Egypt Must Confront Religious Fascism
A question: before the 1980s, were Egyptians less Muslim than they are today? On the contrary, most of them performed their religious obligations as Muslims and as far as possible behaved in a god-fearing manner. So Egyptians were Muslims before Wahabi propaganda reached Egypt. What’s the difference between the moderate Islam of Egyptians and the Islam of the Wahabi sheikhs? The difference is that all Egyptians thought that the essence of Islam lay in the great humanitarian values that Islam promotes: justice, freedom, and equality. But they never thought of using Islam as a political program for coming to power. All Egyptians, except the Muslim Brotherhood, treated Islam as a great religion, not as a political program. From the late 1970s, political Islam began to spread in Egypt with support from Gulf oil money (the price of oil increased several fold after the 1973 war).
Political Islam is promoted through three main ideas. First, the idea that there is a Western imperial conspiracy against Islam that obliges us to declare jihad against western “crusaders.” I disagree with this idea because although some Western governments are imperialist, Westerners are not necessarily so. We saw how millions of Westerners, including some Western governments, objected to the invasion of Iraq and most supported the Arab uprisings in varying degrees. Most Westerners as individuals are not hostile to Islam, and even the Western establishment is not hostile to Islam in itself, but only to anything that obstructs its interests. When Islamic governments act in line with the imperialist interests of the West, it will give them its full support, as in the case of the Saudi government, General Zia ul-Haqq in Pakistan, and the Taliban movement before the West turned against it.
Second, the idea that God’s laws are not being implemented and that we must enforce them, or else we would be infidels. I disagree with this idea because wherever justice is done God’s law is in force, and here we must not confuse sharia with fiqh, the jurisprudence of the sheikhs. Sharia is divine and permanent; fiqh is human and changeable. Specialists in fiqh have to use their intellect to adapt religion to the times to help people in their lives, not to make their lives more difficult and complicated. An example of that is that if the penalty for theft is amputation of a hand, and if the ruler finds that carrying out this penalty will lead to major problems (as happened in Sudan, leading to the secession of the south), doesn’t the ruler have the right to treat amputation as the maximum penalty and use imprisonment as a lesser penalty? Didn’t the caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab suspend the penalty of amputation during a year of famine? If there is a law that does not contravene the sharia and that serves the cause of justice, is not that law sharia-compliant? Doesn’t everything that brings people justice and other benefits enforce God’s law?
The third idea is that Islam imposes on us a particular form of government that we have to follow. Here too I disagree, because Islam laid down the principles for government but did not specify any one system. Let’s read the sermon that Abu Bakr gave when he took office as the first caliph in Islam: “People, I have been given authority over you, but I am not the best of you. If I do the right thing, then help me, and if I do wrong, then set me straight … Whenever any nation ceases to struggle for God’s cause, God reduces them to degradation, and whenever abominations spread among any nation, God always inflicts a scourge on them, so obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet, but if I disobey God, you owe me no obedience.” This sermon contains the principles of Islamic government. The ruler is no better than the common people and he does not rule by divine right but by the will of the people, who have a right to hold the ruler to account and, if they want, depose him. These are the principles of government in Islam and they are same as the principles of democracy: freedom, equality, a rotation of power and the sovereignty of the people.