National Dialouge According to Islamic Sharia

From EgyptSource, arguing this is the best bet for the opposition, where dialogue should become shura (official consultation):

On the first point, the prevailing opinion – which may even be the consensus – is that Shura is mandatory. Hence, in Islam, the ruler must resort to Shura to obtain the opinion of experts, politicians, and scholars. National dialogue, in fact, is a form of Shura. The second point, and this is the crux of the matter, revolves around the results of the Shura — whether this opinion is binding on the ruler or merely “a consultative opinion” (in contemporary jargon) or “a guiding opinion” (in the vocabulary of Islamic jurisprudence). This issue has many nuances, and this article lacks room to address all of them, but the prevailing opinion among jurists and Islamic scholars is that Shura is binding on the ruler. This means that the opinion resulting from consultation or dialogue is a binding opinion on the ruler, and he must enact it regardless of whether the opinion was the consensus or majority opinion of those consulted.

Curious to see if the opposition sees it this way, as an opportunity. Curious further to see if Morsi does, as an obligation.

There is no way around political discourse in Egypt involving Islam. The question for secularists is how much does even useful recourse to Islam establish the playing ground on Islamist footing?

Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Proposed Constitution Opens Door to an Islamic State

Ibrahim Eid, Students for Sharia
Ibrahim Eid, Students for Sharia

The proposed Egyptian constitution offers something to everyone, and its supporters know how to address the audience.

Article 3 gives Christians and Jews the right to govern their communities according to the internal rules of their religion. Articles 31-80 give liberally-minded citizens assurances on a litany of basic rights, including expression, belief, education, and even playing sports.

Less heard in the West, however, is the local message: articles designed for conservative Salafi Muslims may undermine every other guarantee.

‘This constitution has restrictions [on rights and freedoms] that have never been included in any Egyptian constitution before,’ said Sheikh Yasser al-Burhami, Egypt’s leading Salafi and founder of the Salafi Call, on a YouTube video attempting to convince his community to vote for a document many of them find not restrictive enough.

Ibrahim Eid is another leading spokesman for those who seek to return Egypt to the ancestral ways and beliefs of Arabia. An ophthalmologist and media coordinator for Students of Sharia, a Salafi association, he told Lapido: ‘There are two aspects to this constitution: that which designs a political system, and that which legitimizes it. I reject its legitimacy completely’.

Sovereignty belongs to God alone, he says.

Article 5 is therefore an anathema.  It states: ‘Sovereignty is for the people alone and they are the source of authority. The people shall exercise and protect this sovereignty, and safeguard national unity in the manner specified in the Constitution.’

‘Is it reasonable to justify God’s law by a constitution, or to submit it to a referendum? Not at all!’ he said.

‘But we agree to its political necessity for the sake of the stability of the nation.

‘Let’s move through this crisis, elect a new parliament, and then the first thing they will do is change the defective articles.’

Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church finds defective articles as well, but of the opposite kind.

‘This constitution does not lead to social cohesion, but to division,’ he told Lapido Media, as preliminary results of the first round referendum suggested 43 per cent of the population reject it. ‘It does not ensure the freedom of the minority to the extent Egypt was expecting.

‘But it ensures the rule of the majority and has many questionable, vague expressions.’

These are the very expressions Burhami celebrates, witnessed chiefly in the dispute over Article 2, defining the identity of the Egyptian state.

In the previous constitution, Article 2 declared the ‘principles’ of Sharia law to be the primary source of legislation. Egypt’s High Constitutional Court consistently interpreted the word ‘principles’ in a general fashion, avoiding direct reference to specific Islamic laws.

Liberal members of the 100-person Islamist-dominated committee writing the constitution were able to fend off Salafi demands to remove the word ‘principles’ and force legislation toward Sharia alone.

But to satisfy the Salafis, the committee added Article 219, to interpret ‘principles’ in accordance with traditional Islamic jurisprudence. Furthermore, Article 4 assigns an unelected body of Islamic scholars the right of consultation on legislation.

Burhami’s chief pride, however, is in Article 81, concluding the extended section on rights and freedoms. It seeks an elusive compromise.

‘No law that regulates the practice of the rights and freedoms shall include what would constrain their essence,’ reads the text. But what follows defines this essence:

‘Such rights and freedoms shall be practised in a manner not conflicting with the principles pertaining to state and society included in Part One of this constitution.’

Part One however includes Article 2 which is defined by Article 219, subjecting all freedom to Islamic Sharia.

Gamal Nassar, Freedom and Justice Party
Gamal Nassar, Freedom and Justice Party

‘What is the problem with being an Islamic state? Egypt is Islamic and there is nothing else to be said,’ the Muslim Brotherhood’s Gamal Nassar tells Lapido.

Nassar is a founding member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. He believes the discussion of these details ignores the agreement on 90 percent of the constitution.

‘No one, even among the liberals, opposes the Sharia. This is at heart a political struggle,’ he said.

‘All freedoms must be regulated and not go against the nature of Egyptian society, which is Muslim.’

Nassar sees the nature of the politics in the behaviour of the church, which resigned from the constitution writing committee.

He accuses church representatives of negotiating the agreement of all articles, including Article 219, and then withdrawing suddenly to cause controversy and discredit the committee’s work.

Revd. Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and one of these official representatives, disagrees – and strongly. He sees a different type of politics at play.

‘This article [219] was added late and not discussed in any sub-committee,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘Because of its controversy it was postponed until the end, and dealt with only in the concluding consensus committee.’

The problem with this he said was that this consensus committee was no consensus at all, but a small number of members handpicked by the assembly head. It included a Christian, but no official members of the church.

Church representatives, and liberal Muslim members, resigned in protest en masse only once it dawned on them that Article 219 and other controversial aspects were to be presented as if it were the will of the entire body – which was not the case.

A constitution is ideally built on consensus, but it is fleshed out though law. Egypt’s constitution, if it passes, gives something to everyone.

The gift to Salafis, offered freely by the Muslim Brotherhood, is an open door to Sharia law and the conformity of legislation to it.

Egypt’s future freedoms hinge on the make-up of the next parliament, tasked with the contentious business of interpretation.

