Amid concerns over the rise of Islamist parties in post-revolution Egypt and ongoing debates about the application of Islamic laws, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa offered quite a comforting overview of both the history of fundamentalism and the ability of moderate Islam to offer equal rights to all citizens.
“Islamic a law as a main reference for legislation has always been in the Egyptian constitution since 1923,” Gomaa told Al Arabiya. “It is the ceiling no one can exceed even in the parliament.”
Gomaa pointed out that preserving the rights of Egyptians from other religions is part of the principles of sharia (Islamic law), mentioned in Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution and which has been a source of controversy especially after the sweeping victory of Islamists in the first parliamentary elections after the revolution.
“However, this article can be modified so that a sentence about the rights of Egyptians belonging to other religions to follow their own legislations can be added.”
Islam, Gomaa added, also grants religious minorities freedom of faith and the right to practice their rituals.
As for the constitution, over which a heated debate has been going especially as far as the committee in charge of drafting it is concerned, Gomaa said that intellectuals have to be the ones who write the constitution and stressed the right of minorities to take part in this process.
“The 1923 constitution was drafted by representatives of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.”
Regarding fears of the prevalence of religious fundamentalism in Egypt especially in the light of Islamic victory in the parliament and the ongoing talk about imposing strict rules on Egyptians, Gomaa said that religious fundamentalism is always doomed to fail.
“Throughout history, we have never seen a religious extremist group that survived and no matter how strong it might become for a certain time, it is bound to fall at the end. Taliban and al-Qaeda offer the best examples.”
Gomaa added that in the age of telecommunications, it is very difficult to prevent the flow of certain ideas to the people, but the alternative is to learn how to deal with them or “how to swim” as he chose to put it.
“Plus, I can always say what I think freely as long as I do not harm people’s beliefs or lives.”
As for the idea of promoting virtue and preventing vice, and which was recently brought to the limelight with reports of establishing a committee for this purpose and which is expected to act like a moral or religious police, Gomaa explained that making sure virtue prevails and vice is eliminated is basically done through monitoring bodies like the parliament, where the government and its officials are held accountable for any mistakes they make and are subjected to penalty.
“However, having groups in charge of this was never part of Islam and these were never established at the time of the Prophet.”
When asked about rebelling against the ruler, Gomaa said that both the ruler and the people are responsible to achieving stability in any society, but when the ruler abuses his power this balance is no longer maintained.
“In this case, stability will be jeopardized and the same will apply to the economy, for stability and the economy are closely linked.”
The ruler, Gomaa said, can be warned and if he does not respond, then this is when a revolution is bound to happen.
“It can be either through the army, a popular leader, or a spontaneous uprising like what happened in January 25.”
In reply to a question about whether he really advised the late Sheikh Emad Effat, the secretary general of the Fatwa Committee at Dar al-Iftaa, the official body in charge of issuing fatwa, and who was shot during recent clashes between protestors and the army, not to join the protests, Gomaa said that Effat wanted to Dar al-Iftaa to officially take part in the protests.
“He wanted to carry a placard saying that Dar al-Iftaa wanted to topple the regime and I couldn’t agree to this because I had to separate between my personal feelings on one hand and my position and that of such a revered institution on the other hand.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)