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Egypt’s President Sisi calls for Islamic Religious Revolution

Egypt’s President Sisi calls for Islamic Religious Revolution

The rise of ISIS may be a motivating factor.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi started 2015 with a bang.

In a speech connected to the birthday celebrations for the Prophet Muhammad, Sisi said, “… we are in need of a religious revolution.” Via Roger Simon of PJ Media is this clip from writer Raymond Ibrahim’s translation of a New Year’s Day speech:

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 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.

Ibrahim adds this important caveat: “It is unclear if in the last instance of umma Sisi is referring to Egypt (“the nation”) or if he is using it in the pan-Islamic sense as he did initially to refer to the entire Islamic world.”

No matter the range implied, it is heartening to hear the head of one of the most influential countries in that region speak so directly about Islam and how it is being used to terrorize the world. This is not a big surprise to those of us who have followed Sisi; in May, he offered an intriguing plank on his presidential platform by “casting himself as a defender of religion and taking aim at the doctrinal foundations of Islamist groups the state is seeking to crush.”

Sisi gave this address before the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, which is known as the primary global center of Islamic and Arabic learning.

And while Sisi is one of those rare politicians who strive to live up to their campaign promises, I suspect the rise of ISIS in Egypt may be a motivating factor. Reports indicate Islamic State militants have set up checkpoints on a main road in the northern Sinai, and are launching more attacks in the area.

ISIS has been operating loosely in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, for the past six months, launching attacks here and there. But the group has released video and other documents that suggest it is getting more organized in the Sinai—and also more lethal. For the first time, ISIS is setting up military checkpoints, as shown in this ISIS video, on the main road between the major cities of Al-Arish and Rafah. In the video, militants explain that they chose that location, close to the Gaza Strip and the Israeli border, because it will allow them to “catch spies from the Egyptian army and spies for the Jews.”

…As we previously reported, the new Egyptian arm of ISIS—which the group has named “Sinai Province”—is actually a reconstituted version of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which for years had been Egypt’s deadliest militant organization. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year and was embraced officially by ISIS leader Abu-Baker al-Baghdadi. A few weeks ago, we reported that ISIS participated in a political protest in Egypt by carrying out attacks against the Egyptian army. The rise of ISIS in Egypt, of course, poses a serious threat to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian army.

Many comments express concern about Sisi’s safety. It is hard not to recall how Egypt lost another reformer President, Anwar Al Sadat.

But for today, I think, it is good to be hopeful.


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Doug Wright Old Grouchy | January 4, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Perhaps President al-Sisi is suggesting an Islamic version of what happened to Christianity after Luther’s posting his Theses on a church door. The idea that Islam might have its reformation seemed outrageous yet al-Sisi’s bold talk might be the start of that.

One caution: Christianity’s Reformation was not peaceful then nor quiet, not even so today.

    NC Mountain Girl in reply to Doug Wright Old Grouchy. | January 5, 2015 at 5:38 am

    I suggest you are 90 years too late. Ataturk abolished sharia in Turkey in the 1920s. He was followed by secular reformers in Iran, Egypt and across the region.

    What’s been happening across the region since the 1970s is Islam’s version of a counter reformation. There was always dissent to secularization from the ayatollahs, the imams and their ilk. But neither the Soviets or the Americans had any interest in funding religious nuts at the height of the cold war. Then in the late 1970s a new power base rose in the region- OPEC money in the hands of the Saudis, Kuwait, the Emerites, Iran, Iraq and Libya. That’s what has been driving these radical groups ever since.

      If you don’t teach Contemporary Middle East Affairs, you should. Very succinctly stated, and right on target.

      Doug Wright Old Grouchy in reply to NC Mountain Girl. | January 5, 2015 at 10:27 pm

      Yep, in some ways.

