2013 / 5 / 16
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One: The Emergence.....................................................
Chapter Two: Facing the Emergence................................................
Chapter Three: The Proliferation..................................................
Chapter Four: The Illusion of “Religious” Parties......................
Chapter Five: “Piety”, Unveiled..................................................
Chapter Six: Vision... or Nightmare? .......................................
Chapter Seven: The Use of Force..................................................
Chapter Eight: The Breeder.........................................................
Chapter Nine: The Other Side of the Coin..................................
There is a big difference between the word Islam, and the understanding of the interpretation of Islam. I believe that any understanding or interpretation of any religion is a cultural subject; it depends on the quality, education and the cultural level of the intermediary between the religion’s literature and the receivers, that is: People. So when somebody asks the very important question: Is there compatibility between Islam and the values of modernity, human rights, women’s rights, progress, pluralism, otherness, and coexistence? My answer is: you can say possibly no, or possibly yes. It depends on what you mean by Islam. If you look at it from a certain angle, you will come to the conclusion that no, they are not compatible. But I think that we do this only because we, so far, continue to accept that Islam is represented fully and solely by the prevailing Wahhabi, anti humanity, petrodollar Islam. Islam has many sects, many schools of thinking.
There are tens of interpretations. These interpretations have enormous different impacts on all these values. Today, the world makes the mistake of accepting and dealing with an extremely hard line interpretation of Islam, as if it were the only possible representative of Islam.
While scholars realize that such a harsh interpretation of Islam prevails only because of the unlimited financial resources that stand behind it and continue to mark it and advocate it in societies that have been made most vulnerable by dictatorships and corruption, the world must know that Wahhabi Islam is the only sect that (based on oil wealth) is capable of building hundreds of Islamic centers around the world—centers that advocate the most aggressive, isolated and harsh interpretation of Islam. These centers also recruit people to preach values that are totally contradictory to civilized societies’ value systems. Wahhabi Islam that monopolizes the representation of Islam advocates what is in total a clash with human rights, women’s rights and the values of coexistence.
I personally think that Islam could be presented in a way that is compatible with all the values of modern, civilized societies. Nonetheless, this depends on who represents Islam and the Muslims.
The challenge today is that the world (supported by the moderate Muslims) must not allow a single sect to claim ownership of absolute reality. It is an imperative step, however it is a rather difficult one. The Wahhabi institution with billions of dollars has been proactively playing on the theater for more than half a century. The agony is that they have been doing it in a patent clear manner for decades. Their education curricula over the past 50 years are the evidence of the crime they have been committing against humanity, Islam, and the Muslims for a long while. The world must have noticed, Europe and the USA must have noticed, and finally the UN must have noticed that a number of those countries have been spreading the seeds of fanaticism, violence, and a culture of hate via their educational programs in a manner that can only produce the most dangerous terrorists.
So we all share the responsibility of letting one school of thinking (a very extreme one) become the role model of Islam. The advocates of this model, most unfortunately, enjoyed the availability of unlimited financial resources, and managed meanwhile to establish a global network which enabled them to nearly negate the presence and role of any moderate interpretation of Islam such as the interpretation which prevailed for centuries in Turkey, Egypt and the Levant region. The marginalization of moderate interpretations of Islam was easy to realize in societies that witnessed an overall collapse of standards, with their autocracies and military juntas.
In my opinion one could say that yes, Islam could be compatible with values of modernity and progress. Yet this depends on who represents Islam: who (for instance) will be talking about the status of women, the status of minorities—being Jews, Christians or others—and coexistence in a problematic area such as the Middle East.
The core of the current challenge is to change the following picture: the hard-line Islamic group financed by endless resources spreading via cultural centers and schools its harsh interpretation of Islam, building hundreds of mosques everywhere and recruiting hard-line preachers. In parallel, the many moderate Islamic schools of thinking are being ignored and marginalized. This is the picture that ought to be changed if we want Muslims to live in peace with others on the face of earth.
There are Muslims who could surprise you with open views on equality, diversity, coexistence, pluralism, modernity and human rights. The members of such open and moderate schools would enable you to see what happened in the history of the Muslim societies that enabled the clergy to convert Muslims to caravans of followers and deprive them from the use, benefits, and dynamics of the critical mind.
So what is needed is to work for the inception of a new dialogue not with those who dominated and monopolized the representation of Islam, but with the other schools of thinking that accept to live in peace with the rest of humanity.
Recently, I was in Italy lecturing at a number of universities. Let me say a few words on Italy as an example of the catastrophe Europe might be heading to: n Italy there are slightly less than 1,000 mosques; This in itself is not a problem. But when we discover that 90% of these mosques were built by Saudi money and resourced by Imams that represent the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam (that ultimately produced the current leaders of Al Qaeda)—when we realize this, we realize how negligent the West has been. Many of these mosques bred and shall continue to breed extremely fundamentalist men and women who would never accept the values of the Italian society, and shall even endeavor to breech these values.
This Italian example is replicated in every single European country, a phenomenon that urges us to ask: why this enormous amount of negligence?
Why? ... The answer is simply three letters: O I L
If it wasn’t the oil syndrome, the world would not have closed its eyes and ears to the consequences of the educational and religious institutions of a country such as Saudi Arabia, where the seeds of destruction of the values of civilization are being cultivated, employed, marketed and globally spread.
In Egypt, there has been a very moderate interpretation of Islam, until the harsh interpretation came in the 1970s, on the back of the oil barrel that penetrated Egypt’s religious and educational institutions until they were mostly ruined. Today, this brand is called “Political Islam”.
It is our joint responsibility to discover, dialogue with, and promote the moderate Islamic schools of thinking that made countries like Egypt, Syria, and Turkey (for decades and centuries) embrace a tolerant and moderate interpretation of Islam that allowed diversity (in all of its forms) to prevail.
ISLAM, SHAPER OF THE MIND
There is a version of Islam that was in the ascendant for centuries and is quite different from the image of that religion perceived by many in Europe and North America. It might best be called “Turkish-Egyptian Islam.” Until the 1940s, this paradigm stood as a unique example of tolerance and flexibility.
Outside the Arabian Peninsula, Muslims have always known extremely tolerant societies, in countries like Egypt, Syria, Spain before the sixteenth century, and in North Africa. This doctrine especially prevailed in the Ottoman Empire, a multinational Islamic state founded by Turkish-origin tribes in Anatolia at the end of the thirteenth century.
At its peak, this state, with its empire in Istanbul, comprised most of south-western Asia, the Balkans, Egypt and large portions of the North African coast. It ceased to exist in 1919. Egypt was ruled by the Empire, or at least heavily influenced by its approach, from 1517 to 1882.
In this state, non-Muslims enjoyed more protection than any other minority living anywhere else in the world at the time. Christians and Jews lived in conditions very similar to the ones in which the Muslim subjects of the empire were living. Even when certain rulers were repressive, this was a general policy, one of equally bad treatment without any distinction between non-Muslims and Muslims. As the British-born historian Bernard Lewis has said, the Jews played their greatest roles in history twice: once with the Muslims (in the past), and once with the Christians (in the present).
“Turkish-Egyptian Islam” was noted for its acceptance of the other. It was not pathologically obsessed with the fine print of scripture. While recognizing the divine character of the revealed laws and the prophetic additions, it also recognized that some of their provisions were formulated to suit the context of a different time, place, and varying circumstances. Thus divinity was reserved for religion and did not extend to how mortals understood or chose to interpret its strictures. It was tacitly understood that there is a subjective dimension to the interpretation of any text, and that interpretation is necessarily coloured by the interpreter’s predilection shaped by his cultural formation, knowledge and intellectual abilities.
A comparison between Islamic and Arab societies today and those of a century ago reveals how much more widespread a mentality of violence has become in today’s societies. An even bigger danger is the spread of a culture conducive to its growth and development, spawning militants who nurture this mentality of violence and creating a general climate that allows it to take a firm grip.
There have always been people like this, radical Sunni Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Mus ab al-Zarqawi in the history of Islam. Until, recently, though, they were a renegade and marginal minority. The tragedy today is that they are no longer marginal. Their message is reaching huge numbers of people and they are gaining new supporters and sympathizers every day. Why?
Islam can be said to be one of the most important shapers of the culture, mind-set, way of life, thought processes, opinions, and reactions of Muslims. Yet analysts concerned with both diagnosing and curing the problem must define more specifically what this means.
What is the cause and issue here:
Is it Islamic Scripture?
Is it how people interpret Scripture?
Is it Islamic jurisprudence? If so, which school of jurisprudence? Is it Islamic jurisprudence according to Abu Hanifa (699-767); Ibn-Malik; Al- Shafi’i; or Ibn-Hanbal (780-855) and his disciples (notably Ibn Taymiyya, [1263-1328], Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya [1292-1350], and the proselytizer Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab [1703-1792])? Or is it Islamic jurisprudence according to the Shia Imamiyya school (whose most prominent exponent was Ja’far al-Sadiq, (702-765) or to the Khawarij (the Seceders), who were neither Sunni nor Shia and who themselves had four subdivisions?
Is it historical experience? If so, what particular experience?
Is it Islam as understood by the Umayyads, who ruled from 660 to 750, or by the Abbasids, who ruled from 750to 1258?
Indeed, which Islam?
Can one really talk of a single homogeneous Islamic experience? After all, the experience of Umayyad Damascus was very different from the experience of Abbasid Baghdad, while both were very different from the historical experience of Andalusia, where a unique bonding between Muslims and Jews produced such great thinkers as the Muslim Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198) and the Jewish physician and philosopher Ibn Maymun (Maimonides, 1135-1204).
In truth, Scripture in and of itself, means little when invoked out of context. Here the quality, mind and vision of the person dealing with the text are all-important.
Since it has existed in so many variations of interpretation and experience, then, “Islam” cannot be held responsible for the phenomenon of violence. Rather it is a world view created by five factors:
o Political oppression at the hands of autocratic forms of governments marked by a lack of democracy.
o Widespread corruption, the inevitable result of political oppression.
o The rise of the Wahhabi brand of Islam along with the retreat of the tolerant Turco-Egyptian model which had prevailed for centuries.
o The renewed introduction of tribal values which came with the spread of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Islam had tried to abolish tribal loyalties and redirect the loyalty to the Muslim Super-tribe, namely the whole Umma.
o Educational systems completely divorced from modernity.
I. CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
One can argue that the seeds of our problems, backwardness and regression were not planted by colonialism as many would have us believe. Rather, colonialism was the natural result of the dialectical process that was unfolding concomitantly in the Arabic-speaking societies on the one hand and in Europe on the other.
In other words, to claim we were backward because we were colonized is to put the cart before the horse. The reverse is true: it is because we were backward that we were colonized. And we were backward because the conservative school triumphed over the school of reason, logic and philosophy in our intellectual and – to use a contemporary term – cultural life.
After the colonialist era came independence. And as independence was not achieved through intellectual and cultural action but through political/nationalistic action, it was followed in Arabic-speaking societies either by family-centrist monarchies [an extension of the Arab tribal system] or republics run by army officers with little education and no cultural formation whatsoever [and who were in a considerable number of cases characterized by personal and family corruption unprecedented in human history].
Nearly half a century after the independence of Arabic-speaking societies, revolutions broke out against the regimes to which had devolved the reins of power in the post-independence stage. The big surprise was that they erupted from a totally unexpected source. The revolution many thought would come either from the destitute masses living in slums and shanty towns or from converts to the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism surprised the whole world by being spearheaded by the educated sons and daughters of the middle class who, thanks to technology [specifically modern communications technology], understood the meaning of citizenship and the obligations of rulers in contemporary societies.
While there is a way out of the fix for Arab monarchies – at least theoretically – represented in their transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchies, the only way out for Arab republics is to respond to the wonderful slogan of the revolution: "the people demand the fall of the regime." For the leaders of the Arab republics [due to their extremely low standard of education and lack of culture, not to mention the unprecedented levels of corruption they, their families and cronies have been guilty of over the years] are not susceptible of reform and must inevitably be removed [as the Tunisians removed Ben Ali and the Egyptians removed Mubarak]. These corrupt and destructive leaders must be tried and held accountable to set an example for their successors. The strange thing about Arab societies is that the oil sheikhs were relatively wiser in most matters than the oil soldiers [Libya, Iraq and Algeria for example] and those whose crimes in general and thieving in particular are beyond human imagination.
Muslim history attained its most brilliant period of intellectual and cultural life in the four centuries following the seventh century A.D. During that period, hundreds of books were translated from the Greek, especially in the fields of science, logic and philosophy. As a result of this dynamic quest for knowledge, Arabic-speaking societies produced many schools of thought, with independent scholars giving different interpretations of Islam, and established institutes of learning that focused primarily on natural sciences and mathematics.
However, throughout this golden age intellectual life was caught in a conflict between a conservative trend that insisted on a literal interpretation of holy texts and exalted the practices of the first generations of Muslims (the Pious Ancestors!) and a liberal trend that upheld the primacy of reason. The former trend was represented by the Sunni jurists who succeeded Abu Hanifa Al-Nu man, the founder of the science of Islamic jurisprudence.
Each of the jurists belonging to this school of thought was more conservative than his predecessor. Thus Ibn Hanbal was more conservative than Mohamed Ibn Idriss Al-Shafei, while Al-Shafei was more conservative than Malik, who was more conservative than Abu Hanifa. As to the thinkers whose interest lay in philosophy and logic, their thinking was more liberal. Most prominent among them were the Mu tazalites, Ibn Sina, Farabi and the greatest champion of rationality and deductive reasoning, the Andalusian Ibn Rushd.
While the three centuries running from the beginning of the ninth century saw a fierce war playing out between the conservative school [the proponents of orthodoxy and tradition] and the more liberal thinkers [who applied the rules of logic, philosophy and reason], by the eleventh and twelfth centuries the conservatives had emerged as the clear victors. Their victory was reflected in the attitude of the political establishment, which tipped sharply in favour of the conservatives, and the concomitant hostility against the school of reason which had been inspired in a way by the spirit of Greek philosophy. Capitalizing on the victory they had scored over the proponents of reason, the conservative traditionalists came up with a series of fatwas that essentially condemned those who relied on deductive reasoning as heretics.
Arguably the most important of these fatwas was the one propounded by Al-Sharthoury in the twelfth century, in which he decried the use of deductive reasoning as sinful and denounced those who resorted to such methods as possessed by the devil.
The victory of the traditionalists over the rationalists reached its peak with the heresy charges leveled by Muslim jurists against such luminaries as Al-Farabi [870–950 AD], Ibn Sina [980–1037 AD] and Ibn Rushd [1126–1198 AD].
That this regressive trend enjoyed the support of the political establishment is borne out by many examples, such as Al-Mu tasim s blind support of the Hanbalites who were given the green light to slaughter their Mu tazalite rivals in the alleys of Damascus; and the burning of Ibn Rushd s books in Cordova on the orders of the ruler. By the end of the twelfth century, the school of reason had virtually ceased to exist. As a result, Arabic-speaking societies entered the sixteenth century stripped of the faculty of critical thinking, their ulamas interested only in compilation. This rendered them vulnerable to external forces and they fell easy prey to the European colonizers. At the same time that the conservative traditionalists were consolidating their victory over the school of reason, logic and philosophy in Arabic-speaking societies, the peoples of Europe were going through a reverse process which was in essence to enable the proponents of free thinking end the dominion and control exercised by the conservatives over European societies. With the triumph of the school of free thinking in Europe, it was normal for the new liberal climate to lead to a scientific renaissance in many fields. For example, the discovery of gunpowder enabled the Europeans to push ahead with their colonization project and expand their dominion over many parts of the world, including Arabic-speaking societies.
What happened in Tunisia and Egypt and what is now happening in many Arab countries cannot be properly understood except through the historical-dialectical perspective described here on the intellectual history of the Arabic-speaking societies over the last fourteen centuries.
II. MENTAL STAGNATION
I was leafing through a number of Dr. Ali Shariati s works that have been translated into Arabic and English, and re-read a booklet of his entitled "Intelligence – Istehmar", translated into Arabic in 1991. He states:
"The fate of religion has fallen into the hands of the enemies of humanity, the "istehmar" forces who may refer to themselves as the "spiritual " or "moral" classes; or as "Sufis" or "the priesthood", but all of whom use religion as a means of controlling (and fooling) people, whether individually or collectively. I speak here of the misleading religion; the "ruling" religion, in league with authority, money and power; controlled by a class of officials who claim exclusive access to religion and who seek the authority, power and profit that accrue from maintaining the status quo. How does this so-called religion fool people? While it cannot rob one of one s intelligence or social responsibility, it can nevertheless insidiously infiltrate the mind with messages such as: "Forget the world, for it only ends in death", "Save your hopes and aspirations for the afterlife", "It isn t long – thirty or forty or fifty years: what value have they? When they are over, everything will be at your command". "Just a few years of life that have no value whatsoever…Leave the world to those who want it" – i.e. the "religious" men themselves and their partners in power."
Forty years ago, one of the subjects offered for a Masters degree in law was Islamic Jurisprudence -- a massive, purely human endeavour, whose founder, the Grand Imam Abu Hanifa al-Nu man, defined it as the science of extracting practical rulings from legal proofs.
The subject extended beyond the four established legal schools – the Hanafite, Malakite, Shafi i, and Hanbalite – and even beyond the legal schools founded by other Sunni sects that have since fallen into oblivion -- and into the realm of Shiite jurisprudence. The school of Muslim theology I admired most was the Mu tazalites and their offshoots -- especially the ideas of Ghilan Al-Demeshky, who challenged the doctrine of predestination on the grounds that it denies man s responsibility for his deeds, good and bad, and which led me to ask a number of nagging questions.
The jurists who founded the four main Sunni schools of law -- Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn-Anas, Mohamed bin Idriss Al-Shafei and Ahmed ibn-Hanbal -- lived in the period between 70 and 220 Hijrah [690 to 840 AD]. Strangely, the earliest of these jurists was more liberal than his successor, who was in turn more liberal than his successor, while the fourth was the most conservative of all, allowing no scope for independent thinking, and asserting the primacy of tradition [naql] over reason [ aql]. While, for example, Abu Hanifa allowed jurists to refuse to base their rulings on the Hadiths [sayings or acts attributed to the prophet Mohammed] known as akhbar ahad [accounts of individuals], Ahmed ibn-Hanbal, who followed, stamped as authoritative legislative enactments more than ten thousand Hadiths, the great majority of which were, not surprisingly, accounts of individuals.
The conservatives in Islamic history were selective in what they presented to seekers of knowledge. Thanks to them, many Muslims today believe that the greatest Islamic thinkers always believed in predetermination. Many other great Islamic thinkers, however -- for instance, the Kadarites -- rejected the doctrine of predetermination. There are countless further examples of the subjective way the conservative elements in the world of Islam distorted historical facts to suit their purpose; the result of which distortion was to produce among Muslims a pattern of passivity at odds with the realm of knowledge, culture and science. One of the most famous examples is the conservatives concealment of Abu Hanifa s opinion on the punishment for apostasy – death. Although he did not totally reject the punishment, the great jurist effectively invalidated it by holding that an apostate can repent, and that the period of repentance is "the length of the apostate s life."
Some of the greatest Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Sinna, Al-Farabi, Ibn Rushd and so many others, were branded as heretics by the Hanbalites. Although one of Ibn Hanbal s followers, Ibn Taymiyya, was a man of limited intellectual abilities, incapable of dealing with deep philosophical issues, he gave himself the right to accuse of heresy noble and original thinkers who were far superior to him in every way. Thus, because of an obscurantist ruler -- the eighth Abbasid caliph Al-Mu tasim -- and because of the growing dominion and influence of conservative Muslim jurists -- such as Ahmed Ibn Hanbal and the interpreters of his tenets, Ibn Taymiyya and Qaiyim Al Jawziyya -- the Muslim mind became afflicted with a singular case of rigidity, passivity and stagnation – even fossilization.
This mental, intellectual and cultural stagnation not only represents a danger for humanity, but for the Muslims themselves, in that, among other limiting features, it places them and their societies in a state of enmity, even war, with the rest of humanity.
At some point, however, despite the backwardness and extreme primitiveness that has afflicted the minds of millions of today s Muslims who have become polarized around a worldview totally divorced from the reality of the age and from contemporary science and culture, the future will shake the Muslim mind and destroy many of the fossilized ideas that have held sway for so long, similarly to Christianity after the earthquake set off by Martin Luther and Jean (John) Calvin.
The Muslims will come to realize the need to keep religion separate from the State and from constitutional and statutory legislation. I can even see the day they will adopt a legal system based on the doctrine that upholds "the specificity of the purpose, not the generality of the text." This would allow for enlightened opinions compatible with the age, and the march of human progress in respect of women and the Other.
But before we reach that point, many years and decades will have elapsed, and many bitter battles will have been fought before reason, science and progress can claim victory over the dark legacy of a journey that began with a ruler who allowed the Hanbalites to slaughter, in the literal sense of the word, the Mu tazalites in the alleys of Damascus.
From that day until the present, free thinkers in our societies continue being slaughtered, either literally or figuratively, with weapons wielded by forces of darkness without parallel in the annals of history.
I. The Fuel of Intolerant Islam
Many have attributed the spread of religious extremism today in countries like Egypt to external factors, such as foreign incitement and foreign financing of extremist movements in general, and of fundamentalist Islamic groups in particular.
This attribution is extremely dangerous, because by presenting the issue of religious extremism as a security problem, to be dealt with by the police and other security bodies, it removes it from the realm of problems amenable to political solutions. Those who are quick to point an accusing finger at external forces should realize that if Egypt had been a haven of social tolerance, brotherhood and peace, it would not have been susceptible to interference from abroad. That means other local factors have created a favourable climate for such attempts to succeed.
A. Political Oppression
Over the last few decades, many societies in Islamic countries were subjected to various types of despotic rulers, governing their countries with an iron fist in the context of widespread autocracy. This led in many cases to a downward spiral. The most dangerous of the many negative effects of political oppression is the impediment of social mobility. It impairs the opportunity for the most qualified citizens to rise to leading positions in various fields.
The disappearance of a healthy process of social mobility makes for a static situation in which inept and mediocre persons come to occupy top positions by dint of accepting, indeed, of supporting, oppression through unquestioning loyalty to their superiors. In other words, Arab and Islamic societies in general are caught today in an equation which can be called the equation of destruction: Oppression and autocracy produce followers, not competent people.
Lack of social mobility destroys competence across the board at all societal levels. Lack of competence in turn results in the collapse of all institutions and in widespread mediocrity which becomes the norm. This engenders a powerful evil energy, namely despair and rage, which breed the mentality of violence. That mentality attends to the devaluation of the worth of human life, whether of one’s self or of others, as well as spreads a desire for revenge. This acquired “mentality of violence” came to permeate many of these societies.
By the same token, oppressors prevent the growth of civil society, generalize incompetence and divide political life into two levels:
An above-ground level which belongs exclusively to the rulers and their cohorts;
An underground level which belongs to Wahhabi or other radical versions of Islam, like that developed by the Muslim Brotherhood theorist, Sayyid Qutb, in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the absence of civil society, with the lack of social mobility and the prevalence of incompetence, the stage is set for a new group of oppressors who are at the same time themselves incompetent.
No sooner are there changes causing the downfall and removal of the despotic ruler in these societies (Suharto in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq) than there emerge on the scene cadre who fanatically interpret Islam and who come from the only other existing political force—the underground—and who now put themselves forward as saviours! However, they will only lead their societies into greater depths of backwardness, distance them still further from the modern age, and sink them even deeper into social problems.
A valid question here is why this is the only model that emerges whenever an oppressive regime falls in a Muslim or Arab country. The answer is simply that this is a natural result of the widespread despair felt by those living under an autocratic regime that allows no open political activities.
Hence, the only organizations that can survive in its shadow are those operating underground. The cure must start with the first link in the chain, not with the last. The educational and media institutions are incapable of redressing this disaster, because they too have been corrupted at the hands of incompetent leadership.
B. Wahhabism and Tribal Values
There are many ways of interpreting Islam. There are four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, then there is the Shia, four main doctrines of the Khawarij, and such interpretive schools as that of the tenth-century Persian historian al-Tabari and the early Egyptian Layth Ibn Saad. Moreover, there were the dialectical theologians the Mutaqalimun, originating in the ninth century, and the contemporary philosophical teachings of the Mu’tazaliyya, who depended on reason, and the tenth century Ash’ariyya, and various secret movements, the Batiniyya.
The point here is not to explore all of these various schools and thinkers but to point out that any effort to reduce Islam to one interpretation and to cast all others as heresy denies the fact that there has been a multitude. Islamic texts are amenable to many interpretations. Some of the earliest converts to Islam admitted as much some one thousand four hundred years ago when it was said by Caliph Ali Ibn Abu-Talib, “The Quran displays many faces.” Again, what counts is the person who reads, understands and presents a textual interpretation.
