Egyptian children play as their family awaits the afternoon prayer inside the Al Azhar mosque, in Cairo, Egypt. Image Credit: AP

Cairo: Scholars at Egypt’s prestigious Sunni Islamic institution, Al Azhar, have denounced remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron on “Islamist separatism” as “racist” and spreading “hate speech”.

Macron on Friday unveiled plans to defend France’s secular values against radical Islam, describing Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide.

See also

“He made false accusations against Islam, that have nothing to do with the true essence of this religion,” Al Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy said in statement late Saturday.

Al Azhar is one of the world’s leading Islamic seats of learning and Egypt’s highest institution of Sunni Islam.

“Such racist statements will inflame the feelings of two billion Muslim followers” around the world, and block the path to constructive dialogue, the statement added.

Macron also warned against the creation of a “counter-society” holding its own laws among France’s Muslims.

Al Azhar said making “false accusations about Islam or other religions, such separatism and isolationism” went against the actual “reality of what these religions call for.”

It also condemned those who exploit or employ “religious texts to achieve unsavoury purposes.”

Macron’s address came 18 months ahead of presidential elections where he is set to face challenges from the right, as public concern grows over security in France.

Macron was speaking one week after a man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the former Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, which the government denounced as “Islamist terrorism.”

On Thursday, Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb voiced “immense anger” at the use by some Western officials of the term “Islamist terrorism”, without heeding its ramifications.

He said in a Tweet that such terms constitute “an insult” to the religion and its followers, and warned against their use by officials, public figures and intellects.