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October 11, 2023 4:08 pm

‘Die on Your Land as Martyrs’: Sunni Religious Authority Calls on Palestinians to Die in Gaza


avatar by Andrew Bernard

First Lady Jill Biden tours Al-Azhar, Cairo, Egypt, June 23, 2023. Photo: US Embassy in Egypt

One of the most respected religious authorities in Sunni Islam on Wednesday issued a statement calling for Palestinians in Gaza to “die on your land” as “martyrs.”

Egypt’s Al-Azhar, a centuries-old Sunni religious seminary in Cairo that has hosted the likes of First Lady Jill Biden, published a statement on its website and on social media calling on Palestinians to die rather than leave “their land” to the “Zionist entity.”

“Al-Azhar Al-Sharif renews its salute to the steadfastness of the people of dear Palestine and its appreciation for their clinging to their precious land and their adherence to remaining on its soil, no matter the cost and sacrifices,” the unsigned statement said. “Al-Azhar directs its message to those who cling to their land that it is better for you to die on your land as knights, heroes, and martyrs than to leave it to the usurping settlers, and know that leaving your lands means death to your cause, and our cause and its disappearance forever.”

While Sunni Islam has no central religious authority, Al-Azhar is the highest religious authority in Egypt and is also widely respected throughout the Sunni Muslim world. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, also frequently meets with both secular and religious world leaders, including Pope Francis.

In recent decades, Al-Azhar has billed itself as an Islamic voice against religious extremism, hosting initiatives like the “Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism” and issuing statements and religious rulings against terrorist practices like suicide bombings.

Wednesday’s statement, however, had not a word of condemnation for the Hamas invasion of Israel on Saturday that killed more than 1,200 people. A previous statement from Al-Azhar welcomed the terrorist assault.

“Oh God, grant our brothers in Palestine steadfastness and strength in the face of the tyranny of the Zionists and the shameful silence of the international community. They have instilled in us spirit and confidence, and restored life to us after we thought it would never return again,” Al-Azhar posted on X/Twitter on Saturday, using the hashtag “Al-Aqsa Flood,” which was Hamas’ codename for the attack.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Egyptian government has likewise rejected the idea of humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Gaza, citing the “right of Palestinians to hold on to their cause and their land.”

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