The dangers of coarse, heavy-handed preaching

Nader Fergany , Tuesday 11 Sep 2012

Egypt's leading Islamist groups – including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists – have a responsibility to rein in irresponsible and potentially dangerous preachers

In an attempt to reassure Egyptians about rights and freedoms amid the rise of political Islam on the political scene in Egypt and other countries that have been liberated in the Arab world, especially Tunisia, the sages of this current have repeatedly said that being in power does not at all mean the immediate or direct implementation of hard-line Islamic Sharia dictates, even in the absence of its legitimate conditions. They say it should be a gradual process, beginning with preaching true Islam until society is ready to easily accept God’s laws .

But as soon as matters began to settle down for this current as it took control of the reins of power, a handful of fanatic preachers began to proselytise in a very heavy-handed and boorish manner, triggering several shameful attacks against some citizens. This is shameful muscle-flexing, empowered by the rise of political Islam to power, especially since the leaders of the current and its representatives in official positions did not take firm positions against these excesses.

Let us remember the principles of preaching in true Islam, and the etiquette of proselytising in sound Sharia, Quran and recorded sunna (the prophet’s teachings). It is for a purpose that every sura in the Quran begins with, 'In the name of Allah the Most Benevolent and Merciful,' which emphasise characteristics of God that emphasise His mercy and compassion.

God Almighty states that moderation in preaching is part of God’s compassion to the world, both preachers and congregation, which irrefutably eliminates crassness and a harsh heart because they inhibit the purpose of the call. 'With God’s great mercy you will appeal to them; if you are rude and harsh-hearted they will leave you; forgive them and ask forgiveness for them' (Al-Omran; 3).

There is emphasis on astuteness and courtesy when preaching: 'Invite to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in the best manner; your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and He knows the believers' (Al-Nahl; 125). The Quran also stresses courteous speech: 'Speak to them gentle words' (Al-Israa; 17).

Even when Allah sent his prophet Moses and his brother Haroun (Aaron) – peace be upon them – to the powerful tyrant Pharaoh, he counselled them to speak gently: 'Go to Pharaoh for he has indeed transgressed; speak to him gently perhaps he will remember or becomes fearful' (Taha; 43).

God generally emphasised: 'Allah intends ease for you; He does not want hardship for you' (Al-Baqarah; 2).

One genuine hadith (Prophet’s saying) states: 'Allah is kind and loves kindness; Allah rewards kindness not violence.'

So do the recent loutish and uncouth actions of some – who claim to be men of religion – meet the standard of this sophisticated message? The answer is a definite no.

Unfortunately, the offense of these detestable characters goes beyond their personal actions. What is worse is that some simple folk who are enamoured with these 'preachers' will commit even worse crimes, such as kill an innocent young man just because he is standing next to his fiancée with the aid of three fanatic bystanders. The same can be said about the recent shocking attack by one of them on actress Elham Shaheen.

The 'sheikhs' who describe others as apostates and make life difficult are imposters and repugnant, in form and substance.

They do not possess a fraction of the eminence, respect, tolerance or knowledge of real sheikhs. Their knowledge, unfortunately, goes no further than the shallow peripheries that quickly label others as infidels and make life difficult for others, which contradicts orthodox Islam’s instruction to make matters easier. In form, they use aggressive and crude language, and some of them don’t behave much differently than ruffians.

In substance, they do not call for the ways of Allah with wisdom and good counsel as instructed in true Islam, and therefore do not appear to be as respectable and compassionate as true sheikhs – more like thugs who gnaw at the surface of the great religion of Islam. Their goal is to focus hate towards certain figures and unfairly garner success rather than bring mercy to the people. Enough of this.

In conclusion, these imposters who call others infidel, make life difficult, are repugnant and who claim to be men of religion do not improve the record of the great religion of Islam, but deplete it. God can do without them, and true Islam is innocent of them. They disobey many instructions and explicit intentions of The Creator and the Seal of the Prophets. They should fear His wrath in the afterlife if they are true believers.

If they are promising us the path to Allah, I believe they will first lead Egypt to hell, of which they are guardians, before God’s law prevails.

From a political perspective, these men became empowered when political Islam took control of the country, and their leaders should rein them in before Egypt becomes a living hell. And here, I must praise the president’s initiative to meet with several artists, although this is not enough.

First, the official and grassroots structure of Islamic proselytisation – including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups – should propagate a correct interpretation of true Islam from the perspective of overall objectives of tolerant Islamic law. And also, purify it from the extremist and fanatical innuendos that zealots reduce the great religion of Islam to, and make life difficult for everyone.

There is also a pressing need for security and judicial agencies to decontaminate the domain of preachers from crass fraudulent sheikhs who think on behalf of the people and make their lives difficult, whenever they violate the essence of the message and harm the rights of the citizenry.

The state and political Islam – led by the Brotherhood – need to undertake measures and steps to guarantee the civil nature of state and society, as opposed to a religious state or society that is controlled by zealots. This would guarantee unequivocal respect for human rights, which do not contradict the overall goals of tolerant Islamic laws without discrimination based on gender or belief, and not just paying lip service to these goals, as we witnessed during campaigning for parliamentary and presidential elections.

These measures include ensuring that the new constitution guarantees full protection of all human rights without leaving any legal loopholes for restrictions under the pretext of regulation. But texts are not enough to safeguard human rights, therefore they must be primarily complemented with an impartial, competent and independent judiciary; and, secondly, a security apparatus that is based and structured on protecting citizens and their rights.

Also, through an official and civic system of defending human rights that is responsible for uncovering violations and terminating them as soon as they are revealed, while compensating victims when necessary and preventing repetition of abuses. The National Human Rights Council, in its new membership, has a special responsibility in this endeavour by defending all human rights and anyone whose rights are violated, irrespective of their gender or beliefs. Otherwise, it will lose its credibility and will be accused of self-serving affiliation to political Islam, and not the noble cause of human rights.

Finally, the leaders of political Islam, especially those in public office and representatives of the people – such as the president – must immediately and unequivocally denounce these coarse and crude imposter preachers. The true calamity, however, is that some leaders of the fanatic factions of political Islam are in fact among them. This increases the Brotherhood's responsibility to put an end to this, since – at least for now – it is the leader of this current.

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