Some clear-eyed Arab thinking on Islam by Egypt’s al-Sisi

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is frequently denounced in the international press for his country’s dismal human rights record. Everyone hoped would this would improve after the overthrow of the short-lived presidency of Mohammed Morsi who represented the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. He in turn overthrew the previous President Hosni Mubarak whose own human rights record was not exactly bright.

Despite these shortcomings President Sisi has at least revealed himself to be highly aware of the dangers of extremist Islam, condemning it openly.  Most interestingly, an article by Raymond Ibrahim in the Middle East Forum reveals that Sisi condemned mainstream Islam too, as he declared that Islamic thinking is antagonizing the entire world:

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection to Prophet Muhammad’s upcoming birthday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a vocal supporter for a renewed vision of Islam, made what must be his most forceful and impassioned plea to date on the subject.

The relevant excerpt from Sisi’s speech follows (translation by Michele Antaki):

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

It is almost incredible that an Egyptian President should speak so candidly and so publicly to an audience of Muslim religious leaders about the dangers of their own religion.

This refreshing openness gives me hope that some stability could be achieved and maintained between Israel and Egypt, and that Egypt, of all the countries in the region, could probably serve as the most honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians because of this clear-eyed attitude.

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6 Responses to Some clear-eyed Arab thinking on Islam by Egypt’s al-Sisi

  1. Pete says:

    You are right! That is an absolutely remarkable statement from al-Sisi. He is totally correct. The Muslim world needs to re-define its narrative and its thinking. Unfortunately, the person who comes to mind when I read these words is instead Anwar Sadat. Sadat broke with the contemporary thinking of his days and moved towards peace. Because he took that stand, he was killed. I sadly suspect that al-Sisi will suffer exactly the same fate – from extremists within his own people. He can protect himself from outside enemies, but never from the friend who carries a dagger.

    Still, it is encouraging to see someone in Islam who attempts to change course and lead a path of peaceful coexistence.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      You’re not the only one who is thinking of Sadat here. I just hope that lessons have been learned since then and that as-Sisi has very good security. He’s certainly a breath of fresh air in our region.

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