Note: The 2011 Egyptian parliament, dissolved by court order, was led by the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance, claiming 45 per cent of 498 seats. The Islamist Bloc, led by the Salafi Nour Party, finished second with a quarter (25 per cent) of seats. Two liberal parties received roughly 7 per cent each. Two Copts were elected to parliament, and of the ten members appointed by the then-ruling military council, five were Copts.

Article 229 of the proposed constitution declares procedures for electing the new parliament will begin no less than 60 days after it is ratified, possibly this weekend, following the second referendum vote.

This article was first published on Lapido Media.

Related Posts:

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

What Egypt’s Christians Think of Hastily Completed Constitution

Christian Constitution

From my recent article on Christianity Today:

Addressing the nation in a televised interview Thursday, President Mohamed Morsi welcomed the sudden completion of Egypt’s draft constitution after months of gridlock.

Amid public outcry against his decision last week to grant himself immunity from judicial review, Morsi praised the constitution’s speedy completion as a necessary step in order to end the nation’s transition to democracy and reestablish separate executive, legislative, and judicial authority.

He also dismissed questions about the legitimacy of the document, especially given the withdrawal of Christian and many liberal members of the assembly drafting it.

“The withdrawal of the church from the constitutional assembly is nothing to worry about,” Morsi said. “It’s important to me that they be part of it, but not to worry.”

The article features the voice of Rev. Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, one of the church’s official representatives who withdrew from the constitutional assembly. His perspective is given on the more controversial articles, including the role of sharia law, the Azhar, and society in determining both law and social morality.

Please click here to finish reading at Christianity Today.

Related Articles:


Nods toward Religious Authoritarianism in Egypt’s Draft Constitution

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly

Good reporting here from Ragab Saad on EgyptSource.

As is, not only does the current draft constitution challenge the concepts of human rights and freedom, it also allows the state to become a guarantor for society, defies the idea of a modern state and seeks to sow the seeds of a religious state in Egypt.

He then goes piecemeal through the draft to highlight contradictions and vague wordings. Here, on the empowerment of the state to protect ‘cultural authenticity’:

The first part of the draft constitution stipulates the state’s protection of the “cultural and civilizational unity” of Egyptian society, adding that it shall ensure “the authentic character of the Egyptian family, and the protection of its traditions and moral values.” It also indicates that the state has an obligation to “empower authentic Egyptian traditions.” The use of such vague terminology can only be seen in the framework of the state’s efforts to impose a patriarchal understanding of society, one which allows interference in its citizens’ private lives.

On religious rights and diversity:

Ironically, the chapter on rights and freedoms imposes several restrictions. In Article 30, the draft constitution states that all citizens are equal before the law, and will not be discriminated against on the basis of religion and belief, among other things. Yet in Article 37, the draft constitution restricts the right to build houses of worship to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Article 37 distinguishes between citizens on the basis of religion, and is an example of how the draft constitution itself contains contradictions.

On women’s rights:

In regards to women’s rights, Article 68 (previously Article 36) ensures the equality of men and women without prejudice, as long as it is not in conflict with the “provisions   أحكام   of Islamic law.” This is another example of the draft constitution’s inconsistency, since Article 2 states that the “principles   مبادئ   of Islamic law” are the main source of legislation. This inconsistency reveals an inherent desire to move further away from the idea of gender equality, and chips away at gains made in Egypt in regards to women’s rights.

From his central conclusion:

If this constitution passes, it will be the first Egyptian Constitution that adopts a specific religious doctrine for the state. It also means that ancient texts on Islamic jurisprudence, and others that may not even exist anymore, will become sources of Egyptian legislation from which a parliamentary majority may select what it wants from its provisions, instituting authoritarianism in the name of religion.

A legal challenge to the assembly writing the constitution has now shifted from the Administrative Court to the Supreme Constitutional Court. If struck down, President Morsy has granted himself the authority to institute a new body, and the process will start over.

But the shift will take a minimum of 45 days, perhaps granting the assembly enough time to finalize the draft and present it to the public. Even the public referendum might be hurriedly tackled.

What happens, however, if the court strikes the constitution down at this stage? More political chaos could be on the horizon for Egypt.

Related Posts:


My Egyptian Presidential Prediction

From left: Shafiq, Sabbahi, Mousa, Abul Futuh, Morsy

Egypt’s presidential election polls are all over the map. Most have had Amr Moussa and Abdel Munim Abul Futuh in the lead, with Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood trailing significantly.

And then results of the overseas ballots were revealed, putting Morsy significantly in the lead.

More recent polling indicates that the nationalist, semi-socialist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi is gaining, as he is free from ‘contamination’ either from the former regime or Islamist trends. Meanwhile former Mubarak emergency prime minister Ahmed Shafiq is also gaining, as he projects confidence to restore stability and take the Islamists head on.

And in the last days, Moussa and Abul Futuh are seen as reeling, as their efforts to be centrists crumble as the political scene polarizes. See notable Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem – Sandmonkey – for analysis to this effect.

Perhaps a poll off the subject, then, may help to clarify things. Though unlikely, here is the effort. Several months ago Arab West Report authorized a survey consulting five thousand Egyptians through personal interviews throughout the Egyptian republic. They sought citizens’ opinion on Article Two of the Egyptian constitution, which states Islam is the official religion of the state and sharia law is the main source for legislation.

Following the revolution this article became a political hot potato. While some Copts and liberals found it to be a discriminatory element of Sadat-era sectarian politics, it was the conservative Islamist element that made the most use of it. They warned Egyptians at the time of the national referendum in March 2011 that a vote against the army-endorsed transition would result in a wholly new constitution (as opposed to the army-sponsored amendments) which would threaten to remove the article – and the centrality of Islam – from the national identity.

It is unlikely that this campaign affected the referendum results too seriously, but in a nation weaned on identity politics during the Mubarak era, it had an effect.

Arab West Report tested that effect several months afterwards. The results were interesting, and as follows:

  • Only 36% of Egyptians have even heard of Article Two, but once informed…
  • 88% of those polled favored keeping Article Two as it is in the constitution
  • 92% of those favoring desire to preserve Islam as the official religion
  • 43% of those favoring desire for Islamic law to govern all Egyptians
  • 12% of those favoring believe it is too sensitive to change it
  • 9% of those favoring desire a religious, as opposed to a civil, state
  • Only 2% of those polled favored cancelling Article Two from the constitution
  • 6% of those polled favor amending Article Two
  • 74% of those favoring desire to achieve equality between Muslims and Christians
  • 17% of those favoring desire to protect the civil character of the state

Obviously, a vast majority of the population is comfortable with Islam as the designated national religion. Somewhat telling is that of these, a significant plurality desire sharia law to govern as well. Furthermore, a sizable minority wishes outright definition as an Islamic state.

