Turkey’s most senior cleric has announced plans to create a new Islamic university, as Hurriyet Daily News reports:
The head of Turkey’s top religious body has announced plans to open an Islamic university in Istanbul, as an alternative to other renowned Islamic universities across the world such as Egypt’s Al-Azhar University.
Professor Dr. Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), told a group of journalists in Mecca on Sept. 30 that they had applied to Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) to open an Islamic university.
Görmez said the current plan was to transform the 29 Mayıs University on Istanbul’s Anatolian side into the International Islamic University, claiming that Islamic universities in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Malaysia were “unable to find solutions to problems in the world.”
The opening of an Islamic university in a Muslim country would be unsurprising except for the challenge posed to Egypt’s Al Azhar university. In a religion where religious authority is predicated upon religious scholarship, Al Azhar has, for the past thousand years, produced the most powerful and influential sheikhs of Islam. A short list of clerics trained at Al-Azhar includes the founders of Hamas and al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, as well as the top Muslim clerics in various countries, including India.
But the political position of Al Azhar makes it a ripe target in the ongoing struggle for hegemony in the Muslim world between Turkey and the Egyptians, Saudis, and Emiratis. Al Azhar backed the 2013 coup against Mohamed Morsi and is now institutionally committed to opposing Muslim Brotherhood-style Islamism. Turkey has been cited as a potential destination for the Brotherhood in exile, and its leadership is dedicated to extending Turkish influence in the region through neo-Ottomanism, as well as the Islamist agenda of the AKP. A new Islamic university in Istanbul that can compete with Al Azhar could be a powerful step toward accomplishing those goals.