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Mohamed Abd al-Salam: The Azhar on Religion in Egypt’s Constitution

Mohamed Abd al-Salam
Mohamed Abd al-Salam

From my recent article at Arab West Report, continuing a series of interviews with members of the committee that wrote the constitution. Mohamed Abd al-Salam is a judge and the legal adviser to the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyib. He discussed a number of religious articles briefly, and gave insight into the controversy whether Egypt should have a civil state, a civil governance, or the expression eventually adopted – controversially – a civil government:

The Azhar did play an active role on a different controversial issue, however, that of the identity of the state. Salām stated that some members wanted to define Egypt as a ‘civil state’, but the Azhar, the Nour Party, and other members expressed caution. In their opinion the great majority of Egyptian equate the term ‘civil’ with ‘secular’, and Salām rejected that Egypt was a secular state for Islam was its official religion. But neither is Egypt a religious state – in the sense of the Western, theocratic understanding – nor is it military. In fact, Salām did not oppose the term outright, but preferred to see the idea expressed within the constitutional text, rather than as a description of the state itself.

Again, the Azhar returned to studying the issue, and it was the Grand Mufti, Shawkī ‘Allām, who proposed what would become the compromising solution. In his description, Salām stated both words around which a controversy would develop. Civil ‘governance / government’ was an acceptable substitute for a civil state. He believed the majority opinion in law held that ‘government’ was a more precise word, but that the Azhar had no objection to either phrasing. Some committee members objected, saying that ‘governance’ was the agreed upon terminology. ‘Amr Mūsa, however, announced ‘government’ from the podium – twice – and it was voted upon in consensus, said Salām.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Arab West Report.

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