Counter-Terrorism: Deploying the Moderate Imams


November 2, 2005:
The Egyptian government has quietly
opened a new front in the struggle against Islamist radicalism. Egypt is
sending large numbers of moderate imams, trained at Al Azhar University in
Cairo, to Yemen. There, the imams are being welcomed by the government, which
is beset by rising Islamist influence in some tribal areas. The Islamic clergy
are more like Jewish Rabbis than the priests and ministers found in most other
religions. An imam is basically a prayer leader and teacher of religious
knowledge. But because of that position, they usually become community
counselors and leaders.

Widely respected throughout Islam, Al Azhar is one of the oldest educational
institutions in the world. Unlike most Moslem religious institutions, Al Azhar
is more like a Western university, and the students receive a much more liberal
education than the narrowly focused one typical of most Moslem religious
education. This makes them much more highly educated than they typical Moslem
cleric, and thus better able to offer arguments and counter-arguments in
disputations over the meaning of religious texts, and also tends to give them a
moderate outlook on religious matters and relations with other faiths.

Ostensibly, the Egyptian imams are supposed to be assisting the Yemeni
government in developing a religious educational infrastructure similar to that
in Egypt, but they will also be involved in reaching out directly to the common
people by delivering religious services, thus perhaps undercutting the


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