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Modi-Mufti meeting in Cairo signals common pursuit against ‘radicalism and extremism’

Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi (Right) had a productive meeting with Shawky Ibrahim Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day state visit to Egypt – first official bilateral engagement of any Indian PM since 1997 – has a religious highlight. The Prime Minister met Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawky Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam and committed a plan to a Centre of Excellence in Information & Technology at the Dar-al-Ifta.

Darul Ifta is an Egyptian advisory body for Islamic legal research under the Ministry of Social Justice of Egypt. Ifta issues fatwas (counsel or advisory) on issues related to practice of Islam in the country. And Mufti is also a government appointee.

Some observers believe that the Modi-Mufti meeting takes forward India’s consistent policy of approaching “moderate and sober” voices on Islam while pursuing foreign policy interests in the Muslim world, especially West Asia.

Allam had visited India last month on a tour described as a visit to foster interfaith understanding. He had travelled to various cities in India like Agra, Aligarh, Jaipur and Hyderabad during his visit and met several people. He had also gone to the famous Aligarh Muslim University to address the students.

Arindam Baghchi, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, said the PM-Mufti meeting did address the issue of radicalisation and religious extremism.

“They discussed the strong cultural & people to people relations between India and Egypt. Discussions also focused on issues related to social and religious harmony in society and countering extremism and radicalisation,”  Bagchi said, while detailing the meeting.

In his address, Allam too made it clear that the two discussed “cooperation” on religious matters. He also praised PM Modi for adopting “wise” policies in India for development of all sections of the society.

Articulating India-Egypt engagement, Mohammed Soliman, director at the Middle East Institute, told the Daily News Egypt that India and Egypt are converging strategically on common concerns such as terrorism, regional stability, maritime security, and the “global (dis)order.”

Soliman also suggests that both India and Egypt are projecting themselves as civilizational states against the Western-dominated liberal international order in contemporary times. “Western-dominated liberal international order,” he wrote in his commentary on Indo-Egypt ties.

India-Egyptian religious ties also date back to centuries. Legendary Al Azhar University (popular among Muslims as Al Azhar Shareef) has taught a number of Islamic scholars. Even today, a number of Indian students get admissions in Al Azhar every year. The institution provides religious guidance to the Muslim ummah across the world.

One of the most prominent current Muslims who have studied at Al Azhar is Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, son of late Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Speaking to the India Narrative, he said that the meeting between PM Modi and Grand Mufti should  be read as just a “cosmetic outreach”. “

He also pointed out that in recent years, the arrival of Egyptian teachers to teach in various Indian seminaries like Darul Uloom Deoband has been forcefully stopped, indicating the government views such people with suspicion. “It was such a beautiful aspect of such seminaries where foreign faculty used to teach,” he said.

However, some commentators see the PM’s visit as India’s foreign policy march into the MENA region.

Talking to a Gulf-based digital media outlet, a senior West Asia expert said that since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, India has expanded its outreach in West and Africa. It is also the most populous country in the MENA region.

Egypt is at the cusp of this region: it transcends the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia.

“Since Modi came to power, India has tried to broaden its foreign policy outreach. India has opened almost 20 new missions on the African continent,” the expert said.

Also Watch: Egypt confers its highest honour ‘Order of the Nile’ award on Prime Minister Modi