CAIRO - Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning to the Sunni Muslim world, withdrew Thursday, March 29, from a panel tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution.
"Al-Azhar announces that it will not participate in the panel," Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy (IRA) said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The prestigious seat of learning said the walkout was because it was not appropriately represented.
Al-Azhar was represented in the constitution-drafting assembly by former Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel.
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Wasel was one of three nominees suggested by Al-Azhar to represent the seat of learning in the panel.
The parliament's failure to name Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Awqaf Minister among public figures writing the country's constitution added to Al-Azhar's anger.
The IRA said it left the assembly in protest of "attempts by some to marginalize its role in Egypt."
Last year, Al-Azhar issued a document that calls for a democratic state in Egypt with Islamic Shari`ah as an essential source of legislation.
Established in 359 AH (971 CE), Al-Azhar mosque drew scholars from across the Muslim world and grew into a university, predating similar developments at Oxford University in London by more than a century.
Al-Azhar, which means the "most flourishing and resplendent," was named after Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The first courses at Al-Azhar were given in 975 CE and the first college was built 13 years later.
Al-Azhar first admitted women students in 1961, albeit in separate classes.
Also in 1961, subjects in engineering and medicine were added to course on Shari`ah, the Noble Qur'an and the intricacies of Arabic language.
Al-Azhar's walkout adds to the troubles facing the constitution-drafting panel since its launch.
Several liberal MPs walked out from the panel, which held its first session on Wednesday, March 28.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Constitutional Court withdrew from the panel in protest at statements by the Muslim Brotherhood that the court would cooperate with the ruling military council to allow the rigging of the presidential elections.
The Coptic Christian Church, which has only a handful of representatives in the panel, is also reportedly considering a walkout from the panel.
The assembly, which is dominated by Islamists, has been at the center of a dispute with the country's secular forces who fear their calls for a civil state will be muffled.
Only 74 of the 100-member panel attended the first session on Wednesday.
The crisis comes at a critical time in Egypt's transition, with the first presidential elections since a popular uprising ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak less than two months away.
Last week, parliament voted for the constituent assembly to be made up of 50 lawmakers from the upper and lower houses of parliament, and 50 public figures.But secular politicians and activists argued that such a high proportion of legislators gave Islamists, who have the majority of seats in both houses of parliament, too much control of the constitution.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net