Al-Azhar University professor suspended on accusations of promoting atheism

Professor of religion and philosophy at Al-Azhar University, Yousri Gaafar, was suspended from his post for three months, following claims he was promoting atheism to students in his classes.

Gaafar told Mada Masr than an “unjust” internal investigation was conducted into his teaching. The investigation, he explains, was based on complaints from a student, who accused him of championing atheism and secular principles.

Such thinking, Gaafar added, is a “malignant growth that needs to be removed.”

Gaafar said he has been subjected to a slander campaign that has included personal threats, adding: “I had hoped the university would support me against such accusations. However, for the first time, action was taken against me. The university suspended me in contravention of the law, and without pay.”

Citing sources from Al-Azhar, the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper reported Gaafar was suspended for attempting to revive the thoughts of reformers Mohamed Abdou and Taha Hussein, while attacking political Islam as being a “movement of darkness.”

Gaafar refuted these claims, saying, “I am a professor of Islamic philosophy, thus I teach and discuss ideas, while putting forth and debating divergent opinions. This involves critiquing and refuting ideas. So how is it that a professor from Al-Azhar is accused of atheism?”

The suspended professor expressed his support for Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, calling on him to investigate “attempts to ruin Al-Azhar.”

Gaafar previously criticized a one-year prison sentence issued to Islam al-Beheiry, an Islamic researcher who was convicted of contempt of religion.

Gaafar has commented that there is no such thing as the renewal of religious discourse, as this “requires esteemed professors and fresh minds, which are not currently present.”

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