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Saad al-Din al-Hilali: An Azhari Rails against Religion in the Constitution

Saad al-Din al-Hilali

From my recentarticle at Arab West Report, continuing a series on the people who wrote the constitution:

Sa’d al-Dīn al-Hilālī is a professor of comparative jurisprudence at Azhar University, where he is acknowledged as an expert in both sharī‘ah and international legal systems. Perhaps for this acumen he was selected as a member of the Committee of Fifty tasked to amend the Egyptian constitution. But he does not know, because he was not one of the three members chosen to represent the Azhar officially as an institution. Instead he was picked in the category of ‘general personalities’, learned of his selection via the television, and has never received an explanation why. He is quite happy not knowing, as he can express his appreciation to God alone.

The Azhar is the premier religious institution in Egypt, perhaps in the Arab world. Many consider it to be a ‘moderate’ body; if so, Hilali is a radical in the opposite direction:

Though Hilālī preferred not to characterize the internal workings behind either the disagreements or consensus, he spoke frankly about how he communicated to his colleagues on the topic of sharī‘ah. Most accepted what will be described below, he said. Some, who prefer to rule the street by claiming they ‘protect’ sharī‘ah, taking advantage of illiterates in doing so, were less pleased.

Article 2, for example, was previously inserted in the constitution only to satisfy these illiterates. They believe such a clause is necessary for them to go to heaven, and all the while they are laughed at by those who exploit them in pursuit of power. What does it mean that Islam is the religion of the state? Nothing. What are the principles of sharī‘ah that must be the main source of legislation? Only the concepts of mercy, justice, and equality, over which no one disagrees. If the United States were to draft sharī‘ah into its constitution, would that make everyone a Muslim? If Egypt were to make Christianity the religion of the state, would he become one? No, these are personal matters between the individual and God, each of whom interprets religion in his own way.

If this sounds like the general understanding of religion in the West, read on:

Fair enough, perhaps, but does not Islam as a religion demand some measure of public enforcement, based on the will of God? Muslims are tasked with the role of ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong’, so what is involved in doing so?

Correct interpretation, Hilālī argued, is that right and wrong are calculated for all, not by the individual, and can be equated well with the principles of sharī‘ah as the constitution states. He listed as examples helping parents and neighbors, working rather than unemployment, and refusing terrorism and killing, and said the rest is to be worked out by the judiciary and the police. As for the famous hadith that instructs the Muslim to correct a wrong with his hand if he is able, with his tongue if he is not, and with his heart as the least requirement of faith, Hilālī accepted it. The hand is the hand of the state, the tongue is the voice of the preachers giving enlightenment, and heart is for everyone else outside of these contexts. In this he is in line with much historic interpretation of sharī‘ah, but not all.

But this is fine, he might say. After all, sharī‘ah is meant for guidance and knowledge. Once its details are sought to be enforced in the public square one Muslim will clash with another over what is allowed and what is forbidden. This is in fact what happened to Egypt, and remains in the current struggle. Europe eventually rid itself of religious authority, he said, and this was Egypt’s trial now. America has achieved this light in its constitution, he believed, but now seeks (through support for the Brotherhood) to deny it to us.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

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