This third and final article on Sheikh Osama al-Qusi focuses on a matter closest to his heart and specialization of study: The sunna of Muhammad, that is, what he said and did outside the recorded testimony of the Qur’an. Whereas article one provided his life history in pursuit of this knowledge, and article two pertained to its implications for Egypt and its governance following the Arab Spring, this article is an introduction to the study itself – ilm al-hadith (the study of tradition) – especially in their proper determination. In technical parlance this is called ilm al-jarh wa al-ta’deel, roughly translated as the science of criticizing and praising.
There are thousands upon thousands of historical records which state Muhammad said or did this or that. How is anyone to know if these collections are accurate or invented? Muslims themselves admit great swaths of these testimonies are not trustworthy, or are at least subject to significant doubt. Long before modern academic criticism informed Biblical study, Muslims developed means to judge their religious sources.
Though the Qur’an was sacrosanct – and remains so – scholars insisted the sunna of the prophet be examined closely. Many recognize, as al-Qusi stated, that the Qur’an is dependent upon the sunna for the elucidation of its meanings. Yet while the Qur’an was a collected and established document early in Islamic history, the sunna were simply scattered recollections from Muhammad’s companions. Their accuracy was of paramount importance in determining Islamic morality and jurisprudence.
As one tradition records, Muhammad said his community would divide into seventy-three groups; the only one to avoiding hellfire is the one that takes up what he and his companions did. These are those who follow the sunna – that is, Sunnis – and perhaps more specifically, Salafis, those who follow the ‘pious ancestors’.
This text will present the views of Sheikh Osama al-Qusi, first providing the history of sunna collection, then some of its technical aspects. It will also describe some of those who fault this technique, ending with why Sunnis represent a middle way among all those who criticize it from various directions.
Sheikh al-Qusi compared the beginnings of sunna collection to the process of assembling the Qur’an. Following the wars of apostasy which cemented his political authority, Abu Bakr, the first caliph, recognized many of those who had memorized the Qur’an were now dead. He ordered Zayd ibn Thabit to consult all authorities and collect all fragments, from which the Qur’an should become a recognized written text. The third caliph Uthman ibn Uffan then standardized this work further, creating six copies to be mailed to each corner of the empire, and then burned all others.
Somewhat in contrast, as opposed to the centralization of the Qur’an the sunna proliferated in fragments and collections. The second caliph Oman ibn al-Khattab began the process of gathering these testimonies and written fragments about Muhammad, but the effort began in earnest with a caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, Omar ibn Abdel Aziz, in 99 AH. Now considered by some Muslims as a ‘rightly guided’ caliph alongside the first four, Omar used his short two and a half year reign to collect all extant sources.
Omar authorized Ali Mayni to supervise this work, and he relied principally upon two other scholars, al-Zuhri and Abu Bakr ibn Hazm. The work was difficult as by this time the empire had grown significantly, with a corresponding scattering of scholars. Nevertheless, after Omar’s death in 101 AH Imam Malik ibn Anas produced the first collection of traditions, entitled al-Muwatta (The Approved).
Building on this work, the widely respected al-Muslim (d. 875 AD) and al-Bukhari (d. 870 AD) produced their collections of traditions, and were followed by al-Tirmidhi (d. 892 AD), ibn Maja (d. 887 AD), al-Nisa’i (d. 915 AD), and abu Dawud (d. 889 AD), all in the 3rd Century of Islam. These six collections are still considered ‘canonical’ by Sunni Muslims to this day.
Yet these collections also establish the necessity of tradition evaluation. al-Muslim’s and al-Bukhari’s works are distinguished over their contemporaries as they only record those traditions deemed reliable. Others simply recorded all the traditions they found, and in other works, al-Bukhari did the same. His three part work, al-Tarikh al-Kabir, al-Saghir, and al-Wasat (The Large, Small, and Medium History) includes traditions considered less than reliably demonstrated. Further influential collections were assembled by ibn Hiban (d. 965 AD) and ibn Khuzayma (d. 923 AD).
Each of these scholars engaged the evaluation of traditions at various levels, yet the process of jarh wa ta’deel was not fully standardized until the 5th Century AH, when it assumed the form which continues today. Every tradition is evaluated on its two parts, the matn (body or content) and the isnad (ascription or chain of authorities). The matn is the meat of the tradition, describing what Muhammad and his companions said or did in a certain circumstance. The isnad is its guarantee, describing how the recorder of the tradition heard it from so-and-so, who heard it from…, and so on, until the chain reaches back to the one who witnessed it directly.
Within jarh wa ta’deel, jarh concerns itself with the matn, to evaluate if the content of the tradition is consistent with greater Islamic history and teaching. Yet more important is ta’deel, to determine the trustworthiness of each person mentioned in the isnad. ‘Adalah (justice) relates to whether or not he was a moral person in his conduct, while dabt (certification) relates to his power of memory. That is, does each mentioned authority possess both the faculty to record accurately what he heard, and the character to pass it on unadulterated? If so, the text of the matn is generally accepted, which can create interesting dilemmas, as will be presented below.
The result of this process divides traditions into categories. Sahih (sound), hasn (good), da’eef (weak), munkar (denounced), and mawdu’ (fabricated) are the standard listings. The collections of al-Muslim and al-Bukhari are named sahih, reflecting their diligent work to include only those traditions which passed the test. Generally speaking, there is no need to review all the historic material again, since this was accomplished thoroughly by the early scholars and finalized by the 5th Century AH. Nevertheless, the refinement process continues, and Sheikh ibn al-Albani of Saudi Arabia was one of the most preeminent modern specialists in ilm al-hadith, the science of traditions.
As has been done with academic criticism in Christianity, modern scholars, especially but not exclusively Western, have begun to examine Islamic sources to probe their reliability. While some take aim at the Qur’an itself, the traditions are an especially fertile field, with many scholars convinced most emerged not from the time of Muhammad, but from within the dynastic theological and political struggles of the growing empire.
Among non-Western scholars, the Egyptian Mahmoud Abu Raya takes on the reputation of one of the companions of Muhammad, Abu Hurayra, calling him the ‘sheikh of porridge’ for selling invented traditions to the Umayyad dynasty. Sheikh al-Qusi is untroubled by these allegations, finding them simply to be recycled charges from earlier Islamic eras. He then proceeded to describe them.
