US embassy cable - 97CAIRO12034

LEADING ISLAMIC FIGURE DENOUNCES TERRORISM AGAINST ISRAELIS

Identifier: 97CAIRO12034
Wikileaks: View 97CAIRO12034 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 1997-11-13 14:00:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL KISL MEPP PTER KPAL IS EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 131400Z NOV 97
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1198
INFO ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
OIC COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 012034 
 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL: 11/13/02 
TAGS: PREL, KISL, MEPP, PTER, KPAL, IS, EG 
SUBJECT: LEADING ISLAMIC FIGURE DENOUNCES TERRORISM 
AGAINST ISRAELIS 
 
REF:  CAIRO 11403 
 
1.   (U) CLASSIFIED BY POL/ECON MINISTER COUNSELOR JEFF 
MILLINGTON FOR REASON 1.5 (B). 
 
2.  (C) SUMMARY:  SHEIKH OF AL-AZHAR MUHAMMAD TANTAWI, 
IN AN INTERVIEW PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 7 IN A POPULAR 
EGYPTIAN MAGAZINE, STATED HIS OPPOSITION ON ISLAMIC 
GROUNDS TO SUICIDE OPERATIONS AGAINST ISRAELI 
CIVILIANS.  LIKE HIS RECENT MEETING WITH THE ISRAELI 
AMBASSADOR, HIS FORTHRIGHT REFUTATION OF POLITICALLY 
POPULAR "RESISTANCE" OPERATIONS DEMONSTRATES TANTAWI'S 
WILLINGNESS TO EXHORT MUSLIMS TO FOLLOW ISLAMIC 
TEACHINGS UNTAINTED BY POLITICAL IDEOLOGY.  TANTAWI 
HAS GOVERNMENT SANCTION, BUT NOT THE FULL BACKING OF 
THE OFFICIAL RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT HERE, FOR HIS 
OUTSPOKEN POSITIONS ON TOLERANCE TOWARDS ISRAEL AND 
JEWS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  (U) SHEIKH TANTAWI WAS INTERVIEWED BY THE 
GOVERNMENT-OWNED AL-MUSAWWAR.  AL-MUSAWWAR IS A POPULAR 
WEEKLY NEWS MAGAZINE.  EXCERPTS FOLLOW: 
 
INTERVIEWER:  ALL PREVIOUS SHEIKHS OF AL-AZHAR REFUSED 
TO MEET WITH ANY ISRAELI, AND THE LATE SHEIKH 
GAD EL-HAQ EVEN REFUSED TO MEET ISRAELI PRESIDENT 
EZER WEIZMAN. 
 
SHEIK TANTAWI:  I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH OTHERS' 
OPINIONS.  I PERSONALLY MEET WITH WHOMEVER I WANT AND I 
AM NOT ASKED WHY I MET WITH A CERTAIN PERSON.... 
 
INTERVIEWER:  IN A PREVIOUS INTERVIEW WITH ME YOU 
COMMENTED ON THE LEBANESE RESISTANCE, REPRESENTED BY 
HIZBOLLAH, AND ON THEIR SUICIDE OPERATIONS.  YOU SAID 
THAT THESE DEATHS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ACTS OF 
MARTYRDOM. 
 
SHEIKH TANTAWI:  I CAN'T CHANGE WHAT I BELIEVE IN. 
I SAY THAT ANYONE WHO BLOWS HIMSELF UP AMONG AN ENEMY 
WHO IS AGGRESSING UPON HIS PROPERTY, LAND, HONOR OR 
COUNTRY IS A MARTYR.  THE DEFENSE OF RELIGION AND 
COUNTRY IS A JIHAD (HOLY STRUGGLE).  BUT BLOWING UP 
ONESELF AMONG CHILDREN, WOMEN, AND OLD, SICK AND 
INNOCENT PEOPLE - THIS IS AN ACT THAT IS VERY MUCH 
AGAINST ISLAM. 
 
INTERVIEWER:  BUT SOME MAY SAY THAT IT IS DIFFICULT TO 
DEFINE WHO IS AN INNOCENT ISRAELI AND THAT ALL OF THEM 
ARE MILITARY COLONIAL INVADERS. 
 