Though ‘significant’ and ‘sizable’, this sentiment remains a minority among the ‘vast’ support for keeping Article Two as is. What might this mean for the elections?

On the one hand, it could mean the victory of an Islamist candidate. Elections are often won by the constituency most dedicated to a particular issue, which can resonate with the population and mobilize their support. 40+% of the population desiring the rule of sharia law perhaps is ripe for activation. (Other polls put this percentage even higher.)

Yet I would argue against this trend, though I am making a prediction based on the unknowns of the Egyptian political landscape, a bet on the average Egyptian citizen.

To run down the candidates, borrowing from Sandmonkey’s analysis, each of the candidates represents a specific element of the general constituency.

Mohamed Morsy of the Brotherhood represents Brotherhood interests, and their very sizable following of adherents. Still, it is a limited and definable circle. The somewhat negative reaction to parliament following the 70+% Islamist victory will hamper their sympathy vote immediately following the revolution.

Ahmed Shafiq represents the interests of old regime, perhaps the military, business and capital, and a large share of Coptic sentiment. He has the potential to win a large number of undecided voters who react negatively to post-revolution instability, and those who favor reform over revolution. Yet over the past year the nation has adopted the idea of Mubarak’s corruption and the validity of the revolution, and he is too tainted with it to succeed.

Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, the other Islamist and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, represents the general Islamist sentiment which is not comfortable with the Brotherhood. He is poised to capture a significant share of the Salafi vote, if not the majority, but also a significant share of the revolutionary vote. He is on friendly terms with Mohamed el-Baradei, who remains a hero to much of the revolutionary core. The unfortunate matter for him is that this core is generally elite. Though Salafis are not, his popularity is likely limited to the upper crust activists and does not spread to the countryside.

Hamdeen Sabbahi suffers a similar problem. Though a long term opposition figure, the opposition to Mubarak pre-revolution was basically a movement of dissatisfied elites. He represents the interests of many Egyptians who maintain their dissatisfaction – now with the front running choices of Islamist or old regime candidates. This includes a number of revolutionaries, liberals, and Copts, but their numbers are far too small.

This leaves Amr Moussa. A very unsexy candidate, he positioned himself early in the revolution as a candidate for president. He is tainted by association with Mubarak, but is also recognized as not having been a vital cog in the regime’s wheels. He is older in age, satisfying those who desire a transitional figure to guide the movement to democracy. He is a statesman with wide name recognition, striking a presidential figure. His skill in diplomacy suggests he will have few natural enemies, able to navigate all competing interests, both foreign and domestic.

Yet his greatest asset, I argue, is that he does not represent any interests in particular. Though it would be naïve to state this unequivocally, it is clear he is not a partisan.

I argue, neither is the Egyptian citizen.

The development of party interests and zeal is (probably) healthy for Egyptian democracy. If allowed to nurture without any one party taking immediate control, and perhaps dominance of the political scene, these diverse constituencies will mature and coalesce and lose the stridency marking current campaigning. This fanaticism is natural following a revolution, but it is also transitory.

The Egyptian public was depoliticized for sixty years. Though awakening, I do not believe it has been transformed. Moreover, the Egyptian personality is not fanatic or partisan. It is national, it is centrist, it is even, perhaps, accepting of the inevitability of a strong, dare-it-be-mentioned, Pharaonic figure.

If the public support for this election was not so strong, the result would likely be taken by the best organized particular constituency. As with the parliamentary elections, this would likely be an Islamist.

Yet the turnout for the first free, and hopefully fair, elections in Egypt’s history is expected to be overwhelming. If so, the average citizen will come to the forefront. I estimate this average citizen will support Moussa.

Might he be motivated by religious politics, perhaps. Might he be motivated by calls for stability, perhaps.

I expect rather his rejection of particular, well-definable interests. Amr Moussa, for better or worse, is best positioned to win their favor.

Alas, and alleluia, no one knows. This is a virgin electorate, and the glory of Egypt. May her vote be true, and may it be accepted by all.

May it be the beginning of popular and national sovereignty.


Related Posts:

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Salafi Candidate with Coptic Support: Interview

Sheikh Hamdy Abdel Fattah and Fr. Yu'annis

Sheikh Hamdi Abdel Fattah is a unique personality in Egypt. Little known outside of his home region of Maghagha in Upper Egypt, he is a candidate for parliament running under the banner of the Salafi Nour Party. In and of itself, there is nothing unusual here – the Nour Party has searched for and nominated local popular candidates throughout Egypt. What is unique is that Sheikh Hamdi has the endorsement of the local Coptic Orthodox priest of his village, Fr. Yu’annis.

This interview discusses why Sheikh Hamdi has received Coptic support, but also explores his understanding of the application of sharia law in the modern world. Sheikh Hamdi is eager to correct common misperceptions, but, perhaps unwittingly, confirms others. Topics include tourism, war booty, jiziah, dress, legislation, and the legality of democracy.

Sheikh Hamdi is an engaging and friendly person. He was sincere and believable, and I trust he will work on behalf of the Copts, as he promises. At the same time it was a challenging interview, as getting him to answer intended questions proved difficult. Whether this was due to language issues, culture and worldview differences, or political doublespeak is hard to say. Nonetheless, Sheikh Hamdi provides an insightful view into the mindset of a modern day Salafi, both confirming and undoing typical stereotypes.

As a final note, Sheikh Hamdi lost his electoral race. After stage one he finished in second place behind the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus qualified for the run-off. Though he lost the run-off, the judge ruled to nullify the result, given the level of fraud witnessed on behalf of his competition. Sheikh Hamdi stated there were 40,000 additional votes cast illegally for his opponent. Nevertheless, rather than a second run-off, the ruling was issued simply to accept the results of the first round voting. Sheikh Hamdi replied, ‘It is God’s will,’ and refused to be angry. Still, he holds out hope for a reversal.


