CAIRO - The head of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, has announced a bill of rights that upholds the freedom of expression and belief in post-revolution Egypt.
"It's a good step for the country because it shows that interpretations of religious doctrines could be diverse," Mazen Hassan, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told The National newspaper on Wednesday, January 11.
Al-Azhar Grand Imam Dr Ahmed El-Tayyeb on Tuesday unveiled a document upholding the freedoms of worship, expression, scientific research and art.
Speaking at a press conference, he said religious texts protect religious freedoms and guarantee equal citizenship rights.
He said equality of rights, duties and opportunities is important in building a civil society, according to Al-Ahram Online.
The Azhar Imam also underlined the importance of freedom in all different forms of media and the right to establish political parties and civil society organizations.
The document, which was in preparations for three months, was issued in consultations with Muslim and Christian scholars.
It gives the right for the obtainment of any information to express one's views, while giving respect to all three holy religions [Islam, Christianity and Judaism], in order to preserve the social fabric, national security and to prevent civil strife.
El-Tayyeb described the freedom of expression as the true face of democracy that would enable new generations to be open to different points of view.
He also underlined the importance of artistic and creative freedoms, stressing that art should not disrespect religious values.
Al-Azhar Imam also said that the freedom of scientific research is essential for development, and that the Qur'an has stated that one should think about, measure and contemplate the universe.
Analysts say that the bill of rights aims to be used as a basis for Egypt's new constitution.
"Al Azhar is playing a more moderate role than the Muslim Brotherhood," political science professor Hassan Nafaa said.
Islamist groups have emerged the biggest winners in Egypt's first democratic elections since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in a popular revolution last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Al-Nour Party won nearly 65 percent of seats in parliament.
The new parliament, which is expected to convene later this month, will elect an assembly that would write the country's new constitution.
"The debate we will see about the constitution may be focused on the Salafist proposition to implement Shari`ah, Nafaa said.
This is an attempt to shift the discussion to principles of Shari`ah, rather than just putting in place Shari`ah."
The bill of rights is the latest effort by Al-Azhar to raise its profile as a moderate voice in the Muslim world.
In June, the pre-eminent seat of learning 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.