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“What will Christian pastors who accept homosexuality tell Jesus?” It was not a Christian, but a Muslim who asked this inflammatory question at the Islamic University of Syarif Hidayatullah, in South Tangerang, Indonesia in 2016.

The Muslim asking this question was no ordinary Muslim. He is the most revered Sunni Muslim leader in the world. Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb is Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

Over the last two days, Sheikh al Tayyeb has had the opportunity to ask the same question to the leader of 80 million Anglicans. If he had been as blunt as Donald Trump and popped the question to his host at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury wouldn’t be tweeting his praises from the top of the minaret.

I thought the Lord Jesus Christ was the "hope for our world", not the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar! Unless, of course, Welby’s Muslim messiah is a tolerant and inclusive liberal, who is deep into "good disagreement" and "mutual flourishing" and who licked his fingers after tucking into a full English breakfast of bacon and black pudding at Lambeth Palace to prove his credentials.

But let’s not pour kerosene on the glowing embers of cynicism. Welby must have had good reasons to invite such a towering figure from the Muslim world. Things have been getting hot for Christians in Egypt. Copts, Anglicans and evangelical Christians are living in fear. The Religion of Peace is busy firebombing churches.

So after reading Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal, it is possible Welby could have invited the Sheikh to do a deal. “Let’s just shake on it, Sheikh, and we can all live in peace and write books together,” Welby might well be telling his Muslim counterpart. Sheikh al Tayyeb is just down the road at Al-Azhar Uni and because now that Welby is his pal and they follow each other on Twitter, all the Sheikh has to do is to issue a fatwa putting an end to Christianophobia in Egypt.

As President Donald Trump told the press following his meeting with Kim Jong Un:
“Very good. Very, very good. Excellent relationship. We’ll solve the big problem, the big dilemma, that until this point has been unable to be solved. We will solve it. We will be successful. And I look forward to working on it with you. It will be done.”


Now if you are going to re-imagine religious leadership for the greater good of the world, you might begin by asking how to re-imagine a religion that believes in killing people who convert to another religion; the muslim apostates. Welby is passionate about evangelism. He set up his Task Group for Evangelism and Mission. Surely he would want to pop that question to Sheikh al Tayyeb?

So how do you think Sheikh al Tayyeb would re-imagine the concept of apostasy in Islam? You can find the Sheikh’s answer on several Egyptian TV channels and on the official YouTube Channel of Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university. It is, of course, in Arabic.

Since Archbishop Justin speaks English and French, but not Arabic, I am supplying him with a link so he can listen to the liberal, inclusive, moderate and tolerant answer his new Muslim pal gives his Arabic-speaking audience.

The Sheikh doesn’t do Anglican fudge in front of his Muslim brethren. He gets straight to the point and gives the standard answer expected of any Islamic scholar. “The four schools of law all concur that apostasy is a crime, that an apostate should be asked to repent, and that if he does not, he should be killed.” Sheikh al Tayyeb goes on to deliver his exegesis of the relevant verses in the Quran and Hadith.

“There are two verses in the Quran that clearly mention apostasy, but they did not define a specific punishment. They left the punishment for the Hereafter, for Allah to punish them as He sees fit. But there are two hadiths [on apostasy]. According to the more reliable of the two, a Muslim can only be killed in one of three cases, one of which is abandoning his religion and leaving the community,” he says.

“We must examine these two expressions: ‘Abandoning religion’ is described as ‘leaving the community’. All the early jurisprudents understood that this applies to someone who leaves his religion, regardless of whether he left and opposed his community or not. All the early jurisprudents said that such a person should be killed, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman – with the exception of the Hanafi School, which says that a female apostate should not be killed,” he adds.

Feminists like Bishop Sarah Mullally, who was present at one of the meetings with Sheikh al Tayyeb and re-tweeted a picture of her sitting with other religious panjandrums, would surely ask the Sheikh to reimagine his idea of a woman.

Why? When the interviewer asks al Tayyeb why a female apostate should not be hacked to death, the Sheikh gives an answer that would give even the mildest feminist an apoplectic fit.

“Because it is inconceivable that a woman would rebel against her community,” he notes. The Sheikh knows his hadith. After all, one of the most authoritative hadiths, Sahih Bukhari cites Muhammad as saying, “‘Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?’ They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence’” (6:301).

So our cuddly Sheikh needs to re-imagine religious freedom and women’s rights. Surely the Grand Imam has got it right on human rights? After all, human rights are as universal as unicorns, no?


Here’s what the Sheikh says in the interview: “The concepts of human rights are full of ticking time-bombs.” At least he is not so naïve to affirm that the West and the rest share the same values. “The problem is that the [Islamic and Western] civilizations are different. Our civilization is based on religion and moral values, whereas their civilization is based more on personal liberties and some moral values,” he tells his interviewer.

That is why Sheikh al Tayyeb is not going to make a donation to Stonewall and apologise to Peter Tatchell for the Islamic sport of throwing gays from rooftops to see if they can defy gravity. Good grief, never! After all, the Sheikh thinks homosexuality is a disease!

“My opinion was – and I said this [in the West] – that no Muslim society could ever consider sexual liberty, homosexuality and so on to be a personal right. Muslim societies consider these things to be diseases, which must be fought and treated.”

Treat homosexuality? Surely Justin Welby is going to introduce Sheikh al Tayyeb to the Anglican LGBT activist Jayne Ozanne and to Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, who says that conversion therapy –sometimes referred to as "gay cure"– is “abuse of the worst kind and must be stamped out”.

So what else does Sheikh al Tayyeb have to say about gay rights and Christianity? “Unfortunately some Heads of Churches in the United States accept same-sex marriages. What will the heads of Churches in the US that accept gay marriage say to Jesus? I wonder what is left of the Bible in those Churches. And what will they say in front of Jesus, peace be upon him,” the Grand Imam told an international meeting organized by the Muslim Council of Elders in Indonesia.

So what do Anglicans like Jayne Ozanne and Sarah Mullally and Theresa May think Archbishop Justin should say to Sheikh al Tayyeb? After all, at the beginning of this month, Mrs May vowed to eradicate the "abhorrent" practice of gay conversion therapy as she published the world’s largest LGBT+ survey and a government plan aimed at addressing discrimination and health inequality.

Here is what Archbishop Welby actually said.

Could it be that Sheikh al Tayyeb has been giving Justin Welby a masterclass in taqiyyah, the Islamic practice of dissimulation, which permits Muslims to lie to infidels? Or, could it be the other way round, with the Archbishop of Canterbury giving the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar a one-to-one drill in the use of Anglican double-speak and weasel words?

There is a difference between engaging with an alien religion and prostating oneself before it.

Jules Gomes

by Jules Gomes

The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

Isle of Man