The practice of relying on one text while ignoring another is a destructive process that lends itself to abuse. If one studies Jewish texts like the Torah and the Talmud, it is clear that one cannot take at face value the words spoken by Joshua, son of Nun, on a certain occasion in a given context. By the same token, the dowry cannot be said to be an article of Jewish faith just because King Saul demanded it from David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem (King David for the Jews, the Prophet David for the Muslims) for the hand of his daughter Michal.
It is not sufficient to go around brandishing a text as a divine revelation outside its historical, human, and chronological framework.
This applies to Islam, too. For example, the sources of jurisprudence and the number of the Prophet s hadiths regarded as sources of religious doctrine and practice vary widely from one school to another. The great jurist Abu Hanifa accepted just over a hundred as apostolic precept, while the conservative theologian Ahmed Ibn Hanbal accepted over ten thousand in his book al-Musnad.
Thus, the followers of the Hanafi school rely on istihsan (literally preference, which means using few traditions and extracting from the Quran the rulings which fit their ideas); while the followers of the Maliki school rely on istislah (public advantage). Then we have those who insist on a dogmatic interpretation of holy texts and others who, like Ibn Rushd, eschewed narrow interpretation in favour of deductive reasoning (al ta weel).
Even when it comes to the consumption of alcoholic drinks, we have different opinions. Whereas most jurists interpret the text addressing the subject as banning drinking altogether, others like Abu Hanifa believe the ban applies only to intoxication. He makes his views on the subject clear in the following passage:
"If it gets me thrown into Hell I will not drink it,
But even if I am thrown into Hell I will not call it sinful."
1. The Roots of Wahhabism
Along with having different trends, creeds and schools of thought, Islam has had its share of fanatical hardliners through the ages, from its inception up to the present. As early as the first century of the Muslim calendar, Islam has known radical sects which demanded blind adherence to their rigid reading of the articles of faith, side by side with mainstream Islam, whose adherents eschew violence and extremism and do not profess to hold a monopoly on Truth.
The phenomenon began with the emergence of al-Khawarij (the Seceders) in 660 AD--the middle of Islam’s first century. They preached a dogmatic interpretation of Scripture and practiced a version of excommunication by branding those who did not adopt its teachings as heretics. This was the first such sect, but by no means the last. Throughout the history of Islam the quiet rhythm of religious life was disrupted many times by marginal groups which tried to impose their extremist views on the majority by violent means.
Among the earliest such leaders was Hamdan Ibn Qarmat, founder of an extremist Muslim sect established in eastern Arabia towards the end of the ninth century AD who carried away the Black Stone of the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest shrine. The latest is the who hid in the caves of Wazirstan, Osama bin Laden (1957 - 2011).
In between these two was Sayyid Qutb, who came up with a theory that will continue to be a wall separating Muslims from the rest of humanity and from any hope of progress until it is torn down. Known as the "theory of divine dominion," it postulates that mortals are not ruled by mortals but by God. And who, you might well ask, will make God s wishes known to humans? The answer is, of course, "We, the ulamas."
This is a theory that holds Muslims hostage to a theocracy overtaken by the march of human progress and places them at the mercy of a power structure dominated by a caste of clerics, even though in most Muslim doctrines there is no such thing as a clergy, no intermediaries between Man and God.
As to the farcical notion of men of religion passing themselves off as men of wide learning, which is the English translation of the word “ulama,” a recent incident illustrates just how limited their fund of knowledge really is. In the course of a debate which took place recently, someone asked one of these ulamas, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whether he knew who Bill Gates was. His reply: "I don t, and it is not important to know!" This amazing reply also shows how insular and isolated from the realities of modern life these self-appointed authorities truly are.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a political religious movement founded by Hassan al-Banna in Isma’iliyya, Egypt, in 1928. The group calls for the reinstitution of Islam and Islamic law as the main pillars upon which all Arab and Muslim societies should be based. The group rejects secular and Western notions in their plan for running of Islamic societies. The group set up a well-organized network of social independent institutions, such as schools and medical clinics, and gained much influence in Egyptian society. During the 1940s, its secret wing was involved in subversive and violent acts against leading political figures and others who were perceived as its enemies. In 1954, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser banned the group and suppressed it, executing its leader Sayyid Qutb.
The movement resumed its activities in the 1970s under President Anwar Sadat’s political liberalization campaign and even published its own journal, though its publication ceased after renewed political suppression in September 1981. Although the movement stresses its peaceful nature and distances itself from more extreme and violent groups, the official ban on it continues. In spite of this, the movement continues to operate and even takes part in Egyptian elections by presenting its candidates as independents or by forging coalitions with legitimate parties.
It should be stressed that the groups and sects whose members insisted on a literal interpretation of holy texts and laid down strict rules governing all aspects of life were not the norm or mainstream. The main trend was represented in the main Sunni schools (the most important being the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali, and their offshoots, al-Layth and al-Tabari), as well as the Shia, who are split into a number of sects. Within this general trend emerged prominent proponents of deductive reasoning emerged, like the great jurist Abu Hanifa, as well as uncompromising champions of tradition, like Ahmed Ibn-Hanbal.
The conservative Ibn-Hanbal served as the bulwark of orthodoxy and tradition against any intellectual endeavour and for a time exerted a considerable hold on public imagination. His influence eventually waned, but prior to the decline that preceded recent resurrection in 1744 AD, in his heyday tradition reigned supreme and very little room was left for reason. The two main disciples of Ibn Hanbal were Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya who, like their mentor, allowed no scope for reason or independent thinking, but insisted on a dogmatic adherence to the Hadiths as authoritative sources of all matters spiritual and temporal, laying down strict guidelines to govern every aspect of daily life.
In addition, the world of Islam was the scene of a battle of ideas between Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111, known as Algazel), a strict traditionalist who did not believe the human mind capable of grasping the truth as ordained by God, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who championed the primacy of reason. The exponents of these two schools waged a bitter battle in which the first salvo was fired by al-Ghazali with his book, “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” (Tahafut al-Falasifa).
Ibn Rushd answered with his brilliant treatise in defence of rationality, “The Incoherence of the Incoherence” (Tahafut Al Tahafut). But despite his spirited defence, the outcome of the battle was clearly in al-Ghazali s favour, and the great majority of Islamic jurists adopted his ideas, interpreting the precepts of Islamic law by appeal to the authority of tradition and spurning deductive reasoning altogether. Islamic jurisprudence was dominated by the Mutaqalimun, (dialectical theologians), who asserted the primacy of tradition (naql), as advocated by al-Ghazali, over that of reason (aql), as advocated by Ibn Rushd.
While the “worshippers of the word” and “prisoners of tradition” triumphed, Ibn Rushd’s championship of the primacy of reason, though rejected by the Muslim world, took root strongly in Europe, particularly in France, which embraced his vision wholeheartedly. Europe’s gain was our loss; as in turning our backs on Ibn Rushd, we lost a historic opportunity for development.
A close reading of Ibn Taymiyya’s works, as well as the works of his disciples, from Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya to Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab at the end of the eighteenth century, deepens one’s aversion towards this trend and admiration for the Mu’tazaliyya, who emphasized human responsibility in matters of religion as well as for liberal thinkers who chose the path of reason over that of dogma, like Ibn Sinna (980-1037, known as Avicenna), al-Farabi (870-950), and the leading exponent of this school, Ibn Rushd.
Even today, a reader can clearly see that the works of al-Ghazali are indeed distinctly lacking in rationality. In comparison, rationality reigns supreme in the writings of Ibn Rushd. Why, then, did the Muslims give both a victory to al-Ghazali, the proponent of orthodoxy and tradition for whom knowledge meant only knowledge of religion and who rejected the role of the mind altogether by denying the possibility of acquiring knowledge through intuition, and a crushing defeat for Ibn Rushd, who upheld the primacy of reason and sowed the seeds of a renaissance we chose not to reap?
The answer to this paradox can be summed up in one word: despotism. It is amazing how historians of Islamic thought concealed the fact that al-Ghazali was unfailingly supportive of despotic rulers, while Ibn Rushd was a constant source of irritation for tyrants determined to keep their subjects in a state of intellectual inertia, thereby guaranteeing the status quo’s perpetuation and their continued, unchallenged authority. For an active mind is the source of questions, and questions lead to accountability. As an enlightened friend put it, questions have eyes and answers are blind!
At a time when despotism in our part of the world was at its height, it is not surprising that Muslim rulers should have found al-Ghazali’s ideas more appealing than those of Ibn Rushd. The orthodox line was also more appealing to their subjects who, under the yoke of tyranny, found it safer and less demanding to go along with the views of those who required nothing more from them than a suspension of their critical faculties.
In Europe, where the forces of enlightenment were locked in a confrontation with the clericalism that stifled intellectual initiative and rational thought, despotism was in retreat. This explains why, in the thirteenth century, a prestigious centre of learning like the University of Paris supported the ideas of the Arab Muslim Ibn Rushd over those of the European Christian Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century scholastic philosopher who believed that truth can be known through both reason and faith.
The Muslim world continued to be ruled by despots who brooked no challenge to their authority and an equally despotic religious establishment that decried the use of reason and demanded blind adherence to the authority of tradition. Closely linked as to methods, motivations and goals, these two factors created an atmosphere that was inimical to the unhindered pursuit of knowledge.
Still, things were not only either black or white. True, the Muslims lost a historic opportunity to use Ibn Rushd’s ideas as a springboard that could have placed them on a path similar to the one which took Europe from the obscurantist thinking of the thirteenth century to the vigorous intellectual climate encouraging debate, free thinking, general freedoms and creativity in literature, art and science.
But it is also true that Muslims have known both: one interpretation of Islam which allowed for the acceptance of the “Other”; another that was rigid, doctrinaire, and violently repressing free thought.
The first took hold in the more intellectually vibrant climate that prevailed among the peoples descended from ancient civilizations in places like Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and the Levant, which I call the “Turkish-Egyptian model of Islam.” The second can best be described as the Bedouin model, and was espoused by the secret sects (limited in number and influence) which emerged in remote areas of the Arabian Peninsula together with the rise of Wahhabism, a puritan revival movement launched by Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab from Najd, in what is now central Saudi Arabia, where he was born in 1703.
Although the first model of Islam can in no way be described as secular, it adopted an enlightened approach to religion, dealing with it as a system of spiritual beliefs rather than as a system that ruled all aspects of life and governed the affairs of society. Even if it cannot claim to have attained the level of enlightenment, progressive thinking and freedom that characterizes the ideas of Ibn Rushd, it was nevertheless a gentle and tolerant Islam that could and did coexist with others.
The altogether different Bedouin model of Islam was taking shape among geographically isolated communities living far from coastlines and hence from exposure to the outside world. Their insularity provided an ideal breeding ground for the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya and, toward the end of the eighteenth century; those of Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
This was the model that produced the Saudi Brotherhood who waged war on King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud (1870-1953) in the 1920s. It has since metamorphosed into a powerful ideology thanks to the combination of the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, petrodollars, and a series of blunders on the part of international, regional and local players. One such blunder was what happened in Afghanistan at the end of the 1970s. Another was the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat s ill-advised decision to give free rein to Islamic groups and consider them allies in his war on the Left during that decade. Not surprisingly, the move was orchestrated by senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood acting through their mouthpiece, the wealthy businessman and close confidante of Sadat, Usman Ahmad Usman.
2. The Growth of Wahhabism
The man who founded Wahhabism was not a theologian but a proselytizer who was determined to convert the faithful to his harsh brand of Islam. Intellectually close to the dialectical Islamic theologians who asserted the primacy of tradition (naql) over reason (aql), Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was a disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, a strict traditionalist who allowed little scope for reason or independent thinking. He was also a product of his geographical environment, a remote outpost of history.
Unlike Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, where ancient civilizations had flourished and left their mark on human history, or places like al-Hijaz and a number of the Gulf coastal line cities, which lay on trade routes and dealt extensively with the outside world, the desert of Najd in the Eastern Province of what is now Saudi Arabia had no civilization to speak of before Islam. Nor did it ever become a cultural centre like the various capitals of the Caliphate from the seven to the sixteenth centuries: Medina, Damascus, and Baghdad. Thanks to its arid, barren landscape, Najd remained a cultural backwater, its sole contribution to the arts a traditional form of poetry that spoke of narrow tribal matters.
In 1744, Abd al-Wahhab forged an alliance with the ruler of al-Diriyya, a tribal chieftain by the name of Mohamed Ibn Saud, who became his son-in-law. The alliance led to the first incarnation of the Saudi state, which, by 1804, had expanded to control a huge area in the Arabian Peninsula.
A collision between the two models of Islam was inevitable, and, in the second decade of the nineteenth century, they confronted one another on the battlefield. Mohamed Ali, the Egyptian ruler who introduced his country and the region generally to the modern age, sent a huge army to the Arabian Peninsula to destroy the newly established Saudi-Wahabi state governed according to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
In 1818, the Egyptian army, and with it, the more enlightened Turkish-Egyptian model of Islam, emerged victorious. They defeated the enemy, destroyed their capital, al-Diriyya, and captured their leader, who was later executed in Istanbul. Mohamed Ali s decision to destroy the first Saudi state had implications going far beyond the political or military ambitions of one man. In fact, it was an expression of a “cultural/civilizational” confrontation between the two models of Islam.
Mohamed Ali, who was extremely impressed by the European model of development and saw no contradiction between the mechanisms by which it had come about and his Islamic beliefs, believed the Wahhabi understanding of Islam stood as a major obstacle in the way of the dream he had nurtured since coming to power in 1805--and would hold until he abdicated in favour of his son, Ibrahim, in 1848--to place Egypt on a similar road to development.
Although the moderate, tolerant, mainstream version of Islam, which accepted peaceful coexistence with others and was not pathologically opposed to progress and modernity, emerged victorious in that particular round of its confrontation with the forces of obscurantism, it was later forced to retreat before such internal factors as oppression, absence of social mobility, spread of incompetence, despair, outdated educational systems, and corruption.
The winds of change were blowing throughout the region, and the years that followed were not kind to Turkey and Egypt. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I brought an end to Turkey’s ascendancy, while Egypt’s influence receded as its economy and educational system declined. At the same time, the proponents of the model of Islam which demanded a strict adherence to the letter of scripture and slammed the door shut in the face of rationality suddenly found themselves, in the mid-twentieth century, in control of vast wealth unprecedented in history. This gave the Saudis an enormous edge over their moderate rivals and allowed them to extend their influence into the traditional strongholds of the Turkish-Egyptian model of Islam, where they waged a systematic campaign to co-opt establishment personalities and institutions.
The success of this campaign found its most salient expression in the emergence of fanatical movements like the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thus, that other stricter version of Islam found opportunities to spread its uncompromising message to every corner of the world for the first time, aided by international conditions--and lack of vision--which allowed what had once been an obscure sect confined behind the sand dunes of Najd to impose itself on the world stage and boldly proclaim its brand of Islam as the one and only true Islam.
As the drama played out, some of the spectators chose to look the other way because the sword-wielding hero of the piece, Osama bin-Ladin, was playing the role required of him at the time by fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Thus they failed to realize that the hero was no longer sticking to the script set for him but was now playing a much more central and dangerous role. This unfortunate state of affairs could have been avoided if the majority of Muslims had supported Ibn Rushd’s ideas or if conditions had not forced the retreat of the Turkish-Egyptian model.
The harsh and unforgiving environment in which the Najdis lived explains why Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab found a receptive audience for the equally harsh and unforgiving brand of Islam he preached. The same environment that produced the founder of Wahhabism later produced the radical Ikhwan movement which challenged the authority of King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud. In the 1920s, the king took on the Ikhwan, who were openly accusing him of deviating from the true faith.
They waged a conflict over any of the fruits of modernity which threatened their fundamentalist vision of the world. Among other things, they banned tombstones and any structures identifying burial sites, insisting on unmarked graves to flush with the land. They combated Sufism, a mystical-oriented interpretation of Islam, as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
The Ikhwan even staged an armed attack on the Egyptian mahmal, a splendidly decorated litter on which the Egyptians sent a new cover for the Ka’ba every year. The mahmal ceremony was a merry occasion celebrated by the Egyptians with their traditional love of music, dancing, and revelry. For the Najdis, who had launched their puritanical revival movement to purge Islam of what they saw as deviations from the straight and true path of orthodoxy, such unseemly displays of levity could not be tolerated.
While the desert wasteland of the Arabian Peninsula’s Eastern Province had suffered greatly from its geography throughout history, in modern times it was found to contain the richest oil fields. The resulting wealth intensified by the oil price boom beginning in the 1970s turned the desert kingdom into a major financial power. It was inevitable that this part of the world should try and market its ideas. This it did with missionary zeal in the second half of the twentieth century.
With a virtually endless supply of funds at their disposal, the Wahhabis were able to successfully propagate their model of Islam throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Disillusioned populations, facing massive internal problems caused by political oppression and its consequences were easy prey, and mainstream Islam gradually lost ground to the austere, puritanical Wahhabi model that was now presenting itself as the one and only true Islam.
C. Flawed Education
Educational systems that are out of step with the age are a vital link in this chain of destruction. Educational systems in most Islamic and Arab societies encourage insularity and reinforce a sense of isolation from the rest of humanity, promote fanaticism and lay down, without any scientific basis, religious frameworks for struggles that are purely political. By invoking religious texts taken out of context they not only promote intolerance, non-acceptance of “the Other,” and a lack of belief in pluralism, but also consecrate the lowly status of women.
Moreover, most of the curricula are designed to develop a mentality of “answering” rather than of “questioning,” in a world where progress and development are driven by the dynamics of questioning. In most Islamic and Arab societies, educational programs fail to instil in the minds of the young that “progress” is a human process, in the sense that its mechanisms are neither Eastern nor Western, but universal. This is borne out by the fact that the list of most advanced countries in the world includes some that are Western/Christian, like the United States and Western Europe, and others that are Japanese, Chinese or even have a Muslim background (like Malaysia).
There is a clear and growing tendency in the humanities and social sciences to disengage, as it were, from the common fund of human experience, the cumulative legacy built up over the ages by various civilizations. For many in past generations, for example those born in the 1940s and 1950s, there was the opportunity to read the classics of world literature and thought in Arabic. Writers like Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Racine, Molière, Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, all the Russian classics, Flaubert, Balzac, Bernard Shaw, Homer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pirandello, Albert Camus, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and the gems of German philosophy were translated by people predominantly from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, and published mainly in Egypt and Lebanon.
Being able to read these timeless classics of world literature—without being told that to do so was somehow “un-Muslim” or disloyal, linked many such intellectuals to humanity in a way that is inconceivable today. The number of such translations has also fallen in the cultural milieu in Arab and Islamic countries Today, the gap between the minds of young people in Islamic and Arab societies and the masterpieces of human creativity has increased dramatically. The new generations have become increasingly “local,” setting themselves still further apart from humanity and increasing the mentality of violence and its culture.
D. Religious Teaching in Egypt
Between 16 and 25 percent, depending on the source, of those enrolled in the Egyptian educational system today are studying in religious educational establishments, schools, academies, and colleges run by al-Azhar, the central Islamic institution of higher education. This amounts to three and five million young people receiving their education from start to finish in religious institutions and this educational phenomenon is bound to have far-reaching social, political, and economic ramifications.
First, why does a society like Egypt s end up sending such large numbers of its youth to study at religious schools? Was it planned or is it a random development that grew out of a reality not governed by strategic planning but by reactions and bureaucracy?
Apart from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, no similar phenomenon exists in any other of the more than 200 states in the world. Accordingly, did this situation arise because Egyptians do not aspire to be more like Japan, Singapore, France, Canada, or Spain (educationally and hence culturally) than like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen? And is this what Egyptians aimed for when they laid down a strategic educational policy in full awareness of its implications and consequences?
It beggars belief that they could knowingly have put in place an educational policy aimed at having so many young people enrolled in the educational system receive their education in religious establishments. In fact, the country never set such a policy or, indeed, any educational policy at all!
Matters evolved in the direction as a result of realities on the ground as well as bureaucracy. The huge number of educational religious establishments sprouted up haphazardly in reaction to specific problems, such as the lack of educational institutions within easy reach of children living in small towns and villages and as a place of educational refuge for pupils who could not, whether for lack of material means or minimal educational requirements, join the general education system.
It is alarming that the establishment of this network of religious schools was the easiest solution for the problems of educating lowest social classes and the segments of society with the poorest learning skills. If so, this means that from a strategic point of view huge numbers of the most disadvantaged elements of society--- economically, socially, and in terms of learning skills—are being funnelled into a religious educational system without making any effort to consider the strategic results--political, economic, and social--of this "solution" on the future of society.
When questioned as to whether their children were attending al-Azhar schools, the great majority of people who have some minimal means replied in the negative and expressed disdain for the quality of education provided by these schools. This would make it seem that religious education is also perceived as the last refuge of those who, for lack of social, economic, or mental abilities, have no recourse to the general education system. Allowing this phenomenon to flourish unchecked will have dire consequences for society at large.
Over the last few decades, Egyptian society has been swept by a powerful wave of obscurantism, as evidenced by the primitive and archaic understanding of religion that has become all too prevalent. And yet no one seems to have studied the relationship between this wave and the hordes of mainly underprivileged members of society who have studied in religious educational establishments and who are, for obvious reasons, particularly vulnerable to the appeal of a simplistic understanding of religion.
Have any of our strategic thinkers looked at the phenomenon from another angle and asked themselves what effect these huge numbers of Egyptian students enrolled in religious establishments will have on the country s scientific, technological, industrial, and trade sectors? Will this have an impact, as it has in other countries which expanded religious education to the point which gave rise to a cadre of men of religion determined to prevent their societies from joining the march of progress?
The values of progress are a set forming an integral part of the ethos of every prosperous society. Among the most important of those, are belief in human diversity, pluralism, the universality of knowledge, human rights, and women s rights. To review the curricula offered by al-Azhar s educational establishments on various subjects such as culture, literature, and languages finds them to be either totally devoid of any attempt to plant the seeds of these values in their students minds or actively promoting opposing values. To produce graduates whose conscience and mentality are inculcated with values diametrically opposed to the values of progress is going to have a devastatingly negative impact on Egypt.
Allowing such a huge number of religious educational establishments to mushroom ultimately serves a trend that has rightfully been described by the state as the worst enemy of civil society. Is the society and state financing the enemies of civil society and of progress?
E. Absence of “Competence”
Over the last four decades, many have written about the phenomenon of rising violence in a large number of Islamic and Arab societies. Strangely enough, none of those who wrote used the terms “competent’’ or “incompetent” in their analysis of this phenomenon. Yet the despair felt by so many in Islamic and Arab societies, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that breeds anger and then violence, stems from the fact that these societies are run by people selected not for their competence but for their subservience and allegiance. After all, competence, as defined by modern management science, is of no great concern to an autocratic political system.
The Example of Egypt:
The roots of religious extremism in Egypt stem from three sources. The first is the harsh treatment meted out to the followers of the Islamic trend in Egypt by Nasser s regime in the 1950s and 1960s. Disputes between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood erupted into serious conflict, and the regime resorted to force and torture against the movement members. The methods used by Nasser against the Islamic political forces--whose members were persecuted, imprisoned, exiled and tortured-- created generations of extremists among those who had suffered at his hands as well as their progeny. Had they not been trampled upon so harshly by Nasser, the Muslim Brothers would most likely not have produced elements as extremist, as reactionary and as insular as contemporary militant Islamic groups.
The repression of ideas and beliefs produces unexpected forms of extremism, violence, terrorism and even crime. in Egypt, too, the many years of repressive dictatorship generated a climate of extremism where it had never previously existed.
The second source of extremism in Egypt today is the prevailing socioeconomic situation. Many factors combine to create the perfect climate for extremism and the spread of totalitarian tendencies, whether towards the left into Marxist groups or towards the right into sectarianism and religious dogmatism. These factors are: poverty, the decline in living standards, the appearance of a very wealthy minority noted for its conspicuous consumption, the harrowing problems of daily life, and the social anarchy they create, as well as a breakdown in society s system of values, the cornerstone on which the system is built.
Karl Marx s famous appeal to the working class, "Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!" well illustrates the link between extremism and impecunious socioeconomic conditions. Economic crises generate feelings of deep frustration, especially among the young, who despair of attaining their legitimate right to a decent life. The lack of access to such basic necessities as a home, food and clothes, and education make them susceptible to hardliners who claim that society is corrupt and doomed and that it should be destroyed to make room for a better one. These disenchanted youngsters were never given the tools to compare their society, whatever its shortcomings, to the insubstantial dream they are offered. Thus the crushing economic crisis and the ensuing breakdown in social values provide an excellent opportunity for advocates of extremism, whether communists or militant religious elements, to peddle their ideas.
Finding real solutions to the social and economic difficulties besetting Egypt would certainly help extirpate some of these problems by reducing the appeal of extremism.
The third source can be attributed to external factors. Egypt is in the eye of a storm of radicalism blowing from every direction in the Middle East, especially from Iran and Lebanon, and the contagion is helped along with foreign funding and incitement.
