Extremism, Not Islam, Is a Problem for Egypt

Article Summary
Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany challenges the arguments of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists about imposing Shariah law in Egypt.

“Are you a Muslim?” If you are, why do you oppose the application of the law of God?

“Those who reject the application of Islamic Shariah law are liberals and communists, collaborators with the West and enemies of Islam. Are you one of them?”

These are the questions that Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Salafists ask the people (especially the simple-minded ones) to influence their religious sentiments, mobilize them to hold protests and push them to adopt positions favorable to political Islam groups.

The truth is that this way of discussing Shariah is dishonest, for any Muslim would definitely like to see the application of Islamic Shariah. Yet first, we must explain to the people the difference between Shariah and jurisprudence.

Shariah law consists of the established principles revealed to us by God. Jurisprudence is the science that enables us to understand Shariah and to apply it to our daily lives. Shariah is a fixed divine law that never changes. Jurisprudence is a human achievement that changes with time and place.

Islamic Shariah certainly calls for fairness, goodness, justice and equality. What the Brotherhood and the Salafists are calling to be applied is not the Shariah principles revealed by God, but jurisprudential provisions that were drafted by humans like us, who may go right or wrong. 

Many of these provisions were appropriate for society during the 10th century but are no longer appropriate in the 21st.

The Brotherhood and the Salafists today dominate the constitution-drafting committee in order to apply the old jurisprudential provisions by any means.

After the liberals, Copts and Islamists agreed on Article Two — which affirms that the principles of Shariah are the main source of legislation — Brotherhood supporters and Salafists included an article in the draft constitution that says, “The principles of Shariah include the comprehensive evidence, fundamental and jurisprudential rules and sources adopted in the Sunni doctrine.”

This article merely attempts to equate principles of Shariah law with jurisprudence provisions, and pushes Egypt toward an inevitable danger. I have searched for respectable sources of Sunni doctrine, and could not find a better book than Sunni Jurisprudence, written by the late Sheikh Sayyed Sabiq (1915–2000) and published in three parts by Dar al-Fath Arab Media publishing house.

The book, by everyone’s acknowledgement, is the most important and renowned book on Islamic jurisprudence.

Furthermore, Sheikh Sayyed Sabiq was a historical leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The introduction of the book was written by the late Sheikh Hassan al-Banna — the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood — in which he praised the book and said it was a great achievement for which its author deserves a reward from God.

Neither the Brotherhood’s supporters nor the Salafists can criticize the book. In it, Sheikh Sabiq presents the Sunnis’ views on various aspects of life. I apologize here because I will use the word "infidel" to refer to Coptic Egyptian citizens. This is what most scholars did, as did Sheikh Sabiq himself.

Here are some examples to consider when examining this book:

First, if we assume that a Muslim thief robbed a pharmacy owned by a Coptic pharmacist, in this case, if the witnesses to the incident were Copts, their testimonies would not be acceptable. In the opinion of the jurisprudential scholars, the testimonies of non-Muslims against Muslims are not acceptable.

Sheikh Sabiq says in Part III (page 380):

“A condition for accepting a testimony is for the witness to be a Muslim. The testimony of an infidel against a Muslim is not acceptable, except in the case of testifying to a will while traveling (according to Imam Abu Hanifa). If a Muslim were traveling, found his death and could only reveal his will to a Copt, this is the only case in which the testimony of a Copt on behalf of a Muslim can be accepted. Except for this case, the testimony of a Copt against a Muslim is not acceptable under any condition.”

We can imagine the chaos caused by this jurisprudential provision if it were to be applied in Egypt. Any Muslim would be able to assault the property of the Copts and their churches, while being reassured that all those who will witness the crime will be Coptic infidels, whose testimonies against Muslims — based on the opinion of jurisprudential scholars — cannot be accepted, even if the latter has committed crimes.

Second, drinking alcohol is forbidden to Muslims and its punishment is 80 lashes (though some scholars say it is only 40). This provision is well known. However, jurisprudential scholars are calling for the need to apply the punishment for consuming alcohol to non-Muslims as well.

Sheikh Sabiq says in Part II (page 493) of the book: “Being a Muslim is not a condition to apply the punishment for alcohol consumption. [The punishment should apply to] ‘people of the book’ who are citizens of a Muslim state — such as the Copts in Egypt — as well as those of them who temporarily live with the Muslims, such as foreigners. This punishment should apply to them if they drink alcohol in the domain of Islam.”

Let’s imagine what would happen should this provision be applied. A Copt who drinks beer (as his religion permits him to) will be arrested and will receive 80 lashes.

Should we be optimistic about the future of tourism in Egypt? When we invite European or American tourists to visit Egypt, we must warn them, because if they bring along wine bottles to Egypt and drink from them with food as they do in their countries, they may be arrested, stripped and flogged in accordance with this jurisprudential provision.

