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The Implications of Charlie for Political Islam

Fadel Soliman
Fadel Soliman

What is the message of Charlie Hebdo concerning political Islam? It must be allowed to compete and win power, lest these tragedies be repeated.

Of course, the political messages made out of terrorism are many. Some say greater security measures are needed. Others call for limitations on Muslim immigration. Some call for curbs on freedom of speech. Others demonize Islam as a whole.

But there is a powerful argument that states the flare-up of terroristic violence is tied to the grievances of Muslim people around the world. These could be the sufferings of the Palestinians, or the innocent victims of drone strikes. But one of the most animating interpretations of grievance comes in the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood at the hand of military authorities in Egypt.

Evaluation of this argument is beyond the scope of this article. But understanding the perspective is necessary to best appreciate the mindset of the segment of Islamists who insist they are committed to the peaceful pursuit of power. In this case the spokesman will be Fadel Soliman.

Soliman is the founder and director of Bridges Foundation, who following the September 11 tragedy wished to bring peoples together by correcting misunderstandings of Islam. An Egyptian, he created a Cairo branch in 2005 under the auspices of then-Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, and enjoyed wide favor in both countries, winning endorsements also by congressmen and military leaders in the US.

But over the course of the Arab Spring his position of favor with the government changed. Soliman was an active participant in the revolution, but was also among the protestors at the pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba’a al-Adaweya, where he witnessed sixteen of his students killed in the bloody dispersal. He has not returned to Egypt since.

In December he published a video in which the above perspective on political Islam is established. He is horrified by the emergence of the so-called Islamic State, but more so by the attraction Muslim youth are beginning to show. Millions, he said, own the dream of ruling by sharia.

When the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated power could come through peaceful, democratic methods, they flocked to his support. But following the coup, he states, the world has witnessed an unprecedented recruitment of jihadists to Syria and Iraq. The worst, he predicts, is yet to come.

This message is given as part of a video series organized by the Munathera (Debate) Initiative, asking, “There won’t be change without…” Soliman’s answer is, “…the renewal of hope for peaceful change.” But Soliman can offer no specifics on what to do to renew this hope. He remarked about the strength of protests in the streets, and noted the violence in Syria only began when the army split. Tactics, however, are for the leaders, and he is part of no Islamist organization.

But he is an observer and knows his community. He compared the situation to a pipe with two spigots. If one is plugged up (political Islam), the water will definitely come out the other (jihadist Islam).

He did have a message for the church, however, given in Christmas felicitations offered to the leaders of Christians against the Coup. Copts should think for themselves and stop following the political dictates of the church. He believed violence is coming given the choices made to support Sisi.

“I am so worried about the future of Egypt,” said Soliman, “especially about the reactions of Muslims toward you.”

Soliman noted parallels to Mamluk Egypt when some Copts, he said, cooperated with the ‘coup’ attempt of the invading Mongols. Some viewed this as treachery, and in 1321 mobs took it out on the community as a whole, destroying churches and looting homes. Historian Phillip Jenkins says the government, after initially trying to suppress the riots, eventually looked the other way. Soliman said many Muslims today view Christian support of the coup as similar treachery.

But is this an accurate description? Copts have lauded the current climate as one in which Copts have never received such appreciation from state and society together. Muslims in the millions also backed Sisi, but many Islamists focus on Christian participation.

Soliman is clear he is not making a threat, he is describing his fear. But he speaks powerfully about the need for justice for those who have shed blood, and is convinced about the best method revealed to man.

“Sharia means absolute justice for everyone,” he said, noting his previous efforts to locate the UN Declaration of Human Rights in its contents. “So if I see a world of injustice its application is my dream.

“It is my right as a Muslim and as an Islamist to see sharia prevailing. It is my right, whether I am right or wrong.”

As mentioned above, ‘right or wrong’ is beyond the scope of this article. But right or wrong in his assessment of Egypt, right or wrong in his judgment of sharia, his vision is right in the eyes of millions.

Will these copycat Charlie Hebdo? Should the threat yield greater allowance to political Islam? Does it warrant greater curtailment? This is only one of the political debates in its aftermath, but Egypt is the ongoing laboratory.

This article was first published on Arab West Report.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Atheism and Insult

Flag Cross Quran


Words injure. Ideas have consequences. Give Egypt wisdom and strength of character to tread righteously in irreligious waters.

For Charlie Hebdo insists on staying in the headlines. The head of the Azhar called for Muhammad cartoons to be ignored, while a pro-Brotherhood scholar called for demonstrations and international blasphemy laws. Many expressed anger and warned of violent reactions, even as they condemned them.