      Yet Turkey during the late 1950s was a different place depending on whether you were in Ankara, Istanbul, or the villages. In the villages, a somewhat moderate version of sharia was imposed, especially on the women, including their dress, the villages imposed purdah and dress codes on them. Women in Istanbul and Ankara, and elsewhere too, had to avoid public displays of affection, the penalty for which would well include a stay in the local compound, a modest term for a public house of ill-repute, plus most likely an extended stay in some cases; other non-capital crimes also led to that same end. Beer, and many local alcohols, were everywhere then and quite openly vended and used. And Westerners who violated Turkish laws were most like for in a long and maybe rough ride until that case was resolved. All that plus ethnic dislike (Hatred?) between Turk and Greek and Bulgarian, and others was most always evident.

      Still framed photos of Ataturk were everywhere and the military considered itself the keeper of his flame, as they demonstrated several times back then. Yet, Ataturk did not in fact get rid of Sharia, he simply modified how it was implemented on daily basis. Life in Turkey could be very benign. Yet the boundaries then in Turkey seemed clear and less rigorous compared to what we now hear about other ME countries.

      So, IMHO, Ataturk brought Turkey into the 20th Century and it looks now like it might revert back to the 8th Century with Erdogan at the helm. Ataturk did not overthrow Sharia, simply moderated it in some ways.

This is absolutely necessary. And I agree with our friends at the Jawa Report that he has just painted a target on his back.

There was a time when Muslims strongly agreed amongst themselves not to criticize one another, particularly in venues that could be easily translated for outsiders. That time has passed, possibly because incarnation after incarnation of the Islamist movement, from the Muslim Brotherhood, through Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and “ISIS,” have all traced a horrifying arc from religious conservatism to holy warriors to indiscriminate murderers in shorter and shorter time frames.

This speech is part of a trend that started with the scholarly response to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address about 5 years ago, followed by the ridicule of “ISIS” for forming the Caliphate while looking foolish,
accusation that the Taliban is “misusing Islam”
and the criticism of Hamas for violating the Geneva Conventions.

Wow. Gotta start some place.
May G-d protect him.

Wow. All I can say is, Wow. The man has guts telling the clerics that it’s up to them to make a change for the better. And that they have to think beyond the norm/outside the box. I worry for him, now, but at least a major politician in the Middle East has actually said the words.

If this speech is what Mr. Ibrahim says it is, then Sisi is being far bolder and courageous than anyone else in the Islamic — or Western — world. We at the Burg have occasionally noted that Islam is in need of both a Reformation and a counter-Reformation: the former to require the faith to review and reinvent itself, and the latter to acknowledge the truth of the former and purge those parts of the faith that need to be removed. We don’t carry much weight with the Islamic world, but perhaps Mr. Sisi does.

To quote Roger Simon: “Accusing the umma (world Islamic population) of encouraging the hostility of the entire world, al-Sisi’s speech is so dramatic and essentially revolutionary it brings to mind Khrushchev’s famous speech exposing Stalin.”

Ibrahim questions whether Sisi means the world Islamic population or the population of Egypt with the use of ‘umma’, but either is interesting. If Sisi is playing a nationalist card here (ala Nasser), then he’s proposing to reform Islam in a way that makes the Muslim Brotherhood unnecessary, or at least subordinate to the rulers. That certainly plays to what Sisi and the military, and a fair number of ‘moderate’ Egyptians, believe. I think that’s more likely as Sisi doesn’t need or want the trouble he’d court if he were to speak to the umma as the entire Islamic nation. We should remember that Sisi is, fundamentally, conservative in his beliefs and upbringing. Despite his attendance at the U.S. Army War College, he is not a democrat but an authoritarian. This speech may well be part of his effort to bend the local clerics to him and away from the Brotherhood and other Salafist movements that would seek power for themselves.

Even with that it’s a remarkable speech.

ISIS is the Islamic Reformation. Remember that Luther wanted the Catholic church to get back to its basic teachings. That’s exactly what ISIS is: rather than cowering to the infidel, slay and enslave him as Muhammad did. The Quran, after all, says dozens of times that Muhammad is the perfect example for a Muslim to emulate, so if he raped, tortured, and murdered his way to glory in Allah’s eyes what good Muslim can counsel otherwise?