The protection of the Egyptian society from the scourge of foreign intervention and financing is, of course, the task of the security forces. But as important as this is, their role in dealing with the phenomenon of religious fanaticism cannot eliminate its causes nor bring it to a halt.
The only proper cure is a combination of real democracy (as opposed to window dressing) and firm action by eminent religious figures who should use their moral authority to contain the problem, not fan the flames of extremism as so many do. Last but not least, the vigilance of the security forces is needed, particularly in Upper Egypt where traditional tribal values combined with religious fanaticism constitute a highly explosive mixture.
II. “The Clash of Civilizations”; True or False?
The mentality of violence produced by internal factors is thus a variable that has emerged only in the last four decades. Its inclusion as a constant in the “clash of civilizations” paradigm is not only forced but also belongs more to the realm of science fiction than political analysis, for example the famous book by Samuel P. Huntington, whose theory is closely linked to the issue of the mentality of violence. It was first published as an article in 1993 under the title “Clash of Civilizations?” and it was then expanded into a book and published the following year under the same title – but without the question mark. The book was a publishing event, selling more copies and provoking more controversy than any other nonfiction book that year.
The main flaw of the book is that the author talks of Islam as a monolith, as though the Wahhabi model is the only version of Islam. Mainstream Islam, however, was quite distinct from the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and its culture. The only relationship between the Ottoman Empire, which represented Islam politically as a superpower for several centuries, and Wahhabism was one of extreme animosity. If Huntington had used the term “Wahhabi Islam,” his thesis would have made more sense.
Another flaw is that he did not present any evidence to support his theory of an impending clash between the West and what he calls ‘Confucian’ societies, making the theory closer to fiction, specifically to the writings of H.G. Wells, than to political analysis. It also owes much to Noam Chomsky’s equally unfounded theory that the United States needs an enemy to survive, and that this role was filled by the Eastern Bloc from 1945 to 1990. Following the collapse of communism, Chomsky believes that Islam is now the prime candidate for the role! But if so, how can one explain the enormous progress made by the United States between 1500 and 1900, without any external conflicts and without any clear enemy during this period of the development and completion of the American Dream? How can one explain that despite Winston Churchill’s efforts from 1939 to 1941 to convince the United States to join the war on the side of the Allies, it was only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 that his efforts were crowned with success? How could the United States have resisted the opportunity to benefit from the existence of a ready-made enemy which, according to Chomsky, it needed for its very survival?
A third flaw is that he did not devote enough space in his book to the largest conflict in the history of humanity, namely World War II, which was fought between forces belonging to the same Western civilization. It was also a conflict within the Christian world; however, nobody ever mentioned religion as a factor in this huge conflict, which was primarily a conflict between European Fascism and European democracies.
To disprove the allegation that the violent groups who turn their backs on modernity and call for a return to the Middle Ages are the true representatives of Islam, one has only to consider how some of the principal Islamic societies were functioning at the turn of the twentieth century. Countries like Egypt, Greater Syria (which included Lebanon at the time) and Turkey were models of tolerance, their majority Muslim populations living peacefully with minorities of other faiths. Renowned cosmopolitan cities like Alexandria, Beirut, and Cairo were home to a wide diversity of minorities. Acceptances of the “Other” and of modernity, as well as a hunger for the great masterpieces of human creativity, were features shared by all these societies.
Although they were in complete harmony with the scientific, philosophical, and artistic consequences of the Renaissance, they retained their national identity as Egyptians, Turks, and Syrians. It was a time when Muslims saw no contradiction between their religious faith and their enthusiasm for the material and cultural fruits of European civilization.
Under non-Wahhabi Islam the Muslim communities in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey were forward-looking, in tune with the times and living in harmony with large Christian and Jewish communities. It is inconceivable that Wahhabism would have tolerated the kind of cosmopolitan and broad-minded societies that flourished in Alexandria, Cairo, Istanbul, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo at the turn of the twentieth century. On the contrary, the Najdi version of Islam exhorts its followers to remain in a constant confrontation with others, with the age, and with modernity.
Under Wahhabism, the word jihad is interpreted as the need to carry a sword at all times; yet, mainstream Islam for centuries understood this word as requiring Muslims to resort to force only to defend themselves against outside aggression. Even semantically, the word jihad is totally unrelated to the notion of armed violence; it stems from the root “juhd”, and has the Arabic verb “yajtahid,” which means something between “to try hard” and “to struggle.”
Mainstream Islam also accepted the possibility of Muslims merging with the rest of humanity (especially before the chauvinistic tribal culture of Najd gained ground), while Wahhabism regards this as not possible and unacceptable. Indeed, it is regarded as synonymous with subservience, a term that is widely used by those whose thinking is shaped by the Wahhabi model of Islam.
The peaceful and harmonious coexistence of devout Muslims with the religious minorities living in their midst, their equally harmonious relationship with the fruits of Western civilization proves conclusively that the adherents of “real” Islam are not violent fanatics and that mainstream Islam has nothing to do with the Wahhabi model of militant Islam, whose success in winning over converts is due to the declining and depressing conditions in many Islamic societies. The Islamic system of belief does not lead inevitably to violence and clashes with the “other.”
Violence and fanaticism are features of only one fringe sect virtually unknown outside the deserts of Najd as recently as one century ago. Non-Wahhabi mainstream Islam prevailed in Islamic societies until two cataclysmic developments forced it to retreat: (1) the eruption of the violent model of Islam from behind the sand dunes; (2) the decline in living standards in many Islamic societies which allowed it to spread.
III. External Factors
While the mentality of violence is caused primarily by internal factors, an external factor contributed to its spread, namely, the misguided attempts by some to use the forces produced by the mentality of violence for political purposes.
A case in point is the support to the Saud family by British intelligence after World War, helping create there a political system deriving its legitimacy from a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Najdi movement, known as the Ikhwan or brotherhood, was a prime example of this trend. King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud was forced to go to war against them in the 1920s after they accused him of deviating from the tenets of what they interpreted as being “real” Islam, by accepting such Western abominations as radios, cars, telephones, etc.
During the same period, Egypt saw an alliance formed between the British and the monarchy, where both had an interest in creating a political entity deriving its attractiveness from the popularity of religion in Egypt to counterbalance the influential Wafd Party, which spearheaded the Egyptian struggle for a Constitution, a parliament, and independence. Forged in secret, the alliance is now known to anyone studying Egypt’s modern history.
A third example of the dangerous game politicians play with the mentality of violence in the hope that they can use it to further their own ends, was the U.S. promotion in Afghanistan of radical Islamic groups against the USSR. Had it not been for the Cold War and for the short-sighted belief by some that religion could be used as a winning card in the confrontation, the mentality of violence could never have reached its present alarming proportions.
Thus although it is largely a product of internal factors, the mentality of violence was given a huge boost by the unlimited petrodollar wealth–let aside the enormous U.S. mistake which can be described as the greatest miscalculation of the Cold War era: the use of political Islam to counteract communism.
Thus the world, having rid itself of Fascism, Nazism, and then Communism, now finds itself locked in yet another confrontation, this time with a brand of militant political Islam resulting from a shift in the centre of gravity in the Muslim world--its migration from Egypt to nomadic Arabia.
The assassination of President Anwar Sadat by an extremist group was a wake-up call alerting the world to the growth and spread of the Saudi-backed Wahhabi model of Islam and the retreat of the Turkish-Egyptian model. A succession of similar events attested to the dangerous spread of this model in most societies with a Muslim majority, such as in Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a group of fanatics, belonging to the Wahhabi brand of Islam, launched attacks on New York and Washington that illustrated how the members of this sect view the “Other” in general and Western civilization in particular.
PROGRESS AND MODERNITY OBSTRUCTED
Bear witness o pen, to what we say:
We shall not sleep, no,
Nor shall we waver,
Between “yes” and “no.”
During the first five hundred years of their religion, Muslims witnessed enormous intellectual breakthroughs across a broad range of subjects in Islamic thinking, including the fundamentals of jurisprudence, linguistics, interpretation, and historiography. These intellectual advances resulted in a revolution of opinions and interpretations that varied from the extreme right--such as the Hanbali school--to the utmost level of reason-based interpretation proposed by the great thinker Ibn Rushd (Averroes).
Between those two extremes were a multitude of other schools of thought. However, a combination of closed autocratic regimes, outdated educational systems, state-controlled media, and a rigid, often extremist, understanding of religion rendered many Muslims and Arabs wary of notions like “progress” and “modernity.” Both internal factors and some external ones have led the Muslim Arab mind to think that the call for progress and modernity is one for dependence on the West, hence, the loss of cultural specificity.
What exacerbates the situation is that many Arabs and Muslims feel that the values of Western civilization are for Westerners only, and not for everyone. In fact, modernization is foremost a human phenomenon. The prescription for progress has no nationality or religion, as borne out by the different cultural backgrounds of such developed societies as the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea.
The difference between successful and unsuccessful societies does not differ across national lines. Japan rapidly developed along lines almost precisely the same as those of the West but remains distinctly Japanese. Whoever denies that progress is a purely human phenomenon and that the process leading to it is also human has never seen the mechanics of progress at first hand.
Yet oppressive regimes want to persuade their people that modernity requires dependence and a loss of national and religious identity. Citizens who lack a broad education and are cut off from the outside world are likely to agree with this idea. They would be inclined to consider democracy not as a human right but as a Western-made commodity that was appropriate only for Westerners. Similarly, they would believe that their own society, identity, and beliefs are unsuited for democracy. Yet even though there are many forms of democracy they all have in common the existence of mechanisms which force the rulers to account to the people; this makes governments the servants rather than the masters of society.
The question of whether political Islam is a religious-theocratic movement or a political movement in the contemporary sense of the term will be determined by its attitude towards the system of values that intellectuals in advanced societies consider to be the basis of progress and modernity. It is necessary therefore to try and bring about a rapprochement between some if not all the basic values making up the system on the one hand, and the ideas and behavior of the movements of political Islam on the other. That is what I shall try to do here, with the hope to help bringing political Islam closer to the values of modernity and progress.
I. The concept of the modern State
Islamists are unable to comprehend and accept (let alone admire) the modern state system, which is a product of centuries of political, cultural, social and economic struggle for the advancement of humankind. The model they believe in is a very different one.
When the Prophet Mohamed lay on his death bed, he asked his close companion, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, to conduct public prayers in his stead. Upon his death soon after, the general consensus throughout much of the Muslim world was that the nomination of Abu Bakr was a sign that the Prophet believed him to be the best man to succeed him. Hence, Abu Bakr was elected by a council of tribal elders as the first Caliph (successor) and from the first day was regarded as the Prophet s designated successor. This historical model (as simple as the era in which it was conceived), continues to dominate the thinking of many Islamists, who see religion and politics as closely intertwined, indeed, as inseparable. Many decades later, attempts were made to give this model a philosophical and theoretical basis in a number of books that are today known as Al-ahkam al sultaneya or the Supreme Decrees (among them is Al-Mawardi s book bearing the same title). Although the details of these “decrees” are no more than a mirror that reflects the stages of development in political thinking in the period between the seventh century and the following five centuries – details that are simplistic, naïve and primitive – today s Islamists still admire them and see them as a viable alternative to the modern state system.
The concept of pluralism is firmly entrenched in the culture and mind-set of advanced societies, where it is regarded as one of the main engines of progress and a requirement for human advancement. Societies that do not believe in pluralism and whose general cultural climate is not geared to accepting its results can never move forward. Just as Marxism rang the death knell of pluralism, inasmuch as all the political, economic, cultural and social systems it put in place were based on crushing whatever and whoever did not conform to its basic principles, so too political Islam is fundamentally anti-pluralism, even if Islamists claim otherwise. For an Islamist, who believes his ideology is the absolute truth, any dissent is an abomination that runs counter to the word of God Himself. Indeed, Islamists bring God into every sphere – constitutional, legal, political, economic, cultural, educational – even scientific. A case in point is the Theory of Evolution, which is roundly condemned by Islamists as sacrilegious.
Otherness, or the acceptance of the Other, is the dialectical fruit of pluralism. For the believer in pluralism, life is based on diversity in all spheres, systems, ideas and principles. This entails accepting the Other whatever form otherness takes. When an Islamist, who believes God is on his side and that he stands closest to the truth, claims to accept the Other, his acceptance is at least modest and relative – sometimes Machiavellian. He may say he believes in women s rights but then will say that women can occupy "most" but not "all" posts. He will also certainly say that neither women nor non-Muslims can ever become head of State. He will say he believes in freedom of belief but will determine in what others may believe. In Egypt today, in 2012, Islamists say that a person may be a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian but cannot be a Buddhist or a Bahai. Nor do they agree that freedom of belief means that a Muslim can convert to another religion.
From the womb of belief in pluralism is born an acceptance of the Other. From the womb of both is born “relativity”, in the sense that a widespread notion in the cultural climate of the more advanced societies is that opinions, judgments, theories and explanations are relative, not absolute. An Islamist may claim to believe in relativity, but any discussion with him about women, non-Muslims, the Theory of Evolution, or opinions that differ from his own et al will always prove that he can never whole-heartedly believe in relativity. He has transferred the notion of absolute from the realm of private affairs to that of public affairs. That is why Islamists are the only people in the world today who believe their ideology offers permanent solutions that are not subject to change for problems that are by their very nature changeable. If we argue that these solutions belong to a specific time and place, an Islamist will angrily reject this logic. In August 2012, the former Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdy Akef, declared that anyone who does not agree with the directives of the Muslim Brotherhood is "stupid and ignorant." His words express the way Islamists perceive any ideas that differ from their own.
V. Human Rights
Human rights, including freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and other basic rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the fruits of a long and arduous human struggle. The problem Islamists have with human rights is that they will accept only those they believe are compatible with the will of God. If we tell an Islamist that a person has the right to be a Buddhist or a Baha i, he will argue that freedom of belief applies only to the three Abrahamic religions. And if we tell him a woman is entitled to wear whatever she pleases, he will refuse on the basis of his personal moral certainties which, again, reflect the will of God! If we tell him a Muslim is entitled to convert to Judaism or Christianity, he will once again use his absolute moral certainty to refute this human right. Thus human rights have a ceiling constructed from his perceptions of the will of God.
Fear of and desire for women, the need to place them in a cage and keep them under constant surveillance, are the main characteristics of the Islamist view of women. There is no doubt that an Islamist sees women as beings who are inferior, albeit only slightly, to men. He will use what Nature imposed on women to prove his point: menstruation renders women s religious standing less than that of men as far as an Islamist is concerned. Most Islamists are pathologically obsessed with women. Like Hassidic Jews, they believe women are the source of all evil and that, as such, they need to be kept under tight control. Nowhere is this view of women more stringently upheld than in Saudi Arabia, where women are subjected to the most extreme constraints imaginable. Despite this – or rather, because of this – sexual relations in this radical Islamic society are quite chaotic. Not surprisingly, this environment sets an extremely low ceiling on women s rights and any attempt to raise the ceiling comes up against ferocious resistance. As far as Islamists are concerned, some issues are not open for discussion. One of these is the way a woman s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man s. This ludicrous rule applies across the board. Thus if, say, Mme Curie, winner of two Nobel prizes, were to testify in court, her testimony would be worth only half the testimony of a man holding a primary school certificate. Another issue no Islamist is willing to reconsider is inheritance laws, which provide that a woman s share in an inheritance is half that of a man s. The list is endless: a woman may not become head of state; a woman may not enact laws dealing with marriage, divorce, child custody, etc.
VII. The rule of law in its contemporary meaning:
Islamists strongly believe that observing man-made constitutional and legal rules is a grave mistake from both the religious and social points of view because they consider that humans are not qualified to lay down a constitutional and legal framework to govern themselves. Ever since Egypt adopted a modern law system in 1883, Islamists have been vocally opposed to the adoption of man-made laws. And when the works of Sayyid Qutb (1906 – 1966) became the most important literature of political Islam (much of it taken from the Indo-Pakistani Islamist thinker Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903 - 1979), whose writings were among the reasons for the wars between India and Pakistan), the Islamist view of man-made laws came to be articulated in the following terms: Only God knows the deficiencies of mortals and consequently that they are not fit to lay down the rules governing relations between people in all their forms. From this sprang the "theory of hakamiyya" in which all Islamists believe, although they differ as to how long it would take to apply the theory. The cornerstone of the theory, which is the essence of Islamic thinking, is that humans must not set the rules governing relations between people, but that these can only be set by the Almighty. To this day, not a single leader of any movement of political Islam has reconsidered the idea of hakamiyya introduced by Sayyid Qutb in his famous treatise, "Signposts Along the Road" (1964 - considered a rehash of ideas formulated originally by Mawdudi). Thus the Islamist has a constant problem with man-made constitutional and legal rules. Even though the great jurist Dr. Sanhouri, (who drafted the Egyptian Civil Code in 1948) said that he saw nothing in the provisions and articles of the Code, inspired by the French Civil Code, that deviated from the principles of Islamic Shari a, this means nothing to any of the schools of political Islam, who remain convinced that their primary political task is to apply a comprehensive legal system derived from the Shari a, which, in their opinion, expresses the will of God.
Certainly the leaderships of most schools of political Islam refuse to describe the suicide attacks launched by Muslim fanatics against civilians as terrorist attacks. Certainly too none of them consider Osama bin Laden to have been a terrorist. Indeed, most hold him in high regard. When the Islamist candidate for the Egyptian presidency, Abdul Moneim Abul Fetouh, was asked whether he considered bin Laden a terrorist, he replied, "It is America that is the terrorist." In fact, an Islamist cannot condemn violence against civilians in all its forms and aspects, directly leading to the failure of the international community to come up with a definition of terrorism acceptable to all. Islamists are united in their belief that they are entitled, indeed, duty bound, to abstain from accepting a definition of terrorism before they are firmly in power. I am positive that over half the people living in societies like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen would refuse to describe bin Laden as a terrorist.
IX. A balanced cognitive formation
I have always believed that a common feature of fanatics the world over is the lack of a balanced cognitive formation. This is as true of the ultra-orthodox Hassidic Jew as it is of the fundamentalist Muslim, whose respective mindsets are closed to the fruits of human creativity and ingenuity in all or most cultural and intellectual spheres. Conversely, a person whose mindset has been enriched by the fruits of human creativity spawned by the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the remarkable examples of human creativity over the last three centuries, which are the richest in human history, cannot be a fundamentalist or a fanatic. I have made it a point to read for myself the favoured reading material of Hassidic Jews, Salafi Muslims and conservative Muslims of the Hannabalite persuasion – a group that includes all the men of religion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and all Sunni Muslim countries – who admire the fatwas put out by the jurists and proselytizers of this harsh creed, like ibn-Taymiyya, Ibn-Qaiyim Al-Jawziyya and Mohamed ibn-Abdul Wahab. The great majority of these zealots read only the literature of their own creed. In this connection, I heard many of the leading men of religion in Saudi Arabia warn of the dangers of reading what I consider the finest examples of human creativity, from Homer to Dante, from Shakespeare and Racine to Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Diderot, from Decartes to Kant, from Victor Hugo to Albert Camus. Their aversion to music, art and theatre is equally strong. Perhaps the following anecdote will illustrate the magnitude of this calamitous state of affairs: In August 2012, Chinese astronauts returned to earth from a mission in space. A picture was published of the female astronaut climbing out of the spaceship helped by a male colleague. A Salafi web site on the Internet ran the picture with a comment that did not touch on the many wondrous aspects it represented, focusing instead on the depravity of a male holding a female by the arm to help her out of the spaceship! And, in a tragic incident that was widely reported a few years ago, a fire broke out at a girls school in Saudi Arabia. Many of the girls who tried to flee the burning building were prevented from leaving by the firefighters because in their haste to leave they had not donned their hijab. As a result, they burned to death.
Islamist literature, culture and ideology are based on a division of the world and humanity into two camps: the first is called dar al Islam (the domain of Islam), the second dar el harb (the domain of war). This division continues to dominate the mind set of Islamists, who find it difficult as a consequence to understand and accept the contemporary understanding of humanity and how far it has come in removing boundaries between cultures and societies. I believe that to this day Islamists perceive the Other [the denizen of the domain of war] as an enemy whom they hold responsible for all their problems, from the time of colonialism to the adversities they are facing today. A couple of years ago, the prominent Islamist leader Abdul Moneim Abul Fetouh [a candidate in Egypt s presidential elections in May 2012] published a book in which he asserted that all the problems faced by Muslim societies today can be traced to colonialism. What Mr. Abul Fetouh failed to tell us is why the Europeans colonized us and why we did not colonize them! Nor did he tell us why most of the Arabian Peninsula has remained in a state of extreme backwardness for the last hundred years although it was not colonized.
XI. Taqiya [Dissimulation]
The principle of taqiya or dissimulation is a fundamental tenet of Shi ism which has crept into the practices of contemporary political Islam, whether Shi ite or Sunni. What it means basically is that when a believer finds himself in a position where his adversaries are in the ascendancy, he is allowed to profess outwardly the opposite of his true beliefs. The principle has been adopted wholeheartedly by the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak, they have regaled us with a series of contradictory statements, taking a position one day only to take an opposite position the next. The use of taqiya to mask their real intentions is evident – and worrisome – in the declarations they make in meetings with officials from cultures that despise lying about things like their renunciation of violence, their upholding of women s rights and their respect for non-Muslims. Although these declarations are contrary to their real beliefs and intentions, they are religiously permissible as long as Islamists have not yet established themselves firmly in power. If Machiavelli heard what taqiyah means to some Muslims he would hail them as more Machiavellian than himself.
In conclusion, after forty years of closely following political Islam and its literature and writing about it, including a thesis on the Islamic system of punishments, I can see no possibility of reconciling political Islam with the values of progress and modernity. At the same time however, I believe that their exercise of political power within the framework of a modern constitution and modern laws could make the parties of political Islam similar to their Christian counterparts in Europe. But I am talking here of a possible, far from certain, process, of a long journey on which they have yet to embark.
In fact, Muslims committed a grave mistake against themselves and their religion when they closed the door to ijtihad (interpretation by reasoning) and stopped searching for new concepts and solutions. They became satisfied with simply emulating and reiterating what their ancestors had produced, although those concepts and solutions were the outcome of an ancient era. Therefore, Muslims are living in a status quo environment where they ruminate on the thoughts of other men who exerted efforts to set concepts that suited their time eight centuries ago.
In comparison to ancient Muslim men of religion such as Averroes, who is as important intellectually as Aristotle, current Muslim scholars tend to use only Arabic sources, are not aware of modern sciences, and find themselves in social environments that prevent them from being intellectually open to the innovations of humanity in the different fields of social and human sciences.
En route to the south of Italy, where the cultural climate is less influenced by Europe than it is by the Mediterranean, there was a row even before the plane took off, a heated exchange between the Italian chief steward and two Egyptian sheikhs wearing the robes of Egypt s premier religious university, Al-Azhar. The dispute had erupted over where the two sheikhs were to sit: the steward insisted they sit in their assigned seats in the economy class, while they insisted on moving to business class seats. When, as the conscripted interpreter of last resort, I explained that they had to sit on the seats specified on their tickets, they expressed their extreme displeasure at what they called European arrogance and inflexibility. There was eventually no choice but to point out that as they had paid for economy class tickets, they had no right to business class seats. This seemed to incense them even further; their anti-European tirade grew even more ferocious. The situation was finally resolved by the captain, who explained to his enraged passengers that they had only two options: either to sit in their assigned seats or to get off the plane. Acknowledging defeat, the Azharites accepted the first, and settled into the economy class seats they had paid for.
Returning to my seat, I recalled another Azharite sheikh who had travelled to Europe in 1826 as an escort and mentor of a group of young Egyptians sent by Mohamed Ali to study in a number of French institutes of learning. A luminary of Egypt s intellectual regeneration in the nineteenth century, Sheikh Rifa’a Rafi al-Tahtawi [1801-1873] lived in France for five years. After his return in 1831, he wrote a number of books introducing Egyptian readers to the civilization and culture he had known during his five-year sojourn in Paris, the most impressive of which are Takhlis al-ibriz fi talkhis bariz, Al-murshid al amin fi tarbiyat al-banat wa al-banin and Manahij al-albab al-misriyya fi manahij al-adab al-‘asriyya. In addition to his own writings, Tahtawi translated more than twenty-five books from French into Arabic. This great Azharite, despite going to France not as a student but as the spiritual preceptor, or imam, of the mission, used his time to delve deeply into a variety of subjects. Blessed with a curious and contemplative mind, as well as with a wholesome personality, Tahtawi was a great admirer of the achievements of Western civilization, not only in the field of applied sciences but also in the cultural, intellectual and moral fields. He was apparently particularly impressed with the importance accorded to modern education in Europe; the respect in which men held women; the plans and cleanliness of the towns; the integrity of Europeans, and their solid work ethic.