One of the chief dangers is assaulting the reputation of Muhammad’s companions – who represent the sources of most traditions – is that this threatens to rebound upon the Qur’an itself. It is the companions who memorized the Qur’an and were the source of authority when the authoritative copies were issued. If their character is in question, if they freely invented tales of traditions, may they have done the same with the Qur’an? Moreover, the Qur’an states that God specifically chose the companions of Muhammad; to cast doubt upon them, therefore, is to cast doubt upon God.
This is the chief danger of the Shia sect of Islam, which rejects the first three caliphs in favor of the fourth, Ali, who they believe to have been Muhammad’s choice for succession. They find many of the companions to have been complicit in the scheming which kept Ali from power, and instead favor only the relatives of Muhammad, believing them to be the heirs and rightful leaders of Islam.
Another early critic of the sunna were a philosophical group called the Mu’tazila. They represented the school of reason in Islam, and rejected all traditions in which reason contradicted with the matn. But in matters of faith, reason only goes so far, al-Qusi asserted. Reason is important, but where a contradiction appears, it is usually our own faculties which are deficient.
A modern example concerns a tradition in which Muhammad asserts that only God knows what is in the womb of a pregnant woman. With the advent of ultrasound technology, however, some Muslims rejected the advancement as a charade since it contradicted this saying. This is not right, believes al-Qusi, since only minor reflection is needed to allow science and tradition to find common ground.
A modern equivalent of the Mu’tazila is known as the Qur’aniyuun (Qur’anists), who dismiss the traditions entirely and rely upon the Qur’an alone. Yet they fail to realize Islam is far more than the Qur’an; by excluding the sunna much is lost. Some members of this school pray only three times a day, for example, as the familiar five is related in the traditions, not the Qur’an. In essence, they are substituting modern wisdom for the toils of centuries of scholars, creating for themselves a new ilm al-hadith, where the work has already been done. Every tradition has its isnad, and every character therein has been tested.
The Middle Way
Sunnism, therefore, stands in the center of divergent extreme positions. To make his point, however, Sheikh al-Qusi introduced an Islamic sect which was powerful in history but today is nearly non-existent. The Khawarij (Outsiders) were Muslims completely dedicated to the new religion, fanatical in their interpretation, and partisan to the companions of Muhammad.
Their loyalty to the early caliphs led to a corresponding rejection of the relatives of Muhammad, whom they viewed as seeking to make Islam a family heritage. The Shia, as mentioned before, supported the family and disparaged many companions. Eventually, Sunnism developed a middle position, honoring all early Muslim pioneers, from among the companions and the family, and forbid the practice of speaking against them. After all, as the Qur’an stated, these were chosen by God.
Similarly, Sunnism developed a middle position between the strict literalism of the Khawarij, present among some Salafis today, and the strict elevation of reason by the Mu’tazila, adopted by many critics of Islamic traditions. For Sunnis, reason is an important part of faith, but it should not triumph over revelation, which comes from a reason far greater than that of man.
As insightful as this conversation was, it did not treat the most important issue – reliability of the traditions. Perhaps this was inevitable, as it requires scholarship yet beyond the interviewer. Familiarity is demanded not only of ilm al-hadith, but also its modern academic critique. Sheikh al-Qusi provided another building block from which to attain to such knowledge, but though he asserted the historical soundness of jarh wa ta’deel concerning the traditions, he did not demonstrate it.
Should these lessons be learned in the future, they will be provided for the benefit of readership. For now, however, the value lies in comprehending not only the nature and disputes surrounding Islamic traditions, but also the presence of established guidelines in navigating them. This is the domain of Sheikh Osama al-Qusi and many others, receiving a lifetime of study. Such pursuit and dedication is worthy of respect. Whether or not it deserves credence is a matter of evidence and perspective, requiring more than this simple text.
Sheikh Osama al-Qusi is a Salafi Muslim scholar in Egypt who has won a level of notoriety since the revolution. Prior to January 25, 2011, Salafis were a largely unknown and mostly silent religious trend in Egypt, with strength concentrated in Alexandria. Their theology encourages absolute submission to the ruling leader, while encouraging devout imitation of the early Islamic lifestyle. As such, they were marginal, though through the influence of Gulf-promoted satellite television their numbers increased steadily.
After the revolution Salafis exploded on the scene urging a now democratic Egypt to construct itself as an Islamic state. Though democracy was traditionally a rejected concept theologically, pragmatic Salafis urged political participation to reorient a Muslim Egypt on the proper path. A number of their scholars became household names, most notably Mohamed Hassan and Safwat Hegazi, who became media figures and were encouraged by the ruling military council to intercede in sectarian conflict. Public reaction to Salafism has largely been negative, fearing the austere vision of Islam they promote, likening it to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Yet the strength of their numbers is undeniable, though it is not at all certain they can translate this into political victory.
Osama al-Qusi’s moderate celebrity has not come by riding this wave, but by criticizing it. While truly a Salafi, he finds the political machinations of his group, and other Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to be a severe departure from the Salafi spirit. Furthermore, he finds that in seeking to force implementation of an ancient paradigm Muslims risk running afoul not only of domestic and international realities, but also of the Prophet Muhammad himself.
In the interview that follows Osama al-Qusi discusses these matters, as well as sheds light on diverse controversies such as violating Ramadan, converting from Islam, and brushing your teeth. He gives judgment not only on the proper source of law in modern Egypt, but also on whether or not the traditional Salafi dress and beard is mandatory for Muslims. For all of his opinions Osama al-Qusi has been sharply criticized by other Salafi figures. Yet in his own mind he remains convinced of his affiliation, and hopes his influential and historic school may be conformed to reality and modernity. Read on for yourself to judge between them:
JC: I understand that Salafism, in its basic understanding, is an imitation of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, the Followers of these Companions, and then the Followers of the Followers, stretching three generations. Is this correct?
OQ: Yes, Imam Malik ibn Anas, who was of the third generation and founded one of the four major legal schools in Sunni Islam, stated that nothing is useful for the latest Muslims, except that which was useful for the first Muslims.
In Islam, it is understood that all the prophets completed one another, bringing one message. As such, the doctrines of Islam do not change from one generation to another, and similarly, neither do its values or principles.
One of the issues between me and others lies in the fact that I understand Salafism to be a religion, while others make it out to be politics. But Islam in itself is not economic, nor physical, nor medical, though its values and principles inform all of these areas.
