Al-Sisi's call for tolerance

In this Dec. 28, 2012, file photo, Muslims rest as they wait for the Friday noon prayer at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi opened 2015 with a dramatic call for a "revolution" in Islam. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

On Dec. 28, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a "revolution" in the teaching of Islam because "it has reached the point" that it has become "hostile to the entire world."

That speech to the assembled Islamic scholars of Cairo's al-Azhar University deserves renewed attention in light of the terror attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo last week.

"It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing and destruction all over the world," he declared, speaking not only of Egypt but the entire Muslim community.

"Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world's population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable," he declared, calling on the scholars to reject not Islam, but the current "ideology" of its teachings.

The breathtaking scope of the revolution in Islamic teaching that al-Sisi called for would address "the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult."

"You must emerge from [this ideology] and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology," he urged his audience.

The Muslim world, Mr. al-Sisi concluded, ultimately will face self-destruction if it does not re-think its beliefs. Addressing the faculty of the university, he said, "The world in its entirety awaits your words, because the Islamic nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition. We ourselves are bringing it to perdition."

There is no small irony in President al-Sisi, who heads Eqypt's repressive secular government, calling for reform on the religious front. Nevertheless, it is a bold and timely challenge to the religious leaders of Egypt and the Mideast.