JC: Please introduce yourself to us.

HAF: My name is Alaa’ al-Din Abdel Fattah Muhammad, but I am known by the name of Sheikh Hamdi Abdel Fattah. I have a general institute for the calling of people to religion. I worked thirteen years in Saudi Arabia as a mosque lecturer and teacher of the Qur’an. I am a member of the Maghagha Reconciliation Committee which works according to traditional regulations.

I joined the Salafi Nour Party immediately after it was established, and presented myself as a candidate to which they agreed. I did this after reading their platform which I determined to be moderate. It is comprehensive and without fanaticism toward anyone. Among its priorities is the call to implement sharia law, but it emphasizes to do this gradually.

Among the accusations against the Nour Party is that it will prevent tourism, but this is not logical. On the contrary, our program is very powerful. If you compare Egypt, with all its civilization and history, Jordan, Turkey, and Malaysia all have higher tourist incomes. This is because we rely on luxury tourism only. We can boost conference tourism, which not only can bring more money that luxury tourism, it also profits the nation scientifically as doctors and professors bring knowledge in addition to money spent on airfare, hotels, clubs, and general expenses.

There is also medical tourism. We should build world-class hospitals that will draw the majority of medical travelers from the Gulf and from Africa, rather than them going to America or France, where the costs are very high. Here, we have the medical proficiency and lower costs. This will again raise our scientific benefit as well as financial from airfare and hotels, as before.

Yes, we will also promote luxury tourism, but only that which is religiously legitimate. It is not necessary to mix the sexes on the beach. We have many unmarried young men. When they view these mixed settings the result can be one of sin. What is the problem with establishing some family-only or single-sex chalets, where you can enjoy yourself freely without temptation? Turkey has done this, for example. Should there not be freedom for this, is this not respect for freedom? You might say we should be open-minded, but I reply I don’t want anyone to see my wife. So as you call for freedom for the other, I also call for the freedom to keep my wife from being seen.

JC: Would you also allow for beaches where people wish to mix with the other sexes?

HAF: Exactly. But I know from tourists they wish to inquire about the customs of the country in which they are visiting. But are we forgetting about the tourists from the Gulf when we concentrate on Europe? Gulf countries have more tourists, and Egypt is the closest country to them. Right now, they are going to Turkey.

Then, another issue concerns the Copts. What is their status under sharia law?

JC: This is a very important topic and we will approach it soon, but let’s return to you as a person. You are from the village of Qufada, and friends with Fr. Yu’annis. You are also a sheikh, but was does this mean? How did you become a sheikh? Are you an Azhar graduate?

HAF:  No, I have a diploma from the High Institute for Calling which is a private center attached to the Religious Legitimacy Association of Egypt.

JC: What do you do in Maghagha, what is your job?

HAF: I am a real estate agent, buying and selling buildings, apartments, shops, etc.

JC: Do you preach in the mosque?

HAF: Yes, but not in one in particular. I preach often both in Qufada and outside.

JC: Here in Qufada, you are good friends with Fr. Yu’annis.

HAF: Yes, Muslim-Christian relations here in the village are very strong. It is friendship, not just greeting each other in the streets. If there are problems, even between two Christians, we come to the church to help solve them.

JC: You are speaking of your work with the reconciliation committee. Tell me more about that.

HAF: In most instances the reconciliation committee is able to solve problems faster than the legal system. It takes only one session, and the decision is binding on both parties. We search for the truth, no matter who it is with.

Every day we sit to solve problems between Muslim. Often we sit to solve problems between Christians. But what happens is when there is a problem between a Muslim and a Christian the media twists the issue somewhat to become a religious matter. They take refuge in religious chauvinism and turn it from a personal struggle into a religious one. There are occasions where a Muslim boy and girl will make an improper relationship, and the same with Christians. But if it happens between religions, we must treat it with reason and wisdom in the same manner we would otherwise. We don’t accept any religious chauvinism in either direction.

JC: One of the benefits of the reconciliation is that it is fast.

HAF: Yes, court cases can take years. This is one of the problems our party wishes to address.

JC: But what if the issue is criminal, especially if blood is shed?

HAF: In our religion we must confront strife before it grows, and shedding blood is among the worst things for us. Our prophet said, in his farewell address during the pilgrimage, your blood, your money, and your honor are sacred to you. Is this just for Muslims? No, it is for anyone of religion, whether Christian, or Jewish, or Buddhist. Blood may not be shed except by right, such as in punishing murder.

JC: But is there a verse in the Qur’an that permits the taking of female prisoners during war?

HAF: Yes, this is present in sharia law, and was part of Arab tradition before Islam. In war, it was permitted to take as booty money, horses, sheep, camels, men, and women. If a woman was taken she became a female slave. But does this exist today? No, it was a description of the culture that was present in its day. Today, there is no jihad.

JC: But if it returns?

HAF: When will jihad return? If a nation attacks America, will it not respond militarily? It is not permitted for Muslims to announce jihad unless their lands or honor are violated. If they are not attacked, they will not attack others.

JC: So this would apply in Palestine, where their lands have been taken?

HAF: Yes, it is permitted for Muslims to respond in the manner of which they have been violated. If he destroys my house, I will not stomach this, I will destroy his house. But I may not destroy two houses. If you attack me, I have the right of defense. This is even international law.

JC: So, in application of sharia as Muhammad permitted in his era, is it allowed for their women to be taken as the spoils of war?

HAF: Is Israel a democratic country? No, it is a Torah-governed country. Why then does the world protest if I say I want an Islamic state which implements sharia law? If jihad is made mandatory and our women are taken, it is permissible to take them in kind, but it is not necessary. In sharia we have what is called ‘exchange’. If there is a prisoner taken he can be swapped, and this is what happened in the period of ibn Taymiyya.

There were many battles in his day with Christians, and the Christian forces took both Muslim and Christian prisoners. Ibn Taymiyya went to the Christian king and asked for the prisoners to be returned, and the king told him to take the Muslims. Ibn Taymiyya refused, saying the Christians are under our protection. I will not take a Muslim and leave the Christians behind, but insist on taking the Christian prisoners first.