There is no such thing as ‘athletic Islam’, for example. But in any sport there is a referee, who must preside over the game according to the rules therein. Islam’s values and principles do not set the rules of the game, but they do set the attitude of the referee, who keeps all in line.
JC: But many Muslims maintain that everything is Islamic, and should be governed by religion.
OQ: This is a new idea in Islam. It comes from Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, and Mawdudi of Pakistan, who were reacting to the fall of the Islamic Caliphate, and who wished to restore it politically. But Salafism is not politics; it is doctrine, principles, and morality. It is not the details of life; it is the purposes and not the means. The means of life change from one generation to another.
JC: Why then do you maintain a long beard?
OQ: In some of the hadith, Muhammad stated that men should grow their beards, which puts this in the category of religion, as a command. It is also mentioned that earlier prophets had beards, but furthermore, it is part of nature. God did not give men their beards for nothing, and it is not fitting for men to resemble women, or vice versa. We should preserve the natural order as God created it.
The fact of God’s direct commands also applies to the hadd punishments of Islam, which are corporal in nature, such as cutting off the hand of a thief. Even so, I differ from many Muslims. Islamists say these punishments should be applied without distinction, while liberals say they were for a time and that we can change the punishment while keeping the principle. I am with neither group. God commanded these punishments just like he commanded men to pray; we cannot change his instructions. But at the same time, his instructions come with many distinctions that moderate its application.
In such a manner, God’s commands are not found in other parts of life such as business, agriculture, or others. There are few proscriptions here, if any. We must figure these out on our own, in light of Islamic principles.
JC: So you keep your beard like most Salafis, but you do not dress like them. What makes the difference?
OQ: Yes, the hadith records that Muhammad wore a long white robe, but it does not record that he commanded others to do so. He simply did this because he received it from his parents, and there is no reason to necessarily dress this way from generation to generation.
JC: Is this similar to the siwak (a traditional wooden shard used to clean teeth)? It was also used before Muhammad.
OQ: In Islam there are five categories of action. There is wajib (duty), mustahib (desired), mubah (allowed), makruh (detested), and muharram (forbidden). Most scholars put the beard and the siwak in the category of ‘desired’. He ordered them to use the instrument they found around them, and today we have other instruments. The principle is to clean your teeth.
Interestingly, if you look to areas where the siwak is found naturally, such as Yemen and Sudan, you notice that the people have very healthy teeth. This is in contrast to Egypt, for example, where it is not found.
JC: But if the instrument of siwak can change, why with hadd punishments must you keep the means of cutting off hands?
OQ: The problem with Islamists is not the means of punishment, but the application. For example, there is a hadith that states the thief’s hand is not cut off unless he steals a certain amount. There are other stipulations as well.
In Islam there are only about five or so specific hadd punishments, while there is a broader category called ta’zeer (reprimand). In this category the punishment is left for man to determine, but with hadd, as mentioned, it comes from God’s direct command. In terms of the means of cutting off a hand, however, this can change from generation to generation. It used to be with a sword, but there is no reason it couldn’t be by laser, for example, to provide a cleaner, more sanitary cut.
Some Islamists, though, say we have to apply the hadd punishments now, but this is not fitting, especially as there is so much poverty. During the time of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab there was a harsh famine, and he made the decision to suspend the hadd punishment of cutting of hands. As such, we should wait until the economic situation stabilizes, because then, if someone steals, he truly is a criminal, deserving of his punishment.
Unfortunately, there is not much flexibility in many Islamists. Yet if we look at the life of Muhammad we see he lived through many different stages of life. Taking note, this provides flexibility in our understanding of the Qur’an and sunna. Many Islamists, however, take the final stage of Muhammad’s life, when he entered Mecca as a conqueror and governed as its ruler, and believe this period to abrogate his other teachings and behaviors.
Yes, there is abrogation in Islam, but not of this manner, it comes in much more specific forms. In terms of his life, we should see how he behaved differently depending on his different circumstances, and learn from what he did. No, we cannot compare our situations exactly to his, but we can notice that when he was weak, he acted in one manner, and when he became strong, he changed his manner accordingly.
An example that may guide Egypt today is when Muhammad first returned to Mecca as a pilgrim, with many followers, aiming to do the umra. The leadership of Mecca denied them, and many wanted to fight, but Muhammad instead secured the Treaty of Hudaybiya with Meccan leadership. According to the treaty he decided to leave, but would have the right to return as a pilgrim in one year’s time. Upon fulfillment, Muhammad and the Muslims conducted their pilgrimage rites marching around the Ka’aba, even though it was full of idols. Though these were anathema to the Islamic religion, he did not destroy them, since he had no authority to do so.
Today, many Islamists want to apply the hadd punishments, but they do not consider if Egypt possesses the authority to do so. Islam may command certain matters, but it is not always possible to do everything we should in every time and place.
For example, what if we apply the hadd punishments, but then the United States declares this is against human rights, and cuts off their grain supply? In Islam, we must always consider the overall interest. Can we apply the laws we want? Maybe, and maybe not – the world has become as one village. We must evaluate based on what is possible, with its consequences and benefits. All this must be weighed in light of Islamic values and principles.
JC: Understood. But is not this reasoning similar to certain Islamists who delay the path to power, but desire it in the end?
OQ: Islamists believe the Islam must result in the creation of a state, for governance. I do not. Yes, you are right, there are aspects of what we can accomplish now, and what we cannot. But Islamists – the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis – believe that they are the ones who should rise to power.
There are two things to take into consideration: Egypt, and the Islamic state, which represents the Islamic religion, all Muslims, and does not currently exist.
The Vatican is a Catholic state, and it is the only polity that can speak on behalf of Catholics, since there is no other pope. The Islamic caliph, however, is a civil and administrative position, not a religious one. He is not a man of religion, but of politics. He speaks on behalf of Muslims, representing them. Some institutions of the state are religious, like the Azhar, and need to have a Muslim presiding over them. But Egypt is not an Islamic state, so it does not need a Muslim administrative head.
JC: But should it become an Islamic state?
OQ: In Egypt there exist both Muslims and Christians, and each one must govern their own institutions. The administrative head must allow for both to do so. Egypt does not need to become a religious state, though this does not prevent religion from having its share in the state, especially in the religious laws that govern personal status.
JC: But do not some of these laws, especially the hadd punishments, require a Muslim to implement them, since a Christian might not?
