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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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The Holders of Absolute Truth

Al-Azhar University in Cairo

Al-Azhar University in Cairo
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In France, Tahtawi was captivated by what he saw in the way of freedom, progress and the respect in which women were held. It was there that he came to believe that allowing women to mix freely with men and their freedom and modern way of dressing did not necessarily lead to decadence and degeneracy. The enlightened sheikh liked seeing men and women dance together, and described dancing as “an art form that does not [necessarily] imply licentiousness.”

One of the most profound observations he made about Europeans in his book, Takhlis al-ibriz fi talkhis bariz, reads as follows: “Their minds [and not a religious text] determined that justice and equity are among the reasons for the prosperity of kingdoms and the comfort of humans.” There is no doubt that Tahtawi was a product of the brilliant modernization project launched by Mohamed Ali.

As for the two Azharite sheikhs on the plane, they are clearly products of an altogether different evolutionary stage, one marked by intellectual sterility, superficiality of knowledge, mental stagnation, cultural regression and mentalities mired in the Dark Ages. The thought processes of those infected with this mindset are full of serious defects, the most dangerous being that they do not believe in diversity or in the acceptance of the Other, and they are intolerant of any opinion that differs from their own, inasmuch as they believe they are the holders of Absolute Truth.

Then there is their antiquated attitude towards women, who are denied any margin of religious or cultural tolerance. The mentality of these sheikhs is one of submission and conformity that does not celebrate, indeed, that suppresses, critical thinking and creativity. Deep down, they do not subscribe to the notion of common humanity: the world in their eyes is divided into “us” (the world of Islam) and “them” (the world of war). It is a division that is inimical not only to the notion of humanity but to any notion of world peace.
Originally published by Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

About the Author: Tarek Heggy is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, and is both a leading liberal political thinker in the Arab world and International Petroleum Strategist.


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A few days ago, en route to the south of Italy, there was a heated exchange between an Italian chief steward and two Egyptian sheikhs wearing the robes of the Egyptian religious university, Al-Azhar. The dispute erupted over where the sheikhs were to sit on the plane: the steward insisted they sit in their assigned seats in economy class, while they insisted on moving to business class. They relayed their extreme displeasure at what they called European arrogance & inflexibility.

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