Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint

By Rainer Brunner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
TRIUMPH AND FAILURE OF ECUMENICAL THINKING
(1958–1961)

Theology and politics: Mahmūd Shaltūt's “fatwāʾ of 1959

On November 9, 1957, Maḥmūd Shaltūt was appointed Deputy Rector of the Azhar (Wakīl al-Azhar) by presidential decree. That the Azhar journal acknowledged his promotion to this previously rather insignificant office with a nine-page special supplement1 indicates the momentousness attributed to the decision. After the enactment of the constitution of January 19562 and following the enormous growth of his prestige in the Arab World as a result of the Suez crisis, Jamāl cAbd al-Nāṣir was at the zenith of his power. He now set out to grind down one of the last remaining bastions of relative autonomy: the Azhar. Shaltūt's appointment was the first page of a completely new chapter in the history of the University, which ended less than four years later with the Azhar reform of 1961 and its de facto nation- alization.

The Azhar's incumbent leadership reacted with restraint to Shaltūt's rise, anticipating that they were on their way out. The Rector,cAbd al-Raḥmān Tāj, to whom this course of events must have signalled the demise of his own power, had little to say, as did the editor in chief of the MA, Muḥibb al-Dīn al-Khaṭīb, who presumably sus- pected that his days as head of the journal were numbered. Rather, the latter left it to the secretary of the editorial staff (sikritēr al-taḥrīr), Ibrāhīm Muhammad al-Aṣīl, to congratulate Shaltūt and to express the MA's (surely not unanimous) joy overcAbd al-Nāṣir's decision.3

1 “Taḥiyyat al-Azhar li-wakīl al-Azhar”, MA, unpaginated section preceding 29/6
(Dec. 1957), containing comments bycAbd al-RaḥmāncĪsā and Muhammad Kāmil
al-Fiqī as well as the summary of an address by Shaltūt.

2 R. Monaco: “La nuova constituzione egiziana”, OM 36/1956/28 188.

3 Ibrāhīm Muḥammad al-Aṣīl: “Taḥiyya wa-tahniɔa wa-amal …!”, MA 29/6 (Dec.
1957), 555f.

-284-

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