OQ: The problem is that Islamists think the whole state must become religious, with them the ones to rule it. In their conception the Christians are our ‘guests’, not citizens.
JC: But ‘ahl al-dhimma’ (the concept of Jews and Christians being a protected minority in an Islamic country) is not a horrible concept…
OC: In the Islamic state, this is correct. But we are speaking about Egypt.
Today, Muslims have been constituted into many peoples and states, which is from the wisdom of God, who created different groups of people so as to get to know each other.
JC: But should not the man of religion look to the ideal, and seek to implement it as much as possible?
OQ: Yes, but the ideal is a state that encompasses all Muslims. This is not Egypt, and does not exist.
It could be that in the future the Islamic states will unite as did the European states, and the president or caliph of that state will implement the hadd punishments in a moderate way. The problem is that people think Islam is politics. No, it is religion.
JC: But is it also governance?
OQ: No, not for me. Governance is a non-religious task.
We should craft our state based on Islamic principles, but the sharia does not have the details to say what we should do in this situation, or that situation. Its unchangeable aspects, such as the details of a marriage contract, are few.
If there is an Islamic state, the leader has the right to represent the Muslim people – all of them – but this does not exist. Even if it did, it would not apply Islamic laws on its non-Muslim people. The Qur’an states that Christians should judge themselves by what their book contains.
JC: But Egypt now has an opportunity to craft its state as it wishes. Why not craft an Islamic state?
OQ: Egypt is a Muslim state; it is not an Islamic state. I do not accept anyone manipulating religion or making a business out of it. Egypt used to be part of an Islamic state, but it itself is not an Islamic state. The president of Egypt must speak on behalf of both Muslims and Christians.
JC: But what if Egypt merges with Libya…
OQ: No, it will still not speak for all Muslims in the world.
JC: But what if it gradually unites them all?
OQ: This is a good idea, and it is what I call for. Even so, it will not prevent any religious groups from practicing their religion within it.
But for now, the president of Egypt does not have to be a Muslim, or a male. These were requirements of the caliphate, but not of the Egyptian state, which is a political and administrative institution. The best person should govern.
Unfortunately, Islamists live in the past, but the past will not return along the same means as before; times have changed. If there is to be a caliphate, it must come by new means. In fact, there will be a caliphate, for Muhammad stated there would be a caliphate at the end of the world. At that time he predicted several stages the caliphate would enter – becoming like a possession handed from father to son, as in the Umayyad period, and then would become corrupted and fawn after the wisdom of the world, as in the Abbasid period.
But how will the new caliphate come? There are many possible means. Perhaps one by one, or through the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But it will not come through the use of armies, as in the previous ages. But when it happens, then the state will be Islamic and the caliph must be Muslim, since he will represent all Muslims politically. In this situation, it will be the role of the state to protect religion, to keep it from growing weak.
But returning to Egypt, take note again that Islam is a practical religion. It is not practical for Egypt to be an Islamic state. Why? Because most of us reject a religious state.
Even many Muslim Brothers and Salafis reject the Iranian model of a religious state, for example, preferring the Turkish model. But there is also the Gaza model, and even the Hizbollah model, which is an armed entity within a state. I am not afraid if some religious trends take over government, since they will be governed by the realities of the international situation.
Can any of these models be enacted in Egypt? Reality will dictate. Perhaps the Turkish model, since it has been successful, and has been enacted in stages. But it is not as if the Turks love Islam; no, before they hated religion, thinking it was the source of backwardness and ignorance. But as their situation stabilized and their economy developed, the people became happy.
So it could be in Egypt, but whoever rules will have to deal with international realities, even if someone here or there calls for ‘ahl al-dhimma’. But no, the future of Egypt will be one of citizenship, which itself accords well with Islamic teaching. The word ‘dhimma’ comes from one with whom you have made an agreement or contract for protection, as seen in the Compact of Medina, where Muhammad first ruled over a polity of Muslims, pagans, and Jews. The concept of citizenship can be seen in his example, should it need to be justified religiously.
JC: Is this reasoning similar to that of al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdo, who sought to modernize Islam by finding modern concepts within Islam’s ancient texts?
OQ: Yes. These were good students of the Islamic school of reason, but at times they treated verses of the Qur’an as if they clashed with reason, and so sought a different explanation. I disagree; we must accept verses that our reason does not understand, and hope that someday we will. Rejection is out of the question.
In this aspect sometimes the school of reason resembles the Mu’tazila of old (an early Islamic philosophical school) who went as far as to reject even certain parts of Islamic doctrine. It is not correct to raise divisions between reason and revelation. Instead, Muslims should return to the trusted path of Salafism.
JC: Very good. But let’s return to the main subject.
OQ: Yes, that’s right. Despite all that we are saying, I believe most Islamic currents, even the extremist ones, are adjusting to the times. If they do not learn from their texts, they will learn from reality.
What I do not want to see from an Egyptian state is any law issued from parliament that goes against Islam or Christianity.
JC: But wait, who will determine this?
OQ: The parliament itself will. It is made up of Muslims and Christians. In parliament there exist many committees for different subjects – agriculture, trade. There should also be a religion committee for which members can refer to in questions of religion. I’m sure President Obama is not an expert in economic policy, but he has advisors on whom he leans for support. It should be the same way with our legislators, but ultimately, the decision only comes down to them.
JC: So what if I want to eat publically during Ramadan? Can I do that, even if I am a Muslim?
OQ: Well, let us look to the parliament; they have the authority to craft laws. Maybe they will decide to close restaurants during Ramadan. Maybe they will leave them open for Christians or tourists. Regardless, it is up to the people to decide through the parliament.
Even if there were to be groups on the street (such as exist in Saudi Arabia, religious police), their function would be to advise people to respect the values of others. Their function could not be through law. There are no details in the sharia about what to do with restaurants in Ramadan, or what to do if people eat in the streets.
JC: Shall we take an even more controversial topic, then? What about the freedom of a Muslim to change his religion, or to deny Islam?
OQ: There are certainly references in the hadith that prohibit conversion from Islam, even to the point of proscribing death. But unlike the cutting off of hands, this is not found in the Qur’an. The key question is if there is anything that establishes the prohibition of leaving the faith as absolute, or relative to its time.