SHEIKH TANTAWI:  I CANNOT GO DOWN THAT PATH OR SAY SUCH 
A THING.  PEOPLE MAY SAY WHAT THEY WANT.  MY DEFINITION 
(OF THE ENEMY) CONFORMS TO WHAT THE KORAN COMMANDS US, 
NAMELY TO REPEL AGGRESSION.  ALMIGHTY GOD SAYS:  "FIGHT 
IN THE CAUSE OF GOD THOSE WHO FIGHT YOU, BUT DO NOT 
TRANSGRESS LIMITS, FOR GOD LOVES NOT TRANSGRESSORS." 
OUR PROPHET IS AN EXAMPLE OF THIS.  THE PROPHET FOUGHT 
HIS ENEMIES, INCLUDING ARAB RENEGADES, HYPOCRITES, AND 
JEWS, BUT IT HAS NEVER BEEN PROVEN THAT THE PROPHET 
KILLED A WOMAN OR CHILD.  WHAT IS PROVEN IS THAT THE 
PROPHET ABHORRED THE PRESENCE OF A WOMAN AMONG AN 
ENEMY'S DEAD AND SAID "SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN 
KILLED." 
 
INTERVIEWER:  THE PROPHET ADVISED MUSLIMS TO SEEK THE 
COUNSEL OF CHRISTIANS ONLY, AND NOT THE JEWS, SINCE THE 
LATTER WERE KNOWN FOR TREACHERY, BREAKING PROMISES AND 
DISLOYALTY TO ANY FORM OF COMMITMENT. 
 
SHEIKH TANTAWI: I FOLLOW GOD'S HOLY BOOK.  THE KORAN 
SPEAKS OF AND EMPHASIZES THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, AND 
STATES "DO NOT DISPUTE WITH THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK 
...BUT SAY WE BELIEVE IN THE REVELATION WHICH HAS COME 
DOWN TO US AND IN THAT WHICH HAS COME DOWN TO YOU. OUR 
GOD AND YOUR GOD IS ONE, AND IT IS TO HIM THAT WE BOW 
IN ISLAM."  SO IF THE KORAN SAYS SO, CAN I SAY THAT 
WHAT IS MEANT BY "PEOPLE OF THE BOOK" ARE THE 
CHRISTIANS WITHOUT THE JEWS?  INDEED THE "PEOPLE OF THE 
BOOK" ARE THE JEWS AND THE CHRISTIANS BOTH, AND IT IS 
NOT POSSIBLE TO RESTRICT "PEOPLE OF THE BOOK" TO EITHER 
THE CHRISTIANS OR THE JEWS. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
4.  (C) SHEIKH TANTAWI'S MESSAGE OF TOLERANCE TOWARDS 
JEWS IS CONSISTENT WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S THEME OF 
INTERFAITH TOLERANCE, HIGHLIGHTED IN PRESIDENT 
MUBARAK'S SPEECH LAST JULY ON THE OCCASION OF PROPHET 
MUHAMMAD'S BIRTHDAY.  SHEIKH TANTAWI'S MEETING WITH THE 
ISRAELI AMBASSADOR HAD OFFICIAL SANCTION - HE MENTIONS 
ELSEWHERE IN THE INTERVIEW THAT HE SPOKE WITH FM MOUSSA 
BEFORE AGREEING TO MEET WITH THE ISRAELI AMBASSADOR. 
MOUSSA TOLD HIM THE DECISION WAS UP TO HIM, HE SAID. 
THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT IS ENCOURAGED BY SHEIKH 
TANTAWI AND, ACCORDING TO THE ISRAELI EMBASSY HERE 
(PROTECT), THE GOI IS SEEKING A SUITABLE CHRISTIAN 
RELIGIOUS LEADER TO HOST AN INTERFAITH MEETING THAT 
WOULD INCLUDE TANTAWI AND THE CHIEF SEPHARDIC RABBI OF 
ISRAEL.  THEY ARE HOPING POPE JOHN PAUL II WILL AGREE 
TO HOST THIS MEETING. 
 
5. (C) TANTAWI IS USING THE PRESTIGE OF HIS AL-AZHAR 
POST TO PREACH IN THE EGYPTIAN MEDIA AGAINST THE 
RADICALIZED POLITICAL ISLAM PROPOUNDED BY THE MUSLIM 
BROTHERHOOD AND BY ISLAMIC TERRORIST GROUPS.  THEIR 
VERSIONS OF ISLAM, AND POSITIONS ON ISSUES OF THE DAY, 
CONTINUE TO HAVE MUCH RESONANCE HERE.  TANTAWI'S 
POSITIONS ON TOLERANCE TOWARDS JEWS AND ENGAGING IN 
DIALOGUE WITH ISRAELIS ARE SUPPORTED BY THE EGYPTIAN 
GOVERNMENT BUT NOT DICTATED BY IT.   HE REMAINS AT ODDS 
WITH HIS OWN RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT OVER HIS MEETING 
WITH THE ISRAELI AMBASSADOR.  TANTAWI FACES AN UPHILL 
BATTLE, BOTH IN AND OUTSIDE OF OFFICIAL RELIGIOUS 
CIRCLES, BUT HE SHOWS NO SIGNS OF RETREAT. 
 
 
BATTLE 

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