The incident on the Cairo to Rome flight underscored a serious flaw in the cultural foundation of the two Azharite sheikhs. Although apparently living in Rome for five years, neither spoke any language other than Arabic. Moreover, they could see none of the merits of Western civilization. In direct contrast to their insularity, Tahtawi learned to speak French fluently even though he could not speak a word of it before 1826. In fact, he learned the French alphabet on the ship taking the mission from Alexandria to Marseilles. What he admired most in France, he said, was democracy, respect for the individual, respect for women and the great importance accorded to education and learning. The two Azharite sheikhs on the plane, who refused to observe the rules of civilized behavior, were the antithesis of their great precursor, Rifa’a Rafi al-Tahtawi, a man able to appreciate and celebrate not only his own great civilization, but also the achievements and contributions of other great civilizations, from the time of the earliest, whether it was on the banks of the Nile, or on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates in the land now known as Iraq.
In southern Italy, at the extreme southern tip, stands the town of Brindisi (the name in Latin means the "deer s antlers"), which overlooks the Adriatic. There you can see a portrait of the outstanding Italian scientist Galileo Galilei [1564-1642] that should cause a pang in your heart if you compare the debased cultural environment we are living under in Egypt today and that in which the great scientist lived. Known in advanced societies as the father of modern science, Galileo, in his 70s, was put on trial on charges of heresy for saying that the Earth goes around the sun -- a "crime" for which his predecessor, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), a few years earlier, had been burned alive at the stake. Galileo was taken to a dungeon where he was shown the instruments of torture that would be used on him unless he recanted; and spent the rest of his life not allowed to leave his house. Bruno s and his findings had run counter to Scripture at a time when a culture of strict religious orthodoxy held sway, when not only society but scientific truths were subordinated to what the religious establishment believed to be religious truths.
In France, Tahtawi was captivated by what he saw in the way of freedom, progress and the respect in which women were held. It was there that he came to believe that allowing women to mix freely with men and their freedom and modern way of dressing did not necessarily lead to decadence and degeneracy. The enlightened sheikh liked seeing men and women dance together, and described dancing as "an art form that does not [necessarily] imply licentiousness."
One of the most profound observations he made about Europeans in his book, Takhlis al-ibriz fi talkhis bariz, reads as follows: "Their minds [and not a religious text] determined that justice and equity are among the reasons for the prosperity of kingdoms and the comfort of humans." There is no doubt that Tahtawi was a product of the brilliant modernization project launched by Mohamed Ali.
As for the two Azharite sheikhs on the plane, they are clearly products of an altogether different evolutionary stage, one marked by intellectual sterility, superficiality of knowledge, mental stagnation, cultural regression and mentalities mired in the Dark Ages. The thought processes of those infected with this mindset are full of serious defects, the most dangerous being that they do not believe in diversity or in the acceptance of the Other, and they are intolerant of any opinion that differs from their own, inasmuch as they believe they are the holders of Absolute Truth.
Then there is their antiquated attitude towards women, who are denied any margin of religious or cultural tolerance. The mentality of these sheikhs is one of submission and conformity that does not celebrate, indeed, that suppresses, critical thinking and creativity. Deep down, they do not subscribe to the notion of common humanity: the world in their eyes is divided into "us" (the world of Islam) and "them" (the world of war). It is a division that is inimical not only to the notion of humanity but to any notion of world peace.
Thus, the Arabic-speaking world is in dire need of a new generation of scholars, who can comprehend the sciences, cultures, and knowledge of the current age as well as understand the heritage of early Muslims. Seventy years ago, the grand imam of al-Azhar, Dr. Mustafa Abd al-Raziq, was a professor of philosophy in a university, not the University of al-Riyadh or the University of Sana a, but the Sorbonne.
Why is it that the Vatican abounds with men of religion with such splendid educational, intellectual, and encyclopaedic cognitive backgrounds in their various areas of knowledge, while Muslim scholars hardly know anything about the great fruits of human creativity in many of the different branches of social and human sciences!
Consider Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the man seen by many as the greatest Muslim jurist and preacher of his time. He was an Egyptian with Qatari nationality who fled from Egypt during the clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954. He could only participate in international conferences through an interpreter and never became involved in discussions about modern thought. In comparison, the Vatican scholars present used multiple languages and showed they possessed vast fields of knowledge. The gap was enormous.
What is needed then is a generation of Muslim religious scholars who have studied other religions, human history, world literature, philosophy, sociology and psychology, and can speak several languages. Collectively, this constitutes the language of civilization. Until this happens, Muslim scholars will stay at their level of naivety, shallowness, and isolation from the path of civilization and humanity.
Just as Muslims are underdeveloped in all fields of science, they also have not advanced in the study of their own religion. Their backwardness in Islam is the same as it is in medicine, engineering, information technology, and space research.
Thus, the gap between Muslims and the progress of humanity will increase. Campaigns of criticism will escalate against them; clashes between Islam and the West may reoccur. Muslims (or to be more precise, large sectors of the Muslim population) will become the primary enemy of Western civilization or may even become the leading enemy of humanity at large.
Despite the dire need, such development within Islamic religious institutions is very unlikely to occur. The biggest Islamic institutions in the modern world, especially in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, expel anyone calling for the slightest reform or change. If so, then what should we expect when demands for comprehensive changes are voiced?
A prominent Islamic university dismissed Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansur for his rejection of prophetic hadiths as a source of jurisprudential principles. The university should have discussed the differences in viewpoints using a scientific method that would be performed within the framework of a dialogue and organized debates for differing scholars to exchange opinions.
Strangely enough, Abu Hanifa al-Nu’man, one of the great four Muslim jurists many centuries ago was in the same situation as Mansur when he decided to recognize only a few of the prophetic hadiths at a time when other jurists accepted all of them. If Abu Hanifa had seen a book like “Sahih al-Bukhari,” the most trusted collection of hadiths today, he would have rejected more than 90 percent of its contents. In this situation some modern Islamic universities would have deemed Abu Hanifa a “kafir” (unbeliever) although he was the first of the great four Islamic jurists and was given the title of “The Great Imam.”
Conditions in today s Islamic religious institutions do not allow those institutions to produce men of the quality of Abu Hanifa and Averroes. They are more and more isolated and occupied with religious references that have become brittle with age. For centuries, their role in the interpretation of Islam has been restricted to the texts of books and not their contexts. It has become rare to find one scholar at Muslim universities who read even one book in a language other than Arabic.
The long-sought for change among the Islamic establishment is now contingent upon a political leadership willing to lean toward a rational interpretation of history and a vision for the future. Unfortunately, these qualifications are not easily found within Islamic communities. Nevertheless, we must demand a political leadership that would work toward achieving radical procedural change within the structure of the Islamic scholarly community, one willing to bring this community in harmony with the age of science and the progress of humanity. Without this driving force, Muslims will be heading for a massive confrontation with humanity which will be as disastrous as a collision between two celestial bodies.
FACING THE EMERGENCE
For the average European or American unfamiliar with some of the facts presented above, it is easy to believe that Islam, violence, and terrorism go hand in hand. The perception of Islam today by many non-Muslims is that it is a fanatical and violent religion. This is a superficial perception, as it ignores the fact that there are at least two models of Islam: one, uncompromising and extremist in its views; another, tolerant, moderate, and humanistic. It is also a naïve perception which can lead to dangerous decisions like the ones made regarding the West’s policies, when it turned a blind eye to the spread of Wahhabism and established close links with radical Islamic movements like the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But those who have a more thorough grasp of the issue know that the perception of Islam as uncompromising has taken hold only because a puritanical, fundamentalist model of Islam, marginal and ineffectual before the oil wealth of petrodollars put it on the map, has managed to make the world believe that its interpretation of Islam is the only version and the “real” Islam.
The doctrinaire version of Islam propounded by the Wahhabis, however, had no followers among the Muslims of the world before the expansion of Saudi influence following the oil boom. Millions of Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, the Levant, Iraq, Indonesia, and throughout the world remained immune to the appeal of the fanatical, violent, and bloody message of what was a small and obscure sect bred in the intellectually barren landscape of the eastern Arabian Peninsula.
All that changed with two factors, first and foremost, the massive influx of petrodollars into the coffers of Saudi Arabia, which used its new-found wealth to propagate the message of its home-grown Wahhabi sect with missionary zeal. Hence, militant Islam as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, a force that now represents a dangerous threat to world peace, to humanity, and equally to Islam and Muslims, emerged.
Second, following the decline in living standards they have suffered since at the hands of despotic and corrupt rulers, many people have become easy prey for the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam along with its counterparts, Qutb’s view of Sunni Islam, and virulent Shiite schools.
For example, Egypt, beginning in the 1960s, suffered a reversal of fortune at all levels, including a decline in its general cultural climate, allowing Wahhabi influence to infiltrate al-Azhar. The defeat of June 1967 opened the door wide to groups which espoused the Saudi understanding of Islam and who translated their radical views into political action, often at gunpoint. These factors start with autocracy, to the mentality of violence, leading to lack of competence, declining living standards, despair, and the collapse of educational systems.
The contemporary situation of Islam, then, is no permanent social phenomenon but the result of circumstances and factors. Yet there is a legitimate reason to fear that non-Wahhabi Islam, the main trend among the majority of Muslims for several centuries, is being edged out of its central role. The moderate brand of Islam will not be reinstated in its former position unless the factors making up the equation of internal collapse, to which Islamic societies are exposed, are solved.
A third factor has been the international situation. Unless the outside world realizes that adopting hostile stands against Islam and Muslims indiscriminately can only provoke negative reactions, the moderate brand will not be reinstated. This is all the more true given that they were partners with those responsible for starting the downward spiral and helped bring about the series of external factors that allowed the cycle of violence to attain its present level.
Humanity’s failure to support and reinforce the gentle, non-militant brand of Islam, to which most Islamic societies until recently belonged, by helping remove the internal and external “landmines” which eroded the ability of those societies to stand up to the assault of militant Islam is a crime committed by humanity against itself; it is a crime for which it shall pay an exorbitant price.
Thus, the question regarding the future of the Muslim mind remains the same as the question over the future of Islamic societies: is it a future of freedom, democracy, prosperity, and progress, or the opposite? The answer to this question will determine the answer to the question about the future of the Muslim mind: will it follow the route of moderate Islam or that of Wahhabi Islam?
Speeding up political, economic, and educational reform is the only way to reduce the illogical popularity of Islamism. Once people in Muslim societies start to reap the benefits of freedom and active participation, coupled with a marked improvement in their economic and living conditions and real educational reform, their admiration for Islamist groups will wane, and they will realize that their welfare will not come at the hands of groups whose leaders are fanatical, narrow-minded, and out of touch with the requirements of the age.
Despair, deplorable living conditions, feelings of injustice, the harsh realities of life, and rampant corruption constitute the ideal environment for converts to the ideology of political Islam, which offers “hope” in an atmosphere of hopelessness. But offering hope is one thing, while making good on the offer quite a different matter. The Islamists are selling dreams, mirages, and false promises professing that they have a formula to cure all of society’s ills. In reality, however, they lack the competence required to undertake such a task. Progress is a modern management concept that can be achieved by anyone--Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists-- as long as its elements are available. These elements are political, managerial, economic, educational, and humanistic, regardless of religion or nationality.
The Weapons of Terrorism
A. Advocates or Followers?
The word terrorism has been used to describe the activities of various groups over the last half century. For example, the British denounced the operations carried out by the Irish Republican Army as terrorism, while the same description was applied to the activities of such militant groups as the Basque revolutionary group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, Fatherland and Liberty), the organization seeking autonomy for the Basque region lying between Spain and France; the Red Brigades in Italy; the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany; the Red Army in Japan; and similar movements in Latin America.
However, when the word terrorism is mentioned today, what immediately springs to the mind (in societies other than the Arab and Muslim) is that an Arab or Muslim has committed an act of violence. The linkage between terrorism and Muslims has grown over the last six years, giving rise to the irrational fear of Islam known as “Islamophobia.”
Actually, there is no doubt that Muslims or Arabs are usually implicated in acts that are today described by the world as terrorism. When it comes to addressing this phenomenon, there are two main schools of thought; one condemning Muslims in absolute terms, the other (Islamic) school justifies it as a reaction to what Muslims were and continue to be exposed to.
A novel approach used here is to identify the sources or pillars of a phenomenon that has become one of the main areas of concern throughout the world.
The Arab/Muslim model of terrorism differs from others in terms of magnitude, that is, due to the greater number of followers it can claim. In other words, while the advocates of this form of terrorism are few in number and comparable to those operating in other cultural and religious contexts, the number of disciples attracted to the ideas propounded by the advocates of violence in the Islamic case is considerably larger.
There is a crucial distinction between “advocates” and “followers” which is the key to finding solutions and dealing successfully with a phenomenon seen by many outside the Muslim communities as the greatest challenge to humankind and civilization in the twenty-first century.
Advocates who try to win over adherents to their cause cannot attract large numbers of followers unless the mental and psychological state of their audience and the political, economic, and social conditions in which their prospective followers live make them receptive to the message. In all religions, sects, and ethnicities there are advocates who disseminate extremely radical and sometimes extremely aggressive, ideas. But the number of followers who adopt those ideas differs from one case to another.
For example, some Jewish and Christian leaders advocate ideas totally at odds with common humanity, with tolerance and acceptance of the “Other”. Indeed, they sometimes call for death to others. But the number of followers who espouse their cause is nowhere close to the number of those whom advocates of some extremist Islamic ideas succeed in winning over. Many political regimes (unfortunately supported by some members of the intelligentsia) lump the members of both groups--advocates and followers--together and deal with them through the state s security apparatus--an approach that only compounds the problem.
Although the advocates of violence through words are dangerous, the security risk they represent is limited. Their message cannot in and of itself push any society to the point reached by a number of Muslim societies today. Using police methods against them will not produce positive results. Indeed, it could be counterproductive.
Take the case of Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist thinker executed by the Egyptian government in 1966. His ideas survived his death to become, after their merger with the Wahhabi doctrine, the primary ideological source on which most of the radical movements of political Islam draw today. The only way to curtail the influence wielded by the advocates of violence is through a concerted cultural and ideological campaign by enlightened members of the intelligentsia. For ideas can only be fought with ideas, beliefs with beliefs. And, if the campaign is to succeed it will not be thanks to “official” intellectuals, who lack any credibility and who are more bureaucrats than independent thinkers.
In the final analysis, however, it is not the advocates of violence but their followers who constitute the cornerstone of the phenomenon known as Islamic terrorism. The solution to the problem of political violence justified in the name of Islam lies in the answer to the following question:
What draws people in many Muslim societies, particularly the young, into the web of advocates who teach radical ideas, justify violence, and call on them to isolate themselves from the course of human civilization?
The answer to the appeal that advocates of violence have for the young in Muslim societies can be summed up in one word: “anger.” The sources of this anger are many, and rather than condemning it efforts should be made to understand it. If understanding leads to compassion, there is nothing wrong with that. From a humanistic and historical perspective, to understand and sympathize is not to condone, justify, or accept. Rather, it is to recognize that we are dealing with patients suffering from a debilitating and dangerous disease; patients who need treatment, not security procedures, violence, coercion, and torture.
B. The Pillars beneath Proliferation
The main–but not the only–sources of anger among young people in many Muslim societies include:
The well-founded fear that their prospects for making a decent living are extremely limited. Whether educated or uneducated they are unable to find suitable employment that can provide them with a reasonable standard of living.
The enormous gap between the haves and have-nots; not so much the fact that there is a gap as its sheer magnitude.
The ambiguity surrounding how the wealthy acquire their fortunes, the powerful their power, and the famous their fame. This was not always the case. For example, people knew that Mohamed Tala’at Harb, the Egyptian economist and banker of the 1920s era, was a rich man, but they never thought he had amassed his wealth through dubious means.
The disappearance of fairness from most fields of employment and occasionally even from commercial activities, where cronyism counts for more than merit, and where those who enjoy the backing of political muscle (which is not available to the vast majority) are assured of success and advancement.
The absence of personalities with leadership qualities in most areas.
The close relationship that exists between the plutocrats, the executive branch of government, and the media.
Rumours about corruption in high places that, despite the absence of concrete evidence, people tend to believe.
A study of these seven pillars on which the anger which spawns violence, rejection, hostility, and terrorism rests is a political, cultural, and strategic matter. To address them exclusively from a security perspective does a grave injustice to society and to all the parties concerned, including the security institutions themselves. In the long run, police methods are no solution to phenomena with numerous political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions.
THE ILLUSION OF “RELIGIOUS” PARTIES
I. Human Distortion
There is more than one logical and sound reason to refuse the establishment of political parties based solely on religious platforms.
First, glorification and sanctification of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) is a baseless act because it is merely a man-made interpretation of holy texts according to the most fixed and widespread definition of Islamic fiqh: "Fiqh is the science concerned with the deduction of practical rules out of their juristic references," a process of deduction that is a human, not a divine, action as it inevitably requires the use of language and logic.
A further proof of the temporal nature of fiqh, is the legacy of the great Sunni jurists--Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal--who created this jurisprudence in less than two hundred years. In addition, Malik and al-Shafi’i, although contemporaries, differed in their opinions regarding fiqh. Malik also published a jurisprudential madhhab (school or legal system) different from that of Abu Hanifa, and al-Shafi’i produced two different legal systems, one for Iraq and another for Egypt.
Consequently, the principles considered by some to be the Islamic tenets for comprehensive systems of government are nothing but ijtihad. Such interpretations have come to be called the “Sultanic” commandments. Experts know that temporal rulers, whether during the Umayyad or the Abbasid eras, heavily influenced most of what was written about the Sultanic commandments. These rulers acted this way in order to guarantee that whatever was written about the laws would concur with their desires and understanding concerning the governance of their respective communities. Of course, similar processes took place in other places.
Thus, the existence of political parties formed on a religious basis alone is illogical because the principles of the so-called Islamic doctrine in government affairs are entirely a human production. They reflect nothing but the interpretations of humans, who could be right or wrong,
Islam does not articulate a comprehensive framework for organizing government systems that could replace the contemporary details found within a constitution. Outlining such detailed schemes was neither the task nor the aim of Islam. However, blaming Islam for not presenting a distinct political system is tantamount to blaming it for not having a comprehensive theory in psychology, sociology, or management sciences.
In fact, Islam came with a whole host of general rules, which would be more useful as guidelines when formulating the more detailed regulations. Taking al-Mawardi s eleventh-century book “The Sultanic Commandments” (al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya), which later became a genre of its own with many books about the same topic, as examples for such detailed regulations is preferable to demanding too much from vague Islamic statements. Those works are manmade ijtihad, which reflect the authors academic and rational abilities, as well as their cultural and motivational backgrounds, while bearing in mind the unavoidable impact of historical and geographical factors.
Thus, there is a clear and powerful logic that can eradicate the viewpoint calling for the establishment of political parties based on religious platforms. What some call “systems of governorship in Islam” were merely the deductions of men who lived more than one thousand years ago and established the rules that they thought--in their time and place and inasmuch as their understanding, knowledge, and conditions--would lead to the foundation of a governing system representing the essential values of Islam. Thus, the so-called “ ruling system in Islam” is a vague and imprecise description of what Muslim jurists wrote more than one thousand years ago in a serious and respected attempt to form polities that would govern their communities in harmony with the principles and values of Islam.
II. Temporal Dilemma
The writings of ancient Muslim scholars with regard to laws and government are valuable attempts that have been inspired by the essence of Islam. If that hypothesis is accepted, then there has been a lack of ambition within the Muslim community for over one thousand years to update and expand these political traditions, and it is necessary to revise the writings of the ancient jurists regarding the Sultanic commandments, to reform contemporary political and constitutional regulations.
Thus, any discussion supported by writings published a thousand years ago and ignoring contemporary Islamic jurisprudential issues will be just like using a book compiled in the tenth century AD on medicine and pharmacology as a touchstone to establish modern medical systems and institutions. Definitely, of course, this practice will lead to the death of all the patients.
Islam spoke about donkeys and cattle as important means of transportation. It also spoke about the principle of shura (consultation), but not directly about democracy, citizenship, and human rights. Nevertheless, it is shameful for a modern man to insist on using donkeys as his only means of transportation. This kind of decision led to the conflict between Wahhabis, headed by Faysal al-Da’waysh, and King Abd al-Aziz, when the Wahhabis rejected all the aspects of modern civilization like cars, telephones, and radios.
The individual who insists on solely using the concept of shura is like the person who believes that means of transportation should be restricted to donkeys and cattle, on the grounds that Islam spoke about donkeys and did not speak about cars, trains, or planes.
Current political realities beg the question, "Why can t we, as Muslims, establish political parties based on religious platforms?" There are numerous political parties in Europe described as Christian, the most well-known of them being probably the German Christian Democratic Party.
And yet in the constitutions of all countries which have Christian parties and in those parties’ platforms there is not a single word that implies those parties will rule according to religious fundamentals but rather according to the values contained in their respective constitutions. These parties are Christian in name only. They are political parties representing conservative viewpoints of a secular nature. Although their principles and values have been inspired by Christianity, they rule and are ruled by the terms of their constitutions and positive laws. Supporters of a movement like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would never dare to announce that their goal in transferring the Brotherhood into a political party is to reach a similar frame of mind as that of the Christian democratic parties in Europe.
There remains one important argument. Political parties which describe themselves as Islamic are acting purely as political bodies. They are simply political entities seeking power. In and of themselves, these goals are legal objectives. Yet some of these parties play on emotional chords when they describe themselves as Islamic. They are nothing but a salafi (fundamentalist) movement living off the understandings and deductions of humans who lived more than ten centuries ago and handled the issues of their age through solutions that were consequences of their time and place. There is no better evidence than that Mohamed Ibn Idris (Imam al-Shafi’i) published a new legal system when he arrived in Egypt, as his previously published legal doctrine was suitable only for a distinct body politic in Iraq.
It is catastrophic when a people refuses to update a political doctrine for one thousand years and wants to continue to be ruled on the understandings of others who worked hard and made every effort ten centuries ago to establish polities for their era.
Islam touched on lofty values about justice, equality, and the virtues of knowledge. Nevertheless, Islam, in order to be suitable for times and places other than during its dawning, did not articulate detailed specific codes. As such, followers of political Islamic streams of thought are fighting to establish a comprehensive governing system that is not applicable in the modern era. Islam has not prescribed such a detailed system. Therefore, political Islamic movements end up clinging to themes that have little relevance in the modern era, such as the impermissibility of bank interests in Islam and the penal code among others.
The best thing for Islamic political movements would be to admit that Islam is a sublime religion and not a book about economics, politics, sociology, psychology, chemistry, or medicine. However, if they make this admission, how will they play the game of politics? If they make it, they will abandon the strongest tool of their political propaganda. In addition, they will be required to present a realistic political, economic, and social program and not their usual tricks and slogans of “applying God s commands,” “Islam is the solution,” and “al-baraka (the blessing).” Such abstract and common slogans, if examined in the practical battlefield of life, would prove to be nothing but big empty air bubbles that contain mere politics and no religion whatsoever.
III. In Search of “Blessings”
Regarding the issue of the “blessing,” many kind, simple Muslims think that having people ruling in the name of Islam at the helm of the community is enough to bring welfare and blessing. To those who think this way, note that early Muslims—including the Prophet himself--were defeated in the battle of Uhud, 625 AD. If victory, success, progress, or welfare were achievable through blessings alone, Muslims would have been victorious at Uhud, as they clearly had the blessing of the Prophet. However, the defeat of Muslims at Uhud proves that just as God created all creatures of the world, he also created certain rules and laws to run the universe, amongst them the laws of nature.
One of these laws says that whoever fights without the material and practical qualifications of victory will be defeated. Through these laws Muslims, led by Tariq Ibn Ziyyad in the ninth century, won in their conquest of Andalusia and, because of the very same laws, Muslims were defeated in 732 at the Battle of Tours in southern France.
Whoever thinks that blessings will come upon him just because he says that he is ruling in the name of Islam will receive results in all fields similar to the defeat in the Battle of Uhud. Victory, progress, and successful leadership come only through science and good administration, which are human tenets that are universal and belong to no religion, denomination, or nationality. There is no evidence that those who want to rule their communities in the name of religion acquire any such tenets. On the contrary, we have evidence acquired from their backgrounds, ideological history, and relationship with the universality of science, knowledge, and the values of progress that they do not and will never acquire these tenets.
I. “PIETY” UNVEILED
Many in Egypt today are talking about two features that have come to dominate the country s social landscape. The first is that manifestations of piety have become far more widespread in recent times than they were a century ago. The second is that there is a noticeable upsurge in behavioural aberrations at the societal level, where tension, violence, aggression, and lack of civility in dealings between members of society have become the norm.
While neither of these observations can be denied, there is a contradiction between them. If the religiosity that has come to permeate society s cultural climate, and the manifestations of piety displayed by its members, have not prevented the decline in moral standards, civility, and social ethics, this can only mean that piety, or, more accurately, the understanding of piety that has come to prevail, does not serve the interests of society. This is by no means to deny that there are among those who subscribe to this understanding of piety admirable examples of moral rectitude.
