Egypt’s New Grand Imam

Twice in one week, President Mohamed Morsi addressed Egyptians from a mosque. Each speech was more like a religious sermon than a political address. The following excerpts illustrate this point:

“Quran has everything for us, if we follow it, we would never need anything else.”

“God told us to rule people with what is ‘right’; not what they want.”

“it is the duty of everyone to advocate virtue.”

“God will accept your prayers only if you follow his order.”

For non-Islamists, it may look strange and puzzling to choose a place of worship as the site to address the public, particularly following his most significant political decision – dismissing top military command, Field Marshall Tantawi, among many other high rank army officers − but it is definitely a logical move, according to his Islamist grassroots supporters. With a state media under his control, Morsi’s aim was clearly to appeal to a wider section of Egyptian society. His target group is conservative Muslims who do not necessarily identify themselves as Islamists but who would be willing to listen to religious speeches because they have a natural affinity as “men of God.”  To this group, Morsi delivered a clear unambiguous message: “I am a good man, and you should trust me.”

Some may argue that his is a benign, legitimate move aimed to inspire others and gain popularity. Indeed, he is not the first leader who has used religion to consolidate his vision; many world leaders have attended religious sermons, but I am not aware of any world leader that delivered his own religious sermon. Even in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khamenei is the supreme guide, and not the president.

What was particularly alarming about Morsi ‘s sermon was his interpretation of early Islam, the narratives reflected a man who believe in one “correct” interpretation of the Quran and Hadith, as the only way that could bring the success of the Umah (Islamic nation). The danger of this non-pluralistic vision should not be dismissed; Morsi is slowly paving the way to loyalty to one man and one vision policy. The hints of religious fatalism and emotional blackmail are also alarming − Morsi pointed out the responsibilities of Muslims to their society and emphasized their obligation to fulfill their Islamic duty before God can bless them with victory.

It was interesting to hear Morsi quoting Imam Ali: “People are four types: the knowledgeable who are aware of their knowledge, the knowledgeable who do not appreciate their knowledge, the ignorants who think they are knowledgeable, and the ignorants who admit their lack of knowledge.”  Morsi, interestingly, highlighted that the third group is the most dangerous. Without trying to speculate his exact meaning, I rather put myself in the fourth category and asked the President some questions, and I sincerely hope he can give me  clear answers. If Quran and Hadith are our “only” guides, then the following questions must be answered:

•How can the Quran guide us in solving Egypt’s crushing economic crisis?  Do the Quran and the Prophet’s Hadith tell us the “correct” level of taxing, or the “correct” level of subsidy?

•What is the Quran’s stance on energy production? Which is the “correct” solar or nuclear energy? What is the “correct” path to address Cairo’s shantytowns, congestion, and transportation issues?

• What exactly is Morsi’s proof that his Nahda project is the “correct” project approved by God? Does God prefer an open market economy or a government controlled one? Is privatization in harmony with or against Islamic teaching?

It is not Morsi’s latest move toward the military establishment that bothers me; it is his religious rhetoric that I find deeply alarming. The overt hints in his speeches cannot be ignored, and the ramifications of it could be dangerous. Using religious text to justify his political moves is the first step toward a theocracy. Coupling faith with government policies is a risky move. Faith is designed to salvage our soul not to solve traffic congestion or stock market performance.

In my humble opinion, President Morsi must stop abusing places of worship for political gain. Did it not occur to him that frequent formal, live sermons in mosques could alienate Egypt’s Coptic community?

The president should serve as a figure for unity, not for dissent; he should bring people together, not push them apart. Needless to say, linking progression with piety is a dangerous move that can lead down a path toward hypocrisy, prejudice, and religious tyranny. Egypt elected a civil president, not a new grand Imam; the sooner President Morsi understands that, the better.

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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17 Responses to Egypt’s New Grand Imam

  1. secularextremist says:

    This is the funniest article I have read on a while. Absolutely hilarious work. Somewhere Morsi is cracking up.


  2. Dioscorus Boles says:

    Good article as usual.


  3. Pingback: #Egypt “The Danger of Morsi’s Non-Pluralistic Vision Should Not Be Dismissed” « Egyptday1

  4. abdulsalam says:

    first of all, egypt is not secular country and morsi is member of the brotherhood,


  5. Lalit Ambardar says:

    Nervana as usual bold & to the point!
    ‘Tahrir Square’ inspired hope not for Egypt alone, also for all those who believe liberty,secularism, democracy imperative for bringing global community together,but what is feared now-parochialism driven hegemonic polity.


  6. Agha says:

    Its not Morsi who is deciding and proposing Quran to be sufficient. It is the Author of the book. So now we are challenging Him by those great questions. The creatures becoming more wiser than the Creator. God Almighty prescribed a complete mechanism to make His plan work to the letter provided we followed to the letter but we didn’t. We’ve long strayed from that path.


  7. Yusra B says:

    Tax is “Haram” and non-Islamic! Saudi Arabia for example cannot implement taxes because it is against Sharia. So, if Morsi or anyone else wants to follow religion to the letter and not stray from the path (as someone pointed above), then they should abolish taxes all together.
    No one can disagree that is the best solution to solve Egypt’s economic problems.


  8. edwebb says:

    For decades, the government of Egypt (in common with many in the region) attempted to control the content of sermons for political purposes. Even so-called secular Turkey or Tunisia under Bourguiba did this. The growth of Salafist-controlled mosques in Egypt and elsewhere, on the other hand, is evidence of attempts by the Saudi government, among others, to spread its own political influence and ideas via the khutba.

    Religious speech entirely divorced from politics exists in Egypt and in the region, but not as much as one might wish. This has nothing to do with the essence of Islam (or Christianity, come to that) and everything to do with the propaganda ambitions of the modern state.

    President Morsi is simply cutting out the middle-man!


  9. azza radwan sedky says:

    A great analysis. Well done! Will have to wait and see how he handles many borderline issues. Diplomacy and the general welfare of Egypt may get him to forfeit his religious nature and allegiance to the Ikhwan. Time will tell. Read Morsi’s conundrum–along the same lines.


  10. gaiamethod says:

    I find it hard to accept the picture that they are portraying of Morsi, that of the good-willed, caring about the individual, kind of guy!!! Even the educated people here in Upper Egypt, those with good hearts, believe the spin! Really we have to question everything!!! The Quran was written as a source of SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE in the 16th century. IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LAW! If people actually read it as it was supposed to be read and didn’t inflict their viewpoint on what it means onto everyone else then it might be a wonderful thing. As it is people treat it as a control mechanism so that weak people can exert their will onto others by saying that they have God on their side! Unfortunately people believe them!!! True Islam, to me, is lost in the mists of time and it will take people to be pushed to the edge before they find the truth and their power. (I am Muslim).


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