. Homosexuality constitutes humanity's deep moral decadence, a crime against humanity itself, an obvious violation of our humanity and a contamination of freedom. And we certainly reject all these ruthless efforts.
Various facets of homosexual propaganda have invaded the Islamic world under the name of 'same-sex marriage'. This is being performed after they successfully launched the propaganda in a number of other countries, hence accepted by religious leaders and groups in these countries. We oppose this sexual deviation being called marriage. In Islam marriage can be only exist between a man and a woman in accordance with the teaching of noble religions, under which the terms and conditions have been stipulated.