Last Saturday, the world woke up to an eloquent video message by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, wherein he indirectly commented on the current conflict between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the Nile River. Al-Azhar is the highest religious authority in the Muslim world. While the Grand Imam’s message was widely applauded by the Egyptian audience, some western audience could not understand the background story that pushed a senior religious scholar to comment on a geopolitical conflict.
In fact, Al-Azhar’s comment was merely a reaction to the shameful abuse of religious rhetoric by the Ethiopian government to justify endangering the lives of tens of millions of humans in downstream countries by building a dam on the upstream of the Blue Nile. In other words, Al-Azhar tried to stand up against corrupt politicians’ endeavors to abuse religion.
Amidst the heated political and military tensions, leaders of the Ethiopian Muslim community, have been actively producing fatwas (religious advices) to mobilize the Muslim citizens, who represent nearly 35% of the population, to support the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In a striking contradiction to the truth, most of these fatwas falsely portray Egypt as an aggressor on Ethiopia’s geographic rights and sovereignty.
“The Egyptians say that they are affected by Ethiopia’s use of the Nile water. This is not fair and is against the teachings of Islamic Sharia;” said Sheikh Haji Omar Idris, the Grand Mufti of Ethiopia and the President of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council. “Sharia has proven that the country in which the water springs, must benefit from it, then give what exceeds its needs to its neighbors, if it desires. ”During the prayers of Eid Al-Fitr, in May, several people showed up carrying slogans and banners stating Ethiopia’s Allah-given right to block and sell the water of the Nile.
Idris based his misleading fatwa on a saying by Prophet Muhammed. However, the Egyptian Fatwa House (Dar Al-Iftaa), in May, refuted such claims and published a prophetic saying confirming that naturally flowing water cannot be owned by anyone, as it is a common share among all humans.
In early June, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, seized the opportunity of his participation in the United Nations Environment Day, to indirectly comment on the Nile River conflict. “Environment protection is in crisis, because of those tampering with Allah’s blessings and space… It is inappropriate to let an individual or a country practice monopoly over natural resources and deprive others from getting access to these resources;” said the Grand Imam.
“Water, in its comprehensive concept, is a natural resource that is treated as a common property to all humans, according to the teachings of all religions, not only Islam. No one can exclusively own a water resource. Thus, depriving others from benefiting from these natural resources is an act of oppression and aggression on Allah’s provisions;” Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb added, calling upon respective local, regional, and international bodies to appropriately intervene to stop such manipulation that is expected to harm humans and the Planet Earth.
Unfortunately, the diplomatic negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia hit a deadlock in April. Egypt and Sudan have already started considering the option of going to war with Ethiopia, which refuses to sign a binding agreement that protects downstream countries from the potential abuse of GERD by the Ethiopian government. Adding the religious component to this ugly battle is a very dangerous game that the Ethiopian government need to stop playing.
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