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.