Friday Prayers for Egypt: Poisoning the Azhar

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So much of Egypt’s identity is tied up in the Azhar. The pinnacle of Islamic learning among Sunni Muslims, the Azhar was one of the world’s first universities. Always straddling the line between fidelity and challenge to the ruler, the institution was muzzled by Egypt’s successive military governments. Now, the controversy is back.

But is it healthy, God? For 500 students suffering from mass food poisoning, the answer is no. For the university president fired after the flare-up, the answer is no. For the place of the Azhar in Egypt’s post-revolutionary transition, the answer remains to be seen.

The Azhar was politicized by the constitution, giving it a role in the process of legislation. The same document guaranteed its independence and the right to select its own leadership. This process has also set off what many observers see as a struggle to gain control of the institution. A prominent Salafi leader publically said as much, admitting their ambition.

But the rumors swirl around the Muslim Brotherhood, prompting them to officially issue a denial of any involvement. But their spokesman did praise the firing of the president, saying this move against corruption proves the revolution is on the right track. Coincidentally or not, he was appointed by the military council, prior to the constitution.

God, so much seems wrong with this situation. First and foremost, heal the sick students. But heal an institution as well, and a political system which has put it in the heart of controversy. Certainly a student protest over sick colleagues can be seen as a spontaneous reaction. But to call so deliberately for the removal of the president – and even of the Grand Sheikh himself – has all the markings of political expediency.

Hold leaders accountable, God, but is this corruption? Investigations are ongoing. Perhaps corruption was part of the old regime everywhere, God, even in the Azhar. If so, then yes, purge. No sin remains hidden forever. Give the institution men of knowledge and integrity, who will prepare the generations to come in an honorable path. In a land where much is religious, men of religion matter deeply.

Therefore, God, protect the Azhar from men who use religion – whoever they may be. Right religion is meant to help us understand you, ourselves, and to secure a society of virtue. But religion can also enrage or sedate, and not always righteously. May religion in Egypt produce humble men; may the Azhar aid in the process.

But now in Egypt, God, the poison seeps everywhere. May this be a wrong diagnosis: Perhaps it is medicine which weakens the body as it kills the contagion. But there is much in Egypt to be healed, God.

You are the healer. May Azhar make this known.


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