How many foreigners would be willing to take this risk in order to spend their vacation in Egypt?

Third, qadhif is a term that refers to defamation, libel, slander and accusing someone of adultery. In Islamic jurisprudence, this is a crime punishable by 80 lashes. Strangely, the jurisprudential scholars stipulated that the victim must be a Muslim in order for the punishment to be carried out against the person who defamed him.

Sheikh Sabiq says in Part II (page 535) of his book: “The victim [of defamation] must be a Muslim. If the victim is non-Muslim, jurisprudential scholars see that punishing the person who defamed him is not applicable. If it was the opposite case where a Christian or Jew defames a Muslim, he would receive the same punishment as a Muslim: 80 lashes.”

Who would then be able to talk about the rights of citizenship and equality before the law? If a Copt insults a Muslim, he would receive 80 lashes, whereas if a Muslim insults a Copt, flogging him would be impermissible. It is as if human dignity were reserved for Muslims only, and the Copts were creatures without reputation or dignity.

Fourth, diyyah is a fine that should be paid by persons who commit manslaughter. This “blood money” — according to the opinion of jurisprudential scholars — varies according to sex and religion.

The blood money for a murdered Muslim woman is half that of a slain Muslim man. The blood money for a slain Copt is half that of a slain Muslim man. The blood money for a murdered Coptic woman amounts to half that of a murdered Muslim woman (a quarter of that of a murdered Muslim man).

This is the ruling of jurisprudential scholars, says Sheikh Sabiq in Part III (pages 60 and 61) of his book.

If we apply this jurisprudential provision, we will have recognized that the value of human life is not the same for all people. The life of a Muslim man is more valuable than that of a Muslim woman, the life of a Copt is less valuable than that of a Muslim and the life of a Coptic woman is the cheapest among them all (because she has two flaws, being a woman and a Copt).

Can we accept this concept in the 21st century? Will the Egyptian state bear the international sanctions that will be imposed on it if it implements this provision, which violates all of the human rights treaties signed by successive Egyptian governments?

Fifth, in the case of murder, the killer must be punished, and thus the death penalty should be implemented. However, the conditions for punishment stipulate that the slain person be a Muslim. If, however, the slain person is an infidel Copt, the killer would be exempted from punishment.

Sheikh Sabiq says in Part III (page 25) of his book: “One condition for punishment is that the slain and the murderer have equal conditions, and that they be equal in religion and freedom. No punishment is to be carried out on a Muslim who kills an infidel, or a free person who kills a slave, since there is no equality between the killer and the victim. On the other hand, if an infidel kills a Muslim, or a slave kills a free person, they would have to be punished.”

Some scholars have rejected this view, but the dominant view among the majority of Sunni jurisprudential scholars is that a Muslim is not to be killed by a non-Muslim. If we were to apply this jurisprudential provision, if a Muslim Egyptian shot a Copt or beat him to death, the execution of the Muslim killer would be impermissible since the rule is that a Muslim is not to be killed if he kills a non-Muslim.

What would the state of society be if this jurisprudential provision were applied? How could we claim that we live in a country where citizens are equal, if it is not permissible to execute a Muslim who kills a Copt, while a Copt who kills a Muslim is to be executed?

These are some examples of jurisprudential provisions that the Brotherhood’s supporters and Salafists want to apply in Egypt. These provisions were created by scholars who lived and worked hard to develop them in a way that corresponds to ancient societies.

If these provisions were to be applied today in Egypt, they would completely and irreversibly eliminate society, cause a civil war in Egypt or divide Egypt between Muslims and Copts, as has happened in Sudan.

I reiterate that we are not against Islamic law, because the law of God represents justice and fairness. We are against the application of old jurisprudential provisions that were appropriate a thousand years ago for Muslims who lived in societies whose circumstances differ completely from ours today.

If we want to apply Islamic law correctly, our jurisprudential scholars must first strive to develop new jurisprudential provisions that suit our modern times. To abuse religion and ourselves, and apply old jurisprudential provisions, we would be seeking to tear society, destroy our country and take Egypt several centuries back.

To the extremists who are eager to cut off hands, stone and flog, I hope that you rethink your positions and consider that the application of Shariah is the goal of us all. But the old jurisprudential provisions no longer suit the times in which we live.

Through your extremism and rigid ideas, you are damaging Islam and driving all of us to an imminent disaster. It is our duty — Muslims and Copts alike — to stop you from doing that. We, God willing, will stop you from doing that. God willing, we will prevent you and protect our country from your extremism. We will not recognize the distorted constitution that you are imposing on the Egyptians. The revolution will continue until a modern civil state is realized. We will move toward the future and will never go back to the darkness of the past.

Democracy is the solution.

Found in: sharia, salafists, islamists, history, egypt

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