Al-Azhar Sharif: Nursery where Indian Muslims learn moderation

Most noted bridge between India and ancient lands like Arab countries is Islam. Muslims of India since their arrival in Indian shores have maintained their relations with the land of Islam’s origin. Cities like Baghdad, Medina and Cairo have remained centres of learning for them and students from India still enroll themselves at seminaries and universities in these cities to gain expertise in Islamic laws and sciences. Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is an Islamic scientific body and the largest religious institution in Egypt. It has played a pivotal role in upholding and reforming Islamic laws. These reforms are adopted in letter and spirit by Indian Muslims too. Interestingly, almost all schools of thoughts of Indian Muslims follow Al Azhar edicts. A number of Indian ulema and students of Islamic sciences pursue their courses at Al Azhar University.

It’s worth noting that the establishment of Al-Azhar took place at the hands of the Fatimids (970 AD). Since its inception, Al-Azhar along with its Qur’an experts (Mufassirin), hadith scholars (Muhaddithin), reformers (Muslihin), thinkers, leaders, and jurists (Muftis) in various departments of religious and modern sciences, is striving for the reformation of the Muslim Ummah, while promoting mutual brotherhood among all communities.

Al-Azhar has continued to evolve and promote the moderate methodology (Manhaj Mu’tadil) in Islamic theology without interruption since 975 CE. Notably, several Sunni and Sufi-oriented Indian Madrasas have an affiliation to the Al-Azhar’s educational programmes such as the 3-year courses in Usul al-Deen (genealogies of Islamic thought resources), Kulliya al-Shariah wal Qanun (faculty of jurisprudence and law) and Kulliya al-Dirasaat al-Islamia wal-Arabia (faculty of Islamic and Arabic studies). While this helps the ongoing process of cultural exchange and knowledge-sharing, it has also augured well for India’s second largest majority — the Indian Muslims. It was perhaps Shaikh al-Azhar (the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, a prestigious official position in Egypt) who coined the term ‘Muwatin’ (meaning: equal citizens) for the religious minorities, and issued the fatwa that in Islam, minority communities must be treated fairly well and should not even be called ‘minorities’. This is an eye-opener for us Indian Muslims too. Instead of floating the idea of Muslim ‘minoritism’ in India, we should rather strengthen the position of al-Azhar which regards every community as equal citizens (Muwatin).

The above example is one of many illustrations that explain the reform drive of Al Azhar and its ongoing and possible impact of Muslim theologians in India.

Notably, Al-Azhar Academy runs the World Academy for Training Mosque Imams, Preachers and Fatwa Researchers and offers training programmes through a 3-month crash course to the Ulema of various countries. The focal points of Al-Azhar in this course entitled, Tarbiyat-ul-Aaiymma (Training of Imams) include: preparing contemporary imams and muftis well equipped with the modern challenges, “Information Revolution” and an Islamic Perspective on “Moderation” (Ei’tidal) and Wasatiyyah — avoidance of extremism in Islamic approaches.

Every year, hundreds of Indian imams attend these courses. These courses focus on moderation and countering extremism. Ulema and imams from around the world are provided with precise training, efficiency and expertise in this crash course so they can be capable of tackling the modern issues in their social and cultural settings. There, they are anchored in a peaceful and moderate version of Islamic theology which helps them curb the intrasect Takfirism and promote the peaceful coexistence with people of other faiths. After the training at Al-Azhar, when they go back to their own countries, obviously they foster national integration, communal harmony, Muslim and non-Muslim relations based on humanity and nationality.

Inspired by Egypt’s al-Azhar and its vision of moderate methodology, many young Islamic scholars especially from the Sunni-Sufi tradition are trying to fight the sectarian disunity in the Indian Muslim community, particularly from a theological point of view.

Not only ulema and students from noted Sunni-Sufi seminaries, batches from Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, flock to Al Azhar to pick up lessons in moderate theology. This is the magic of Al Azhar.


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