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My personal thoughts on Islamic Topics, not a form of ijtihad rather than applying my mind.

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Location: Cairo, Egypt

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Crime of obeying God!


Newspapers all over the world are replete with articles about the sentence for Egyptian Blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman, who blogged under the name of Karim Amer.

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.”




9 Comments:

Blogger Dimitris Stefosis said...

Dear friend,
I'm republishing your excellent article in my greek language blog "SocioThoughts".

5:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis for Karim's blog and situation, excellent article and congratulations a guarenteed cell next to Abdel Kareem :)

10:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I read your article entitled "Reform, Reprogram, Reset: Islam's Fifth Stage?". Would you suggest some reading about the desire to reinterpret much of the Quran and the Hadith? Any good books or scholarly journal articles? Thank you very much.

7:53 am  
Blogger Y. Amin said...

To Anonymous asking about books,

email me and we can take it from there. My email is in the profile.

8:16 am  
Anonymous Cecilia Jamasmie said...

Hi Yasmin,

My name is Cecilia Jamasmie, Associate Editor for Orato.com, a citizen journalism news Web site based in Vancouver, Canada that aims put a human face on the news by showcasing vivid, first-person stories from individuals involved in current events. Whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, science, love or war, we aim to capture news in its rawest form and be a celebration of every person's right to be heard in their own words.

We'd like to help Egyptian bloggers to put the word out there and we were wondering if you or any other Egyptian blogger you know would like to write a story about the imprisonment of Kareem.

Thanks in advance,

Cecilia Jamasmie
Orato.com
"First Person True Stories From Real People"

@ : assistanteditor [AT] orato [DOT] com

3:00 am  
Blogger 'abd al malik said...

as salaamu alaykum ya ukhti fil islam


I just wanted to comment on the Little Mosque show post you put up a few days ago.

Yes, the show is a comedy and I agree that we should have a sense of humor. Where I would differ, however, is that projects such as the TV show are part of a larger process of allowing modern sensibilities to dictate our religion. The producers of the show do not differ much from their fellow Canadian citizens except that they were born and maybe reared in a house with a completely different socio-cultural world view. I am skeptical about the extent to which they 'practice' Islam..or even to how much they know about Islam.

That being said, I argue that shows such as these and the burgeoning culture of Western Muslim modernists are part of a natural sociological process of assimilation. In other words, the show is much more than a comedy; it is a profound reflection of the state of Western Muslims and our inability to integrate without undermining our religious background. Hence why I used the term 'assimilation'.

As a believing Muslim who is concerned about our neglected message and for my fate and the fate of my co-religionists in this world and the hereafter, I feel that the developments such as the TV show reflect more social regression than progress. I am reminded of the hadith of the Prophet sws in where he stated that his ummah would follow the ways of those before us, even if it were to lead us into a lizard whole. Are we not there yet? Who else on the face of this earth takes their religious message as a complete joke? Who else depicts their Prophet(s) in unspeakable manners? Who else feels at liberty to joke about the Creator of the heavens and earth, as if He did not exist or as if He is not recording what we are saying? I think this recent development is deceptively innocent and I hope and pray that this ummah follows the guidance that is ever so accessible to us and not follow those who have turned their backs from the clear guidance.


salaam

7:07 am  
Blogger 'abd al malik said...

by the way, do you happen to have any of your sources for your wonderful tafsir post available online? it would be really nice if you could either send or direct me to any of those sources that are available online (ie for free), because the area is a research interest of mine and I am not at the point yet where I can buy books at the drop of a hat!!

salaam

7:25 am  
Blogger jed said...

It's a shame that this dictatorial ideology called islam is still round your neck despite all the oppression and backwardness that it caused you. Unfortunately, you will never understand.

11:39 am  
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10:32 pm  

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