In the very heart of Christianity, Muslim students in Rome can now enroll through the local “Dar al Salam” mosque in Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to train to become imams.
The prestigious Cairo university is a reference point for the Sunni Muslim world, with a yearly enrolment of some 90,000 students. Al-Azhar University is associated with the Egyptian mosque of the same name, and is one of the chief centers of Islamic learning in the world.
It is also alma mater to a number of notorious Sunni clerics, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the principle ideologues behind the Muslim brotherhood.
The unauthorized “Dar al Salam” mosque has been at the center of controversy especially since erecting a minaret in 2012 to the consternation of the local population.
The mosque’s new alliance with the Al-Azhar University, known for its ties to Islamic fundamentalism, will not help to quell people’s concerns that the house of worship could become a breeding ground for extremism.
For Muslim youth wishing to apply for Sharia studies, a familiarity with Arabic is required, along with the equivalent of a high school diploma. Advance registration began in April 2015 and according to reports six Egyptians living in Italy are studying to become imams with the program.
For leaders of the local mosque, the Al-Azhar is touted as a guarantee against improvised imams who do not preach a correct interpretation of the Qur’an.
Just what is meant by “correct interpretation” is unclear. Along with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, several leaders of Hamas have graduated from the Al-Azhar University. So did Omar Abdel Rahman, the spiritual leader of the Jamaa al-Islamiyya terrorist group, considered responsible for the Luxor massacre of 1997 that killed 58 foreign tourists 34 Egyptians.
The basic program of studies at the university comprises Islamic law, theology, and the Arabic language.
Nonetheless, as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy said that the priorities of Muslims include mastery over “the technology of modern weapons to strengthen and defend the community and faith.”
He added that “mastery over modern weaponry is important to prepare for any eventuality or prejudices of the others, although Islam is a religion of peace.”
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