Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Al Azhar to start dialogue with Those Who Must Not Be Named (Zvi)

From JPost:
Scholars at the oldest Islamic university in the world issued a proclamation on Tuesday that lifted an ancient ban on dialogue with Jews, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The statement drafted by Sheikh Fawzi al-Zifzaf, chairman of the permanent committee for dialogue at Al- Azhar University in Cairo, was read during a gathering of senior faith and political leaders at Parliament in London.

“And the point of origin of this invitation is Islam itself [calling for] brotherhood and mutual understanding and the strengthening of bonds between Muslims and followers of the other religions, and the establishment of bridges of dialogue with scholarly institutions in Europe and America,” Zifzaf wrote.

The event was hosted by the Children of Abraham charity and Al-Azhar Institute for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions.

The Egyptian Sunni institute, founded in 970 CE, has had open channels of communication with Catholics and Anglicans since the 1990s; however, until now, it has had no direct talks with Jewish scholars.

While the proclamation did not mention Judaism by name, a spokesman for the grand mufti of the UK and alumnus of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Prof. Mohamed Elsharkawy, told the Post on Wednesday that its message was aimed at a Jewish audience.

You’ve got to understand there are extreme sensitivities,” the spokesman said.

“I’m not at liberty to say how hard it was to draft the document. In the process, the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk and danger, and so they’ve done that very carefully. There already exists a dialogue with Christians, so anyone with two brain cells can add up to what is being said here.”

Zvi comments:
What's the point of making a declaration that dialog with Jews is (supposedly) acceptable when Al-Azhar is not even willing to name Jews in the declaration?  
“You’ve got to understand there are extreme sensitivities,” the spokesman said.  
Why do I need to understand that?   
The only thing that I have got to understand from this statement is that they STILL can't bring themselves to admit that I and the rest of the Jews are full human beings, and that it is okay to talk to us as human beings.  
We're not talking about actually TREATING us as human beings, of course - even a DIALOG with us is banned.  
In the process, the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk and danger, and so they’ve done that very carefully.   
With all due respect, that is ridiculous.  
These guys have a significant effect on the beliefs of mainstream Sunnis. They have a much greater effect than most other opinion shapers. They can argue intelligently based on their (purported) expertise, and many members of their religion will accept their rulings. There is danger for newspaper reporters who say that dialog is important; there is danger for politicians; but very little for members of this particular group.  
In addition, these same men have regularly inflamed hatred against me and mine (Jews in general). It is therefore up to them to take the risks required to BEGIN to undo the crippling hatred that they, themselves have sown and watered so assiduously.  
“This is a landmark decision, and Al-Azhar deserves praise for it,” Schneier said.   
Again, that's ridiculous.   
Al-Azhar will deserve praise when it does the right thing and names Jews as people with whom it is okay to have a dialog. Until then, all I see is an attempt to turn an explicit ban on dialog into an implicit ban. In the absence of a formal termination of the ban, many imams and others will be concerned that any attempt at dialog will be retroactively interpreted as some sort of treason. "We never meant the ruling to apply to Jews!" Some loophole will invariably be found.  
In the absence of a formal statement paving the way for dialog with Jews, spoken explicitly, in Arabic, in front of Arabs rather than in English, vaguely, in front of Englishmen, there will continue to be nothing.  
In the absence of a ruling permitting dialog (just DIALOG!) with Jews, what exactly have the great sages of Al-Azhar actually done? Nothing but PR for naive and stupid Westerners.