A prominent Islamic organization in Egypt has launched an information campaign called “Sharing the Homeland” that instructs Muslims “on the proper attitude” toward Christmas and Christians during the holiday celebration.

The Al-Azhar Institute, affiliated with the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar University, is behind the effort to promote “moderate Islam,” reinforce the values of citizenship and coexistence and reject “deviant fatwas” issued every year at the time of the Christian holiday, reported the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The institute says Muslims are permitted to wish Christians “joy on their religious festivals.”

“This Al-Azhar campaign is part of the institution’s ongoing effort to portray itself as combating religious extremism and erroneous interpretations of Islam, and as promoting the renewal of the religious discourse. Al-Azhar’s top clerics, headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayeb, and his deputy ‘Abbas Shuman, frequently point to their efforts in this area, which include informational campaigns and at its reevaluation of the curricula of its religious schools, which are often criticized as tainted with extremism and encouraging terrorism,” MEMRI explains.

However, MEMRI points out, the educational materials the institute produces and promotes show no such tolerance.

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Last week, the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, which often reports on the activities of Al-Azhar, published the results of a seven-month investigative report.

The newspaper said that while the institute’s committee for the development of schoolbooks had written 12 books intended “to strengthen national unity among pupils,” another committee, appointed by the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar opposed the inclusion of the material and removed every mention of Christians.

It also excised the books’ permission to “extend holiday greetings to Christians.”

The institute’s Global Center for Electronic Fatwas, which publishes fatwas and religious guidance online, was the group that directed the “Sharing the Homeland” campaign.

Sheik Tamr Matar, coordinator for the Global Center for Electronic Fatwas, explained the effort aimed to “clarify the religious, political, social and economic rights of the members of the monotheistic religions in Islamic countries, and how non-Muslims should be treated with regard to commerce, holiday greetings, visiting them, eating their foods, and respecting their holy places,” MEMRI reported.

In a fatwa – an authoritative opinion on a point of Islamic law – on its Facebook page, the fatwa center said wishing Christians happy holidays is permitted since “this is an act of grace and respect for them.”

“Allah commands us to [act this way] towards all people, whoever they may be, and particularly towards People of the Book, who share the homeland and who are our brothers in humankind,” the ruling said.

The ruling cited the Quran, which says: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”

However, such tolerance failed to extend to the Al-Azhar books, the report said.

In fact, the institute fired an official thought to be responsible for including acknowledgement of Christians in the books.

That was Abu Zeid Mahmoud Abu Zeid, director-general of elementary education for Al-Azhar’s school department, the report said.

He later sent a memo pulling back the curtain on the disputes over the concept of another faith.

MEMRI said that in his memo “he complained that the committee appointed by the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar to oversee the writing of the schoolbooks had removed content encouraging national unity and acceptance of the other, and that this committee had refused to include photographs of Coptic Pope Tawadros II and names of any Christians. He also stated that the committee had omitted the word ‘Christians’ in some of the lessons, replacing it with ‘non-Muslims.'”

The idea that both Muslims and Christians should love Egypt was replaced, he explained, with “the subject of the honor of martyrdom.”

Al-Azhar  has become the subject of criticism across Egypt.

Huda Zakariya, a member of the National Council for the War Against Terror and Extremism, said: “We need a cultural and social discourse, and we call [on Al-Azhar] to explain the reasons for the omission of civics from the curriculum and to publish the committee’s justifications for omitting the photograph and the lessons that call for [good] civic [relations].”

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