BRITAIN is to offer intensive English-language training to young
Muslim scholars in Egypt, to enable them to counter online
extremism by tweeting and blogging in fluent English, and preach on
a new English-language television station.
The move comes after growing concern in the Muslim world that it
is failing to respond to Islamic State (IS) and other extremist
groups that use social media to recruit young militants around the
world. Leading Muslim scholars now wish to retaliate in the
language that has become the universal medium of the internet and
social media: English.
The new chief executive of the British Council, Ciarán Devane,
last week met the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Mohamed Ahmed
el-Tayeb, the highest source of spiritual authority in the Sunni
Muslim world. Mr Devane signed a memorandum of understanding with
Sheikh el-Tayeb to step up the English programme already running at
The British Council is now proposing to teach every student who
is training for religious leadership enough English to communicate
online with Muslims who may have only limited knowledge of Arabic,
the language of the Qur'an.
Al-Azhar has been in the forefront of the fight against Islamist
extremism. But it has become increasingly worried that its voice is
not being heard among young Muslims who live outside the Middle
East. Fatwas and decrees denouncing extremism which are issued in
Arabic are often less accessible than the online calls by
jihadists, issued in English, which have recruited disaffected
young Muslims to IS and al-Qaeda.
Sheikh el-Tayeb told Mr Devane that al-Azhar needed
English-language skills so that it could launch an English-language
television station, and a sophisticated website to oppose
The British Council began an English programme at al-Azhar eight
years ago, and has since trained more than 1000 graduates in the
Britain's standing at al-Azhar university is high, thanks
largely to the high-profile visit by the Prince of Wales and the
Duchess of Cornwall in 2006. Prince Charles was awarded an honorary
degree in recognition of his interest in Islam.