The Crime of obeying God!
The last entry on his unfortunate blog dates back to October 28, 2006 where he mentions that he received a summons to appear at the police station for an investigation. The charges against him, he writes, are the ghost of Al Azhar haunting him, despite him receiving his dismissal paper from Al Azhar university already. He mentions other luminaries and intellectuals that were touched by Al Azhar’s curse, as he calls it, and who were forced to either abandon their ideas or flee the country or paid with their life, such as Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, Dr. Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, Nawal El Saadawi or Ahmed El Shahawy and the late Farag Fouda. He writes that this only strengthens his courage and resolve.
Since that last entry he has been arrested and detained and has no doubt gone through hell. We have all seen enough videos on YouTube of what goes on in Egyptian Police Stations to know that his detention there was probably a nightmare – to say the least. Visits from his family and lawyers were forbidden.
The charges against Karim were those of insulting Islam, harming the peace and insulting President Hosni Mubarak.
According to the articles of the international press – for some strange reason the Egyptian press has remained rather silent about Karim – he is supposed to have said: "I don't see what I have done, I expressed my opinion...the intention was not anything like these charges."
Let us take a look at his blog and see what he wrote and whether or not he indeed insulted Islam or harmed the peace.
Karim starts blogging in February 2004 about love, hardly harming peace unless his own peace of mind. In June 2004 he writes about honour killings and how the hymen is an affliction women are cursed with and how this insignificant piece of skin becomes a curse. Strangely enough just this week Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, issued a fatwa making hymen reconstruction surgery for women who have lost their virginity before marriage as halal.
In his next posts also in June 2004, Karim criticised the use of religion to suppress women in all spheres of life. He objects to not educating girls, of not allowing them to work in certain professions and fields. He condemns female circumcision and genital mutilation as yet another form of repression. He criticises marrying off girls at an early age and is very passionate about discontinuing domestic violence. All his criticism has been dealt with before by Al Azhar and the Grand Mufti. Just this month Egypt's top Grand Mufti declared that Islam does not bar women from becoming heads of state. So if this position is theoretically open to women, what other position could be forbidden?
Al Azhar held many symposiums on the education of Muslim women, which affirmed women’s rights to education. Al Azhar even went as far as saying that misleading social norms and traditions which impede the development of Muslim women should be corrected.
In a recent conference in Cairo, sponsored by a German human rights group and held under the patronage of the Grand Mufti of Egypt, ten of the highest ranking scholars from all over the world met. Their final statement pronounced the custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) as a punishable aggression, an attack on women and a crime against humanity. As a result, the custom can no longer be practiced by Muslims. The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam's teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being.
In his next post Karim writes about the increasing phenomenon of black niqabs on the streets. He criticises them and calls them black shrouds. That too neither insults Islam nor Al Azhar. Just recently Mohammad Hamdi Zaqzouq, Egypt's Religious Affairs Minister said that the niqab is not a religious object. Zaqzouq said: "Nor is the niqab a duty deriving from the Sharia. I know I will be criticised for my words but I think some Muslims are committing a fundamental error, focusing on external and superficial aspects, without exploring more relevant themes, and hence providing a distorted image of Islam." Zaqzouq went a few steps further a few weeks later by rejecting the appointment of niqab-clad women to work as counsellors in his ministry on the grounds that this would just promote "the culture of the niqab". According to Zaqzouq: "The niqab is a matter of custom and not the faith -- it has nothing to do with the religion".
So far so good! Until now I have not seen anything that insulted Islam or even went against any of Al Azhar’s decisions, fatwas, conferences, symposiums or teachings.
Karim blogged sporadically, about once or twice a month for the next few months. He wrote about his neighbour, about Chechnya and more about love and he even started writing poetry. He wrote about Biblotheca Alexandria and about Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, about educating women, about decreasing women illiteracy, how language can be used to disguise intentions and about escaping reality. He also wrote about dictators such as Saddam Hussein and George Bush and about the behaviour of a certain group of young Muslims who have been brainwashed into taking matters into their own hands to implement an Islamic society. He describes how they harass people on the streets, allow themselves to stop music, separate girls and boys and generally promote what they perceive as honourable Islamic values and combat what they perceive as vice. He criticises the blind following of so-called enlightened individuals who have a magic hold on many young people by means of lectures distributed via cassette tapes. He writes about the elections, about Ayman Nour, the Kefaya Movement, about Nawal Sadawi and Inas El Deghedi, a female movie director with many controversial and highly critical films.
I went through the entire blog. It took me a couple of days, but I seriously read each and every blog entry. I had to find out why he will be robbed of four years of his life. Why he was denied the right to complete his education. Why he was dismissed from University. Why he was silenced and used as an example to perhaps frighten other bloggers into silence.
