Monday, January 4, 2010

Egypt fatwa on Gaza wall stirs controversy


CAIRO (Mustafa Suleiman)

Egypt's top Islamic body issued a fatwa sanctioning the construction of a steel wall between Cairo and the impoverished Gaza Strip, causing a stir amongst several scholars who accused Egypt of stifling the resistance in the strip.

The Center for Islamic Research (CIR) at the al-Azhar school, the world’s leading institution of Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa last week saying the construction of a steel barrier between Egypt and Gaza was in line with Islamic teachings as it was part of Egypt’s right to defend its territory.

"It is Egypt’s legitimate right to erect barriers that would stop the damage caused by the tunnels linking Rafah to Gaza," an Azhar statement said, after it was approved by al-Azhar's Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi.

" This barrier will besiege our brothers in Gaza and offer them no way out of the three-year old Israeli blockade. It will deprive them of food, medicine and fuel and will crush the resistance "
Scholars argue

"What is smuggled through those tunnels threatens the security of the country."

Several religious scholars, mostly affiliated to al-Azhar, argued that the latest fatwa contradicts earlier ones issued by the CIR in 1965 and 1970 that called for supporting the Palestinian cause.

“This barrier will besiege our brothers in Gaza and offer them no way out of the three-year old Israeli blockade,” said the scholars’ statement of which Al Arabiya obtained a copy. “It will deprive them of food, medicine and fuel and will crush the resistance.”

The scholars called on the Egyptian government to halt the construction of the wall and to officially apologize to Palestinians living in Gaza.

Yehia Ismail, secretary general of al-Azhar Scholars’ Front, which is leading the campaign against the wall, argued that the last fatwa steps away from the stance the CIR has always adopted on the Palestinians.

“According to the resolutions of the second CIR conference, held in May 1965, the Palestinian struggle is the struggle of all Muslims,” he told Al Arabiya. “Palestine is part of Muslim heritage and history and Muslims will not rest in peace until it is liberated.”

Ismail argued that since the liberation of Palestine is the duty of every Muslim, abstaining from doing so or becoming involved in activities that would hinder supporting Palestinians is considered a grave sin.


Religious minister okays fatwa
" We will always support the Palestinian cause and we lost thousands of our sons in the struggle for Palestine. However, Egypt has the right to protect its borders "
Minister of Religious Endowment

Meanwhile Egypt's Minister of Religious Endowment, Mohamed Hamdi Zaqzouq, defended the wall and the fatwa and refused to associate them with abandoning the Palestinian cause.

“We will always support the Palestinian cause and we lost thousands of our sons in the struggle for Palestine,” he told a conference of pioneer imams in Alexandria. “However, Egypt has the right to protect its borders.”

Zaqzouq rejected criticism of the fatwa and a-Azhar.

“The center represents al-Azhar scholars and the fatwa was issued on valid religious basis. There are no camps in al-Azhar.”

Egypt, Zaqzouq added, will not accept any compromises as far as the steel wall is concerned.

“I am sure no Arab country will accept a violation of its borders,” he concluded.



(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)