CAIRO: Mostafa El-Fiqi, head of the Foreign Affairs committee at the People’s Assembly, sparked controversy when he proposed that Al Azhar University, traditionally the global center of Islamic study, to start accepting Christian students.
He suggested on primetime talk show El Beit Beitak on terrestrial television that the university should admit Christians into the schools of engineering, medicine, agriculture and science, as is the case in other Islamic universities in the Muslim world. They would not, however, be accepted into the schools of Islamic jurisprudence and Arabic language and religion, which will be restricted only to Muslim students.
Also on the show was Coptic MP Nabil El-Bebawy, who holds a PhD in sharia. El-Bebawy strongly opposed the idea arguing that Egypt houses 500 universities, “it’s not as if there is only Al Azhar , adding that this is the position of Egypt’s Christian community.
However, another Coptic activist and lawyer Naguib Gobriael, disagreed, saying that it’s the right of Christians to be admitted into Al Azhar since they are Egyptian citizens.
“Personally I think that as active citizens who contribute to the financial budget of the state, Christians should be free to be admitted into Al Azhar, said Gobriael, who also heads the Egyptian Union for Human Rights.
“Christians pay taxes and these taxes are used to fund Al Azhar Institution to which the university is affiliated, he added.
Both El Fiqi and Gobriael say that allowing Christians into Al Azhar falls under the concept of coexistence and equal opportunity.
“The same will be applied the other way around, Muslims would be admitted into Christian clerical schools, said Gobriael.
But even if Christians are allowed to join Al Azhar University, there are certain requirements they have to meet first, says Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, former Deputy for Al Azhar and member of the Islamic Research Center.
“There are certain rules and requirements for those admitted into Al Azhar University, among which are that the applicant has memorized the Quran, was educated in Al Azhar’s schooling system and that they wear the Al Azhar uniform to the university [the traditional attire of the Shiekhs and Imams], he said.
“Therefore, I don’t think that any Christian would want to abide by all these rules. I agree with Dr El Bebawy when he said that it’s not as if Al Azhar’s the only university in Egypt, he said.