The Qur’an describes a time when people were entering Islam but then leaving it quickly. This was done in an inappropriate manner, and may have even been instigating trouble. It would require more research to see if the hadith about killing an apostate are connected to this text. If so, it would have been to put a halt to this process, saying, ok, religion is not a game, make your decision and choose.
So I expect, without being sure, that this hadith came for certain reasons at a certain time. This would accord with the fact that there are other verses which guarantee the freedom of choice in religion.
In this and in many other issues, scholars consider context and previous understandings of the text. This demonstrates that the jurisprudence of Islam is very flexible.
A good example is of Imam Shafa’i, a founder of one of the four main Sunni Islamic legal schools. He lived a long time in Iraq and issued many legal rulings. Yet when he came to Egypt he issued different rulings on the same questions. This shows he adapted his decisions to the environment he was in. These differences are part of the intellectual wealth of Islam.
So, I agree completely with freedom of religion. It is fitting for this time, it is fitting internationally, and fitting in Egypt also. But, if someone is playing with religion, like as in the Qur’an account I mentioned, he is akin to acting like a spy, and should be so treated. But we cannot generalize this special case on freedom of religion in general.
JC: Thank you Sheikh Osama. In respect of the time perhaps that will be sufficient for today. But I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
One must be cautious when writing about religious leaders, as they have mastered the art of speaking to an audience. Humans have a penchant for self-deception and self-justification; when mixed with religious language manipulation is easily manufactured, even if unintentionally advanced. People who seek to represent God may be the best of all possible men; they may also be among the most devilish.
With this caveat I would like to introduce a man with a remarkable history, Sheikh Osama al-Qusi. There is a third category of religious leader, that of the innocent. With a heart given to the study of God, such a man may be naïve in the ways of the world. It is in this light I experienced Sheikh al-Qusi, following the lead of his testimony. The proper rendering of his life may be possible through further experience, but is known ultimately only to God.
Sheikh al-Qusi was born in 1954 in Cairo, after his father moved from their family home in Qusa, from which his name is derived, a village thirty kilometers outside of Luxor. He enrolled in the faculty of medicine at Ain Shams University, but instead of diligently pursuing his studies, he became attracted to the religious life of the campus.
These were the 1970s, and Egypt was undergoing a religious indoctrination following the ascent of Anwar al-Sadat to the presidency. In an effort to solidify his policy to open up Egypt to Western capitalism, he appealed to religion to counter the socialist ideology of his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sadat gave wide space for Islamists to operate, and one of their chief fields was the university campus. Osama al-Qusi was swept up in their enthusiasm.
He had never seen this type of Muslim before, one so dedicated and public in his faith. Their claim of persecution added to their aura, as many spoke of previous imprisonments under Nasser. Furthermore, as some of their literature remained banned, the nature of a young man almost always makes the forbidden attractive. The works of Sayyid Qutb were handwritten on notes of paper and passed around campus. His sermons on cassette tape were distributed likewise. Osama al-Qusi began to be radicalized, without even knowing it.
Sheikh al-Qusi makes the case that to him at this time, these campus evangelists were simply Muslims, albeit abnormally active in their faith. He later learned that they belonged to ‘groups’, and these groups were many. Among them was the Muslim Brotherhood, but to these were added others like Islamic Jihad and other more militant associations, but all of which were political. In time he began to sense something not quite right, especially given the multiplicity of groups. If all of these claimed to be Muslims, dedicated more than the average Egyptian, which group represented Islam correctly?
By now Osama al-Qusi had lost almost all interest in medicine, wishing to discover correct religion. In 1978 he decided to take the umra pilgrimage to Mecca, but instead of staying the permitted two weeks or so, overstayed his visa and studied Islam. This was not in any of the approved universities, however; rather, he moved from mosque to mosque under individual Islamic scholars. He lived the simplest of lives, working odd jobs just to make enough money to survive. He poured himself into the study of Islamic texts, especially the hadith, and eventually found himself in the company of a certain group of students, likewise dedicated.
By this time Osama al-Qusi came to believe that all groupings of Muslims were of deviant Islamic practice. He became convinced that Islam was practiced best in devout imitation of Muhammad and his early companions, the followers of these companions, and those who came after them. These three generations of Muslims knew Islam best, recorded the traditions as found in the hadith, and crafted the sharia law schools still foundational today. This is the core belief of what is known as Salafism, though in Saudi Arabia, it is interpreted largely through a Wahabist lens.
The students surrounding al-Qusi, however, had a different lens. These were influenced by the idea of the coming mehdi, a messiah-like figure who would appear at the end of the world. They were led by a man named Juhayman al-Utaybi, who would later lead his group to storm the Ka’aba of Mecca, the holy sanctuary visited by millions of Muslims each year. In 1979 his siege was violently put down, though not before shaking the Muslim world through this provocative action.
Osama al-Qusi was not among them, and states he knew nothing of their political/eschatological conspiracy. He did study with them of their unique interpretations, and wondered if their faith was too political, or if they had grievances with the House of Saud. In any case, he was expelled from Saudi Arabia a few months before their campaign began.
At that time the students attracted the attention of the authorities, who arrested them en masse. When the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn al-Baz, examined them after a month and a half in prison, he believed them to be harmless, and allowed them to be released. Osama al-Qusi, however, as a foreigner was forced back to Egypt as he had no legal residence permit. His personal teacher, though not a ringleader of the group, was also fingered as a foreigner, having come from Yemen.
This teacher was Sheikh Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wada’i. Though a foreigner, he did possess a legal residence permit, having enrolled in the Islamic University of Medina obtaining a degree in the science of hadith, and in pursuit of his Masters degree. Upon intervention of Sheikh ibn al-Baz, he was allowed time to complete his Masters, passing with high marks, and then immediately returned to his native country.
Back in Egypt, Osama al-Qusi thought only of returning to his religious studies under the tutelage of Sheikh Muqbil. Yet he desired also to marry, and left for Yemen with his new wife, praising God that he did not wind up involved in the scandal of the Ka’aba. Little did he know he was leaving just in time to avoid another.
Following his marriage his family was disappointed that he was not returning to his medical studies. Osama al-Qusi, however, was still quite extremist in his thought. Though he had learned to dismiss the varieties of Muslim groups as contrary to Islamic teaching, through his uncle his name was passed on as one qualified to join in the band of Abdullah al-Samawi, a lesser influential group dedicated to greater Islamization of society. He listened to the sermons of Abdel Hamid al-Kishk and Hafez Salama, and still considered strongly the ideas of Sayyid Qutb. For Qutb, the concept of a nation was paganism, and the flag of a nation was an idol. Furthermore, given the mixing of sexes university study was impossible, and besides, al-Qusi’s only interest was religion.
