Dear Future President, what does Sharia mean to you?


When Egyptians went to the poll and voted for various Islamist parties in the recent parliamentary election, they were not after a fast-track ticket to heaven, but a genuine desire to fight corruption, decadence and nepotism that had been plaguing Egyptian society for generations.

Now, we have approached the final stage of the long, painful transitional period in post-Mubarak Egypt, and a new reality is unfolding- an Islamic -dominant Constitution drafting committee and a plethora of Islamic candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

Assuming that there will be no more surprises, and that the three main candidates- el-Shater, Abou el-Fotouh and Hazem Abu-Ismail- will continue with their campaigns, I think we should demand a serious debate between these candidates about Sharia law and the role of Islam in society. After all, they are promising Egyptians a better Islamic society and it is their duty to explain exactly what this is means.

I am very skeptical, however, about the likelihood of this debate ever taking place. Neither El-Shater nor Abou-El Fotouh would risk debating religion in public because they are primarily politicians who use Islam as a tool to gain popularity, and they never show any desire to enter the deep end and challenge the extremist’s mantra. Also, any debate about religion would almost certainly benefit Hazem Abu-Ismail who was once an Islamic preacher and would probably do his utmost to portray himself as the guardian of Islam and paint the others as opportunists (if he has the guts to do so).

I am persistent and looking for some answers. Those who believe that they can lead Egypt should articulate exactly what Sharia law means to them. Do they believe in coercion and why? In their views, what is the difference between sins and crime? Is freedom of choice part of Islamic teaching? which school of Islamic jurisprudence you follow? and finally, why should society enforce Sharia? and  most importantly, how your Shari- based platform differ than the others?

The debate about Sharia is as old as Islam itself. There was era of rationalism and other eras when rigorous dogma had dominated. Nonetheless, there are many Qur’anic verses that confirm that freedom is enshrined in Islam – one verse clearly states “There is no compulsion in religion.” The pragmatism of Caliph Omar is well documented, as when he suspend the punishment for theft (hadd) when hunger plagued the country, and how he stopped paying zakat- despite an explicit Qur’anic verse – to a certain group who had joined Islam without a deep rooted faith.

There are also endless examples of tolerant behavior, perhaps the most moving of which was when Abu-Hanifa the most outstanding jurist in Islamic history and the founder of the rationalist school of thinking, upon hearing that his drunken neighbor had been arrested and imprisoned for misbehavior, called on the governor and secured the man’s release and then he looked at him and said “Brother, we do not want to lose you at any cost.”

If our Presidential candidates really want to Islamize society, before they start to preach to the public how wonderful is their Islamic project is, they should articulate which Islam they are after and why. Sadly, even the so-called “moderate” Abou el-Fotouh has recently raised his religious rhetoric in order to gain popularity.

I have no doubt that the soaring rhetoric will only increase after El-Shater’s nomination, but I still hope that those who want to lead the country will stop using religion in order to reach the presidential palace.

How ironic that Islamists who bitterly complained about secular dictators imitate their actions by infantilizing their followers. Egypt has enough problems as it is and cannot afford double talk, contradictions or wishful thinking.

About nervana111

Blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues
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7 Responses to Dear Future President, what does Sharia mean to you?

  1. Dear Nervana,

    Although you did not comment back my previous message to your blog and for which I trust only because you are busy, I am going to continue my one-sided writing for I like to read your work and honestly speaking, because we have quite big divergences in terms of political views :)

    Back to this one, allow me please to recite a story that would summarize it all (in my opinion):
    {In the past 60s and in Lebanon, there was a farmer of “lettuce” in a place called Damour in the south of Beirut and who has lost his wife while delivering their first baby daughter.
    The poor man took a vow that he will never re-marry and will raise the baby daughter by his own.
    Certainly, he cannot afford any school tuition and therefore, the daughter was kept 24/7 with him between home and the “lettuce” farm…
    While she was growing up, he started telling her that as soon as he got a fruitful “lettuce” season, he will accompany her to Beirut, the capital city.
    Unfortunately, every year something bad happens, either worms, weather or insects compromise his “lettuce” season and he could never had the chance to save a significant amount of money aside…
    Until one day he noticed that the baby daughter is now becoming a teenager, turning into a woman, so he decided to take her to Beirut regardless the fruitful or not of the “lettuce” season!
    Calling for a Taxi and heading with his lovely daughter to Beirut.
    She was like open-mouthed all over the site seeing. Pulling over the Taxi and deciding to make a tour in the famous Beirut souks (at that time it was the early 70s)…
    After few hours walking around all those shops and vitrines, he took his daughter’s hand gently and look straight in her eyes saying: “Sweetheart, i have promised you this visit since your first footsteps and now i am delivering my promise, so please choose anything you like among all those shops and i am willing to buy it for you”.
    The daughter took a very long sigh while thinking about what to choose and then she said:
    ” I need a Lettuce”…}

    I am sorry for the long story and in my opinion, this would explain the consequences of what is so called “Arab Springs”.
    People who haven’t read but in one book all over their life, cannot be but the Lettuce farmer’s daughter with all my respect to your enthusiasm about democracy and freedom of speech.

    Democracy delivered Salafi’s and Ikhwan in Egypt and they did not manipulate the elections!
    Remember, the same happened in Gaza few years ago, but at that time Salafism and Radical Islam was against the current, therefore, western governments could not digest the results and they declined the people’s democratic choice.
    Yes, the majority of people in Egypt have chosen to buy a “lettuce” and in a very democratic clean way unfortunately!

    Take care and wish your dreams come true.

    Joseph

  2. No surprise! As usual… Very good article!

    Especially the “Finale”… “Egypt has enough problems…”
    Don’t you think, that all those ‘wannabie Psidentes’ know it?
    Most enigmatic – Non of them even hinted what they intend to say at the end of their term, like:-
    “I did this!” (What exactly?…)
    Interesting times in Egypt! There must be a curse around somewhere …
    Not a Pharaonic one – but Chinese!…

    Waiting impatiently for your next “Input”

    Alex.

  3. nervana111 says:

    Thank you so much for your comments.
    Joseph:
    Egyptians didn’t choose the lettuce, they choose to give the Islamists a chance and they will judge accordingly. Now it is up to the Islamists to articulate a clear vision or they will lose people confidence.
    As for Gaza, it is a different story, siege mentality deliver abnormalities !

  4. Aharon Meytahl says:

    The issue is more fundamental than this or that interpretation of sharia, or for the sake of argument any other constitution or legal system. Without powerful opposition which has a real chance to become a ruling party from time to time, and free expression there is no democracy. Free expression is not only a legal right but the ruling majority must sincerely believe that the minority can and should express opinions contrary to that of the majority. Without these elements the best constitution will achieve nothing. The constitution of Soviet Union under Stalin was second to none.

  5. Great idea to have a debate. Islam is abused by Islamists as they focus on sex segregation, the veil, Internet censorship etc. rather than fundamentals of Islam; justice, mercy, compassion, equality and honesty.

  6. Enjoyed all the thoughts expressed on topic.
    Peace and good fortune from this side of the pond.
    Cheers.

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