This contradiction can only be resolved if it is noted that what has come to be called piety is in fact not piety at all. Egypt is swamped by such ostentatious displays of piety as women wrapped in what has come to be called "Islamic" dress and men sporting beards, wearing silver--as opposed to gold--wedding bands, and bearing marks on their foreheads attesting to the hours they spent prostrating themselves on prayer rugs. Not to mention how the senses are constantly assailed--in writing, from the pulpit, and through the audio-visual media--by voices urging the faithful to observe the ritualistic aspects of religion. If some are entitled to consider that this constitutes piety then, by the same token, others, including the writer of these lines, are entitled to assert that rites and rituals have absolutely nothing to do with real piety.
To be pious is to have a strong moral code, to be helpful to others, and to display such noble character traits as altruism, tolerance, and a strong work ethic. As to the manifestations of piety mentioned, they are due to a combination of political, economic, social, educational, cultural, and psychological factors that can be easily identified. According to the Positivist school of philosophy founded by the nineteenth century French thinker Auguste Comte, no one can claim that greater religiosity will set things right, because practical experience proves that excessive religiosity could further promote the decline in general standards of behaviour, as well as the violence and anger in dealings among people.
The ubiquitous religiosity witnessed today in the form of a rigid adherence to the ritualistic aspects of religious observance stems from a variety of sources:
· More than half a century of no political participation or fictitious political participation.
· More than half a century of economic decline and the erosion of the middle class.
· The complete divorce between the Egyptian educational system and what is happening in the rest of the world, its isolation from modern systems of education and its reflection of cultural defects such as the growing tendency toward insularity and bigotry and the lack of critical thinking.
· The succession of oligarchies that have governed political and social life for over half a century is also a source of the excessive religiosity to which society has succumbed.
Added to all of the above is the deteriorating quality and standard of the religious establishment, which has been infected by ideas from the east. Further, there is the absence from the scene of anything other than religion that can nurture a sense of belonging among Egypt s youth. Immersing themselves in the rituals of religious observance has become a psychological refuge for those who find nothing else to which they can anchor themselves in a time of uncertainty (hope, a class, an ambition, a party, a better reality, or a specific cultural model.)
Every person on the face of the earth (with the exception of a small minority whose only allegiance is to their own ideas, principles, and value systems) needs to feel he or she "belongs" to something or other. In advanced societies whose members enjoy a high standard of living, people s sense of belonging can take a variety of forms. There are those whose allegiance is to their own personal successes, others to a political party, to a certain social class with its own culture and value system, or to a specific ideological or cultural movement. Through this feeling of belonging, a person achieves the satisfaction and fulfilment necessary for the well-being of every individual. This can help explain the sense of belonging Egyptians felt for the national movement led by Saad Zaghlul in the 1920s as well as why most of the Egyptian people identified so closely with the Nasserite project a few decades later. In both cases, there was a movement that succeeded in gaining the allegiance of broad segments of society, irrespective of how successful either was in making good on its promises or living up to its slogans.
With the disappearance of these movements, which attracted the interest, energies, loyalty, and allegiance of most members of society, the field was left wide open for a different kind of allegiance to take hold, one that is more appealing, comfortable, and, because given to generalities and lack of precision, suitable for men and women of an average cultural formation. Where allegiance to Marxism, for example, requires an above-average degree of awareness, culture, and intelligence, this does not apply when it comes to joining the front of religious slogans. Religious slogans--which are in fact purely political and not religious at all--owe their appeal to the regression and erosion of the roles played by other movements which were highly effective at earlier stages of our modern history over the last two centuries.
Ritualistic piety (as endorsed in the writings of men like Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya and in the applications of Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the experiences inspired by his school) works on the outer, not the inner, person. It is like a particularly strict traffic system that lays down rigorous rules determining what people can and cannot do. It is a school of thinking that may be suitable for primitive communities with a limited store of education, culture, and knowledge but not for contemporary, advanced, and civilized societies. Communities governed by this strict code could appear to be disciplined on the outside but are riddled with defects and shortcomings. It treats people like circus animals trained with whips to follow the routine laid down for them. But piety in the sense it is understood in Sufism, Christianity, and Buddhism works on the inner person and seeks to have what is good in human nature triumph over its aggressive and base aspects
It is no coincidence that Islamic societies governed by the strictest religious rules, that is, rules designed to maintain an outer semblance of piety, are the most dissolute, the most obsessed with sex, women, and all forms of sensual indulgence. The attempt to control these aberrations on the "outside" without trying to deal with the "inside" creates a kind of dichotomy, a pathological split between what is said in public and what is done in private that is perhaps without parallel in the world.
II. VISION... OR NIGHTMARE?
Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak were the chief executives of Egypt throughout most of the last sixty years of the twentieth century. All were targeted for assassination by Islamist groups who succeeded in gunning down two of their intended victims, Nuqrashi and Sadat.
In the misguided belief that they could contain one of the most important leaders of those groups in Egypt, the Americans granted Umar Abd al-Rahman, leader of the Egyptian terrorist Islamic Group (al-Gama at al-Islamiyya) an entry visa to the United States. No sooner had he settled down, however, than he orchestrated the first attack on the World Trade Centre. He is now serving life in prison.
These are only two of the depressing examples of facts that come to mind when people talk of the need to include Islamists in Egypt’s political life. The prospect of giving these throwbacks to the Dark Ages a say in how Egyptians should run their lives is daunting when one thinks of their attitude toward women or Copts, groups to which they accord a status only slightly higher than that of prisoners of war or slaves.
To imagine a scenario in which the “Islamists” will have achieved all their objectives and proceed to impose their vision of what the Muslim world should be would include such principal features as:
· The departure of the West, particularly the United States, from Muslim lands.
· The removal of the kings and presidents now in power for being what the followers of Osama bin Laden see as agents of the United States.
· The takeover of power by the likes of Osama bin Laden, the reinstatement of the Caliphate, the annulment of existing law, and the adoption of their version of Islamic Sharia.
Where would this lead? Such a scenario could unfold in two ways.
One would be the complete isolation of the Muslim world from the non-Muslim world in all spheres: scientific, economic, military, and cultural. Islamic societies would be transformed into vast seas of humanity with little knowledge of science or of how its application can improve the quality of life on earth. Of course, this matters little to a Muslim who is more concerned with what happens to him in the afterlife than he is with his lot in this life, which to him is but an instant in the greater scheme of things, a passage to the hereafter.
Under political Islam, these societies will be densely populated because their rulers will tell them that the Sharia enjoins Muslims to multiply, as this will make the Prophet proud of them on Judgment Day. The living standard of the members of these societies, which will have boycotted sacrilegious Western science, will be dismal in all respects. But this, too, is unimportant, because the material world is of little significance to the devout Muslim, who considers life to be but a short bridge he must traverse to reach either Heaven (with its flowing streams, succulent fruits, and black-eyed virgins), or Hell (with its raging fires).
Such a society would encourage raids on the world of the infidels with the infidels retaliating in kind, their advanced weapons raining widespread devastation on the Muslim world and turning it into an empty wasteland where backwardness and chaos reign supreme. For the Muslims, who do not manufacture their own weapons but are forced to buy them from their more advanced enemies, have no way of defending themselves against the sophisticated weapons used against them.
One can practically hear the imams in the mosques assuring their congregations that God inflicted the defeat on them to test their faith, and that if they pass the test He would send them a miraculous victory. Thundering from their pulpits (minbars) they will paint a rosy picture of the Muslims triumphing over the unbelievers, ending their sermon by calling on God to wreak death and destruction on the pagan Christians and their Jewish lackeys.
The second way in which the scenario could unfold assumes that the leaders of political Islam, after achieving the objectives mentioned above, will not set out to isolate the Muslim from the non-Muslim world. Instead, they will deal with the unbelievers in accordance with an established maxim of Islamic jurisprudence which holds that “necessity overrides taboos.” In this scenario, there will be extensive transactions with the non-Muslim world in all sectors: economic, scientific, social, industrial, agricultural, and services. The acquisition of knowledge will be a high priority goal on the grounds that Muslims “must seek knowledge, even in China.”
Yet this less frightening scenario would inevitably take Muslim communities back to where they stood a century ago when it came to dealing with non-Muslims: one party learning from the other, one party buying from the other, one party trying to catch up with the other.
But whether the first scenario prevails or the second, the big question remains the same: why the suffering, the spilt blood, the violence and destruction, the pain, anxiety, and misery? In these two scenarios, power will lie with the “Islamists.” In a scenario where things remain as they are, the outcome is equally dismal.
There is, however, a third scenario which assumes that Muslim societies will opt for development, progress, and democracy, in which case power will lie with the people who will exercise it through their duly elected representatives. Unfortunately, this last scenario is not receiving serious consideration in political circles.
III. A SENSE OF FAILURE
Until a couple of years ago, and for many years before that, I was of the opinion that directing any criticism at certain aspects of Islamic ideas, texts or personalities would cause us, the advocates of modernity, to alienate some or most of those we were trying to help draw out of the quagmire of primitiveness and backwardness in which they were trapped. Today I must admit I was wrong. Although I expressed this opinion repeatedly in all good faith, the events that have unfolded in the Arab world over the last two years have forced me to revise my view and to conclude that I was mistaken. Science teaches us not to exempt any subject, person or idea from scrutiny and criticism. Thus I have come to realize that my belief in the need to keep certain areas of the Islamic experience outside the scope of critical thinking – a belief based on purely pragmatic reasons – did not, as I had once thought, serve any useful purpose.
Researches are entitled to investigate any subject, idea or individual in a scientific, objective fashion, and should not be deterred by the argument that criticizing what some regard as sacrosanct would do more harm than good. Indeed, quite the opposite: observing arbitrary taboos, accepting that certain areas are not amenable to discussion, let alone criticism, is what does more harm than good. I have come to believe that advanced societies have the right, indeed the duty, to force all cultures to accept that ideas can be answered with ideas, and writings with writings, and that for some people to hold certain ideas, texts and individuals as sacrosanct does not justify exempting them from being subjected to a scientific critical view. Those we thought we would alienate if we criticized the symbols of their religious veneration will try to draw the more advanced elements of society into their primitive worldview, a dark and musty cave filled with myths, legends and rules that have no aim other than to maintain their grip over society.
It is foolish to accept that they should be treated like impulsive children who fly into a tantrum whenever anyone comes near their sacred symbols. That is actually how some analysts in advanced societies are dealing with the phenomenon, pontificating that Muslims are like violent and unruly children who become enraged whenever anyone dares direct criticism at certain subjects. Instead of reacting in a rational manner when this happens, they explode in fury, destroying and setting fire to all around them and killing innocent people. When Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, those who rejected the ideas he put forward in his book did not use logical arguments to prove him wrong, choosing instead to resort to violence and death threats. This scene has been repeated many times, the latest being the frenzied reaction of some Muslims to an obscure film depicting the most venerated figure in Islam in a despicable manner, as sex-obsessed, bloodthirsty and violent. Instead of expressing their outrage at the film in peaceful ways, such as writing articles or producing a film refuting its grotesque and offensive claims, thousands of Muslims took to the streets in violent and destructive demonstrations. As an American friend told me, the film in question is a crudely made, malicious attempt by bigoted amateurs to denigrate Islam. But the angry mobs that expressed their indignation at the insult to their Prophet by going on the rampage gave the world an even worse film to watch, one filled with scenes of violence and blood-letting, a film in which scores of people lost their lives. I am in no way suggesting that Muslims angered by books like The Satanic Verses or films like Innocence of Muslims should remain silent. On the contrary, they must respond with books that present well-founded counter arguments and films based on facts that give the lie to the slanderous images in films attacking their sacred beliefs. I would also suggest to those who advocate treating some of the rampaging mobs [in Pakistan and elsewhere] like unruly children that this approach is detrimental to all parties and beneficial to none.
I cannot write about this important subject without drawing attention to an aspect of such violent reactions as met the publication of Salman Rushdie s The Satanic Verses, an aspect I believe is lost on many. Most Muslims today know nothing about the origins of the Satanic verses, which are mentioned in many of the early biographies of the Prophet. Their ignorance is akin to that of the Egyptian youth who made an abortive attempt on the life of the greatest modern Arab novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, [1911 – 2006] after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The would-be assassin admitted at the inquest that he had read none of Mahfouz s works! And in 1992, when an Islamist youth shot and killed the enlightened Egyptian thinker Farag Foda [1945 – 1992], he too admitted that he had not read a single word written by his victim!
The point I am trying to make here is that the violent and bloody reactions of some Muslims to real or perceived insults to their core religious symbols are not provoked by a specific incident [a book, article, novel, film or caricature]. Rather, these incidents provide them with a pretext to vent the pent-up rage simmering just below the surface. How else to explain why a man should kill another because of a novel written by the victim and not read by his murderer? Although I believe we must deal in a rational manner with the phenomenon of the irrational fury that erupts at any provocation, I do not think that treating out-of-control rioters as impulsive children is the best way to address the issue. I believe the enormous reservoir of destructive fury that erupts with depressing regularity has built up over centuries of frustration and feelings of inadequacy. A thousand years ago, Muslims stopped adding anything new to the march of scientific progress. This decline came about as a result of the victory of the school of tradition and orthodoxy [the most prominent representative of this school is the Hanbalite jurist Ibn Taymiyya] over the school of rationality and deductive reasoning [whose most prominent representative is Ibn Rushd]. I have no doubt whatsoever that this decline has bred a sense of failure in most Muslims. But instead of self-criticism it was easier to blame others for their decline! Others are responsible for reducing us to our present condition, a condition in which we have stopped contributing to the march of human and scientific progress; Others, not ourselves, must be blamed for this state of affairs. And should any of those Others dare to criticize what we hold most sacred, the dormant volcano erupts to release an explosion of pent-up fury and repressed rage!
THE USE OF FORCE
I. Deployment of Muscles
Many of the storms engulfing our part of the world can be attributed to the fact that the movements practicing politics in the name of "political Islam" are still governed by a coup mentality, still acting as underground movements rather than as modern political institutions that respect and observe the law. Actually, the word "mentality," which assumes the use of mental faculties, is a misnomer in this case, as most of these movements rely more on their muscles than their brains, more on raw power than on minds governed by a respect for laws, constitutions, rationality, and sound judgment.
A. Unfortunate Events
Take the case of Lebanon, which has an elected government and a parliament representing the people; and yet the largest opposition movement, a religio-political organization, refuses to recognize the authority of the nation s elected representatives and listens only to strident voices calling for a return to the past. The religious firebrands seeking to drive Lebanon centuries back in time are playing a game in which the muscles of blind power ride roughshod over the principles of democracy, constitutional legitimacy, and laws. A single armed party, Hezbollah, is turning the tables on everyone, showing total contempt for the elected parliament that should be the ultimate arbiter instead of hordes of demonstrators manipulated from outside the country by a theocratic regime that is financing the destruction of Lebanon.
Then there is the situation in the Palestinian self-ruled territories, where a theocratic movement, Hamas, emerging from the cobwebs of medieval times, does not consider itself bound by any of the commitments undertaken by previous governments. As far as it is concerned, events only began to unfold the day it came to power. When Abu Mazen, leader of the Palestinian Authority, wisely, if somewhat belatedly, called for a return to the people, the source of authority, the government of theocrats whose understanding of democracy is limited to its usefulness as a means of reaching power, rejected his call.
A theocratic movement that is by definition democratically immature may be capable of understanding that democracy brought it to power but not that it will, by the same token, prevent it from hanging on to power indefinitely. Governed as they are by a coup mentality totally at odds with the very notion of democracy, the members of this movement are driven by religious hysteria (not religious faith), coupled with a violent and confrontational style of political action.
The movements of political Islam have not yet gone through the necessary stage of threshing out their ideas--of separating the chaff from the grain, so to speak. Nor have these movements seen any internal ideological developments to speak of. Indeed, Muslim thinking was exposed to many more radical changes in the hundred years separating the death of the first of the four great Sunni jurists--Abu Hanifa al-Nu’man (in the middle of the second century of the Hijra calendar)--and the death of the last--Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (just over a century later)--than in the twelve centuries since Ibn Hanbal s death in the third century of the Hijra calendar.
B. Coincidence or a Mentality?
It is interesting to speculate on the similarity between what Hezbollah did in Lebanon in May 2008--when its militia took over Beirut to force the government to back down on several decrees, with the death of 100 Lebanese--and what Hamas did in Gaza in June 2007 when it seized control of the Gaza Strip killing about 100 Palestinians. The fact that both displayed the same pattern of behaviour shows the mentality shared by all Islamic fundamentalists, Sunni and Shia alike.
Theocrats, whose political beliefs are a function of their religious convictions, may claim to believe in democracy, modern state systems, pluralism, and diversity (that is, the acceptance of and respect for the rights of the “Other”), but do so purely for reasons of expediency. They know full well that paying lip service to such noble sentiments--if only at a certain stage--can serve their interests and avert problems.
In fact, a fundamentalist who practices politics is driven by the conviction that God is on his side and that he is the conduit through which the Almighty’s will is transmitted to the world of politics. There is thus no room in a fundamentalist’s system of beliefs for such notions as democracy, rotation of power, pluralism, or diversity.
In Iran, for example, it is the supreme guide who not only lays down higher state policies but also enters into such minutiae of the country’s political life as deciding whether or not a candidate is entitled to run for parliamentary elections.
Then there is the case of Palestinian political life, where brazen disregard for democracy was displayed by the Hamas leadership. Although it was democracy that brought them to power, no sooner were they installed in the seat of authority than they set out to trample it underfoot. Transformed into an instrument of tyranny and repression, the Hamas government began to eliminate its opponents systematically, not symbolically but physically. In some cases, they were executed in a particularly brutal fashion, such as being thrown off high buildings.
It should be no surprise that those who mix religion with politics should resort to such barbaric practices. Political religion--not religion itself--is an example of a closed system where any deviation from the official line, deemed as the only true path, is not tolerated.
What Hezbollah did in Lebanon is a new version of the diabolical game that mixes politics with religion. Not content with taking Lebanon to war in 2006 without the consent of the state, a war from which it claimed to have emerged victorious thanks to divine intervention (a victory that exists only in the imagination of some deluded souls) Hezbollah, which is a state within a state, more accurately, a state outside the state, installed a private cable communication network. After the government issued a decree outlawing the network, Hezbollah militias swept through Beirut and, in an act that epitomizes the way their mind works, set fire to the building housing the Mustaqbal television channel, owned by the leader of the rival and governing party.
The similarity between the actions of Iran’s Supreme Guide Ali Khomeini in deciding who can run for office; of Hamas in Gaza, from throwing their opponents off high buildings to instigating incursions across Egypt’s borders; and of Hezbollah in occupying Beirut to impose its will on political opponents is no coincidence. All these actions attest to the medieval mentality of their protagonists, a mentality that is inimical to freedom, democracy, and modern state systems. The world will pay a heavy price if it stands passively by while this drags entire societies back to the first millennium as humanity moves into the third millennium.
II. “Divine Dominion”
Many hurdles stand between the trends espousing political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and political maturity. Perhaps the most insurmountable is their clinging to the theory of hakamiyya or "divine dominion" propounded by Abu Ala al-Mawdudi, the Pakistani theorist of radical Islamism who died in 1979, and Sayyid Qutb. Derived from the Arabic root "hukm," which means rule, the theory has a certain superficial glitter that appeals to some people. In fact, however, it is based on an untenable proposition that renders it meaningless.
It postulates that mortals are not ruled by mortals but by God. This is dangerous sophistry, as there is no direct recourse to the Supreme Being, in the literal sense of the word “direct,” given the existence of a religious caste ruling in His name, according to their understanding of His intentions. The two thinkers came up with their theory, a fanciful notion that can obviously not be implemented in practice, each in reaction to his own personal traumatic experience.
Both men experienced what we now call a culture shock, Mawdudi in the face of the strong and vibrant culture of India, Qutb, who spent less than two years in the United States in the early 1950s, in the face of an American culture that shocked him to the core. Unable to cope with the realities of the age, they chose to escape into a less challenging past.
Thus, the first obstacle that the movements of political Islam must overcome if they want to live in the modern age at peace with the rest of humanity is the theory of hakamiyya, to which all adherents of these movements subscribe. For it is a theory which cannot be applied unless we turn the clock back more than a thousand years and regard all other cultures as mortal enemies.
III. Blasphemy Laws
When the masses in several Muslim societies furiously (and sometimes, violently) reacted to the film that was produced about the Prophet Mohamed, several leaders of a number of Muslim societies wanted the UN to adopt an agreement which bans "humiliation" of sacred persona and scripts, a call that many see reflects an absolute negation to the basis of western civilization. Many also expounded that with an international agreement as such, Voltaire (1694 – 1778) will be banned for writing his play (tragedy) in 1736 "Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet Le Prophète". Also, Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) will have to be banned for writing about the Prophet Mohamed in the third volume (Inferno) of "The Divine Comedy". In parallel, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) may join the list of banned authors if a radical Jewish group claims that what he wrote in 1596 about the Jews in his play "Merchant of Venice" offends them. Indeed, most of the philosophers will have to be banned! For instance, what Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote about God will undeniably qualify him to head the list of banned thinkers. In civilized environments, when offending material is published or presented in any form, every single person will have the right either to go to court or to produce what he/she thinks is the representation of reality. But the moment we start "the banning mechanism", we shall be launching an atmosphere that will return humanity to the darkness of the pre-Renaissance backward eras. There are tens of difficult questions that need to be answered by those who want to materialize laws against any work they believe represents humiliation to their sacred persona and/or scripts. History has taught us that Blasphemy laws lead to dictatorship and theocracies. Do those who aim at imposing Blasphemy laws consider the consequences of such laws and what their lethal effects could be on nations and humanity? Who would decide what was criticism, what was satire, and what was blasphemy? Would this apply to all religions despite the fact that they disagree with one another? Would religions that contained scripture blasphemous to other religions be banned under the blasphemy law? Would the scientific discoveries of our planet and its relationship to the universe be blasphemous if they contradict the ancient Holy Books? Would Darwin’s theory of evolution be considered blasphemous? Would disbelief in any religion be considered blasphemy? The ruling Muslim Brothers in Egypt propose to stipulate in the constitution that the word "religion" only means Judaism, Christianity & Islam. They also make clear that the word Islam means Sunni Islam only. Accordingly, the sacred matters of half of humanity shall be ignored while preparing the sought laws! One wonders what Christians around the world would say about the mocking of many Muslims towards the Trinity, which is the core of their faith. What would the world say about the views expressed by many Muslims regarding the status of the "Cow" in a faith that has hundreds of millions of followers! Isn t it a mess or precisely an atavistic mess that these leaders were seeking during the 67th regular session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (NY, September, 2012) or, perhaps, they were making such an absurd request only to please the masses instead of leading them to rationality !! ... Finally : are words such as "heresy", "blasphemy" and "infidels" belong to the 21st century or 11th century AD ?!
III. Democracy, the Salvation
The next step is for the leaders of the movements of political Islam to develop a better understanding of, and a stronger faith in, democracy among their followers. They need to explain democracy as a process distinct from shura (consultation). Although there is no contradiction between them, shura is but one part of a whole, namely, democracy. To those who consider this as belittling Islam, I would like to point out that while it is true that Islam spoke of shura and not of democracy, it is also true that it spoke of pack animals and not of cars and planes. This in no way detracts from the greatness of Islam. After all, the purpose of Islam s message was not to predict the achievements of future ages, such as democracy, planes, human rights, lasers, medical breakthroughs, civil management systems, information technology, etc.
The leaders of political Islam movements need to breed a new generation of followers who believe that the nation is the source of authority, that the Constitution is the law of laws and that in this day and age societies cannot be led by men of religion (especially when the religion in question does not allow a caste of clerics to act as intermediaries between man and God), but by the latest discoveries in science, management, ideas, and information technology.
Until at least some of these leaders break away from the doctrinaire approach to religion that has plagued the Muslim mind for over a thousand years, and unless they can groom generations capable of understanding that the nation is the source of all power and that societies can only be run by science and management, we should not be surprised to find the young members of Islamist movements trying to form militias in a bid to govern us with wild emotions, strident voices, and muscle power untamed by reason or common sense.
These were the main features of the prevailing storm of intolerant Islam. But did such a storm reach that powerful condition, outreach, and influence without a strong and rich breeder and custodian? The answer is “certainly not.” Did it find a suitable patronage? It certainly did. The storm that currently threatens the cornerstones of humanity, progress, and modernity was well patronized; and this was by a patron that has been sitting on more than a quarter of the remaining oil reserves of the entire world.
I. The King and the Sword
In November 2007, there was a symbolically disturbing act when the king of Saudi Arabia presented the Pope with a sword during his visit to the Vatican. It came at a time when there has never been a greater need to distance the name of Islam and the image of Muslims from the violent connotations and symbolism of the sword. The Saudi monarch s unfortunate choice of a gift prompted me to write the address he might better have delivered if his advisors had been familiar with the Western culture and mindset.
