Fulbright Scholars from Egypt’s Al Azhar University visit YDS
Yale Divinity School, in cooperation with Fulbright/AmidEast and Al Azhar scholars, hosted a two-day symposium ''Season Changes in the Arab World'' Feb. 17-18.
Seven Fulbright/Azhar scholars from Egypt’s Al Azhar University, the oldest and most prestigious institution in the Sunni Islamic world, discussed the Al-Azhar Reform Bulletin of June 2011. The Bulletin was initiated by the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Professor Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, who held several meetings to discuss the new path of reform in Egypt after the Jan. 25 revolution—in the context of achieving the rights of all Egyptians to acquire freedom, dignity, equality and social justice. The Al Azhar Reform Bulletin addresses the needs for democratic reforms and the role for religion in the new Egypt.
Several distinguished members of the Yale faculty addressed the visiting group, including Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School, who led a panel discussion on the importance of freedom of speech and the new constitution in Egypt.
''Season Changes in the Arab world'' is part of a continuing set of joint activities between Yale University and Al-Azhar University, spearheaded by Yale Visiting Professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies Ambassador Sallama Shaker, with support from the Office of International Affairs.
During the first panel, Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge noted the significance of this dialogue "not only because Al Azhar is a valued partner, but because our students benefit from the interacting with these young scholars from Egypt, who will be part of the next generation of great thinkers in the Middle East region.”
In this spirit, Professor Shaker moderated a discussion between Al-Azhar /Fulbright panelists and their American colleagues on the role of the Reform Bulletin, particularly in providing guidelines and possible foundations for the new Egyptian constitution. Al-Azhar supports establishing a modern and democratic state built on pluralism and equal rights for all citizens; freedom of speech; multi-pluralism with full respect for women, children and the three Abrahamic religions; and the need for dialogue since there is no theocracy in Sunni Islam. Panelists agreed on the importance of drafting the constitution, taking into account the Islamic rubrics in the society while preserving the right of all citizens for freedom of religious practices.
Marcia Inhorn, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and Professor of International Affairs, led an interactive dialogue on gender issues, the role of women as partners in the uprisings in Egypt, and the need for women to sustain an active role in their societies—through quality education and a campaign of awareness emphasizing the importance of women's role as partners of development in their societies.
In a session moderated by Frank Griffel, professor of Islamic studies, panelists discussed the need for a middle ground allowing for rational choices in a pluralistic society that can deliberate on law and order and refrain from violence, while understanding the values of Islam and building a democratic state determined by Egyptian values.
The workshop was an interdisciplinary debate between Yale faculty members and students and Fulbright/Azhar scholars who are currently studying theology and comparative religion at Yale, Claremont Graduate University, Boston University, Brandeis University, University of Chicago, Stanford University, and the University of Georgia. To quote one of the Al Azhar panelists, ''It is the responsibility of every Azhar scholar to help Egypt in its transition period to become a pluralistic, democratic state where people can dialogue and acquire their dignity through our understanding and appreciation of our genuine social values which defines the role of men and women in Egypt. We do not need to import a system from abroad, but we need to explain to the west our national agenda. The Azhar Reform Bulletin emphasizes respect for human rights and women's rights and that we are all equal and there is no compulsion in religion.”
On this good note, the workshop ended, with promises to meet again and stay in touch.