Azhar professors refuse to enroll Coptic students

Lawyer considers it unconstitutional university


Professors at the Cairo-based al-Azhar University said that they were against the enrollment of Christian students, while professors from other Egyptian universities called for more flexibility after the matter was taken to court.

Coptic lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla has filed a lawsuit against al-Azhar University, highest seat of learning in the Muslim Sunni world, for its refusal to accept Christian students and called it an "unconstitutional university" because it discriminates between Muslims and Christians.

Hussein Eweida, chairman of the al-Azhar University Teaching Staff Club, said the professors will hold a meeting, together with scholars from inside and outside Egypt, then will all present their resolutions to President Hosni Mubarak.

The rejection is attributed to preserving the Islamic identity of the oldest theological university in the world and maintaining the rules upon which it was founded, Eweida told AlArabiya.net.

Eweida argued that law no. 103 for the year 1961, which sets the requirements of enrolling at al-Azhar University, stated that only Muslim graduates of al-Azhar high schools or those with university degrees can be enrolled in the Sunni university. Muslim students from other universities can also enroll after passing the required exams.

Islamic Identity

"Let's ask our Christian brothers if they will accept Muslim students in their seminaries. The answer will be in the negative since there are rules tat ban the enrollment of Muslims," Eweida added.

Eweida dismissed rumors about the separation of theological and secular faculties so that Christians will be able to join the latter.

"This will never happen as long as there are professors who bear the name and mission of al-Azhar."

Professor of Islamic Philosophy Dr. Amna Nosseir questioned the motives of Christians fro joining al-Azhar.

"They say they want to study Islamic law, but this is not convincing. They can do that in the Faculty of Law or the Faculty of Dar al-Oloum [Arabic and Islamic Studies]. These accept non-Muslims," she told AlArabiya.net.

Anti-Islamic stance

On the other hand, Dr. Mohamed al-Desouki of Cairo University's Dar al-Oloum said this rejection is against the tolerant nature of Islam.

He also criticized al-Azhar president Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb for insisting that if Christians enroll at the university, they have to know the Quran by heart.

"This is extremely intransigent. We know that Christian students want to learn the rules of Islam and are not going to work in Islamic professions," he told AlArabiya.net.

Desouki further added that he thought accepting Christian students at al-Azhar University will contribute to eliminating extremism and dispelling sensitivities that some people use to sow the seeds of sedition.

"There is no religious text that prohibits that."

Professor of Islamic Law at Zaqaziq University Dr. Abdul-Latif Amer agreed that no religious law prohibits the enrollment of Christian students in Islamic theological universities and said that this step will counter the stereotypical image of Islam as a religion the spreads terrorism.

"Al-Azhar is in a very awkward situation because of its inflexibility, especially that Christians have gone to court," Amer told AlArabiya.net.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)