Egypt’s El-Sisi Enlists Islamic Scholars to Discredit Islamists

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Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has called for nothing short of a religious revolution in Islam. As reported by Raymond Ibrahim, the words, “religious revolution” were those used by El-Sisi himself in an address to scholars at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Univeristy – the worldwide seat of Sunni Islam.

Speaking at a gathering on New Year’s day (see translated video below) to commemorate the Islamic founder Mohammed’s upcoming birthday, El-Sisi said:

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma  is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Making sure to distinguish between the religion itself and the scholarly interpretation of it, El-Sisi continued,

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

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants— seven billion of them—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

El-Sisi was referring to the interpretation of Islamic texts to advocate for political Islam, or Islamisim, a system of government based on strict sharia law.

The result of the rise of Islamism, said El-Sisi, is the chaos that the world has found itself in due to terror groups using this ideology to pursue their ends. He urged the top scholars found at Al Azhar to look at Islam (i.e. sharia law) from a different perspective:

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema [religious authorities] —Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

The idea of reform and renewal is not new in Islamic history, as there have been a number of reformist and revivalist movements throughout many Muslim societies.

This topic is also not new for El-Sisi. Last year, the Egyptian president said, “Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people.” At the time, El-Sisi spoke about the need to bring Islamic doctrines in line with the modern world, something he said has not been done for 800 years.

El-Sisi has also taken the battle against political Islam into governmental agencies that appear to be fighting this battle with him. 

Dar Al Iftaa, a governmental educational institution, is the highest religious governmental authority in Egypt and a center for Islamic legal research dating back centuries.  It is also the official Egyptian authority for publishing fatwas, religious edicts.

Judging from the institution’s public face – both in English and Arabic, the institution appears to be leading a campaign to portray Islam as a peaceful and moderate religion, interested in helping others, compassionate in its treatment of children, respectful of women and completely disdainful of Islamic terror groups like the Islamic State and their vision of political Islam.

Dar Al Iftaa maintains a Facebook page in English and one in Arabic  (which has garnered more than a million ”likes”).  It posts continual messages of Islam as a peaceful and loving religion, with texts to support this claim.

A publication by the institution, a book available in English titled The Ideological Battle Field: Dar Al Iftaa’s Combats Radicalization, is typical of the push by the government to discredit Islamic extremism.

The institute’s Arabic Facebook page is entirely devoted to calling out Islamist ideology. The page sites a multitude of scholarly reports that discredit Islamists and the violent jihad they have perpetrated.

Pointedly missing in the reports is the mention by name of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, whom the reports are most obviously speaking about. Instead, members of the groups are referred to as “those who have switched allegiance from Al Qaeda” and “those who declare other Muslims “infidels” (takfiris in Arabic).

In one such report, for example, scholars from Dar Al Iftaa emphatically state that those involved in terror in the name of Islam are perpetrating crimes against the Quran and the “tradition of the prophet.” The scholars maintain that verses and traditions are purposefully taken out of context and used by terror organizations for their convoluted purposes.

Another report by Dar Al Iftaa scholars details the violation and exploitation of women by terror groups under the name of Islam. The report describes how terrorists are humiliating women and taking advantage of them in the most vile ways simply to satisfy their own needs – needs which the report says are not connected to Islam at all.

The report discusses how women are considered a valuable tool to the terror organizations, particularly to draw more people – as well as more women — into the group. Moreover, the report maintains that the “increase of Islamophobia and the rise of the right-wing parties in Europe” were direct results from Western girls joining these organizations.

Yet another report featured prominently on the Dar Al Iftaa site follows Islamic terror groups throughout history, starting from the eleventh century Shiite terror group called “The Assassins” to the present day group, the Islamic State (again, referred to only as “those that have switch allegiance from Al Qaeda").

The scholars maintain that the common thread of these groups is the fact that each one declares other Muslims takfirist (infidels), giving them an excuse to kill and persecute other Muslims. The report details the modis operandi of these groups vis-à-vis recruiting followers: brainwashing and the promise heaven and women.

Of note in this report are comments against Islamist ideology by the “counselor of the mufti” who declared,

We need to dismantle the ideological foundation of the terror groups and disgrace them. This is an obligation that we must do now. The victory in the war of ideas against extremism and terror is a victory of for all humanitarian principles and it will be global stability.

Everyone who supports the takfir-ic ideas (the idea of blaming others as infidels) in word or in action or tries to justify it is an enemy of Islam, an enemy of the homeland and all of the noble human principles.

The report warns about the expansion of global jihad, and particularly the use of social media by jihadis to spread their ideas, a phenomenon that was not seen before and which needs a new strategy to combat.

Islamists in Egypt have taken note of EL-Sisi’s call for an Islamic reformation and the end to the ideology of political Islam. Writing in an article published on Al Jazeera Mohammed El-Sareer , the former advisor to the Minister of the Waqf (the government institute responsible for public religious property), ranted against El-Sisis, saying:

El-Sisi is calling for a religious revolution after he committed a military revolution. The Egyptian president accuses the beliefs of Islam, which he defines as holy, and he calls to go against them. He also says the 1.6 billion Muslims [of the world] are the reason for riots around the world, and he implies that jihad is the ultimate aspiration of Islam.

El-Sisi describes Muslims as people who are thirsty for blood and who live only at the expense of others. El-Sisi called for renewal of the religious discourse according to a military framework, so it would fit his military revolution. The proof of this is that he made the official ceremony of the birth of the prophet at 7 am like we are living in a military base.”

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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