The attempted assassination of former Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Gomaa earlier this month was almost certainly a reaction to his consistently moderate positions and fatwas countering extremist ideology, clerics tell Al-Mashareq.
Gomaa, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars who served as Grand Mufti from 2003 through 2013, was attacked August 5th at the entrance of al-Fadel mosque in 6th of October City, where he was scheduled to lead Friday prayers.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Gomaa escaped unharmed, but one of his bodyguards was injured. Despite the attempt on his life, he proceeded to the mosque to deliver the Friday sermon.
"I sent a message in my Friday sermon to those terrorists that I will never waver in fighting them until the day I die, and I asked God that I die a martyr," Gomaa said on social media.
"These terrorists will be defeated ideologically if we stay on the righteous path, for they have misled people, they have distorted and misapplied texts," he said.
"Scholars must be at the forefront of [disseminating] the correct interpretation and proper application [of religious texts], and if we succeed in this task we will eliminate those [terrorists]," Gomaa said.
A number of institutions and leaders condemned the assassination attempt.
In a statement, the Council of Senior Scholars said it "condemns this despicable terrorist incident", asserting that "these desperate attempts will not intimidate the steadfast scholars or dissuade them from fulfilling their noble mission".
Al-Azhar will remain a "bulwark for Egypt, the Ummah (Islamic nation) and entire world against all extremist ideas", the statement added.
The Egyptian cabinet also condemned the attack on Gomaa.
"This vile incident attempted, with extreme treachery, to harm one of the pillars and shining figures of this country who always take upon themselves the responsibility of exposing the ignorance of the advocates of extremism and violence," it said in a statement.
The attempt on Gomaa's life is very serious, Council of Senior Scholars member Ahmed Hashim told Al-Mashareq, as religious scholars hold a lofty position in Islam.
Gomaa is a fine scholar and loyal champion of Islamic advocacy, he said, adding that the assassination attempt is a crime in every sense of the word.
Attempt will backfire on extremists
Gomaa is known for his moderation, centrism and rejection of extremist ideas, and also for his constant onslaught on terrorist groups and their takfiri fatwas, said Al-Azhar scholar Sheikh Mahmoud Abdel-Saadi.
The former Grand Mufti's regular appearances in the media and at public events earned him a popular base, he said, and consequently his influence made it imperative for terrorist groups to silence him.
The assassination attempt will backfire, Abdel-Saadi said, as more people will rally around moderate clerics now that their positions have been validated.
Gomaa’s insistence on delivering the Friday sermon after the incident was a strong message against terrorism, he added, and worshipers did their part in rejecting the attack by being adamant in attending Friday prayers.
The attempt on Gomaa's life confirms the path taken by religious institutions in Egypt, particularly Al-Azhar, is the the right one, with respect to confronting extremism and correcting misconceptions about Islam, said Abdul Nabi Bakkar, political researcher and professor at Al-Azhar University’s faculty of sharia and law.
The current religious discourse is directed at youth to warn them against falling into the trap of misinformation as part of an ideological battle to eradicate terrorism, he told Al-Mashareq.
Bakkar said the assassination attempt could be a response to the losses suffered by extremist groups in Egypt, as these groups are suffering defeats as well as a total public rejection of their terrorist and takfiri ideas.