Islamic State terrorists (illustration)
Islamic State terrorists (illustration)Reuters

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious center of learning, has called for the killing and crucifixion of terrorists from the Islamic State group (ISIS), expressing outrage over their murder of a Jordanian pilot.

In a statement after the burning alive of Maaz al-Kassasbeh, the Cairo-based authority called for the "killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs of Islamic State terrorists".

The use of crucifixion is recorded in Islamic scriptures, and has been employed by ISIS themselves to display the bodies of people executed for a variety of crimes in areas under its control.

The statement comes a month after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered a highly unusual and surprising speech to Islamic clerics at Al-Azhar University last week, in which he called on Muslim leaders to reform Islam to rid the Muslim world of terrorism.

"It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma (multinational community of Muslim believers) to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world," Sisi said.

"That thinking – I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ – that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

"Is it possible that 1.6 billion [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants – that is 7 billion – so that they themselves may live? Impossible!"

Other Muslim countries have also responded to the pilot's murder with condemnation.

Saudi Arabia, the spiritual home of Islam and another member of the US-led coalition against ISIS, condemned the "misguided ideology" behind Kassasbeh's killing and accused groups like ISIS of seeking "to distort the values of Islam". Despite it's clear stance against ISIS, however, Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its ties to other jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere.

Iran also condemned the "inhuman and un-Islamic act" - a rather ironic statement considering that Tehran is a key supporter of the Assad regime, which rights groups say is in fact responsible for more atrocities than ISIS. Iran also finances and trains a range of Shai Islamist militias, who have been accused of brutally expelling Sunni Muslims from areas captured from ISIS control.

The UAE - which a report Wednesday claimed had fearfully withdrawn from the coalition shortly after al-Kassasbeh's capture - said the actions of IS "represent epidemics that must be eradicated by civilized societies without delay".

AFP contributed to this report.