10 April 2011
With the current turmoil in Egypt, the freedom granted to Islamic movements, under the seriously lacking security, Islamists appear to have gained a new lease on public life. Extremist groups are carrying out acts of violence and terrorism under the licence of implementing hudoud (Islamic penalties for crimes such as adultery for which adultresses are stoned and adulterers are flogged, and thievery, for which a thief’s hand is cut). They are threatening and terrorising Copts, and are attacking Sufi shrines—which they see as acts of heresy.
The brash Islamism inevitably brings to mind the name of Farag Fouda, the Egyptian moderate, enlightened, and liberal intellectual who stood up to extremist thought, and for that he lost his life.
Killing a blasphemer
Fouda, an agriculturalist who was born in the north Delta town of Damietta in 1945, was shot to death near his office in the Cairo eastern suburb of Nasr City on 8 June 1992 by two Islamic fundamentalists; members of the Jamaa Islamiya (literally, the Islamic Community or Group) after being accused of blasphemy. His son and other bystanders were wounded in the attack. Fouda’s chauffeur and a policeman apprehended the criminals, who were later sentenced to death.
Before his death, Farag Fouda was declared an apostate and foe of Islam. An al-Azhar scholar, Sheikh Mohamed al-Ghazali, a witness before the court, declared it was not wrong to kill a foe of Islam. Ghazali said: “The killing of Farag Fouda was in fact the implementation of the punishment against an apostate which the imam failed to undertake.”
The Jamaa Islamiya committed numerous acts of terrorism in Egypt during the 1990s, including the massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997, an incident so barbarous that popular revulsion and a police crackdown forced the group to later renounce violence.
The group’s founder, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the “Blind Sheikh”, is infamous for his 1989 reaction to Salman Rushdi’s novel The Satanic Verses. Had someone only dealt with Egyptian Nobel Prize winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz, Rahman is reported to have said, Rushdi would never have dared write his book. In 1994, a follower of Rahman stabbed and seriously wounded Mahfouz. Rahman is today is in prison in the US for his role in instigating a 1995 conspiracy to bomb various New York landmarks.
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ma’mun al-Hudeibi, was among the first to welcome and justify Fouda’s assassination. Today, both the MB and the Jamaa are politically active.
Foes of Islam?
One of Fouda’s killers was asked, “Why did you assassinate Farag Fouda?” He replied: “Because he is a blasphemer.” The judge asked: “Which of his books led you to consider that he was a blasphemer?” The murderer replied: “I have never read his books.” The judge asked: “Why not?” to which he answered: “I can’t read or write.”
Fouda was noted for his outspoken, critical and satirical articles about Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, and in several newspaper articles he demonstrated weak points in Islamic ideology. His own status as a teller of truths made him a target of threats and slander.
Fouda was not the only author to be accused of blasphemy by radical Islamists. Several other intellectuals and writers were regarded as foes of Islam, which allowed the authorities to confiscate their works. Others met with different types of persecution, as in the case of the writer and philosopher Nasr Hamid Abu-Zeid who was ordered to divorce his wife on grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to an apostate; Abu-Zeid and his wife resorted to self-exile in the Netherlands. The liberal writer Sayed al-Qemani was threatened with murder, as were the feminists Nawal al-Saadawi and Iqbal Baraka.
Fouda wrote various articles and books, among them: Al-Haqiqa al-Ghaeba (The Absent Truth); Zawag al-Mut’ah (Pleasure Marriage or Temporary Marriage) ; Hewarat Hawl al-Sharia al-Ta’efeya, Ila Ayn (Discussions On Sectarian Legislation, Where To) ; Nakoon Aw La Nakoon (To Be Or Not to Be); Hewar Hawl al-Ilamenya (Discussion On Secularism) and Qabl al-Soqot (Before The Fall).
Fouda pointed out that hudoud and some of the other Islamic rulings were regarded as pertaining to a specific, temporary era, and thus were not normative for the present. In his book The Absent Truth Fouda posed some pertinent questions for those calling for a religious State:
“We face problems of great magnitude, so how can they be resolved by the application of sharia, since these problems did not exist in the early centuries of Islam? How would sharia, for example, deal with the problems of housing, indebtedness, famine, and unemployment?
“We seem to be excessively interested and preoccupied with matters of worship; does that relieve us of our responsibility to become involved in the great scientific and technological advancements of our times?
“What do we achieve by being busy with fatwas that deal with such topics as ‘pleasure’ marriage (when a man marries a woman for a specific length of time in return for a particular amount of money), how to relieve ourselves when we happen to be in the desert, growing a beard or trimming a mustache, when there are more and more children living on the street? “What good has come out of the practice of the so-called prophetic healing of the sick, as based on spurious Hadiths (Words of the Prophet), when at the same time, we witness the astronomically growing number of the sick? And what about the latest charlatanry of those ‘experts’ who claim that healing may be found in flies’ wings or in camels’ urine?
“What are the benefits that come from the imposition of the hijab on Muslim women?
“The call for instant implementation of hudoud will cause civil sectarian strife.
“Islamists adopt a strong stance against art, music, acting and singing.”
Islamic regime in Sudan
When Gaafar al-Nemeiri proclaimed an Islamic regime in Sudan, he received the support of religious scholars from al-Azhar, including the Mufti, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Sheikh al-Qaradawi and Sheikh Abdel-Hamid Keshk. Fouda was one of the few who wrote that it was a trick by the Sudanese president as a means to an end. In return for expressing his personal opinion of a country’s regime, Fouda was insulted and declared an apostate. Some years later Fouda’s view was vindicated when Nemeiri’s rule failed and he committed terrible crimes under the label of sharia. The result was that Nemeiri was criticised by his erstwhile supporters, who nevertheless continued to insult Fouda.
Fouda wrote in his book The Absent Truth, “President Sadat released Islamists from prison, relied on them to fight the leftist opposition, but could not control them.”
Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution read: “The principles of the Islamic sharia are a main source of legislation” which is reasonable and acceptable because most civil laws are already derived from sharia. Sadat changed it to read: “The principles of Islamic sharia are the main source of legislation.” Sadat wished to play on the religious sentiments of Egyptians by having them decide on a constitutional amendment package which included the amended Article 2 as well as an article which included an unlimited number of terms for the presidency. The referendum, in which Egyptians voted for the amendment, was followed by a statement by Sadat in which he said he believed that Islam was a ‘Holy Qur’an and a sword’. It can be safely said that Sadat was responsible for the spread of the Islamist tide in Egypt, and he became its first victim.