Or consider when Amr ibn al-‘As entered Egypt. Christians were under the most horrible situation during this time under the Romans, to the extent the patriarch went into hiding. Who protected him? Amr ibn al-‘As. He made a pact with him and guaranteed his safety.

JC: This reminds me of a question: Why did the Muslims stay in Egypt and not return to their lands after defending the Copts?

HAF: This is what the families of Egypt wanted. Why? The Copts at that time were under severe persecution. They requested the Muslims to stay, since this represented security for them from the Romans.

The proof? One day, when the son of Amr ibn al-‘As was horseracing with a Christian, the Christian spat on him. In response he hit the Christian and said, ‘Will you spit on the son of the most noble?’ The Christian then lodged a complaint with Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab in Medina, who summoned not just the son, but his father as well. The Caliph asked the Christian if this was the one who hit him, and he ordered the Christian to hit him in return, which he did. Then the Caliph said, ‘Now, hit the most noble one also,’ referring to Amr ibn al-‘As, who at that time was the ruler of Egypt. You see that Islam does not permit oppression for anyone, whether ruler or ruled.

The caliph then sent the Christian away and asked Amr, do you not take from him the jizia? Will you take it from him while he is strong and then leave him weak that he has to beg in the streets? Give him a salary from the public funds of the Muslims.

Today, many Copts feel that jizia is a form of contempt or shame. But does he not pay taxes? Fine, we will cancel the word jizia, and call it taxes. We’ll say, ‘Pay your taxes, and what will you get in return? No one will attack you in your worship, or your doctrine, or your homes, or your persons, or your money, or your honor. You will have complete security, and have your protection guaranteed. If you don’t want to enter the army, you won’t have to.’

JC: Will it be permitted for him to serve in the army?

HAF: Yes.

JC: Will this be in replacement of jizia?

HAF: No, jizia will still be taken, but if you want to enter the army, go ahead, and even so I am committed to your protection.

JC: So if the Salafis gain control of government in Egypt, what will you do with jizia?

HAF: Let’s talk first about the perspective of Muslims toward Christians if the sharia is implemented. We will treat them with righteousness, respect, friendship, and justice. In terms of rights, everyone will be the same. There will be no difference between a Muslim and a Christian. In terms of their family affairs – marriage, divorce, inheritance – we will not apply sharia here but they can judge themselves.

JC: What rights will they have exactly?

HAF: They will have all rights. The prophet said, ‘What is for them is for us,’ which means, if I can take salary, or gain positions, or have houses, or …, in everything that has to do with putting together a government there is no difference between Muslim or Christian.

JC: Even the high positions in government?

HAF: Yes, and there will be equivalence in their salaries as well.

Is there a constitution today that guarantees the rights of minorities like the sharia law? No. They are ahl al-dhimma, under our protection. They have rights over us and we have responsibilities toward them. As long as they don’t kill me, or raise a weapon against me, or attack me, I am obliged to protect them and give security to them and their houses of worship as well.

JC: But does not this designation as ahl al-dhimma raise the status of the Muslim over that of the Christian?

HAF: No, but the opposite. They will be more comfortable than the Muslims.

JC: Yes, maybe he is comfortable, but is he equal?

HAF: Let’s look at a Muslim and a Christian student. If the Christian scores higher on his marks, is it right for me to appoint the Muslim to a position over him? No.

JC: Is there a verse that says, ‘Do not take them [Jews and Christians] as friends/guardians? (Qur’an 5:51)

HAF: This is not speaking about Christians, so to speak. Of Christians it says, ‘You will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.”’ (Quran 5:82)

But the most difficult religion, which hates all of humanity, is that of the Jews. They hate Christianity also. In Palestine, do they make any difference between Muslim and Christian? No, they will kill them both.

So the Jewish religion has the most hate for humanity, but as for Christianity, there is friendship, ‘because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant’ (continuing verse above).

JC: To be sure I have not memorized the verse, but people tell me that the one I mentioned warns Muslims from allowing Christians to take positions above them.

HAF: This does not intend Christians in particular. But let me ask you a question: Did you know that in Britain there is a law preventing the prime minister from being other than a Protestant? Why? The majority is Protestant, so the prime minister must also be Protestant. So if we have a nation where the majority is Muslim, what should we expect the ruler to be?

JC: The issue of the ruler is one thing, but that of positions in society is another. What is intended by the word ‘guardians’ in that verse?

HAF: Guardianship is that of which you lean on for support, or to which you hand over your affairs. But it does not mean the one who is with you, it speaks of the foreigner.

There is domestic politics, and there is international politics. It is not possible that I give the guardianship to someone outside – a Jew, for example. Or let’s speak about American support. Will America give funds and let you spend them as you wish? Or will they demand conditions and severe restrictions?

JC: Sure, you should not accept the money in the first place.

HAF: Right, and in truth, we are not a poor country. There has been a study showing the sand of Sinai is among the best quality in the world for the production of glass? Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, when he visited Egypt said all he did was to close the faucets of corruption. In terms of Africa we are the number one producer of natural gas, and eighth in terms of the world.

JC: Very good, so you refuse the guardianship of foreign powers, but domestically – can a Copt head a ministry? Can he run a company? Can he be a school principal?

HAF: What is the problem with any of this? As long as he has the qualifications, why not?

Did you know that our educational policy in Egypt is a complete failure? That is why in our party we will work on developing education. Statistics show the most intelligent children in the world are Egyptian. But as soon as he enters school he becomes the stupidest student in the world.

JC: Allow me to move to a different subject. I live here and I know the genius of the Egyptian people (both laughing). Something that is not known, though, is your commitment to the values of democracy. Some of your sheikhs speak of it as something foreign, imported, and not Islamic.

HAF: What does the word ‘democracy’ mean? It is that a people are ruled by the people. But if there is a heavenly law…? Here’s a question: If you have an appliance, like a TV, will you turn to the agent or just some person when it needs fixing? The agent, of course, since he knows the appliance.

So if God created humanity, he knows what is good for it, and what will keep it from corruption. This is why he gave his law.

JC: In terms of faith, this is fine. But what in terms of democracy?

HAF: You will not find democracy or freedom greater than what is found in the sharia. We say you are free as long as you do no harm. There are three types of harm: to doctrine, to public property, and to private property. Does freedom give one the right to transgress on the will of others?

