Burning of Jordanian pilot unleashes rare criticism of Islamic authority in Egypt

Egyptian talk show hosts lambasted the supposedly moderate religious establishment in their country over the burning of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS. They also let rip on certain long revered religious scholars of the 13th century.

The fact that this confrontation is on TV is new. Mostly such criticisms are reserved for books. Since the vast majority of Muslims prefer TV to print, it has great significance.

Egyptian talk show host Mahmud Saad posted a video clip of his program on Facebook in which reformed Egyptian jihadist Nageh Ibrahim said: “God did not give the right to torture people by fire to any prophet but reserved his right to himself.”

ISIS claims its burning of hostages alive is religiously justifiable, invoking an account of the 7th century Muslim military commander, Khalid Ibn al-Walid, burning the head of a war prisoner. ISIS also claims Prophet Muhammad’s close companion, Abu-Bakr, also burned an adversary alive.

Saad cited a ruling by Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, the country's highest authority on Islamic judgments, invalidating the account cited by ISIS. It ruled it as an “ill-substantiated” account, stressing that harming war prisoners is strictly prohibited in Islam.

Saad, however, lashed out at Dar al-Ifta for not deleting "ill-substantiated" accounts and "unconfirmed" sayings of prophet Muhammad from Islamic theology books.

These are books that many Muslims read; the stories are interpreted literally and without reference to their credibility.

Talk show host Yousef al-Hussini on ONTV took a swipe at 13th century Sunni Islamic scholar and theologian Ibn Taymiyyah, whose strict interpretations of the Koran have considerable influence in contemporary fundamentalist and puritanical Islamic movements like Wahhabism and Salafism as well as in militant ideologies.

“Ibn Taymmiyyah is an imam of blood….now I’ll be accused of apostasy for saying that! Who is Ibn Taymiyyah; is he a prophet, is he mentioned in the Koran?”

Al-Hussini went on to say that historic imams, whose views command awe among many Muslims today, men like Ibn Kathir, Ibn Athir and Al-Nawawi are “humans who wrote books and we should not swallow what they said without questioning.”

Al-Hussini made a stinging criticism of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam’s highest authorities, faulting it for "evading the chance of making an open rejection of extremist views that glorify intolerance and hatred of non-Muslims".

Al-Azhar, he claimed, refuses to accredit Tariq Yusif al-Masri, an imam based in Brooklyn, New York. “Al-Masri is an enlightened man with courage who speaks frankly and clearly about the causes of hatred, violence and rancor felt by some Muslims,” he said.

What follows is a YouTube video of al-Masri- shown on ONTV.