“Your Holiness… Your Eminences… in the name of Saudi Arabia that I am honoured to represent, and in the name of Islam to which I am honoured to belong, I bring you greetings of peace. In fact, the word ‘Islam’ in Arabic is an anagram of the word ‘peace.’ On my behalf, and on behalf of the people I represent, I say let us embark on a new era based on mutual respect; an era in which neither party hurts the feelings of the other, and both refrain from aggression, moral or material, direct or indirect, against one another. I call on you and on the side I represent to pledge that the followers of any religion, while entitled to invite others into their faith, may not resort to violence, coercion or the use of swords, but to resort instead to persuasion and reasoning to convince them of the merits of the faith to which they belong. I hereby declare that from this day forth, ‘jihad’ means only self-defence and resistance to aggression, but never the initiation of conflict, or the attempt to convert others to our religion by means of violence or the sword. There is nothing more pathetic than a religion that cannot win the hearts and minds of people except through the use of the sword. I also urge all parties to be more concerned with the quality of the followers of each religion than with their quantity. In this connection, there is much to be done to improve the quality of the believers of our great religion.
“I call on you and on the side I represent to refrain from mocking or insulting the “Other,” and belittling their beliefs or disparaging their sacred texts. I call on you and on the side I represent to usher in a new era in which all shall enjoy freedom of belief, freedom of worship, and the freedom to build houses of worship in any place at any time. As the Prophet of Islam welcomed the Christians of Najran [in the south-western Arabian Peninsula] when they came, allowing them to pray in his mosque, which is now known as the Prophet s Mosque in the holy city of Medina, I declare before you that we shall begin a new chapter of dealing with non-Muslims as our brothers in humanity. I shall call on all Muslims in the world to consider such terms as Dar al-Harb (Land of War), Dar al-Salam (Land of Peace) and Ahl al-Dhimma (non-Muslim monotheists) to be products of historical conditions of a bygone age that are no longer applicable today, and that we now aspire to a world that is not divided into camps of war and camps of peace. Our mosques shall welcome all who step through their doors, and our religion is a solid religion that does not force anyone to remain a prisoner of its precepts.
“Your Holiness, I have chosen two gifts to present to you today. One is a golden palm tree that symbolizes our history and environment, the other an ancient manuscript of the Bible dating back many centuries. I turned down a proposal to present you with a sword, because first, the sword is not one of your historical symbols, and second, we do not want the message it carries to cloud our future relationship. My country will make every effort to ensure that, in future, foreigners in our land be made to feel welcome, that they enjoy warm hospitality and tolerance in every sense of the word, including the right to pray and worship God in churches or temples according to their faith. The sight of churches’ spires or temples’ domes rising against our skyline will not hurt our feelings, exactly as seeing the minarets of mosques in Europe, America, Canada, and Australia does not hurt the feelings of non-Muslims in those places.
“I also vow before you that we shall very shortly look into not applying laws derived from our religion to the followers of other faiths. Let us begin a new era of accepting the other, of tolerance and of fostering the concept of ‘relativism’ in the area of religious beliefs, that is, let no person on the face of the earth behave as though his/her religion is the absolute truth, while all other religions are absolutely false. Let God decide matters we are neither required nor equipped to concern ourselves with. I call on you and on all those I represent to enter a new era of tolerance, acceptance of the other and mutual respect, in which all desist from demeaning the faiths of others.
“I would like to take the opportunity of this meeting to propose the formation of a committee made up of the best religious scholars from all faiths, not only of the three great Abrahamic or book religions, but of all other faiths as well, to review educational curricula throughout the world, in order to achieve the following aims:
· Remove from the curricula any material offensive or prejudicial to the faith of others.
· Remove from the curricula any material that sows the seeds of religious chauvinism and feelings of superiority over other faiths.
· Remove from the curricula any material that discourages tolerance and acceptance of the other and replace it with material that promotes admiration for diversity and variety as the most important features of life and the main sources of its richness and beauty.
“Let me now present Your Holiness with the golden palm tree and the manuscript of the New Testament that dates back to the spread of Christianity in the region of Najran, today one of the governorates making up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
This, then, is the speech the king did not make, and which could have helped usher in a new era of empathy and understanding between peoples of all faiths.
II. The Inoculation of Hatred
The sociology of the Arabian Peninsula tribes is the key to understanding the Arab character and mentality, and the lack of tolerance for the “Other.” In order to trace the historical features of that character, mentality, and intolerance we must try to imagine the way of life in the inland wastes of the eastern regions of the Peninsula over the last twenty centuries. Why mainly the eastern and not the western regions? We shall explain that after presenting a panoramic survey of the historical features of the character and mental make-up of the tribes inhabiting the eastern regions of the Arabian Peninsula, specifically the tribes of the hinterland, not the coastal areas.
A professor at the Department of the Middle Eastern Studies in a leading Western university confided, "In most academic circles here in the United States, we take it for granted that the Arabs hatred of the West is the result of the intrusion of Western powers into the lives of Arab peoples, beginning with the colonization of Algeria in 1830, Egypt in 1882, Morocco in 1912, and so on."
Actually, the hatred of the people of the region for colonialism is a healthy and legitimate phenomenon in itself; and does not by necessity mean hatred of all that is Western or of Western progress. In fact, countries with a rich heritage of civilization and history such as Egypt, Greater Syria, and Iraq were able to combine a hatred of colonialism with a sincere admiration for progress, thus showing a true understanding of “ progress” as distinct from “ westernization,” and exhibiting a refined and enlightened social conscience. The alternative would have been to indiscriminately admire both colonialism and progress as one entity, which would have been a demeaning and humiliating phenomenon that could only lead to the death of many things that were held dear.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that all countries in the region are the same. This applies to societies with a history rich in culture and civilization, places already mentioned, as well as others in the Arab West (Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya) and, to a lesser extent, the coastal regions of the Arabian Peninsula, the geo-political situation of which has rendered them more open to the outside world than those situated in nomadic fashion in the interior.
The harsh geopolitical conditions of the latter can only give rise to a rigid, inflexible, and insular tribal mentality that refuses the "Other" (whoever this “Other” may be) in a xenophobic manner. The history of hatred of these desert communities toward anyone who differs from them in religion or thought is common knowledge; contrary to what some may think, this animosity is not a consequence of the Hanbali form of Islam (particularly Ibn Taymiyya’s interpretation) that they embrace; but rather, this rigid school that was categorically refused by the Muslim world at large could only find acceptance in this desolate region. Indeed, for more than a thousand years the ideas and edicts of Ibn Taymiyya with all their harshness, bigotry, and hatred of non-Muslims found no adherents in Egypt, Syria, and the Arab West, for how could the descendants of such highly evolved civilizations accept isolation from the rest of humankind?
A. Locked in the Inlands
In fact, for the past twenty centuries, the tribes living in the eastern regions of the Arabian Peninsula have been leading a pastoral life as opposed to a settled life, roaming in search of pasturage and water. As a result of this lifestyle, the attitude of the Arab tribesman living in those regions towards such notions as loyalty, objectivity, and neutrality cannot be understood in isolation from the sociology of nomadic life, the culture pattern of Bedouin tribes forced by their environment to move constantly in search of sustenance. Their unconditional loyalty is reserved for the sheikh (elder) of the tribe; objectivity is an alien concept and neutrality akin to treason.
As the eminent Egyptian critic Galal al-Ashri noted in his treatise on Arab creativity, the only creative area in which the Arabs excelled was poetry. They did not produce theatre plays, novels, epics, music, or other creative forms like the Greeks and, prior to them, the Egyptians and the Sumerians. The poetry composed by the poets hailing from the eastern regions of the Arabian Peninsula is a mirror reflecting the value system of the tribes of the region, their mores, concerns, behaviour, and thinking, and their devotion to the glorification of these tribal values.
The image reflected by their poetry has remained unchanged for centuries. An ode written in classical Arabic over ten centuries ago by a poet from Najd reflects the same values and world view as one written in the vernacular by a poet living in Najd today. Most of the poetry of the region, old and new, resounds with the cadence of stirring imagery, its main themes are pride and the superiority of the Bedouin who is always victorious, never defeated, who bows to no one and stands high above all others. In fact, the word for “lofty” in Arabic is “nuf,” from whence the proper names Nayaf, Nuf, and Nawaf are derived. This then is the message that thousands of odes by poets from Najd, Hasa, al-Qassim, and al-Hufuf have tried to convey ever since the Arabic language in its present form came into being and up to the present day. This view of life as reflected by the poetry of the region encapsulates the sociology of its nomadic tribes.
The tribal Arab mentality formed in the inland deserts of the eastern Arabian Peninsula took over leadership of intellectual life in Arab and Muslim societies after the failure of the stage of liberalism, and the blend of socialism and Arab nationalism that had at one time held sway. However, the degree to which Arab and Muslim societies have come to be influenced by the tribal mentality born in the harsh eastern wasteland of the Arabian Peninsula differs from one society to another in proportion to each society’s historical and cultural legacy, and according to its political and socioeconomic conditions. Thus, while its influence was most strongly felt in the inland regions of the Arabian Peninsula, it was weaker in the coastal cities of the Peninsula, and weaker still in societies like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, and India that enjoy a richer legacy of history, civilization, and culture than the Arabian Peninsula. Still, the Bedouin world view forged in the barren deserts of the eastern Arabian Peninsula and expressed in the poetry produced by poets from the region is the most important key to understanding the ways of thinking prevailing in many Arab and Muslim societies.
The culture pattern that formed the Bedouin world view is in total contradiction with the concept of statehood. Loyalty to the sheikh of the tribe is personal by its very nature, while loyalty to the state is a more abstract notion. In the tribe, obedience to the wishes and instructions of the sheikh is the counterpart of the modern citizen’s adherence to the constitutional and legal rules of the state. According to the sociology of the tribal mentality, the specificity of which has been described in some detail here above, the “Other” is perceived as an enemy or, at best, as a potential enemy to be neutralized. In the modern state system, on the other hand, the “Other” is regarded as a natural expression of the diversity of life, inspiring neither rejection nor enmity. In a tribal environment, there can be no discussion of such issues as diversity, acceptance of the “Other,” engaging in self-criticism and accepting criticism, the universal nature of knowledge or the recognition that it is the collective legacy of humanity as a whole, all being fruits of the modern, progressive, civilized state. Indeed the very notion of humanity is alien to the tribal society.
If we borrow from the great fourteenth-century philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s theory on the distinction between urban and Bedouin societies, we can say that the contemporary Islamic mentality (not Islam itself) is conditioned by a brand of Islam as understood, presented and propagated over the last half century by the Bedouin tribes living in the inland deserts of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. Given that most of the Islamic centres and schools established in North America, Europe, Australia, and in non-Muslim regions of Asia and Africa were set up at the initiative, and with the funding of representatives of this insular tribal mentality, it is not hard to understand why the world today sees itself locked in a major confrontation between humanity and Islam. In truth, however, the confrontation is between humanity and a model of Islam which is presented, financed and propagated by the Bedouin, or Najdi, mentality.
The reason, then, to focus on the eastern inland areas of the Arabian Peninsula rather than on the eastern coastal areas and the region of Hejaz, is that the inland areas were the crucible in which the brand of Islamist thinking known as Wahhabism was forged. The ideas of Wahhabism are typical of a superstructure (thought) born of a specific infrastructure (the geopolitical and economic features of the Najd desert); adherents to these thoughts cannot conceive that no other place on earth would have put up with such beliefs.
II. “Blood, Blood, Destruction, Destruction”
The founder of Wahhabism, Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, had laid down the broad outlines of his missionary design before 1798, a year which witnessed the first confrontation with the West in modern times, namely Napoleon s campaign into Egypt. The first years of the fledgling Saudi state, soundly crushed by the Egyptian prince Ibrahim Pasha in 1818, and of the second Saudi state, which came to an end in 1891, were marked by an obdurate rejection of modernity and of all signs of modern civilization, combined with hatred of non-Muslims and indeed of all Muslims who did not follow the same tenets.
The Egyptian or Syrian Muslim who saw nothing wrong in singing, for example, was considered by the first and second Saudi states to be no better than an infidel. When the Brotherhood fought King Abd al-Aziz for allowing signs of modern civilization, such as the radio and the motor-car, and foreigners into the kingdom, they were simply giving vent to the archaic tenets and beliefs of a system of jurisprudence that had no place in modern times and could have survived nowhere except in terrain whose geographic features imposed its isolation. Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was by no means a jurist but merely a proselytizer seeking converts to the Najdi model of Islam.
When the alliance was forged between Mohamed Ibn Saud and Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whereby the former agreed to rule according to the doctrine preached by the latter, a succinct statement was made by al-Wahhab shortly after the deal was struck; it expresses the essence of his doctrine, “Blood, blood, destruction, destruction.” These four simple words summarize what was and what continues to be the message of Wahhabism. The partnership between the two men led to the first incarnation of the Saudi-Wahhabi state.
The first Saudi state banned what it considered to be heretical practices, including the building of tombs, music, singing, dancing, and any other manifestation of what they termed as un-Islamic conduct. Members of other faiths were hated and despised as “unclean.” Such was the hatred to foreigners that European consultants brought in by King Abd al-Aziz at the beginning of the twentieth century were spat upon by the Ikhwan, members of an ultra-orthodox offshoot of the original Wahhabi movement. The presence of non-Muslims on the sacred ground of the Arabian Peninsula was seen as a desecration, as was any hint of modernity even when it came to such trivial matters as the shape of beards and moustaches.
To the theologians of the first Saudi-Wahhabi state, the only rightful interpretation of Islam lay in the Hanbali school of law--founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and further elaborated by his two main disciples, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qaiyim al-Jawziyya--even though it is by far the weakest of the four Sunni schools of law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali).
III. The Young Scion
Following Ibrahim Pasha’s defeat of the first Saudi-Wahhabi state, the Saudis, with their Wahhabi partners, entered into an alliance with the al-Rashid family, who ruled the eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula from their capital Ha’il. The alliance between the Rashids--previously the Sauds fierce rivals--and the second Saudi state continued until the Rashids turned against the Saud family and sent them into exile in Kuwait in 1891.
In 1901, the young scion of the Saudi family, Abd al-Aziz son of Abd al-Rahman son of Faysal al-Saud, born in 1875 and endowed with the quality of leadership, seized Riyadh in a night-time raid. From 1902 until 1925 he waged a campaign to assert his dominion over the Arabian Peninsula and, after seizing Mecca then Medina in 1925, proclaimed himself the ruler of Najd and other provinces now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In the course of a historical journey that has no parallel in history, the actions, policies, words, and deeds of Abd al-Aziz between 1902 and 1925 not only confirmed his exceptional leadership qualities but also bespoke a profound understanding of the nature of power, both in absolute terms and as exercised by the Great Powers, whether the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, or the empire that was to emerge later, the American Empire. Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud played his role with great skill, using all his acumen to achieve the goal he had set to himself during the years of exile in Kuwait as the guest of the Sabah family in general, and of the ruler of Kuwait, Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah, in particular.
Long before the Americans used the Islamists during the Cold War to help them defeat the Soviet Empire (notably after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979), Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud used Islamists to consolidate his power. In 1912, he began and financed a movement known as the Ikhwan, a forerunner of the Islamist jihadists deployed by the Americans against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The symbiotic relationship between Abd al-Aziz and the Ikhwan ended in 1930 with a ferocious battle between the erstwhile allies, when the Saudis, led by King Abd al-Aziz, crushed the Ikhwan, led by Faysal al- Da’waysh.
The Ikhwan’s religious views were so extreme that they considered any sign of modernity or progress the work of the Devil. As their alliance with Ibn Saud coincided with a period of great scientific advances, they had plenty of abominations to contend with: the telegraph, cars, telephones, and radios were all regarded as sinful, and anyone who did not resist them was a heretic. Such was the fanaticism of this lunatic fringe that one of its members advanced on the Sultan (Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud) with a pair of scissors and proceeded to shorten his robes in full view of his entourage, thereby driving home the message that the principles of Wahhabism were stronger than the authority of the Saudis. Apparently short robes are a basic tenet of Wahhabism, and failure to observe this essential requirement of orthodoxy is heresy!
Abd al-Aziz, first as prince, then sultan, then king, used the Ikhwan when he needed them to further expand his suzerainty. For like all those who welcome death as a passport to paradise, they were fearless fighters. The problem was that they were equally fearless in standing up to Abd al-Aziz whenever they considered him to have deviated from the true path. During the years of their increasingly uneasy alliance (from 1912 until he succeeded in asserting his dominion over most of the Arabian peninsula in 1925), fierce clashes often broke out between them. The sultan could not countenance any challenge to his authority as undisputed leader of most of the Arabian Peninsula. He barely had time to bask in the glow of his hard-won victory over the Hashemites and the expansion of his dominion over lands previously under their control before the Ikhwan forced his hand. They were routed, and their leader, Faysal al- Da’waysh, was captured and imprisoned, dying in captivity a few years later.
IV. The Sequel
But the question is whether the Saudi state, successful though it may have been when it came to defeating its enemies, has been equally successful in ridding itself of the fanatical, not to say downright psychotic, ideas propounded by the Ikhwan of Najd, who militate against the use of cars, telegrams, and radios, and for the shortening of robes, the shaving of moustaches, and the growing of beards. The truth is that the Saudi state, whether in its first, second, or third incarnations, has never been free of the pernicious effects of the doctrine preached by the Ikhwan. To this day, Saudi jurists remain committed to the version of Islam propounded by Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn-Qaiyim al-Jawziyya, even though they rank far lower in stature than such towering Islamic jurists as Abu Hanifa al-Nu’man, Malik Ibn Anas, Ja’far al-Sadiq, and Ibn Rushd (the second teacher after Aristotle, the first).
Where jurists like Abu Hanifa and Ibn Rushd relied on the tools of rationality and deductive reasoning, compilation was the hallmark of the Hanbali School, which allowed no scope for reason or independent thinking but insisted on a dogmatic interpretation of holy texts. Thus, while Abu Hanifa relied on istihsan (preference of using few traditions and extracting from the Quran by reasoning the rulings which fitted his ideas) and Ibn Rushd on ta’wil (deductive reasoning) Ibn Hanbal insisted on a literal interpretation of holy texts. This led him to accept over ten thousand of the Prophet’s hadith as apostolic precept. It also bred a climate which favoured unquestioning adherence to tradition over the use of critical faculties, creating generations of followers and imitators, and leading Islamic societies to the point at which they find themselves today: sidelined from history, science, and the march of human progress.
The Hanbali School has turned the Muslim mentality into a passive recipient of answers instead of one that asks questions, let alone one that engages in critical thinking, the main engine of human progress. Although of all the Islamic jurists Ibn Hanbal was the most zealous proponent of orthodoxy and tradition, allowing little if any room for deductive reasoning, he was a natural product of his time. It was a time the Islamic Empire was reeling from the onslaught of the Moguls and the Tatars, and he cannot be blamed for ideas that were appropriate to the age in which he lived. The blame lies with those who, living in a different time and place, base their ideas on those of Ibn Hanbal.
A. Exportation of Hatred
Today, the Saudi state resists the education and employment of women, frowns upon television broadcasts, bans female drivers, and considers music and singing sinful. The underlying logic behind these anomalies is not very different from that which informed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Islam, the takeover of the Masjid al-Haram (the sacred mosque which is home to the Ka’ba) at the beginning of the fifteenth century of the Hijra calendar. All attest to the continued influence of Ikhwan ideas in the Kingdom, as do the ban on teaching music and philosophy in Saudi schools, and the refusal to appoint women to the Shura Council or in cabinet posts.
There is also the spate of fatwas inspired by this madness, like the fatwa in which Ibn al-Baz, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 to 1999, concludes that the earth is not round but flat, and the one proscribing the sending of flowers
to the sick! The reason that purchasing flowers to send to a sick person is haram (sinful) is because it is a custom that originated in the "infidel countries." This might seem trivial, but it is not, because it discloses a mentality that blindly rejects anything that comes from outside its own narrow confines. It also reveals the laughable contradictions inherent in this type of thought: sending flowers is declared a sin because "it did not form part of the Islamic way over the centuries"! As if travelling by plane or car or using a computer--or indeed, using the sophisticated modern weapons that these people use against their so-called enemies --were part of the "Islamic way over the centuries"!
Any Muslim (outside the insular world of Ibn Taymiyya) would feel nothing but revulsion against the mentality that could spew forth this type of ruling--edict No. 21409 dated 29/03/1421 (the Hijra year according to the Muslim calendar, 2000 by the Gregorian)--and comprising terms such as "This is but a custom that has come to us from the Infidel Countries and has been adopted by those of weak faith who have fallen under their influence...." A mentality that fights flowers, the symbol of beauty, goodness, friendship, innocence, and love across all cultures; flowers, the names of which in many languages denote a host of beautiful, uplifting meanings!
Only the narrow-minded mentality of these nomadic tribes could wish to turn Muslims into a culture of flower-haters! If this is the way these people view non-Muslims, it is no wonder that from time to time they should churn out warped individuals who indiscriminately open fire on the signs of modern civilization and on foreigners ("infidels") who are "desecrating" the soil of the Arabian Peninsula (using weapons made by the said infidels!). To stop the madness, the Saudi establishment must take a firm stand preferably accompanied by a psychological campaign.
During the second half of the twentieth century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of billions of dollars to spread this doctrine, which had by then become influenced by three external factors: the ideas of Abu Ala al-Mawdudi, the Pakistani theologian/political philosopher who founded the Jama’at e-Islami party there; the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, and the Sururiyya school of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syrian chapter.
But these factors did not dilute the essence of the Wahhabi understanding of Islam. On the contrary, because of the simplistic thinking of Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in comparison with the schools of al-Mawdudi, Qutb, and the Sururiyya, these principles were the ones that most often were absorbed by the mass audience. Hence, these groups helped to reinforce it and swell the ranks of its adherents.
One of the most alarming developments of the last five decades is that the Najdi mentality spread to venerable Islamic institutions in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Syria, eroding their original features, and replacing them with its own. Thus while in the past we knew when listening to the Friday sermon in Egypt that the speaker was either a Shafi’i or a Hanafi, and in Morocco or Tunisia that he was a Maliki, we now hear an altogether different tune, a single Hanbali note set to the music of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
B. Two Sides of One Coin
Despite all of this, there should be a distinction between Wahhabism as described above and the Saudi royal family. Even though it entered into an alliance with the Wahhabis it does not necessarily share their views. Indeed, the House of Saud has reached a watershed in its relationship with both the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and the remnants of the Ikhwan. When it transpired that most of the criminals of the September 11, 2001, attacks were Saudi nationals, the Saudi family realized that it was time for a showdown. There is, after all, a historical precedent on which to draw, namely, the stand taken by the father of their oldest prince, King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, who took on the Ikhwan and defeated it decisively.
V. The Inevitable Choice
What is needed today is for modern, enlightened Saudis to realize that their problem lies primarily in addressing a distorted mentality that has no place in today s world--or indeed in any place or time. It is not fitting that they should have to live with the kind of edict that prohibits a woman from driving a car, or example. Indeed, there is no Quranic text that impedes Saudi Arabia from forming a new entity for jurisprudence that could select as its source far more enlightened and civilized schools than those of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Hanbal.
Such a program for the House of Saud would include:
1. Resistance to extremist elements in the country.
2. Removal of Wahhabi and Ikhwan zealots from influential positions in educational institutions.
3. Removal of Wahhabi and Ikhwan zealots from influential positions in the Ministry of Waqf, (religious endowments), da’wa (the call to Islam), and hajj.
4. Abolition of the system of state-sponsored religious vigilantes like the mutawa’in and the amr bel ma’ruf wal-nahi an al-munkar—“enjoining what is right and prohibiting what is wrong”--who patrol the streets and mete out instant punishment for any perceived violation of strict Islamic practices, in total contradiction with the concept of the modern state.
5. Reduction of the huge, $3 billion budget allocated by the Kingdom to the religious establishment and reallocation of it to the fields of education and health.
6. Encouragement of moderate professors of Islamic jurisprudence to set a timetable for introducing their students to Hanafi, Maliki and Shafi’i sources in place of the Hanbali sources now exclusively in use so that, in time, the people of Saudi Arabia reach a stage of religious maturity in which they recognize that the doctrine of Wahhabism is not the only, or even the major, model of Islam.
7. The launching of an offensive against the Ikhwani obduracy on such issues as the appointment of female ministers, the inclusion of women in the Shura Council, allowing women to drive, and allowing male teachers to teach female students and female teachers to teach male students, in order to promote a climate favourable to enlightenment and progress in place of the current reactionary climate that has no equivalent on earth.
8. A plan for the transformation of Islamic centres, established by Saudi Arabia throughout the world as a breeding ground for fanaticism and extremism and crucibles for violence, blood lust, and terrorism, into community service centres.
These opinions are motivated not by enmity for Saudi Arabia, but out of serious concern for its future. For unless the descendants of the great King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud follow the example he set with his stand against the Ikhwan of Najd eighty years ago, Saudi Arabia is headed for a highly detrimental confrontation with advanced societies. The collapse of the Saudi regime would represent a great strategic danger to all the countries of the Gulf and the Middle East.