JC: What happens if the majority does not desire the rule of sharia?

HAF: Some people say the Salafis will cut of hands (of thieves). This is correct, but at the same time, it is wrong. If your hand is to be cut off, you must first be offered five things: work, a living wage, a home, a wife, and a means of transportation. If you have all five, and you still transgress against the property of others, what do you deserve?

JC: This is logical, but you are justifying why the sharia is good. If the people choose this punishment, fine. But I am asking, what if they change their mind? What if you fail in your policies? Can the people then choose against you?

HAF: Of course, we accept this. If we feel we are not able to perform our duty for the people, we will resign. We are not seeking parliament seats for pride. These are seats of service.

Some in the former ruling party used their seats to grant favors and enjoy immunity. We want to take away this immunity from members of parliament, as pertains to affairs outside parliament. We will work as any other citizen.

JC: Has not one of the Salafi sheikhs declared democracy to be unbelief?

HAF: This is Eng. Abdel Munim al-Shahat. What does he mean by unbelief? It is what we have been talking about. But the media exaggerates this issue, calling him the official spokesman of the party. He is not; there are two: Dr. Nader Bakar and Dr. Yusri Hammad. He is simply a candidate.

But what did he mean by democracy and unbelief? Is democracy the rule of the people by the people? No, for us ruling is only for God.

JC: Let us suppose you and the Muslim Brotherhood make an alliance in parliament. You will be able to create the laws you wish. After the term is over, following six years, you will allow for the people to choose once again, even for other parties?

HAF: Yes. Let us speak of the president. We want to put conditions on the position so we don’t have a return of dictatorship. We must make sure the parliament does not become subservient to the president. The parliament must hold the president accountable, not the other way around.

JC: So in parliament, who decides if a law is consistent with or contrary to the sharia?

HAF: The sharia functions as does the constitution. So any law must move in accordance with the constitution, just as it must with sharia.

JC: So taking an example: Must a woman cover with the hijab, the niqab, or is she free to wear what she wants?

HAF: Nothing religious will be imposed on anyone. We will advise only, and the one who refuses is free.

JC: Are there differences among Muslims as to what sharia is exactly?

HAF: No, not as concerns the roots of sharia, all are in agreement.

JC: What about new interpretations, consistent with the modern era?

HAF: This has to do with the details, not with the roots.

JC: Or, what if a Muslim interprets concerning bank interest. Might one say that the regulations of sharia were good for their era, but argue that today such policy is allowed?

HAF: We will work with the banks gradually. Most banks in Egypt work with interest. We will let them be, but we will also create sharia-compliant banks.

JC: Fine, but this is not my question exactly. Let the people choose their policy. But what if a Muslim wants to argue in terms of sharia that interest is allowable? Sheikh al-Azhar did this in terms of Mubarak’s policies. Maybe he was wrong, but can he not argue this way and differ in terms of sharia? And if so, who rules?

HAF: In terms of Sheikh al-Azhar, we must return to a situation where he is chosen by his peers and not appointed by the president, so that he does not become subservient to politics.

JC: You are justifying your position here, but you are just a person.

HAF: No, this is the position of everyone. It is textual in sharia, interest may not be taken from a loan. Many speak about interest being too high, and how we must lower it. But why should you lower it when it shouldn’t be there originally? Isn’t God the one who knows what is best for humanity?

We reject a religious state. Why? A religious state is one where the ruler states that what he decides is from God. No. We want a civil state which is ruled by sharia. If the ruler makes an error we declare his error, and if he is correct, we say thank you and accept it.

The religious state, as the media makes out that we believe in, is the equivalent of Europe in the Middle Ages where the church ruled by God’s law and there was no room for discussion. The church ruled as if it was in the place of God.

We say we are not in the place of God on earth. No, we present the law of God, and we implement the law of God, but not with haughtiness or pride.

JC: So if the parliament passes a law that violates sharia

HAF: We will say no.

JC: But who’s word prevails? Who decides?

HAF: If the majority is now Islamic, should not the will of the majority prevail?

You are a Christian, and you will raise your children to be Christian. I, likewise, am a Muslim and do the same. But if we take someone like the liberal Amr Hamzawi, who says I will let my children choose their faith… Do the traditions of Egypt allow someone to do this?

There must be preservation of the identity of Egypt. You are an American and you have your customs, but is it acceptable to implement your customs on the people of Egypt?

If we look at the spread of AIDS in the world, is it greater among liberal countries, or among those who preserve their cultural heritage and respect religion?

JC: Laws can protect religion, but at the same time, cultures and peoples change. Perhaps you will make a constitution that establishes a civil state ruled by sharia. It is the role of the courts to judge laws according to the constitution. If the parliament makes a law that some believe violate the sharia, will the judge rule against it?

HAF: If any project in Egypt violates the sharia, I will oppose it, and I expect the whole party will as well.

JC: But if your legislative power isn’t enough to oppose?

HAF: We will do our best. But if a matter transgresses the will of the majority, we not accept it. But we respect freedom in everything except that which is against the established principles of religion. And we respect all minorities.

JC: This issue leads to the last, and most important, question: Why should a Copt vote for the Nour Party?

HAF: Today in a conference someone asked me if we would be like previous parliament members, or if we would work for the interest of Muslims.

I told him I consider myself a candidate for Christians, before I represent Muslims, even if they don’t give me their vote. If I am selected for a seat, I represent the district, not just those who vote for me. This is democracy, and it is also sharia. I will treat the Christian like the Muslim, and in fact be sure to be responsible for them.

While campaigning someone approached me and said, ‘I am a Christian, but by God I will vote for you. You are a respectable and just man.’ I didn’t know who he was, but he had been involved in a reconciliation meeting in which I honored his rights.

I have spoken with Copts in all sincerity. I can be found in the mosque, but I can also be found in the church. I am confident I will capture their votes greater than any other candidate, even if he is a Christian.

Why? I am not interacting with them as if I seek their votes. Actually, elections are a very recent thing. I have behaved this way with Copts for a long time now. I do not speak of ‘national unity’, I speak about the ‘national fabric’. National unity implies there is a difference between us but we come together to solve it and reconcile. No, I say that Egyptian society – Muslim and Christian – is one fabric. The blood of one is the blood that drips from the other.