And perhaps similarly, Egypt jailed a local citizen for being an atheist. He was harassed in his home town and complained to the police, but instead wound up arrested. His father testified against him, and his incarceration will last three years. He is not the only blasphemer in prison, and others are on trial.

God, all rights come with responsibility, and the law regulates limitations. Do you have an opinion on where to draw the line?

Moreover, do you wish mankind to police your honor?

Help Egypt to process these questions, God, protecting good, preserving liberty, for individual and society alike.

Give courage to speak a rebuke. Give humility to win the recipient. Give patience to bear an insult. Give confidence to respond in love.

Give the same to Egypt’s atheists, as to those offended by them. Guide both to what is true and right. Guide all in defining their place.

You are the word, God, how you respond when injured? You are the idea, from which all consequences follow. Help Egypt imitate your character, and in you find strength.



Voices against Charlie

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

Muslims and Muslim majority nations, including Egypt, have roundly condemned the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper. But the ideology that informs such an attack is present not just among those with access to weapons. This Mada Masr article contains a full survey of Egyptian reactions, most of which stand against the murders. But interesting are the ordinary voices that express sympathy with the attack:

Many Egyptian social media users were not fully sympathetic toward the cartoonists killed in the incident. Business intelligence consultant Ramy Mahrous, 28, told Mada Masr that he only respects non-Muslims who are respectful of his religion.

“Otherwise, I wish anyone attacking my religion to burn alive, and I would be very happy seeing him burning,” he said.

Twitter user Ahmed Adel told Mada Masr that attacking religious symbols and religion in general is a “red line,” but Muslims generally do not take serious actions against such offenses, while the offending parties “reap the fruit of their actions.”

“Islam forced us to defend our sacred principles. [The shooting] is not an attack, it is self-defense,” he argued.

Adel recounted some incidents from Prophet Mohamed’s life that he interpreted as supportive of his position.

“All of this should make us more ardent [defenders] of our religion, if we love our religion in the first place,” he added.

In a similar vein, Sahar al-Sherbiny told Mada she believes that fervent belief could lead a Muslim to kill someone offending his or her religion.

“I don’t know many details of what happened in France, but if I saw someone offending Prophet Mohamed in front of me and I had a weapon, I would verbally warn him first. If he continued, I would kill him,” she tweeted.

Better would have been interviews with people on the street. Social media provides an artificial atmosphere that encourages the expression of more extreme views. But perhaps the relative safety also allows full disclosure.

It is wrong to generalize a people and their religion, either positively or negatively. But where there is such dissonance between cultures, it is important to see the other as a real person, and hear their real voice. It is only then that alternate policies and perspectives might make a real difference.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Visions of Religion

Flag Cross Quran


If you are the light, the good, and the pure, then it stands to reason that the closer one approaches you the more imperfections are visible. Furthermore, the accumulated wisdom in the approach to you – religion – is prone to the same exposure. Great virtue lies along your path, great vice looms a step awry.

And therefore man is a poor judge. Sometimes the deed seems obvious. Gunmen fire randomly into a newspaper office, or kill policemen guarding a church. Sometimes the act is contested. Religious leaders comment on politics, or political leaders comment on religion. And sometimes the symbol seems worthy. A president visits holiday mass, or a policeman is killed guarding a newspaper.

But in each one, God, man can find both honor or fault. Some difference stems from the choice of religion, some from the different visions of each. The path is important, God, as is the heart. Judge mercifully, but justly. May man imitate you as closely as possible.

For those who kill in your name, offended by the offense given to the revered, instill in them your own humility. For those who kill in your name, seeking retribution and reversal denied them in this world, instill in them a faith in your ordering of affairs.

For a pope who comments on politics, give him wisdom to discern reality, to speak judiciously, and to lead as a servant. For a president who comments on religion, give him wisdom to seek knowledge, to judge his limits, and to lead as a visionary.

For the symbol of state to recognize Christmas, bless intentions of unity amid accusations of politics. For the symbol of sacrifice in defense of another’s religious or irreligious voice, bless the faithfulness of duty amid uncertainties of criticism.

Should human freedom permit religious mocking? Should religious freedom permit divergence in the community?

Should Christianity stand with the powers-that-be, or simply pray for them? Does Islam need a renewal of religious discourse, or a better imitation of its origins?

God for so many the answers are obvious; for others these answers are obviously different. We are poor judges, especially in religion. Show us the light, the good, and the pure. Help us hold to conviction where our vision is true, but in our certainty show us our darkness, our bad, and our impurity.

Bless Egypt in these questions, God, as a nation may she draw closer to you. Reveal her imperfections. Give her the best wisdom in religion. Guide her on the right path. Keep her foot from slipping.