EGYPT: MUSLIM VS EGYPTIAN IDENTITY
I. The Caliphate
In 1923, Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Caliphate and pronounced Turkey a republic. Because the dream of a Caliphate was – and still is – a fantasy rooted in the hearts and minds of considerable number of Muslims, an eminent Egyptian intellectual, Ali Abd al-Razik took it upon himself to apprise them of the fact that the Caliphate was a political system set in place by mortals and that it had no basis in religion. To foil those who wanted – yet again – to mix religion with politics, he wrote a book, small in size but huge in value, entitled "Islam and the Foundations of Governance." Abd al-Razik s message in the book, which was published in 1925, was that the Muslim religion did not specify the shape of political rule but left it to humans to determine, in keeping with the precept: "You are more cognizant of the affairs of your world." The book caused a furor when it was published, with the most hostile reaction coming from the powers that be at the time, King Fouad and the religious establishment represented by Al Azhar.
What the book set out to do, in short, was to prove that Islam had left the affairs of government to the people themselves to regulate. The author points out that the essence of any political system is, first, the manner of selecting the ruler and, second, the manner and rules of administering government. He proves in his book that Islam does not prescribe the manner of selecting the ruler or lay down the rules governing how affairs of state and the administration of government were to be run. Abd al-Razik relies on historical facts to back his claim, noting that each of the first four caliphs, known as al-Rashidun [orthodox] were selected in very different ways. The first, Abu-Bakr Al-Saddiq, was elected in a meeting of tribal elders after a lengthy debate and despite a revolt by several tribes led by Sa’d Ibn Ubada. The choice of Abu Bakr to assume the Caliphate was based on his nomination by the ailing Prophet to lead public prayers in his place during his illness. The second caliph, Omar Ibn el-Khattab, was chosen because Abu Bakr designated him as his successor. As to the third caliph, Othman IbnAffan, his election came about in an altogether different way. When Omar Ibn Al-Khattab was stabbed by a Kufan in Medina – a wound that led to his death some days later – he nominated a board of six eminent Muslim personalities and asked them to pick one among them as caliph. He added his son Abdullah as the seventh member of the conclave, with the stipulation the he had the right to vote but not to run for the post of caliph. In other words, Abdullah bin Omar was entrusted with the casting vote in case of a tie. The conclave s first choice was Ali Ibn Abu Talib but then shifted to Othman IbnAffan. The fourth caliph, Ali Ibn Abu Talib, was appointed in the throes of the worst crisis in Muslim history: the murder of Othman by rebels opposed to the manner of his rule. The crisis, known as al fitna al kobra [the great sedition], has been the subject of countless books. Perhaps the best account is given by the dean of Arabic literature, Taha Hussein, in his book, "The Great Sedition" (or “The Great Upheaval”), in the chapter titled "Othman, Ali and his Sons."
After showing that Islam contained no specific rules organizing the manner of choosing the ruler, Abd al-Razik moves on to another subject, which is to prove the absence in Islam of rules organizing the affairs of state. As previously mentioned, the book provoked a heated reaction when it was published, particularly from the Palace and Al-Azhar. For they realized that Ali Abd al-Razik stood between them and the attainment of a dream that obsessed King Fouad at the time [after the abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate]: that he would become the caliph of the Muslims. Despite the incontrovertible truth and wisdom of every word in Ali Abd al-Razik s seminal book, many Muslims, whether because of a poor educational climate or of despotic ambitions by some, still dream of this imaginary entity, the Caliphate, which was purely man-made and not decreed by divine ordinance.
II. THE EGYPTIAN IDENTITY
If one’s identity is based on one thing – “I’m a Muslim”, it is a problem: in Pakistan, one day they went to sleep as Muslim Indians and the next day the word “Indians” was chopped to become “Muslim”; I mean that everyone in Pakistan went to sleep on May 15, 1947 as a Muslim Indian and woke up as only a Muslim. The word “Indian” disappeared. In such a case, one has nothing to stick to, except the identity of a Muslim.
Something similar happened to the Egyptians. Anyone who would have gone to Cairo University in 1935 and asked anybody “Tell me who you are in one word”, he would have laughed “I’m an Egyptian”. But today you may get “I’m an Arab”, you might get “I’m Muslim”, you might get ‘I’m an Egyptian”. There’s a chance to get more than one answer. And you might also get “I’m an Arab Muslim”, that’s “I’m a Muslim Muslim”. Lutfi el-Sayyed is the one who said in 1930 “An Egyptian is the one who doesn’t have a definition of himself in one word, except for saying ‘I’m an Egyptian’.” He said “Tell me who you are in one word, don’t give me a sentence. If you tell me ‘I’m a Muslim’ – fine, ‘I’m an Arab’ – fine. But Egyptians used to say ‘I’m an Egyptian’” Was this a decrease in Islamic or Coptic view? Never. They were also good Muslims and good Christians. One cannot imagine that the Muslims of past generations were bad Muslims. But they didn’t have the dilemma of what to take from the West and what to throw away. Nowadays, it is a dilemma.
The renowned Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen compared the identity of any nation to an onion, in the sense that both are composed of many layers. If we apply this analogy, put forward by one of the greatest European literary figures of the modern age and upheld by humanist thinkers, to the Egyptian identity, we find that it is, like the proverbial onion, made up of several layers. The source of many of these layers can be traced to Ancient Egypt, a civilization that flourished for nearly thirty centuries. Many other layers derive from the Coptic Age, when Egypt in its entirety was an Eastern Christian society. Then there are countless layers whose source is Islamic and Arabic-speaking Egypt. There are many other layers deriving from modern Egypt whose founder, Mohamed Ali, ruled from 1805 to 1848 and whose kingdom continued for a little over a century after his death. Finally, there are the many layers produced by Egypt’s geographical location as a Mediterranean society, more specifically, as an Eastern Mediterranean country.
This complex construct is an incontrovertible historical and geographical fact. The multi-layered composition of the Egyptian identity, formed over millennia, contains no contradictions. Only a primitive mind with its one-dimensional world view will see contradictions in complex phenomena.
The rich and multi-layered Egyptian identity, a product of fruitful interaction and cross-fertilization between different civilizations and cultures, is today in grave peril, facing as it does systematic and deliberate attempts to destroy its very essence as represented in the many layers making up its unique character. It is these layers that distinguish Egyptian society from various surrounding societies with an extremely poor civilizational and cultural formation due to their one-dimensional composition.
The trend of political Islam is exulting as it stands poised to take over the reins of power in Egypt. That is a fact of life. However, the domination by this trend over the country’s political and cultural landscape poses a real danger to the multi-layered nature of the Egyptian identity.
Because of the grip the conservative schools of thought have acquired over the minds of most Muslims today [with the rampant spread of the ideas of ibn-Hanbal and his disciples, ibn-Taymiyya, ibn Qaiyim Al-Jawziyya and all the Salafi schools], the spread of a cultural wave opposed to the non-Islamic dimensions of the Egyptian identity is a likely – and exceedingly dangerous – development. We are already hearing ominous mutterings about the ungodliness of relics of Ancient Egypt, one of the most glorious civilizations in human history. We are also likely to see the spread of values opposed to the Other [whatever shape ‘otherness’ may take], representing yet another very dangerous threat to an Egyptian identity based on diversity.
There is also the real fear that the Islamic trend will redesign educational programmes so as to promote the Islamic/Arab dimension at the expense of the other layers making up the Egyptian identity. This possibility is far from remote in the context of a legislative assembly dominated by a singly trend. The mindset of the Islamic lawmakers who preside over the education committee is certainly opposed to cultural diversity. There is no doubt that this trend will focus on magnifying the importance of the Islamic/Arab dimension while downgrading all the other dimensions that make up the Egyptian identity. This is only to be expected from a theocratic Parliament claiming a divine commission.
Unfortunately the trend to foster a one-dimensional identity actually began some years back as religious [Islamic] thinking came to permeate the minds of those responsible for the all-important sector of education in our society. Nowhere is the success of this trend more apparent than in the way Arabic language and Arabic literature curricula have evolved over the last few years. Instead of presenting literary masterpieces by such luminaries as Ahmed Lotfy el-Sayyid, Taha Hussein, Abbas el-Aqqad, Abdul Qader el-Mazny, Salama Moussa, Tewfik el-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Idris, Nizar Qabbani, Badr Shaker el-Sayab, Mikhael Na’ema and others, Arabic language and literature courses are now virtually indistinguishable from religious courses.
The well-known Lebanese author and intellectual Amin Maalouf rightly describes any one-dimensional identity as “destructive”. For in this day and age, a monolithic identity that attributes itself to a single source is bound to clash with the values of pluralism, diversity, acceptance of the Other and critical thinking, not to mention the notion of a common humanity, the recognition that the various civilizations and cultures have all contributed to the higher ideal of a common humanity. There are those who claim that the Islamisation of Egyptian society reflects “the will of the people”. To them I say that history teaches us that the will of the people is not always right. Eight decades ago, the will of the German people brought Adolph Hitler to power, plunging humankind into genocidal wars and massacres that claimed more than fifty million lives. This example allows us to criticize the current cultural wave sweeping over Egypt, a wave that threatens to sweep before it the non-Islamic components of the Egyptian identity and to transform us into a society with a one-dimensional identity - like the desert societies surrounding us. Even if the present state of affairs came about by “the will of the people”, we would do well to remember that, as Voltaire said, a mistake is still a mistake even if it is repeated by a thousand thousand people.
EGYPT: SEIZURE OF POWER
The recent political developments in Egypt in Egypt since the fall of its president, Hosni Mubarak, on February 11, 2011 have been stressful and troublesome. Mubarak s fall was unavoidable, mainly because of his determination to have his son, Gamal Mubarak, succeed him. Gamal Mubarak s succession was refused my most Egyptians not only because of its humiliating nature -- a son of the President of the Republic inheriting Egypt as if it were a private property -- but equally because of Gamal Mubarak s oligarchic power and wealth that dominated political life in Egypt. In November, 2010, the Gamal Mubarak faction made its fatal mistake when they monopolized 98% of the seats of the Egyptian Parliament.
After the fall of Mubarak, Egypt s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], made a number of fatal mistakes that strengthened the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood MB] and weakened liberals. The first grave mistake was to delegate an Islamist, Tarek al Bishry, to draft the constitutional amendments that were endorsed by a popular referendum on March 19, 2011. Instead of starting democratic reform by drafting a new democratic constitution, the committee decided to start the process not only by electing a new parliament that was overwhelmingly Islamist, but by giving this new parliament the right to draft the constitution. The plea by Egyptian intellectuals to have the constitution drafted by a committee of educated, intellectual figures was ignored by the ruling SCAF, which incorrectly calculated that members of the Ikhwan, who had far more outreach and popularity, would accept playing whatever role the SCAF designed for them.
The victory of the Islamic groups in the parliamentary election of November 2011 was a natural result of the following factors: a) the 19/3/2011 constitutional amendments, b) reliance on a number of Islamist advisers, including Essam Sharaf, who was Prime Minister for a number of months, and c) the unjustified rush, driven by the Islamist advisers, that was characterized by early parliamentary elections and also by totally ignoring the article in the constitution that bans political parties that have a religious agenda.
Since the Islamists triumph in November, 2011, the battle stood mainly between the Ikhwan, who became excessively confident that Egypt would ultimately fall into their hands, and the members of the military SCAF, who were mainly eager to protect the military establishment s various assets, benefits, merits and immunity. For instance, the Ikhwan announced their intention to give the leadership of the army, intelligence service, security services, and the Ministry of Interior to MB figures certainly not on SCAF s recommendation, but mainly to figures known for their sympathy with the MB.
The Ikhwan benefited enormously when SCAF pressed Ahmed Shafik to run for Egypt"s Presidency. It was not difficult for the Ikhwan to launch a campaign of character-assassination against Shafik, who was a member of Mubarak s narrow circle as well as Mubarak s last Prime Minister.
The Obama administration s support for the Ikhwan was of immense value to its candidate. In parallel to the strong support of the Obama administrating, huge Qatari funds were also instrumental.
Although there were rumors that Ahmed Shafik won more votes, the SCAF chose to announce Morsy s victory, probably to avoid consequences similar to what happened in Algeria slightly more than 20 years ago, when a civil war broke out after the Algerian president cancelled the results of the parliamentary elections when they seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour of the Islamists. It is rumored that in case Ahmed Shafik were to be announced as victorious, a violence would have exploded all over Egypt.
The Obama administration s support for the Ikhwan emanates from an extremely wrong understanding of the Ikhwan s agenda, which has been unchanged since its inception in 1928. The two pillars of this project have been: First, abolishing the entire judicial and juridical system that had been introduced in Egypt in 1883 and was based on the French legal system, the Napoleonic Code. Instead, the Ikhwan would introduced a legal system based on Islamic Sharia law, including amputating hands, stoning and whip-lashing. Second, reviving the political vision of a Caliphate, which aims at uniting all Muslim societies under a single ruler, similar to the Ottoman Empire abolished by Kemal Ataturk ninety years ago.
The current winds of change in the Middle East is a welcome whiff of fresh air in the region, but the hasty promotion of democracy, could plunge the region deeper into the "dark side", bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere. While some in Washington are ready to take on this risk, many (of us) liberals in the region, worry about the dangerous unintended consequences.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB s) (established in Egypt in 1928), is the best organized political force in many Arab countries. It is a radical transnational organization which aims to take over the Islamic world in order to establish a Caliphate, is the best organized political force in many Arab countries. . Such a Caliphate, a religious militarized state will be the base to wage war against the infidel West.
And for our own societies, in the Middle East and Arab world, rule by the MB s would undoubtedly result in: less freedom, increased state-ownership, segregated class-rooms, as well as the fact that a non-Muslim could never become president. It could also very well result in the reimplementation of punishments such as stoning, lashing, and cutting off the hands of thieves.
WHO ARE THE IKHWAN?
The Muslim Brotherhood was launched in 1928 to restore a caliphate, a global religious government aimed at fighting the “non-believers” (specifically, Christians, Hindus, and Jews) and at spreading Islam. The group opposed the existence of any secular states in all Muslim societies throughout the Middle East.
The Brotherhood killed Egypt’s Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi in 1948 and plotted to kill President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the early 1950s. An offshoot group, Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, later Osama bin Laden’s number-two man, assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981 and tried to kill President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.
In Part Three of his book, In the Aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, under the heading “A Paroxysm of Bloodshed and Terrorism”, the noted Egyptian historian Abdul Rahman al-Rafi i (1889-1966) wrote: “Contributing to the dramatic rise in the murder and crime rate was the adoption by terrorist elements in the society of the Muslim Brothers of militant violent political action as a means of overthrowing the political order. There is no doubt that the aim of these elements was the seizure of power by the Society. It is equally clear from the statements made by Hassan el-Banna (1906-1949), the Supreme Guide of the Society of the Muslim Brothers, that he believed he would one day reach power.”
However, to be fair to el-Banna, we will quote the words of the same author: “It appears from the statements he made that he wanted to overthrow the regime … not through bloodshed and terrorism but by winning over the majority of the Egyptian people. But the terrorists among his followers disdained the constitutional route to power, opting for the more direct route of murder and terror. Hence the campaigns launched at one time by some Muslim Brothers against constitutional systems.”
The history of the Muslim Brothers is well documented by Abdul Rahman el-Rafi i, who distinguished between two trends within its membership structure. One, which included el-Banna himself, believed the Society s ultimate aim of attaining political power could be achieved by peaceful means, that is, by winning over the majority of the people to its rallying call. This trend can only be regarded as a legitimate component of the mosaic of Egyptian political life. Even those who oppose the vision and ideology of the Muslim Brothers have no right to consider those among its members who aspire to power through persuasion as anything other than legitimate players in the democratic game. The same does not apply to the other trend within the Muslim Brothers which, according to el-Rafi i, considered that working to attain power by mobilizing public opinion through elections would take too long and that the use of force was the only viable option. The proponents of this school of thought are not politicians but, in the words of el Rafi i, “terrorists.”
Among the Brothers who sought to reach power in Egypt not through elections – as el-Banna advocated – but through the use of force were those who murdered Egyptian prime minister Mahmoud Fahmy el-Noqrashy (1948), judge Ahmed el-Khazindar (1948) and General Selim Zaky (1948); fired shots at Gamal Abdel Nasser in Alexandria s Mansheya Square (1954), killed Minister of Waqf Dr. el-Dahaby (1977), assassinated President Anwar Sadat (1981), killed Egyptian intellectual Farag Foda (1992) and attempted to kill Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1993). These murderers belonged to the trend within the Society of Muslim Brothers whose members disagreed with el-Banna s preference for a ‘peaceful accession to power through winning over the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people, believing rather that power would only be attained by force of arms. There are thus two distinct trends within the Muslim Brothers: one which believes that a peaceful accession to state power is possible and another that power can only be seized by force of arms.
Since the Brothers assassination of Prime Minister el-Nuqrashi in 1948 until their failed assassination attempt against Egypt s president in Addis Ababa in 1995, there is no evidence that the first trend which subscribes to el-Banna s doctrine of accession to power by non-violent means has become the only trend within the society. Some might argue that I am confusing the Muslim Brothers with other movements like the Jama at Islamiya, Jihad or the Jama at Takfireya. But like other students of political Islam in Egypt, I am well aware that the ‘kitchen of the Muslim Brothers is the source of all other trends of political Islam. I also know that their literature (whether peaceful like the works of el-Banna or militant like those of Sayyid Qutb) are the reference works for all the Egyptian trends of political Islam – indeed, for all trends of political Islam in the world. Take the literature of the Wahabi trend, for example, which is simplistic and shallow, its driving force the momentum of petrodollars. It does not rise to the level of the literature of such masters as Hassan el-Banna or Sayyid Qutb [a far deeper thinker than the man who inspired him, Abul Ala el-Mawdudi].
Although I deplore and condemn all the illegal measures taken by the Egyptian authorities against the Muslim Brothers from 1948 up to their accession to power, I am entitled to ask what proof we have that the trend of Hassan el-Banna, who advocated accession to power by peaceful means, is today the only trend within the Society of the Muslim Brothers. And what proof is there that the trend which opted for forceful reform, that is, through the use of violence and bloodshed, has disappeared? Or, for that matter, what proof is there that the accession to power of the peaceful trend within the movement will not be followed by a takeover by the non-peaceful trend which will refuse to step down, as Hamas has done in Gaza, under the pretext that only they are qualified to apply God s law?
EGYPT: LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS
For liberals in the Middle East like myself, promoting democracy in the Middle East is imperative. It is something that will benefit humanity. And undoubtedly, if the right steps are taken, democracy has every chance to flourish in Middle Eastern societies. However, a hasty transformation, is likely to be disastrous for the forces of progress in Egypt and equally in the Middle East, and fits well with the words of the historian Daniel Boorstin, who warned that planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers to humanity. If the right steps are taken, Middle East people (as Professor Bernard Lewis repeatedly expounded) are capable of enabling democracy to flourish in the Middle East societies. However, a hasty transformation is likely disastrous for the forces of progress in Egypt and equally in the Middle East. It is therefore legitimate to ask a few questions:
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the spread in that society of a culture of acceptance of the Other, one that respects and, indeed, cherishes, diversity as one of life’s most important attributes. Can the mentality and behavior of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the spread in that society of a culture of objective and complete acceptance of the Other, regardless of the shape ‘otherness’ takes. Can the mentality and behavior of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the spread in that society of a culture that can recognize the relative (as opposed to the absolute) merits of all opinions, theories, views and ideas. Can the mentality and behavior of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the emphasis it places on the rights of women and its recognition that they represent far more than their numerical value as making up half of society. Women raise all the members of society, and it is to the advantage of any society to ensure that they enjoy full equality with men. This entails discarding the primitive medieval perception of women as capable only of being wives and mothers. Can the mentality and behavior of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is its adoption of an educational philosophy based on innovation and creativity rather than on rote learning and memory tests. Can the mentality and behavior of the majority in the Egyptian authority today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is how highly its culture and educational philosophy rates the role of the human mind and its recognition that critical thinking is one of – if not the – most important engines of progress. This approach is the antithesis of the culture of blind obedience, submission and conformism that has permeated Muslim societies under rulers and sheikhs who have toed the line laid down by the proponents of orthodoxy and tradition following their victory over the proponents of deductive reasoning in the battle of ideas that raged nine centuries ago. Since then, ibn-Taymiyya, not Ibn Rushd, has become the “sheikh of Islam”. Do the members of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today believe in the supremacy of the human mind, in encouraging critical thinking and in curtailing the role and influence of the prevailing culture of blind obedience, submission and conformism? Can their mentality and behavior be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is its adoption of the values of cultural and religious tolerance. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is its adherence to the notion of citizenship, in the sense of ensuring complete equality between its members, regardless of religion, creed, beliefs, opinions, race or gender. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to conform to this ideal?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is its recognition of the universality of knowledge and science. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the spread in that society of a general cultural climate that respects and protects general freedoms, the most important being freedom of belief and the freedom to criticize anything – within the law. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is its renunciation of the practice of prosecuting any person for his or her ideas, writings or works of art, of banning books, in other words, its raising of the ceiling of freedom of thought, expression and creative imagination. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to qualify in this regard?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the value it places on human life, its utter and unqualified denunciation of any aggression against civilians under any pretext whatsoever. Unfortunately, some simple-minded members of our society rejoice at suicide attacks and criminal operations like the ones that targeted innocent civilians on the Indonesian island of Bali and the events of 9/11 in the United States. Can the mentality and behaviour of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today be said to stand unequivocally opposed to the culture of death and to uphold the sanctity of human life?
A measure of a society’s ranking on the scale of human civilization and progress is the ability to distinguish between “religious truths” and “scientific truths.” With all due respect to both, advanced societies have succeeded in keeping the two truths apart, careful never to allow them to overlap. Given the ideological formation of the majority in the Egyptian authorities today, are they capable of making the required distinction between “religious truths” and “scientific truths”?
I will conclude this chapter with an axiom that has come down to us from the glorious civilization of Ancient Greece, the Greece of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, one that every student of philosophy is familiar with: “Questions are all-seeing, answers are blind.” I can only hope that the page of questions is about to be closed in our society and that it will be replaced by an open page of definitive answers!
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
I. Muslim Brothers’ Political Thought
The truth is that the Brotherhood remains extremely opposed to Western civilization and to a political peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas is a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This group’s political thinking can be summarized as follows:
§ Political Freedoms: Unlike Western democracies, which guarantee the political participation of every citizen regardless of ideology, opinion, or religion, the Muslim Brothers make the political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of Islamic Sharia.
§ Freedom of Belief: The Muslim Brothers guarantee freedom of belief only for the followers of the three revealed (Abrahamic) religions, otherwise known as “the people of the Book.”
§ Personal Freedoms: While Western democracies guarantee the absolute freedom of the individual as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, the Muslim Brothers set freedom of thought within the strict parameters of a moral code derived from the Sharia. They call for the restoration of hisbah, which allows a private citizen to prosecute any individual who commits an act he considers a breach of the Sharia even if the plaintiff himself has not been personally injured by such an act. The right of hisbah was recently exercised by a private citizen in Egypt against the respected intellectual Dr. Nasr Hamad Abu Zayd, whose writings he considered as running counter to the teachings of Islam. The court ruled for the plaintiff, branding Dr. Abu Zayd an apostate and ordering him to divorce his wife on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to an apostate. Dr. Abu Zayd fled with his wife to the Netherlands.
§ Women’s Rights: In Western democracies, women enjoy the same political rights as men: they can hold public office and participate in political life without any restrictions based on gender. But as far as the Muslim Brothers are concerned, women’s political participation would be limited to municipal elections; there is no question, for example, of a woman ever becoming head of state. To further marginalize women and exclude them from any meaningful role in public life, the Muslim Brothers call for educational curricula to include material that is appropriate for women, tailored to suit their nature and role, as perceived by them. In addition to special curricula for girls, they insist on a complete segregation of the sexes in the classrooms, in public transportation, and in the workplace. The Islamist perception of women as lesser beings was illustrated in Kuwait, where Islamists temporarily blocked passage of a bill granting political rights to women.
§ The Economy: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of an economic system based on the respect of private property. At the same time, however, they insist that it be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia, which criminalizes bank interest. They also call for state ownership of public utilities.
§ System of Government: Contrary to the system of government applied in a democracy, which is based on the peaceful rotation of power through elections, the Muslim Brothers call for a system of government based on the principles of Sharia and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.
§ Civil Society: The freedom of movement enjoyed by civil society organizations in a democracy would, in an Islamist system, be conditional on their adherence to the strictures of Sharia.
§ Government: The Muslim Brothers oppose the notion of a state based on democratic institutions, calling instead for an Islamic government based on the shura (consultative assembly) system, veneration of the leader, and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. In this they are close to Iran’s system.
§ Political Freedoms: While the legislative branch of government monitors the actions of the state to ensure that they conform to the rules of democracy, the actions of the state are monitored by the Muslim Brothers to ensure that they conform to the rules of Islamic Sharia.
