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What Might the Muslim Brotherhood Do with al-Azhar? Religious Authority in Egypt

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image of Die Welt des Islams

Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party gained an electoral victory in the 2011-2012 Egyptian Parliamentary elections. It has often been argued that among the likely outcomes of Muslim Brotherhood control of the People's Assembly would be the establishment of a tyrannical theocratic regime akin to that of Iran. However, what an Islamic state means and what the application of sharī'a would entail in the context of the modern Egyptian state remains an open question, and calls for the enforcement of sharī'a are often unclear about the institutional framework that would regulate its interpretation. This article analyzes Muslim Brotherhood statements about the public role which the organization sees for the 'ulamā' of al-Azhar and their function in the legislative process. It also analyzes the statements of Azharite and other'ulamā' and Islamic intellectuals concerning the construction and defense of their religious authority. Contrary to the mentioned assumptions, the Muslim Brotherhood tends toward preserving existing institutions. This includes retaining al-Azhar as the representative body of religious authority, at the same time as keeping the Supreme Constitutional Court as final interpreter of the sharī'a provision of the Egyptian Constitution (in Article 2). On the other hand, there are also controversies within the Brotherhood about the role of the 'ulamā' of al-Azhar vis-à-vis the Supreme Constitutional Court, a question that also occupies the Azharites themselves. This article outlines the complex and varied positions on these issues both within the Muslim Brotherhood and among the 'ulamā' of al-Azhar.

Affiliations: 1: Blacksburg, VA


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