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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 03:08 GMT
Grand Sheikh condemns suicide bombings
Rescue workers clean up the wreckage of a bus destroyed by a suicide bomber in Israel
SheikhTantawi said Islam condemned all aggression
Frank Gardner

The Grand Sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, has condemned the suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

Speaking at a press conference in Cairo on Monday, the sheikh, who is acknowledged as the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims, said Islam condemned terrorism in all its forms.

In a wood-panelled room in Cairo's medieval Islamic district, the sheikh said that Islam considers anyone who kills an innocent person as killing the whole of humanity.

He says that in the name of Islamic law he rejected and condemned the aggression against innocent civilian people, regardless of whatever side, sect or country the aggression came from.

Terrorist aggression

The journalists present at the press conference then challenged Sheikh Tantawi to define the difference between terrorism and jihad, a Muslim holy war.

Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi
The sheikh said Israelis should not be considered legitimate targets
The grand sheikh replied that terrorism was aggression against innocent men, women and children, but the jihad was legitimate self-defence against injustice and oppression.

Sheikh Tantawi then made it clear that he did not agree with the view held by some Muslims that all Israelis were legitimate targets because at some stage they would all carry a gun.

He said that this idea contradicted the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, who told his soldiers not to kill women or young boys or those who were worshipping.

This was the clearest indication yet of where the sheikh stands on the issue of violence perpetrated by Muslims.

He said that those Muslims who supported terrorism were what he called unwise Muslims.

Egyptians say that Sheikh Tantawi's views are respected by many Muslims, but that they are not binding by law and that earlier this year, Palestinians in Gaza dismissed as irrelevant the views of government-appointed clerics in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

See also:

02 Dec 01 | Middle East
Leaders condemn Israel bomb attacks
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Egypt orders swift trials for Islamists
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Egypt helps US anti-terror campaign
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