Karl Marx did not show any special interest in Islam or the Middle East region. His writings at this level were thus limited to some general remarks, and a few articles on the massacres witnessed in Syria (Mount Lebanon and Damascus) in 1860 as well as his hospitalization and recovery trip to Algeria, where it was said that he never met any of the people. Hence, the closest Marx got to the Arabs and Muslims was the nickname given to him by his friends, i.e. the Moor, due to his dark complexion.
His first writings in which he tackled religion opposed the social role and political impact of Judaism and Christianity rather than their content and theological aspect, as it is clearly seen in his book The Jewish Question and also in the book he wrote with his friend Frederick Engels, the Holy Family, on the Young Hegelians and their attempt to critically renew Christianity. As to his famous saying “religion is the opiate of the masses,” it was also featured in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in the context of the talk about the exploitation of religion as a tool to control the poor.
Often times, Marx solely tackled religious texts, their meanings, sources and interpretations as being tools in the conflict between classes. This rejection of faith by Marx and his pupils, reaching the point of blatant atheism, stems from the wish to strip the dominating classes of their weapons to prevent the theft of the workers on the financial and spiritual levels.
But it seems that the editors of an Egyptian cultural magazine (Akhbar al-Adab – September 23 edition) have a different opinion. Indeed, in the context of a special feature story to defend Prophet Muhammad following the offensive film that distorted his life story, it carried a frame with the picture of the German philosopher in it and the following words: “With his message, this Prophet inaugurated an era of light, science and knowledge. His sayings and actions should be written in a special scientific way. And since his teachings were a revelation, he had to erase all the changes and alterations of the previous messages. Anyone with a sane mind must recognize his prophecy and that he was a Prophet from God on Earth.”
The publication of this fabricated segment provoked mockery and disgruntlement in social media circles, while some bloggers mocked the magazine for having transformed one of the theoreticians of atheism into an “Islamic thinker.”
In their eagerness to defend the Prophet, the editors of the magazine quoted an expression attributed to a man supposed to be an uncompromising atheist, i.e. Marx, in which he assures that the Prophet’s saying and actions were a revelation, knowing that this issue required heated debates between senior Muslim scholars, and should be studied in a “special way.”
This brings back to mind the methods used by the sheikhs in villages and the scholars on satellite channels, who do not hesitate to rely on weak tales that are closer to fiction, to confirm Islam’s supremacy over the other religions. These sayings are also accompanied by another predicament, i.e. the use of modern sciences to prove facts related to faith.
Regardless of the good intentions of the editors and the fact that Islam does not need this type of defense, it seems necessary to tackle the concomitance between political populism which came to power in Egypt and whose rhetoric and supporters were introduced to the so-called “leadership of national newspapers,” and religious populism that has nothing to do with religion and merely aims at tightening its control over society and power.
Hence, the disgruntlement towards this mistake might be necessary for several reasons. They include the necessity of restoring professionalism to the Egyptian press in the post-revolution phase, the rejection of the attempts to dupe the people with fabricated statements – and this is by the way an important and complicated battle to raise people’s awareness – and the rejection of the exploitation of religion, which is probably where the most dangerous challenge resides.
(Husam Itani is a writer for al-Hayat, where this article was first published Sept. 28, 2012)