The posts that allegedly insult al Azhar only appeared much later. In November 2004 he wrote a long entry about the segregation in al Azhar between female and male students and how this heightens tension. He explicitly describes the questions asked in fiqh classes about sexual matters and how this whole separation leads to all sorts of sick fantasies.
In November 2005 he wrote another entry about the cooperation between mosque and state, in other words between Al Azhar and the government and adds pictures of President Hosni Mubarak in various meetings with top clerics, and of Gamal Mubarak meeting Pope Shenouda, pictures - mind you - that have been posted all over newspapers. The post discusses the relationship between figures of state and clerics (Muslim and Christian) in a historical context and how the two exchanged legitimacy and power from that relationship. Again nothing that cannot be found in various history books. The contention probably comes from extending the link to modern times and writing about a group calling themselves “Ansar Al Sunna” and how this radical and fanatic group was supporting the President in the elections, as per ads they published condemning other candidates and portraying the President as a just and impartial figure akin to the ancient concept of Amir-ul-mu’minin (Prince of the believers).
The next contention comes from his analysis of the failure of Sheikh Al Tantawi to obtain the support of the clerical staff of Al Azhar to support the President in his election campaign, on the grounds that they are men of religion and teachers and shouldn’t be getting involved in politics, another fact that was published in various opposition papers. His only crime here could perhaps be writing passionately about the hypocrisy of politicising religion.
In August he wrote an open letter to the President. He posed many questions to him about forgeries in elections, about his long time rule, about whether or not he intends to fight discrimination in Egypt on religious grounds, about providing job opportunities for young graduates and about the rumours of appointing Gamal Mubarak as a successor. All his questions come from the President’s own campaign speeches and slogans or from articles previously published in opposition papers. Again nothing new here! Perhaps the only thing was that he actually urged the President to reconsider running. But that was also nothing new. The Kefaya Movement has made that its slogan.
In another post in August 2005 he criticised the statement made by Al Azhar to allow enrolment of Coptic students under the condition that they memorise the Qur’an. Personally I can see the double standards evident in such a permit.
In March 2006 he blogged about receiving a letter from Al Azhar temporarily barring him from continuing his education there. He then wrote about Taha Hussein, Abdallah Al Qussaimy and Ahmed Sobhi Mansour who were all expelled from the university at some point, either as teachers or students, for wanting a reform and for asking for it. This very emotional post discusses his decision of not leaving the university but rather waiting to be expelled. He argues that if everyone left a problem without trying to solve it or attempting at least to draw attention to it then nothing will ever be corrected. He further explains that Al Azhar is a state university funded by taxes collected from both Muslims and Copts and that it was high time to stop its discriminating practices, both on gender and religious grounds.
In a following post he described the disciplinary council he was summoned to attend for his writings on the internet. He attended it accompanied by Raymon Youssef, a writer for Copts United, and Mamdouh Nakhla, a lawyer and director of AL Kalima (Words for Human Rights). The accusations levelled against Karim transformed personal writings to slandering Al Azhar, labelled his criticism and call for reform as hate inciting and apostasy.
In March 2006 he got summoned to the Dean’s office and the accusations continued - and so did his blogging, which then took on a political bent. He wrote more about demonstrations, the charade democracy, persecution of demonstrators, police brutality against demonstrators, about religious fanaticism on the rise and about curbing freedoms. Again nothing new that couldn’t have been read in various opposition papers before.
Perhaps the only thing that could be taken against Karim on religious grounds is a post titled “No God but Man”. The post, unlike its title though, deals with the law and whether or not the law is there to curb freedoms rather than guarantee them and concludes with a metaphor that the law becomes a god to enforce certain powers reserved for certain humans.
Amazingly, Chapter Three of the Egyptian Constitution which deals with Public Freedoms, Rights and Duties says in Article 47: “Freedom of opinion shall be guaranteed. Every individual shall have the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally, in writing, by photography or by other means of expression within the limits of the law. Self criticism and constructive criticism shall guarantee the safety of the national structure. “
This is exactly what Karim has done. He exercised his freedom of opinion. He took his right of expressing his opinion seriously and believed enough in it to write it on the internet in a publicly accessible blog. In my opinion Karim lived up to both his own true self and principles as well as his religion. In his profile Karim wrote that he was looking forward to helping humanity against all forms of discriminations. The Qur’an implores believers to speak up against injustice, which is precisely what Karim has done.
Once again a religious institution is confusing itself with God: instead of seeing that they are part of the problem, they interpret any criticism of the institution as criticism of Allah, whereas Karim only did what Allah has told every Muslim to do: [4:135]: “O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.”