§ The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Muslim Brothers were the first to send volunteers to fight Israel when it was founded in 1948. They have opposed all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in particular the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel initiated by the late President Sadat. It would be true to say that the Muslim Brothers will never recognize the existence of Israel as legitimate.
§ Religious Minorities: Although the Muslim Brothers of Egypt do not go as far as their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, where the construction of houses of worship for non-Muslims is prohibited, their position on the question of religious minorities include the barring of any non-Muslim from becoming president and the subjection of non-Muslims to the principles of Sharia on which the entire legal system is based.
§ The Legal System: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of a constitutional and legal system based on the principles of Sharia, including the application of corporal punishments in the penal code (stoning, lashing, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc.)
§ Violence against Civilians: The Muslim Brothers have never condemned the use of violence against civilians, except if it is directed against Muslim civilians and even that only selectively.
Finally, “progress” in today s world is realized by two tools, “science and modern management”; two qualities that the Muslim Brothers have neither access to nor interest in.
II. The Necessity to Dialogue
Nevertheless, the harsh and often illegal treatment to which the Muslim Brotherhood have been subjected is both unacceptable legally and self-defeating in that it hardens attitudes on both sides. In fact, the only way to deal with the Islamists is through dialogue, by opening channels of communication and engaging in a frank interchange of views. Debating the issues is the only way to transform a religious party, in the long term, into a civil political party that subscribes to the main tenets of democracy: acceptance of the “Other”, rotation of power, and respect for other religions and for women. The transformation will be complete when political Islam abandons its distorted understanding of our religion from one rooted in the Middle Ages and reflecting the mentality of Bedouins bred in a harsh and unforgiving desert environment. Civil society is entitled to protect itself from any group that remains locked in a time warp and would have us all retreat with it into a distant past.
As reform in Egypt is a thousand times better than its takeover by any of a number of alternatives so too is reform in Saudi Arabia a thousand times better than its takeover by alternatives that could plunge the entire region into unprecedented chaos. Maintaining the stability of Saudi Arabia and all its neighbours is imperative. But guaranteeing stability is impossible without a historical operation against the extremists. The question is whether the sane elements in Saudi Arabia will follow a course similar to the one taken by their famous forbearer eighty years ago or whether they will continue to coexist with them until the ship sinks with everyone on board.
III. The Requirements of the Dialogue
Dialogue with Islamists should be based on seeking the true answers to the following questions:
1. Some of the Muslim Brothers (MB s) now expound the idea that Copts (Egyptian Christians) are "Fully First Class Egyptian Citizens." Would this imply that a Copt could be, in principle, elected president of Egypt?
2. Would the Muslim Brothers follow the Saudi model of segregating girls from boys in educational institutions such as schools and universities as well as all other organizations?
3. Non-History-Related-Tourism (i.e., beach tourism) generates in excess of 75 percent of Egypt s tourism revenues. What are the Brotherhood’s views on the sale of alcoholic beverages, gambling, and casinos, and women dressing in any way they choose?
4. What is the Brotherhood’s opinion concerning the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel, and between Jordan and Israel?
5. What do the MB’s think of the different forms of economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel (the Qualifying Industrial Zones [QIZ], in which joint enterprises receive special privileges for exporting goods to the United States, for instance)?
6. How do the MB’s describe the killing of Israeli civilians in Hamas or Islamic Jihad suicide operations?
7. Do the MB’s believe that Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine known as al-Hak imiyya--that government must be based exclusively on Allah’s law and which rejects democracy and human law as apostasy—is still the basis of their political system?
8. What are the views of the Brotherhood on women holding high government offices including ministries, the prime ministership, and supreme court judgeships?
9. What are the group’s views on the vision of a “two state” solution for Israel and Palestine to live peacefully next to each other? Would they then accept and recognize the right of Israel to exist? Would they also accept that the Jewish section of Jerusalem is Israel s capital?
10. Egypt’s legal system since 1883 has been based on the juridical notions of the European legal system. What are the Brotherhood’s plans with this regard? And what do they think of physical punishments, such as the sanctions applicable in Saudi Arabia?
11. Like all modern societies, the Egyptian banking system is based on the notion of interests for lending and savings. Will the Brotherhood keep it?
12. Is Iran a factor of stability (or instability) in today s world?
Finally, one must know that the Brothers are likely to use taqqiyya, a principle which--according to some clerics such as Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya--allows Muslims to lie if so doing assists them in ultimately defeating the infidels!
Islam has played an important role in the making of history and culture of the Arabic speaking peoples. While the “Muslim mind” has known periods of prosperity (according to the norms of the Middle-Ages) until the twelfth century A.D., it has also known, since that time, a course of decline, stagnation, and isolation, of which one cannot hide the features. Since the interaction of the peoples of this region with the West (since the first day of the French Campaign in Egypt in 1798), the problematic has materialized in two trends: the first trend asserts that the backwardness of our societies is due to the fact that we do not hold the set of religious doctrines as the way of life and work of individuals and societies. The holders of the second trend believe that it is inevitable to follow the mechanisms of the Western civilization in order to accomplish progress in their societies. It may be said (with some generalization) that the political, cultural, intellectual, and educational atmosphere of the Arabic speaking societies is witnessing a conflict between these two tendencies: the tendency of returning to Islamic sources and origins, and the tendency to use the mechanisms and values of the Western civilization which have gone beyond the frontiers of the West in the geographic sense, as they have become the mechanisms of several societies outside Europe.
I think that the preachers of the return to the sources and origins have little to offer besides big promises to the masses, while the intellectuals know that Islamic history is a purely human history which has known an era of relative prosperity (the reality and extent of which are often exaggerated), and which has then diminished and fallen when it issued a mentality of copying, opposed to reason and innovation, and when it set a low ceiling to the work of the human mind. In any case, the period which some call “the golden age” is only a period with features reflecting those of the realities of the Middle-Ages, in every sense of the word.
The big dilemma in this debate (which, in my opinion, is futile) is the mistake of looking upon the engines, mechanisms, dynamics and incentives of the Western civilization as being “Western”. I have proven in many of my books that the progress which Europe has witnessed has occurred due to human factors and not European or Western factors. The first of these factors is the strict limitation imposed on the authority and power of clergymen, followed by raising the ceiling of the freedom of thought, and the encouragement of the critical mind. These are the two factors which have helped the evolution of the values of progress, which are all “purely human”, not Western, Christian, or European.
One of the most obvious proofs that the values and characteristics of human progress are human and universal is what has taken place on a big scale in the Asian continent, when non-European societies employed the mechanisms and values of progress to accomplish development, and were able to achieve the required progress. This is what the world has witnessed in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, and then in other societies such as the Malaysian society which one may consider as the biggest proof that the values and mechanisms of progress are universal and human.
Coming back to Arabic speaking societies, analyzing their present political, economic, social, cultural, educational and media phenomena shows that their environments are totally devoid of the values of progress which are, as previously said, clearly human and universal.
The biggest challenge that this approach will have to face will always come from religious institutions, not for a purely religious motive (or even any religious motive as such), but to defend the unlimited authority and power to rule and direct life in their societies.
It can equally be asserted that the holy area which must be considered the cornerstone of the project of development is the institution of education, including (or even headed by) religious education. Any work outside this course will only have marginal effect and yield, as yield depends on what will happen in the educational institutions (and, I repeat, starting with the institutions of religious teaching).
The reform of general education and, with equal importance, of religious education is the cornerstone of the project of progress and development, which no one in our (Arabic speaking) societies can achieve before the educational reform, and particularly the reform of religious education, inculcates in the minds and consciences the values of progress as values that are first and foremost human and universal.
II. The Values of Progress:
An overview (or helicopter view) of the advanced societies, with a parallel (profound) knowledge of their history and their march tells that the progress of the societies which have advanced in their course towards development and progress is the result of a set of values which have been made fundamental to the society, by making them fundamental to the religious question; it is on the basis of these values that our Arabic speaking societies need to rebuild their educational institutions, among which the institutions of religious teaching.
The first value of progress is reason, criticism, and a wide space for the “critical mind”. This first value of progress will always be the most attacked by theocracy and the theocrats who know the implications of making this value fundamental to the educational institution of any society.
The second value is the one of “plurality” as being one of the most important characteristics of life in general, and of knowledge, science and culture in particular.
The third value is “otherness”, the essence of which is accepting the other, regardless of the aspect or the race of that other. Otherness is a natural consequence of the implantation of plurality.
The fourth of these values is the “universality of science and knowledge”. This value has a strong dialectical link with the three values previously mentioned.
The fifth value is the value of religious and cultural “tolerance”, as the natural consequence of the belief in the diversity of the different aspects of life.
The sixth value concerns “women and their place in the society”, starting with the idea that women are totally equal to men, have equal rights and duties, and have an equal human value. The link between progress and the status of women is a double dialectical link: on one hand, women represent half of the society in number; immobilizing half of the society can only have negative effects…. On the other hand, women raise the other half of the society; if they are not free people, they will bring up the other half with a mixture of the defects and disadvantages resulting from being brought up at the hands of an inferior person.
The seventh value is the one of “human rights” according to the concept which was developed during the past two centuries.
The eighth value is that of “citizenship”, as being the basis of the relationship between citizens, and their relationship with the state.
The ninth value is the modern concept of the state and “the rule of law” which differs from the concept of the tribe, the village, and the family.
The tenth value is that of “democracy”, the noblest human invention of the last two centuries.
The eleventh value is the value of “work”, including the modern notions surrounding work, such as team work, competence, the techniques of modern management, and the culture of enterprise as opposed to the culture of individuals.
The twelfth value is the “interest in the future” more than the excessive interest in the past, which is a characteristic of the Arab culture.
The thirteenth value is the value of “objectivity” which, even if it is relative, differs from the subjectivity that reigns in certain ancient cultures, the Arab culture being one of the most important. The sociology of the tribe which has widely governed the Arab culture favors subjectivity, and is far from the notion of objectivity.
The fourteenth value is the “relativity of science, knowledge and human governance”. The course of the human mind during these last three centuries has led it far from the culture of absolute governance, and driven it closer to the culture of relative governance.
The fifteenth value is that of “participation” and not following. Participation is a value which strongly opposes the importance of following and the scantiness of participating which the Arab cultures have secreted.
III. What is to be done?
During the last two centuries, the partisans of science, reason, and modernity slightly advanced in our societies. Then, they fell back to second place, far behind the school of returning to the roots and origins. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this, the major one being that the debate remains at a global (macro) level, without focusing on the radical change of the mentality through learning. Dialogue on a global level is generally based on slogans which are more attractive to the public. The majority of the supporters of the return to origins hold slogans that attract masses, even if they are half educated or half cultured (which is the case of most of them). Even when the opportunity presented itself in the form of leadership which was capable of undertaking the crossing from the darkness of reality to the light of progress (like in Turkey from 1923 to 1938, and in Tunisia from 1956 to 1987), the work on the educational institutions remained incomplete, and the size of religious teaching (totally divorced from the mentality of progress and modernity) reached, in chief countries like Turkey and Egypt, between 15% and 20% of the number of children of the society enrolled in the educational operation.
I think that despite the rise of the wave of the return to origins and roots, the world situation and the flow of history favor political authorities, authorities of the civil society, a selection of intellectuals, and authorities of education and media who believe in progress; these will be able, in the shadow of the general conditions, to sow the seed of reform in the land of education in general, and religious teaching in particular.
IV Reforming religious institutions, not ignoring them:
Having observed the cultural conditions of Arabic speaking societies for almost forty years, I am almost certain that ignoring religion (let alone wound it with pens and tongues of people motivated by anger rather than knowledge) is a fact which will yield no positive fruit. Religion is an essential element of the air which the peoples of our Arabic speaking region breathe. It is better to work on the reformation of religious institutions, religious culture, religious education and education in general, than to wage a Don Quixote style duel which will only result in losing of the peoples and distancing them. Here lies the danger of some groups of Arab intellectuals who have set as their primary mission the insolent attack on religion, instead of working on the way people understand religion.
 From a personal conversation between Professor Lewis and the author (Princeton, June 2004).
 Founder of the “textualist” school.
 He wanted to take Islam back to its sources.
 Founder of Wahhabism.
 They originally supported Ali the fourth Caliph, and then rejected him for his accepting arbitration with his Seffein battle enemies.
 First Muslim ruling dynasty.
 Islamic school of theology based on reason and rationality,founded in what is now Iraq, 8th - 10th c. AD.
 (794-842 AD). Eighth Caliph of the Abbassid era.
 Dr. Ali Shariati (1933-1977), who wrote and published his works before the downfall of the Shah of Iran, is one of the most prominent Iranian thinkers of the twentieth century.
 Kadarist translates to Eglish as “fatalist”.
 Reference to the Protestant Reformation of the Western Church which started early in the sixteenth century.
 Leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
 (1937-2006 AD). President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003 AD; sentenced to death and hanged by an Iraqi government set by U.S. forces, for the execution of 148 Shiites suspected of planning his assassination.
 Abu Jaᶜfar Mohamed ibn Jarir Al-Tabari (838-923 AD). Persian historian, author of Tarikh al Rusul wal Mulūk (History of the Prophets and Kings), (Albany, NY: The State University of New York Press, 1985-2007), and Jāmiᶜ al-bayān ᶜan ta wīl āy al-Qur ān (The commentary on the Qur an), (Cairo: 1902-1903).
 Imam Laith Ibn-Saad, (94-175 Hijra year). Sunni Muslim Jurist and sheikh (clergyman) of Imam Malik; lived in Egypt, see Kalmagy, Mohamed Rawas. Mawsuᶜat fiqh al Laith ibn Saᶜad (Encyclopedia of Al Laith ibn Saad’s Islamic jurisprudence), (Kuwait: Kuwait University, Majlis al Nashr al ᶜIlmy, 2002).
 Famous saying by the fourth Caliph Ali Ibn-Abi Talib who was murdered near the city of Najaf (Iraq) in 661 AD. See Al Sharif al Radi Abi al Hassan Mohamed ibn al Hussayn ibn Mussa ibn Mohamed ibn Mussa ibn Ibrahim ibn al Imam Mussa al Qaddhim, Nahj-ul-balagha, (Peak of Eloquence), (letter 77, p. 624), available at http://aqaed.info/pdf/shialib/498.pdf.
 A comprehensive history of these groups has been compiled by Professor Mahmoud Ismail Abdul Razzak, in an authoritative reference work entitled “The Secret Sects in Islam” (Al haraqāt al sirriyah fil islām), (Cairo: Sina Lel Nashr, & Beirut: Mu’assassat al Intishar al ᶜArabi, 5th ed. 1997). The author devotes special attention to the Qarmatians, who carried away the Black Stone of the Ka’ba and kept it in a remote area in the east of the Arabian Peninsula for over a century.
 The Muslim Brotherhood is a political religious movement founded by Hassan Al-Banna in Ismailia, Egypt, in 1928. The group calls for the reinstitution of Islam and Islamic law as the main pillars upon which the Egyptian – indeed, all Arab and Muslim societies – should be based. The group rejects secular and Western notions of the running of Islamic societies. As part of the Islamic notions the group set up a well-organized network of social independent institutions, such as schools and medical clinics, and gained much influence in Egyptian society. During the 1940’s, its secret wing was involved in subversive and violent acts against leading political figures and others who were perceived as its enemies. In 1954, Gamal Abd Al-Nasser banned the group and suppressed it, executing its leader Sayyid Qutb. The movement resumed its activities in the 1970’s under Sadat’s political liberalization, and even published its own journal, though its publication ceased after renewed political suppression in September 1981. Although the movement stresses its peaceful nature and distances itself from more extreme and violent groups, the official ban on it continues. In spite of this, the movement continues to operate and even takes part in Egyptian elections by presenting its candidates as independents or by forging coalitions with legitimate parties.
 For example, “The Revival of the Religious Sciences” (Ihya’ Ulum ad-Din translated) (Cambridge : Islamic Texts Society, 1990), “The Criterion of Knowledge” (Mi’yar al-‘Elm), (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʻah al-ʻArabīyah, 1927), “The Balance of Work” (Mizan al-‘Amal), (Lebanon: Dar al Kotob Al-ilmiyah, 2000), “Salvation From Perdition” (Al-Monqedh Min al’Dallal), (Beirut: al-Lajnah al-Duwalīyah li-Tarjamat al-Rawāʼiʻ, 1959), “The Essence of Orthodoxy” (Al-Mustafa Min Elm al-Osoul) (Beirut : Muʼassasat al-Risālah, 1997), and the “Incoherence of the Philosophers” (Tahafut al-Falasifah), (First published in the 11th century – available at http://www.ghazali.org/works/taf-eng.pdf).
 Including, “The Distinguished Jurist s Primer” (Bidayat al-Mujtahid Wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid), (English selections - Leyden : Brill, 1977), “Relationship of Religious Law with Philosophy” (Fasl al-Maqal fi ma bayn al-Shari`a wa al-hikma min al-Ittisal), (Cairo, Dār al-Maʻārif , 1972), and “Islamic Doctrine and Its Proofs” (Al-Kashf `an Manahij al-Adilla fi `Aqa id al-Milla), (Egypt: al-Maktabah al-Maḥmūdīyah al-Tijārīyah, 1935).
 (1918-1981 AD) Egyptian President from 1970 to 1981 AD Graduated from the Military Academy in 1938. Expelled from the army and imprisoned in 1940’s for subversive political activities and suspicion of participation in plots to assassinate senior political figures. When he was released, he rejoined the armed forces in 1950. He took part in the 1952 Free Officers Revolution and was a close ally of Gamal Abd-Al Nasser, who appointed Sadat in 1969 as his vice-president. When Nasser died, in September 1970, Sadat succeeded him as president. During the first years of his presidency Sadat quelled leftist opposition, surprised Israel in what was considered the victory of the 1973 war, reoriented Egyptian foreign policy towards the West (especially towards the USA), reversing its long pro-Soviet inclination. He introduced a series of economic and political reforms, promoting liberalization. In 1977, in a dramatic act and as a gesture demonstrating his will for peace, Sadat flew to Jerusalem and addressed the Israeli Knesset (parliament). The culmination of the process initiated by his visit was the signing of an Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement at Camp David. In his last years in power, Sadat’s rule suffered from growing disillusionment and opposition (mainly from Islamic elements), manifested in the popular riots that broke out in 1977 and his assassination, during a victory parade, on 6 October 1981 by Islamic militants belonging to the Jihad group.
 Islamic government, the head of the state is the Caliph.
 It became the Saudi capital from 1744 to 1818 AD.
 (C. 1769- 1849 AD).Governor of Egypt; founder of modern Egypt and of the dynasty which ruled Egypt until the expulsion of King Farouk on July 26, 1952 (followed by the abolishment of the monarchy on June 18, 1953).
 This is as true of eminent professors in top-notch universities, like Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington, and Francis Fukuyama as it is of the media, which has taken up the concept and used – if not abused – this “Huntigtonian” concept and turned it more or less into a slogan.
 Jamal Abd Al-Nasser (1918-1970 AD). Second Egyptian President 1954-1970. Graduated from the Military Academy in 1938. Participated as battalion commander in the 1948 War between the Arabs and the fledging State of Israel. After the war, he organized the Free Officers group, which consisted mainly of low-ranking officers, mainly from humble backgrounds, whose objective was to revamp what was believed to be a corrupt system (implying the ousting of the then-called royal dynasty). On 23 July 1952 they successfully executed a coup. Initially the officers installed coup leader General Mohamed Naguib as president. After growing dissent and rivalry, Nasser ousted Naguib and became the official president in 1954. Under his leadership Egypt underwent a series of economic, social and political reforms. He banned all parties except his own Arab Socialist Union. In the economic sphere he pursued a socialist policy, nationalizing in 1961 all major industries and utilities and adopting an ambitious development plan, with the project of the Great Dam of Aswan being one of his main achievements. His regime also carried out agrarian reform, redistributing agrarian lands in Egypt. In the international and inter-Arab sphere he adopted a nationalistic revolutionary Arab policy and was one of the co-founders of the non-alignment bloc in 1955. During his time in office Egypt’s foreign policy tilted towards the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Some of his most salient actions in the international arena were the nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, the union with Syria, the Egyptian involvement in Yemen and the 1967 War after which he resigned for 24 hours only to be reinstated following popular clamor. After his death, Nasser was succeeded by Anwar Al-Sadat.
 (1818-1883 AD).Prussian revolutionary philosopher and political economist, author of the "Communist Manifesto" in 1848 AD.
 Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, (Summer 1993).
 Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
 Related to the teachings of Confucius, the famous Chinese thinker and social philosopher (551-479 BC).
 (1866-1946 AD). English writer.
 (Born in Philadelphia, 1928 AD).American philosopher; he calls himself a "libertarian anarchist".
 British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 AD and from 1951 to 1955 AD.
 Middle Eastern region, historically covering from the east of the Mediterranean Sea to the Levant.
 Political party founded in Egypt by Saad Zaghloul in 1919 AD.
 (1940-1983). Egyptian poet influenced by Greek Mythology, pre-Islamic and Islamic imagery.
 (972-1058 AD). Muslim jurist from the Abbasid era.
 Reference to the theory proposed by Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
 A branch of Orthodox Judaism.
 Marie Curie (1867-1934). Polish physicist and chemist. Twice Nobel prize laureate, in Physics and Chemistry.
 One of the oldest and most important universities in France and in the entire world. (Université de Paris II).
 Former university professor, liberal Sunni Muslim.
 Translation of Sahih Bukhari available at http://www.holyebooks.org/islam/hadith_of_bukhari/index.html
 An “Imam” is an Islamic leader.
 (1867-1941 AD). Egyptian economist, co-founder of Banque Misr in 1920.
 Al-Shafici, Mohamed ibn Idris. ‘Al’um’ [Mother], (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, new ed. 2009).
 Independent interpretation of the legal sources in Islam
 (972-1058 AD). Muslim jurist from the Abbasid era.
 (1880-1953 AD). First king of Saudi Arabia.
 See e.g. Thomas, Laurence W., ‘Three Autobiographies: The Autobiography Of Larry W. Larry, Flights From Arabia, The Anderson File’, (Authorhouse, 2002).
 See http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaE&cid=1119503543118.
 See http://www.renaissance.com.pk/septfeart2y2.html.
 (Eighth century AD).Berber Umayyad Muslim leader, one of the most important military commanders in Iberia.
 Also known as the Battle of Poitiers, 732 AD
 (1859-1927 AD).Egyptian political figure; served as prime minister of Egypt from 26 January 1924 to 24 November 1924.
 A novel first published in 1988, whose British-Indian author (Sir) Salman Rushdie (born 1947 AD) was threatened to death because of the contents of the book considered offensive to the Prophet. The then Supreme Leader of Iran (Ayatollah Khomeini) issued a religious edict (fatwa) calling for Rushdie’s death. The latter lived in hiding for close to a decade.
 “The Innocence of Muslims”, anti-Islamic movie, (2012).
Ibn Taymiyya, Taqi ad-Din Ahmad. ‘Al Tafsir Al Kamil’ [The Complete Exegesis], (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Elfikr).
 Al-Ashri, Galal. ‘Thaqafatuna bayn al assala wal mu’assara’ [Our Culture between Authenticity and Contemporariness], (Cairo: Al Hay’a Al-Misriya Al-‘ama Lelkitab, 1981).
 Eldest or chief of the tribe.
 (1332-1406 AD). Arab Muslim polymath.
 Ibn Khaldun, Abd Ar Rahman bin Mohamed, The Muqaddimah, available at: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ik/Muqaddimah/Table_of_Contents.htm.
 In the west of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
 The French campaign in Egypt lasted three years, from 1798 to1801 AD.
 Ruler of Al Dar’iyah and son-in-law of Mohamed Ibn-Abdul Wahhab.
 People who came from Asia and built an Empire beyond the continent.
 A fatwa is a legal opinion or decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader.
 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). First president of Turkey and founder of the Republic of Turkey.
 (1888-1966). Egyptian Islamic scholar and judge.
 One of the companions and followers of the Prophet Mohamed, chief of the tribe of Banu Khazraj.
 Kufa is a city in what is now Iraq. Medina was the city where the Prophet Mohamed emigrated (hijra) in 622 AD, in what is now Saudi Arabia.
 (1872-1963), Egyptian intellectual known for his anti-colonial activism, the reform rector of Cairo University
 Ahmed Shafik (b. 1941). Egyptian former commander in the Egyptian Air Force, former Prime Minister of Egypt and candidate for the presidency of Egypt in 2012.
 Based on a Quranic principle of enjoining what is right (good) and prohibiting what is wrong (evil).
 (Died July 2010) Egyptian liberal theologian who viewed the Quran as a religious mythical literary work; he was convicted for apostasy and heresy in the 1990’s.
 Established by Khomeini (1902-1989); it enables diehard conservatives - a group to which the Supreme Guide certainly belongs - to nip any process of reform or renewal in the bud.