Al-Azhar is a prime source of jihadist inspiration, as its orthodox “scholarship” does nothing but reinforce Islam’s prime imperative of “kill and dominate everybody else”. Don’t forget the shameful (but not to a Muslim) way that Egypt treats its Coptic population.

Its what needs to happen, but it will not happen. That’s because if Islam abandons its fundamentalist fanaticism, and attempts to compete in the marketplace of ideas, it will flounder, because it is in fact quite a primitive religion.

al-Sisi will not live to see 2016.

    guyjones in reply to Wisewerds. | January 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    It is a bold speech, no doubt about it. The type that makes one enemies and puts one’s safety at risk. But, the fundamental underlying question remains unanswered: are Muslims actually capable of commencing and sustaining a substantive and widespread reformational movement aimed at ridding the Islamic ideology of the hostile rhetoric and violent exhortations contained within its scripture? Are Muslims open to re-examining their religion’s tenets (e.g., the duty to engage in jihad) and the scriptural underpinnings of such tenets? I don’t think so.

    First off, Islamic tenets as stated in the Qur’an are believed by Muslims to be the will of God. That makes them completely off-limits for even a modicum of reformation or moderation. Also problematic to a reformation is the fact that there is no theological unity within Islam (indeed, quite the opposite — there exists furious and bloody internecine conflict between sundry sects), and, also because there is no centralized leadership within Islam at large. Furthermore, to engage in such self-reflection would be viewed as heresy.

    The ideology of “Submission” is not an ideology that invites or tolerates internal dialogue or theological debate of any sort. Engaging in such is viewed as heresy or apostasy, with death as the punishment. An ideology that cannot brook internal self-examination and attempts at moderation and which demands unquestioning fealty to its immutable, inflexible and anachronistic tenets, and, which seeks to spread itself via aggressive cultural bullying and force of numbers (in the west) and (elsewhere) via militarist conquest and unabashed violence, is appropriately labeled an ideology of totalitarian and fascistic character.

    So, until we see the publication and the mass adoption by Muslims of the “Revised Qur’an, Peaceful Edition” — in which all vitriol towards, and, vilification of, non-Muslims and calls to arms against non-Muslims have been completely excised from the text, Islam will continue to be what it has always been since its inception — a violent ideology of self-perceived theological supremacy, to which all other ideologies must be subjugated and/or destroyed. My view — this reformation (as nice as it might be to imagine) isn’t going to happen, ever.

      randian in reply to guyjones. | January 5, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      “Also problematic to a reformation is the fact that there is no theological unity within Islam”

      Not so. There’s plenty of theological unity within Islam. All orthodox sects agree on the big things: the duty of Jihad, the permissibility of stealing from, lying to, raping, and murdering infidels, the penalties for apostasy, the duty to emulate Muhammad, the impermissibility of criticizing Islam or Muhammad, and so on.

NC Mountain Girl | January 5, 2015 at 5:25 am

There was a lot of criticism of Islamic ways across the Middle East from the fall of the Ottoman Empire until the Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1978. In the 1960s the smart money was on continuing secular reform across the region. Reform was even making small inroads into Saudi Arabia. Then it all changed almost overnight in 1978-79.

There had always been dissent from this secularization. But until the late 70s the religious dissent wasn’t well funded. First the 1973 OPEC embargo brought great wealth into the region. Then in 1975 western terrorists attacking in the name of the PLO took OPEC ministers hostage and a ransom was paid -mostly by the Saudis. By 1979 the patern was set. First the ayatollahs got their antediluvian mitts on Iran’s oil, Then the Saudis, after first crushing the rebellion in Mecca, decided to buy peace at home. They used oil money to keep their religious nuts busy exporting Wahhabism around the world.

The closest analogy of the impact of Petrodollars on Islam during the earlier process of modernizing Christianity is how religious strife in Europe got prolonged by the rise of the formerly poor and backward Spain due to he flow of huge amounts of gold and silver from the New World. Inca gold caused a lot of Christian blood to get spilled through 15th century Spanish adventurism. By the early 19th century Spain was once more poor and weak, her wealth squandered abroad instead of being used to modernized back home.