During that time female relatives from his wife’s family were approached by two suitors from the army. Osama al-Qusi found them to be pleasant people, but they discussed at length whether or not service in the military was fitting for a Muslim. In the end, he convinced one to discharge, while the other remained. Shortly thereafter, both became his in-laws.
In 1979 Osama al-Qusi left for Yemen, found Sheikh Muqbil, and settled into the very simplistic life of a devoted Islamic student. Sheikh Muqbil had several students, for whom he provided out of his own means. Yemen was a very poor country, and the disciples lived with their teacher in a mud brick compound with a garden. Sheikh Muqbil received a small stipend for his teaching from Saudi Arabia. He and his students also received in kind gifts for teaching the village children. Teaching during the day, learning at night, eating from the garden, Osama al-Qusi, his wife, and all lived in near subsistence.
From 1979 to 1985 Osama al-Qusi remained in Yemen, never once returning to Egypt. He arrived on a student visa, which permitted his stay for one year, but again overstayed due to the joy of his religious learning. In 1981, however, he learned of another reason why it might be best to stay put.
In May of that year President Sadat conducted widespread arrests of his political opponents. Over 1500 people were arrested for being part of what were deemed ‘treasonous’ groups. These came from all sectors of society, and included intellectuals such as Mohamed Hassanain Haykal. The vast majority, though, were Islamists, and Osama al-Qusi was informed his name was on the list, due to his nominal association with Abdullah al-Samawi. The police visited his parents’ home, but they convinced them he was in Yemen. They also urged him to stay, for the time being.
Five months later Osama al-Qusi learned that the sweep was not wide enough. President Sadat was assassinated during a military parade; listening to the news on a simple radio, he was shocked to hear the names of his assailants. Khaled Ahmed Shawki al-Islamboly, the chief assassin, was the husband of his wife’s cousin and the one who remained in the army, while Abdel Hamid Abdel Salam Abdel-Al Ali was the one he convinced to leave.
Osama al-Qusi asked God’s mercy on Sadat, who had now reaped the fruit of his error in letting loose the Islamist current earlier in his presidency. He also praised God that he was kept from involvement in such error.
Meanwhile in Yemen, the group of Sheikh Muqbil began running afoul of the local Muslim Brotherhood. To help ease financial pressures the sheikh tried to gain employment for his students in the nearby universities. This effort, however, was denied administratively by Brotherhood members who occupied key posts. Osama al-Qusi explained that Yemen depends on Saudi Arabia for substantial economic support, and would naturally lean toward the Salafi/Wahabi interpretation of Islam, as opposed to the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, as the Brotherhood does elsewhere, members seek each other out, trying to infiltrate key positions in society. They seek to rule; and this, not for the good of the nation, but for their own good.
Having established themselves in university administration, the Muslim Brotherhood frustrated Sheikh Muqbil’s attempts to establish his students on firm financial footing. Soon thereafter came another opportunity, though far less suitable to the desires of Osama al-Qusi, devoted disciple.
Sheikh Muqbil’s reputation was growing, and from thirty kilometers away came leaders from a nearby village asking for a teacher. Three times Osama al-Qusi refused his sheikh, but in the end he acceded. He knew the challenges Sheikh Muqbil endured in providing for his disciples, but lamented the distance that would be between them. In those days due to Yemen’s poor infrastructure, the thirty kilometers meant an hour and a half journey by car.
During this period Osama al-Qusi finally succeeded in gaining basic financial independence, though through a circuitous route. After getting established in the village Sheikh Muqbil introduced him to the Yemen Minister of Islamic Endowments, who appointed him as village imam and provided him with a salary. Sheikh Muqbil would return on regular visits, but eventually, Sheikh Osama al-Qusi became beloved by the people of his village.
This was fortunate, as the Muslim Brotherhood proceeded to cause more trouble. Though unable to cancel his contract with the ministry, they interfered and forced his transfer to another village, much further away. For Sheikh Osama, he was loathe to be at such distance from his teacher, which would make his itinerant visits impossible. Furthermore, the villagers came to love their sheikh, and did not want him to leave.
Sheikh Osama therefore refused this assignment, which led to the loss of his contract with the ministry. The villagers agreed to provide for their sheikh, but this meant a return to the simple living off the land which he had grown accustomed to on first arrival. Soon thereafter, however, the village mayor was able to make amends. He traveled to visit the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ibn al-Baz, and arranged for Sheikh Osama to receive a stipend directly from him. It is admitted that the competition between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in the mufti’s support.
Sheikh Osama’s life continued so on until 1985. Though he loved his life and learning, the absence from Egypt was especially difficult on his wife. Towards the end her psychological difficulties resulted in the semi-paralysis of half her face. Hoping that the political difficulties in Egypt had subsided, they returned home. Passing through Suez Sheikh Osama was interrogated at the police station, but was allowed to proceed without incident.
He settled with his wife in the Ain Shams area of Cairo, wishing to stay in the path of religion but wishing also to avoid regular employment which might curtail his time. Before too long he agreed with the imam of the nearest mosque to provide evening lessons, and as his reputation spread, he began teaching in more and more locations.
In terms of finance, however, life was more complicated. The situation was stable since he saved most of the money he had earned in Yemen. This he used to begin small projects – he bought a taxi, he bought a microbus, and was a managing partner in a religious publishing house – but none succeeded. Sheikh Osama readily admits he is not a businessman, nor did anyone in his family growing up have any business sense; they were all scholars. He managed as best he could and provided for his family, but there was little money in religion.
Certainly this was true of the religion he espoused. Upon his return to Egypt he sought out others of the Salafi trend, but found even the word ‘Salafi’ was not widely known. Only in Alexandria was there a following, but he found these too closely related to the Muslim Brotherhood. They called themselves Salafis since Sayyid Qutb had used the word, as indeed the Brotherhood does as well. Yet while they claim to be Salafi they also admit they follow the path of the Brotherhood. Sheikh Osama did not find a home with them.
