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Senior Muslim cleric urges ideological battle against the Islamic State

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Abbas Shoman, the deputy sheikh of Egypt's Al-Azhar institute, speaks to AFP at his office in Cairo on November 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

A leading Sunni Muslim cleric called Monday for an ideological battle against Islamic State group militants, including the deployment and training of moderate clerics in Europe to counter extremist thought.

“It primarily requires an intellectual treatment,” Abbas Shoman, the deputy sheikh of Egypt’s Al-Azhar institute, told AFP.

“It should not be limited to security treatment,” he said.

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The cleric said Al-Azhar, one of the leading centres of Islamic learning, had advised French officials before Friday’s Paris attacks that moderate clerics were needed in France.

Al-Azhar’s head, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, condemned the bloody attacks that were claimed by IS, describing them as contrary to religion.

“The problem is, those who control religious discourse, they and their stances should be reviewed,” Shoman said.

“You must be certain that those in charge of religious discourse are not helping in the spread of terrorism,” he said.

Shoman said Al-Azhar has little presence in Europe, but the numbers of Europeans who have joined IS pointed to the presence of extremist preaching in the continent.

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“You will find that these people lack in (Islamic) education, and have not been religious for long, and yet they consider what they’re doing is jihad,” he added.

Shoman, who described coalition air strikes against IS as “not serious” and warned against “punishing civilians”, said Al-Azhar could send clerics to France, or train them, to counter extremists.

“You have to open the path for moderate clerics, and Azhar is ready,” he said.

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“And if we can’t guide the terrorists, at least we can protect other” Muslims.

Shoman, whose institution runs a university and schools across Egypt and has long been at odds with puritanical Salafi-inspired militants, floated the idea of an educational centre in France.

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But such clerics would also require “protection” from extremists, he said.


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