Egypt's president urges Muslim 'religious revolution' to combat Islamist ideology

Supporters of Egypt's President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi hold up his portrait and an Egyptian flag as they shout slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt's President Abdel Fata al-Sisi has urged scholars and teachers at Al Azhar University in Cairo to start a "religious revolution" aimed at combatting the ideology that supports Islamic terrorism around the world.

The president, a former general who was elected last June following an army coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi in 2013, is widely popular in Egypt despite austerity measures aimed at rescuing Egypt's ailing economy. He enjoys support from the country's Christians because of the improved security situation.

According to a translation received by the Washington Post, al-Sisi told an audience at the university: "It's inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!"

Violent Islamist ideology, he said, was "antagonising the whole world". He added: "Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

"I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema — Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I'm talking about now.

"All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

"I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move... because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands."

His appeal on Friday to Al Azhar, regarded as the most prestigious Sunni institution in the world, came with the announcement of the creation of two new government institutions. The Forum on Tolerance and Moderation and the Islamic Council for Languages and Translation have been designed to "spread moderate religious ideas in Egypt and the world" according to Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowment.

The Grand Imam of Al Azhar University, which saw protests by students loyal to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government, has previously condemned the ideology of Islamic State and other terror organisations. At a major conference at the university last year he described their ideas as "a perversion of the Islamic religion". President al-Sisi's intervention is a sign of his determination to combat Islamist ideology at its source rather than relying on internal repression of the kind practised by his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.