Cairo hosted "Al-Azhar's International Counterterrorism Conference" Dec. 3-4, which was inaugurated by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb. In the conference's final statement participants stressed the "importance of reforming the religious rhetoric, developing educational curricula, correcting some Islamic concepts such as the jihad, the Islamic Caliphate and the Islamic State that are being distorted by armed extremist groups."
In a statement issued on Nov. 12, Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of the System, criticized the cursing of the Sahaba (the companions of the prophet) and the celebration of Omar bin al-Khattab’s death, a ritual among some Shiite extremists. He said that these practices have led to the emergence of al-Qaeda and IS.
These developments are proof that there is a will to enact reforms within the religious system, whether Sunni or Shiite. However, these reforms came a little too late in light of the sweeping political, social and economic crises in the region since the establishment of the modern state, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
This is not to mention the impact of irresponsible actions of Western states and their allies in the region on the emergence and development of extremism. The most obvious example is the emergence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and its growth in light of the joint support on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia before the organization turned against its former supporters.
Today, the sweeping wave of extremist groups and organizations has paved the way for religious reforms moving away from radicalism. However, the outcome of these reforms depend on future political developments in the region, and the extent of change in the West’s approach with the region, whether based on humanitarian solidarity or utilitarian imperialism.