Al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic learning, will soon be preaching its doctrines on satellite television, a space it has previously left to Islamist parties now leading the country’s first free polls.
Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest religious authority, also plans to spruce up its websites, improve religious education and mobilize its imams to offer an alternative to the unexpectedly popular puritan message some Islamist politicians deliver.
Alongside its traditional work training most of Egypt’s imams and providing thousands of religious rulings (fatwas) daily, it has also been hosting discussions among religious, political and cultural leaders to ponder Egypt’s future.
“The revolution has helped us to reform,” said Mahmoud Azab, adviser to Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and top Islamic authority for many of the world’s Sunni Muslims.
Ibrahim Negm, senior adviser to Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s second-highest religious authority after Tayeb, said: “We have not adequately coped with the changing modern means of communication and information technology.”
The advisers told Reuters Al-Azhar was not taking sides in the political rivalries marking Egypt’s staggered elections.
Rather, it was making up for time lost during Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship when it kept close to the authorities, while banned Islamists eagerly embraced the new media and grassroots contacts to spread their stricter views.
Islamists swept about two-thirds of the vote in the first of three voting rounds for parliament last month.
A list led by the party of the pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood won about 37 percent, followed by hard-line Salafis with 24 percent and a moderate Islamist group with about 4 percent.