Neither did he find common cause with other Muslim trends in Egypt, and grew increasingly frustrated. By 1996, though he was teaching regularly about Salafism in the mosques of Ain Shams, he felt isolated and alone in society. Everywhere he looked was bid’a – innovation – which went against the practices of the first three generations of Muslims. He feared especially for his children, finding their Islamic education in schools to be insufficient. Eventually he made the decision to withdraw entirely.
With basic savings from his earlier projects Sheikh Osama bought a small farm on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, and purposed to live off the land with his family, homeschooling his children. He maintained his weekend teaching in Ain Shams, but otherwise lived in seclusion. Like all his business enterprises, the farm eventually failed.
It was the family moral failure, however, that brought Sheikh Osama back to his senses. In 1998 his oldest son, at age 13, led the family rebellion against him. ‘Why are we different? Why don’t I go to school? Why don’t I have any friends?’
It was this crisis that helped make Sheikh Osama into the man he is today. He realized he had been living his whole life ‘in the book’. Now, he knew he must live life in light of reality, ‘by the book’. Religion is life, and God’s ways must be known. Yet these ideals cannot sustain life on their own; they must be lived out, taught, and practiced, so that society is transformed to enable life by the ideal. Cursing its failures to reach this goal, however, only lead to extremism.
Sheikh Osama came to realize that as he preached the Salafi way, he must also preach against the extremism practices by so many of his community. Extremism is based on hatred and rejection of the other. Its natural extension is terrorism, which is an attack upon the other, either in word or deed.
Pursuing that path, Sheikh Osama nearly lost his family. Oddly enough, when abandoning the path, he wound up in prison for the second time.
He sold the farm and moved back to Ain Shams, with some funds but needing work. He immediately began teaching in earnest, and associated himself with an effort to build a new mosque in Ain Shams. The land upon which the mosque would be built was zoned agricultural, however, and a resident of the community raised issue against it.
Ain Shams at that time was known as an area deeply ingrained in extremist Islamic thought. He, however, enjoyed a good reputation with the authorities, given that he did not preach against the government. All the same, Egypt was ruled by the emergency law, and once arrested over the illegal mosque construction, he was bound for prison. The policemen responsible apologized, and they even made it possible for him to receive favorable reviews within prison, so that he was able to leave after only two months. He personally was not mistreated, but admits the horrible condition many prisoners endured. Yet upon his release his reputation in the area suffered a minor blow, as he was deemed to have received preferential treatment. He became known in the area, falsely he claims, as belonging to the hated state security apparatus.
Yet among Salafi tendencies his reputation continued to grow, and was about to explode, stumbling upon the best opportunity he had to date. Finally, he could earn money through religion.
Proving the corruption endemic to Egypt, the ‘agricultural’ land purposed for the mosque was eventually turned into a Suzanne Mubarak Public Library. He, however, became established at another mosque, becoming its imam. There was no salary from the Ministry of Islamic Endowments, however, as the Mohamedian Guidance Mosque, as it was named, was not registered.
Today, after lengthy and ongoing campaigns, the Ministry of Islamic Endowments claims 95% of all Egyptian mosques are registered and under its supervision. This has been done in response to extremism, which has issued so frequently from small community mosques beyond the reach of the more moderate government license. Sheikh al-Qusi’s mosque remains unregistered, but the government gave greater space to Salafi mosques, as they tended to be nonpolitical, not threatening the legitimacy of the state.
Yet this mosque, through Sheikh al-Qusi, began to attract several foreign Muslims. One of these was a Canadian of Jamaican descent, who invited Sheikh Osama to preach for one week at an Islamic conference in his home country. He did, and as fame often leads to fame, he began to receive further invitations, including in the US, Europe, and the UK. It was not unusual for him to receive $1000 for a week of work. From 1998-2001, he made over forty such trips.
2001, of course, is the year of September 11, and though Sheikh al-Qusi does not believe his name to be on any blacklists, he deemed it wise to cease his international travel. This decision was confirmed as he watched numbers of Muslims held in detention in Guantanamo Bay, and furthermore when he learned that the ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid, attended one of the mosques in Britain at which he had delivered lectures. Since 2001, Sheikh Osama has remained in Egypt.
Also, in 2001, his teacher Sheikh Muqbil passed away. Today, Sheikh Muqbil is considered the founders of one of the most influential Salafi schools in the world, located in Dammaj, Yemen, not far from the Saudi border. Sheikh Muqbil studied directly under Sheikh Mohamed ibn al-Uthaymeen, and attended lectures of Sheikh ibn al-Baz and Sheikh al-Albani. These three are considered the chief Salafi scholars of contemporary Islam.
Sheikh Muqbil has been clear in rejecting political Islam such as of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as terrorism, such as adopted by al-Qaeda. He did receive envoys from Osama bin Laden, seeking his help in contacting the tribal leaders of Yemen to purchase weapons and spread influence. He rejected them, however, and told them never to visit him again, labeling bin Laden as the head of all religious ignorance. Nevertheless, several detainees in Guantanamo Bay are held specifically due to their association with Sheikh Muqbil, who was deemed to be a supporter of the Taliban and armed jihad.
Sheikh Osama, meanwhile, needed to find another source of income. From 2001-2005, he relied on donations from wealthy Egyptian businessmen who supported his Salafi preaching. Eventually, however, he found that the reception of money often brought along with it additional pressures. On one occasion a businessman offered to build Sheikh Osama a mosque, provided that he would always come and give lessons. This was easy to agree with, as he regularly provided lessons in his itinerant ministry. Sheikh Osama enjoyed the support of this businessman for a good while, up until the interference of state security demanded he stop moving about and remain in one mosque only. The businessman felt betrayed, but Sheikh Osama argued there was nothing he could do. Their relationship deteriorated thereafter.
Such experiences convinced Sheikh Osama to once more seek to rely on himself for income. Re-entering the world more and more, he decided to return to university to complete his medical studies and in 2008 received his degree. He is now a medical practitioner, though he does not make much money from this field. Instead, he offers free medical care from his mosque two days a week, and hopes this may develop eventually a separate paid clientele.
He has also begun studying for a psychology degree, but closer to his heart is his religious education – now pursued through the High Institute of Islamic Studies run by the Ministry of Higher Education. Upon graduation he will receive a diploma, which will be the first official certificate in religion he has ever possessed.