JC: Praise God, sheikh. Thank you very much.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Article Two Roundtables: Clerics, Media, and Civil Society

Translation: Constitution

Following the revolution the status of Article Two in the Egyptian constitution has been a subject of great debate, as it serves to great degree to define the identity of the state. It reads: Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic law are the chief source of legislation.

Hani Labib, managing director of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation, moderated the discussions, which were held at the Association for Upper Egypt in downtown Cairo.

Labib provided an identical introduction to each of the three groups. He stated clearly that CIDT does not take an official position on Article Two. Yet given that this article has become a point of contention between groups who wish it to remain as it is, to be amended, or to be removed altogether, Labib asked each participant to provide answers to three questions:

  1. Do you wish the article to remain in the constitution?
  2. Do you believe the article is in need of amendment?
  3. What is the proper formulation for Egyptian society?

Not all participants answered these questions clearly, yet most provided insights to illuminate the discussion and did not shy away from controversy. Summaries of their responses are below.

The Clerics’ Roundtable

Fr. Rufaeel Tharwat, a Coptic Orthodox priest, opened the discussion by stating that Article Two provided peace and security to Egypt. Nevertheless, he recognized that the 40% of the population which is illiterate demand that clerics from both religions interpret it correctly for the people. This would help assure that the government is for the nation and not for any particular part of it. In accordance with this, he wishes assurances that judges would not be able to use Article Two so as to change the law as they see fit. One particular area of concern – worthy of amending the article – is that non-Muslims be guaranteed to be ruled by their own religious laws. This would help ensure the principles of citizenship and prevent any possible loss of rights on the basis of Article Two.

Fr. Philopater Gameel, a Coptic Orthodox priest and leader in the Maspero Youth Union, followed by stating the worthiness of some of these points, but found that the emergence of more radical Islamic groups necessitated the cancellation of Article Two, keeping the constitution from any religious reference. He stated he had proof, for example, that judges have used Article Two to protect Muslims following crimes against Copts, as sharia, he maintained, does not allow execution of a Muslim for the killing of a non-Muslim. He fears also the article could be used to impose jizia (a tax on non-Muslims), as well as support accusations of takfir (calling someone an infidel). Article Two would be improved if it contained a clause to allow non-Muslims recourse to their own religious law, but this would only solve some of the issues, so it is best to remove the article altogether.

Abd al-Fattah Asakar, an Islamic writer and apologist, offered a completely different understanding of the Egyptian religious scene. He said there is only one religious community – Muslims and Christians together – for they are all monotheists and Egyptians. Anyone who harms a Copt harms God himself, for in his eyes the value of a Copt is more than the value of, say, a Pakistani Muslim. The Islamic liberal system is the best the world has ever known for protecting human freedom – even that of an atheist – but some have corrupted it by following men, such as the un-Islamic Salafis. There is no problem with Article Two, for a Muslim is a Christian and a Christian is a Muslim, but there are problems with the people and cultured Egyptians must educate better about true religion. All the same, he favors the amendment of the article to include a clause mentioning also the Gospel and the Torah.

Muhammad Muhammad Abdo is a professor of sharia and law from the Azhar University, and finds that Article Two is a guarantee for Copts as it is for Muslims, and should stay as it is. He agrees that Copts and Muslims have always lived closely together in one country, and that problems lie with the people, not the article itself. As for those who fear the article, he says it refers only to the broad principles of the law, protects diversity, and cannot be applied on laws in particular. Keeping a religious reference, on the other hand, prevents Egypt from going the way of Europe in adopting secularism with the resulting change in society; people must always be religious to something.

Fr. Antonious Aziz is a Coptic Catholic priest who is against any reference to religion in the constitution, even in personal status laws. He stated that Spain is assumed to be a Catholic nation, but it allows homosexuality, and the church takes no role in legislation, but rather supports human freedom. Consider the Bahai or atheist, he said. Shall a religion legislate against even these? No, religion should not have a dominating role in any state; it is not needed, for everyone has a conscience.

Muhammad Hajaj, a lawyer, like others looked to history and proclaimed that Muslims and Copts have cooperated in order to secure a state of justice. Problems that have existed recently, he claimed, were sown by the former regime. The constitution is meant to speak to broad principles, not details; as a sequential document he wondered why there was a problem. Article One establishes Egypt first and foremost as a democratic republic built on citizenship, and only then does Article Two build on this foundation. Further articles also establish equality between citizens and protect the right of religious practice. If anything, the article should be amended to remove the word ‘principles’, since such a word is dependent upon interpretation.

Osama al-Qusi is a doctor and Salafi preacher of Islam, and also believed the former regime’s corruption, oppression, and lack of transparency hurt the national fabric. Ibn Taymiyya for one praised the just government, even if it was not Muslim. Furthermore, if we say there is no compulsion in religion, how can we judge someone by a religion not their own? As such, this is present in Article Two, which would not differ if we amended it to say ‘all heavenly religions’, for example. Each religious community should be able to govern itself by its own laws, under the system of a general law for the nation.

Rev. Rifaat Fikry is an evangelical pastor in Shubra, who finds no civilized country in the world which puts religion in the forefront of its constitution. Secularism is needed, which is not that people leave God but that all are treated equally regardless of religion. In 1923 the constitution did establish Islam as the state religion, but it made no mention of sharia until the ‘believer president’ Sadat inserted it, and people have been playing with sectarian conflict since then. He agrees that Egyptian society is not ready to cancel Article Two, but it should be amended to say: “Islam is the religion of the majority of the population. Arabic is the official language of the country. Principles of all religions’ shari’ahs and international treaties for human rights are the principal sources for legislation.”

The Media Roundtable

Said Shuaib, a journalist, stated he was against Article Two, since the constitution does not represent the majority but the entire country. Sanctity of belief must be protected, and as such the constitution should be free of religious bias. For those who believe the article protects the Islamic identity of the state, he recommended the identity of Egypt is more properly grounded in that it protects the rights of all people equally.

Alaa Azmy, a journalist, is also for cancelling Article Two from the constitution, since he recognized a large part of the problem lies in that the general population does not understand the terms of debate. Therefore, the article should be dropped, an education campaign launched, and then a general societal debate should take place without calling one group religious and the other infidels. Currently, Article Two not only harms Copts, but Copts and Muslims together.