Sheikh Osama has currently become newsworthy for the promotion of his relatively liberal Salafi viewpoints. While many Islamists are calling for an Islamic state, Sheikh Osama believes that anyone, even a Copt, should be able to become president, as it is an administrative position, not a spiritual one. Though he maintains the long beard characteristic of Salafis, he now feels free to wear contemporary clothing, eschewing the long, white robe donned by most of his co-religionists. He speaks frequently on Arabic satellite news programs, though apart from al-Arabiya and ART, who gave him $100, they do not pay anything.
The big money in religion comes from traditional Salafi satellite programming, such as al-Rahma and al-Nas, from which Egypt’s major Salafi preachers have become known. Sheikh Osama has no place here, however, as his line of thought differs considerably from what he believes to be the extremism of these contemporaries.
Sheikh Osama now lives in a comfortable though not luxurious apartment in Nasr City, a middle-to-upper class neighborhood of Cairo, not far from one of the largest malls in Egypt, City Stars. He continues to follow the way of religion, but has done well enough with his money earned to carve out an existence honorable to his family. In all interactions with him, he appears to be an honorable man.
At the same time, so many questions surround him. How is it possible to have been in association with so many violent, extremist individuals, and yet maintain innocence about knowing their true intentions?
Sheikh Osama does admit his previous extremism, reformed gradually over many years. Yet could he possibly have been ignorant of all he professes? Furthermore, though he was completely open about the sources of his money at each stage in his life, short of opening up his checkbook, can it be believed he provided for his family over the past thirty years on failed businesses, in addition to greater sums earned in Yemen and through his travels?
Currently, what is to be made of Sheikh Osama’s Salafi liberalism? Is it a conscious decision in light of Egypt’s changing times? Or could it be an effort to put a modern, acceptable face on a still ultraconservative ideology? Or, by the hard edge of experience and reality has he truly experienced a personal reformation?
It is impossible to say at this point in my relationship with him, which has been thoroughly enjoyed. I currently lean toward the sincerity of his testimony, which was shared with openness and humility. Above all, he struck me as kind.
This text is not the place to examine the Salafi question, its impact on Egypt, or its stance toward Christians. It is not to examine if wholesale reform can come to the movement, if this is necessary, or how it is to be achieved. Perhaps some of these topics will be addressed through subsequent interviews.
One thing that was remarkable from Sheikh Osama’s testimony, however, was the impact of family. The anecdote of his own was given above, and the share it had in moving him away from extremism. Yet he also mentioned his father and mother, with their Upper Egyptian values of acceptance and morality. However much he was indoctrinated in extremist theology, and however much he espouses Salafism today, he notes he was inoculated against violence through proper, traditional upbringing.
Societies are liable to change, for better or for worse. There is a sentiment current in Egypt these days that may tend to give rise to extremism, in any number of directions. The best antidote to protect Egypt may simply be to be Egyptian. These remain the vast majority; may all ongoing political developments give rise to their great voice. May they be the ones to govern Egypt.
Click here for an interview with al-Qusi: On the Caliphate, Conversion, and Brushing your Teeth, and here for his explanation on the science of Islamic traditions.
The Muslim Brotherhood set Egyptian politics ablaze recently with their decision to nominate their chief financier, Khairat al-Shater, for the presidency. Though he has since been disqualified, they continue to run with their backup candidate, Mohamed Morsy. All political groups recognize the right of the group to do so but many have criticized them harshly, recalling their promise from early in the revolution.
The Brotherhood assured both revolutionary forces and Western observers they had no intentions for the presidency, anxious to calm fears of an Islamist takeover. They even expelled a prominent member, Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, who declared his candidacy early on.
MB Spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan explained to me this promise was necessitated by fear the West would extinguish the revolutionary movement. Now the reversal is necessary to protect the revolution from former regime members seeking the presidency.
Perhaps this political analysis is reasonable, but the Brotherhood are not simply politicians; they are also Muslims. An anxious West expects men of religion to keep their promises.
Pressed on this question, Ghozlan was quick to answer.
‘If you want religious justification, the Prophet said: “If someone swears by his right hand, saying, ‘By God I will do this or that…’, but then sees something better than it, he may atone for his right hand, and do that which is better.”
‘There is a difference between matters of principle and political decisions. Politics is firstly concerned with the general benefit.’
Yet as the Brotherhood defines this benefit in accordance with their own, they risk confirming fears the group cannot be trusted, which some in the West extend to Muslims in general.
I inquired of scholars of three different Islamic trends to test Ghozlan’s interpretation. All three confirm the message of the tradition, though they differ in application.
Mohamed Omar Abdel Rahman is a veteran jihadist who fought in Afghanistan. He is also the son of Omar Abdel Rahman, better known as the Blind Sheikh, currently serving a life sentence in the United States for plotting the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
He contrasts two examples,
‘There is a difference between a pact and a promise. A pact is an agreement between two parties and cannot be changed without common agreement, as in the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.
‘This tradition of Mohamed refers to a promise and applies only to one’s self. So this can be changed if something better emerges or if circumstances change, which the Brotherhood clearly believes has happened.’
Osama al-Qusi is a Salafi scholar, trained under Wahhabi thought in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is controversial in Egypt, however, for his oft-criticized liberal interpretations.
He believes Ghozlan is misusing Mohamed’s words.
‘There is a big difference in what I say between me and God, which is the meaning of this tradition, and what I say to other people.
‘This is a religious mistake, no matter how politically justifiable it might be.’
Abdel Muti al-Bayyoumi is a member of the Islamic Research Academy and a traditional Azhar scholar. He and his institution represent mainstream Muslim thought throughout the Sunni world.
Like Abdel Rahman, he clarifies as to the nature of the Brotherhood’s commitment. ‘This tradition does not apply because they did not swear to God but only made a promise.
‘In terms of a promise the right to change it depends on their intention; if it was good it is acceptable.
‘The matter is between them and God, but they have to offer their justification, which if good should be accepted.’
Yet Bayyoumi, like many in Egypt, find neither their intention nor their justification acceptable.
‘It appears to me they want to consolidate power. They are aiming for the presidency, the parliament, the constitution, and who knows what else.’
While a man’s word should be his bond, most admit honest circumstances can free one from a pledge. For many in the West, though, religion in politics risks staining the former and manipulating the latter.
The Muslim Brotherhood, however, believes Islam and politics to be compatible, even inseparable.
How they navigate the quagmire will affect not only their own political fortunes, but also the greater Western perception of Islam.