Wafaa Wasfy, a journalist, is against Article Two since in effect it cancels the state in favor of religion. Noting that Egypt is a religious society, she finds its people can sometimes run behind ideas rashly without sufficient thought. As such, society should move gradually in accord with what people can accept. This way, decisions made now might also be acceptable fifty years from now.

Bashir Abd al-Raziq, an editor, believes that Article Two is acceptable, but not in the way it currently is used by different groups for different interpretations. It must either evolve into something that all – Muslims, Christians, and Jews – can agree on together, or else it should be dropped entirely.

Robair al-Faris, a journalist, is against the merger of religion and state, but finds that as the majority of the population is illiterate, this means democracy will be the rule of them over the rest, which is dangerous. As such, he is not against cancelling Article Two, but it must be done the right way. First steps include removing the religious reference from the ID card, and then from education, so students do not receive religious orientations. Only then will society be prepared to accept cancellation of this article.

Said Tawfiq, a journalist, is in favor of keeping Article Two, since the problem is not in the text but in its application. Nevertheless, it should be amended to better guarantee the rights of Copts. A major problem lies in the fact that the governments of the region have always played with religion, but politics is a part of Islam, and who can reject Islam? Many people have reservations against the article, he believes, but will be afraid to speak up out of deference to the will of the majority.

Remon Edwards, a journalist, supports cancelling the second article, but believes reform in education and the media is necessary first. There should be no religious reference in the constitution, but the liberal parties who espouse such a position generally do not conduct activities in the street, so the message does not reach the majority poor.

Hassan Yahya, a journalist, finds that there is no value in Article Two, since every group interprets it according to their own understanding. Religious questions, he finds, have only mattered in the last several decades, forced upon the region by Israel as a Jewish state. Currently, it is Salafi groups causing problems, especially as they circulate a treatise called ‘The Curse of the Groups of the Coptic Nation’, which accuses Pope Shenouda of seeking to create an independent Coptic state.

Finally, Ibtisam al-Gindy and Shaimaa al-Shawarbi, both journalists, are in favor of amending Article Two. Al-Gindy believes it is biased against the Copts but if it is amended to include a guarantee for Coptic rights then it can remain. Al-Shawarbi meanwhile thinks it should be amended to make sharia ‘a’ source of legislation only, and not the primary one. She adds that if this article were to assist the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, she would be in favor of its cancelation.

The Civil Society Roundtable

Nabil Ahmed Helmi, professor of international law, believes that Egypt has always had a civil government, but that following the revolution Islamist and extremist voices emerged to frame the discussion that liberals are trying to turn Egypt into a civil government. A state does not have a religion, though a majority may. For this latter reason, even though he wants to keep religion from the state, it will be impossible to remove the article; the best that can be done is to amend it.

Imad Felix, a lawyer, weighed in saying that it is not improper to have the principles of Islamic sharia as a source of legislation. The difficulty comes in making sure these principles do not harm the members of other religious communities. It is essential in the coming period to make sure the religion of the majority does not control or influence the minority populations.

Samia Arisha, a writer, stated she was afraid of the future in what might be done through Article Two, agreeing that it would be difficult to remove, and harder still to speak about this with the groups that play with religion. The question is how to amend it. Can it respect the confession of Islam as the religion of the minority while protecting individual freedom? Can each religious community be given to rule by its own sharia? Regardless, anyone who threatens a person outside of his own group’s sharia must be tried in a civil court.

Irini Thabit, professor of languages at Ain Shams Univeristy, for example, questioned if the discussion concerning principles of sharia was in terms of popular understanding, or legal. She asked furthermore if Islamic sharia addressed both Muslim and Christian concerns. Helmi, acting as a moderator, answered yes to the latter question, saying there is no compulsion in religion and Christians are free to govern themselves in religious matters. He added as well he was upset the Jews left Egypt, for then the nation would have even more diversity.

Mahmoud Khayyal, a doctor, also was not sure of the parameters of the discussion, asking if interest was in the opinions about Article Two, or what was best to do with it in the future. He stated though born a Muslim he is an agnostic, and is against Article Two, even if amended to let other groups work according to their religious laws. What would be the outcome, he wondered – 4,000 religions needing to be written into the constitution? Furthermore, resting on the ‘principles’ of sharia does not help either, for principles can change also – look at Afghanistan. No, the article should be cancelled altogether.

Munir Mogahed, an engineer, agreed that Article Two should be cancelled, since the constitution is a proscriptive document, not a descriptive one. Therefore, if remaining, it allows a judge to rule not just based on the law and constitution, but also on his particular interpretation of sharia. Besides the law, the article will also lead to making education religious as well. These factors will push Egypt in the direction of becoming a sectarian country, which is a shame, since Article Two was scripted in bad form, for worldly reasons based on politics.

Tharwat Kharbali, a lawyer, spoke from an Islamist perspective, having been a Muslim Brother and active in the Wasat Party. He agreed there was a danger from extremist religious perspectives, saying there was no place for Wahabism in Egypt. Salafism does not help either, since during the era of the Prophet and Companions, whom they imitate, there were liberals and extremists also. The constitutional court must prevent such developments. He found Erdogan of Turkey to be an example, for during a conference he attended he addressed the concerns of his city (Istanbul), while others pontificated about Islam. Article Two is important, and should remain in the constitution, but it should be amended to define Egypt as a secular state with an Eastern understanding.

Medhat Bishay, a writer, agreed about the power of the Islamist trends, who speak loudly against liberals making the country secular to the level of rhetoric that they will die as martyrs to prevent this. Given the backwardness that exists in Egypt, great care must be taken. This is in light of the desire to bequeath a good nation to our children, requiring wisdom for the moment.

Felix spoke again, wondering if the solution would be to amend the article so as to include respect for international agreements. But he also believed the media would not be helpful, as so many people would require knowledge and definition of what these agreements are. Helmy closed believing the fear expressed was not completely necessary, for the military will never allow extremist trends to rule Egypt. The army, he stated, wishes to rule in accord with Egypt’s nature as a country, but unfortunately, 99% of the population is not able or engaged to have a discussion on the topic as we are doing today.