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memri
October 31, 2011 No.
4240

Egypt's Islamic Camp, Once Suppressed by Regime, Now Taking Part in Shaping New Egypt – Part III: Charter to Regulate Activity of Islamic Organizations, Movements in Egypt

Following an increase in the involvement of Islamic and Salafi figures and organizations in the political and media arenas in Egypt since the January revolution, 36 prominent clerics from various Islamic streams have recently drafted a "Charter of Honor for Da'wa and National Activity." The charter sets out guidelines for the cautious and limited participation of Islamic organizations in Egyptian politics and public discourse in post-Mubarak Egypt, with the aim of maximizing Islamic achievements in the upcoming parliamentary elections. It aims to identify common ground among all the Sunni Islamists, so as to enable them to conduct a joint elections campaign or at least to avoid sabotaging each other's chances; promoting the cause of establishing an Islamic shari'a state, while acknowledging that this aim can be achieved only gradually; and making whatever Islamic achievements are currently possible and laying the groundwork for further achievements in the future, while avoiding disagreements.

The charter contains contradictions that are characteristic of Islamic discourse seeking to reconcile shari'a law with the rules of play of modern democratic politics. It reflects the dilemmas that the Islamists have been facing since the revolution gave them access to the political arena as legitimate players. For example, the charter advocates the existence of multiple Islamic organizations, but only if they are all Sunni and if they agree on core issues. It advocates pluralism of opinion, but at the same time calls to provide "guidance" to advocates of opinions that "deviate from the truth." It calls for tolerance towards non-Muslims, but only within the boundaries set out by the shari'a, which treats the Christians and Jews as dhimmi. It calls on Islamic streams to reassess their perception of jihad and set out guidelines for waging jihad in the modern world.

The charter's signatories include: Former minister of religious endowments Dr. Muhammad Al-Ahmadi Abu Al-Nour; Al-Azhar dean of Islamic da'wa Dr. Tal'at 'Afifi; the former vice-president of the American Open University and current secretary-general of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America, Salafi sheikh Dr. Salah Al-Sawy; the spokesman of the Salafi Da'wa group in Alexandria Sheikh 'Abd Al-Mun'im Al-Shahat; one of the most prominent Salafi sheikhs in Alexandria, Dr. Sa'id 'Abd Al-'Azim; Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya spokesman Sheikh Osama Hafez; Gamal Sultan, one of the most prominent writers for the Egyptian daily Al-Misriyyoun; and others.

The following are excerpts from the charter:[1]

Implementing Shari'a Law

"This charter is an attempt to organize the house of da'wa from within and to set out a series of agreed-upon principles and guidelines, in order to prevent conflict [between Islamic groups]..., eliminate disputes among the groups active in the Islamic [arena], and prepare the ground for a deeper discussion aimed at establishing a [broader] public consensus, Allah willing. Da'wa has entered a completely new phase compared to previous years, when it was subject to coercion and tyranny... The Wasatiyya[2] Research Association, along with a large group of the finest clerics, preachers, and experts, debated the contents of this charter, and determined that it would deal specifically with Egyptian society, with an understanding that many of its clauses can be implemented in other societies as well...

"We must revive the concept of voluntary appeal to shari'a courts by individuals, bodies, and institutions, in accordance with shari'a. At the same time, an effort must be made to officially implement shari'a law at the state level. Judgment by shari'a is not the obligation of the political leadership alone, but of the entire nation. The da'wa leaders must prepare the mechanisms that will assist in realizing this..."

"We must raise the bar of aspiration, and expect to implement the religion as Allah sent it down and to amend all actions that counter the dictates of religion and morality. This does not contradict [the principle of] accepting the possible and [focusing on] what can be achieved in [each] stage, in accordance with the situation..., and preparing the ground for what can be achieved in the future – out of [awareness] that insistence on [goals] that cannot be achieved in the present circumstances will lead to the loss of what can be [achieved] in [both] the present and the future... In implementing the instructions of shari'a, we must accept gradual [progress] in proper stages, when this is required..."

Reexamine Stance on Jihad, Peaceful Transitions of Power

The charter calls on Islamic organizations and activists to reexamine their position on various issues, including jihad: "There is a need to carefully reexamine the basic conditions of Islamic activity that guided the domain of da'wa throughout the period of oppression by the previous regime, especially those based on specific [circumstances] of time and place. The revival and change of atmosphere following the ouster of the oppressor [i.e. Mubarak] necessitate this reexamination... [As part of this], we must reexamine [our] ideological stance on the importance of political reform, which has long been regarded by Islamic movements with fear and dread of fitna [civil strife]. In addition, we must openly reexamine the commandment of jihad, reevaluate it, set terms and conditions for waging jihad, according to the shari'a, and formulate guidelines for implementing it in modern reality. Furthermore, we must reexamine [our] ideological stance on the peaceful transition of power..."

Avoid Conflicts; Strive for Agreement among Sunnis

The charter also calls to strive for the broadest common denominator among Sunnis at this stage: "It is a duty to preserve [the unity] of the group and the coalition and to avoid schism and disagreement. Any Sunni that can be incorporated [into the Islamic camp], and who shares our general [principles] of integrity and piety, must not be opposed... We must avoid entering into artificial conflicts on questions of religious rulings and problems of secondary [importance], which drain the strength of the clerics, cause the masses to stray from the straight path turn their back on da'wa and the preachers..."

In addition, the charter says: "We must avoid airing the jurisprudential disagreements among preachers in the public arena... and resolve them internally, using Islamic mechanisms and means. We must restrain the da'wa discourse; avoid various forms of suppressing freedom of opinion; revive the religious law [that permits] pluralism of opinion; spread a culture of tolerance towards those with different opinions or ideas, accepting their opinions that correlate with the truth, and guiding them on those that contradict the truth; inculcate a spirit of moderacy and kind words in da'wa for the sake of Allah; alternate methods of intimidation with methods of seduction, with a stronger emphasis on seduction; promote activities whose goals are shared by the variety of [forces] active in the Islamic arena, under a broad Sunni umbrella...

"We must cooperate with the official religious establishment, showing it respect and treat it as [required by] its status. We must exchange opinions with it, consult with it, and advise it, if needed, so that the official and popular activities complement each other in reviving the religion and benefiting the Muslim community... "

The charter also forbids preachers from accusing people of heresy, and upholds a Muslim's right to freedom of expression, so long as it doesn't contradict the shari'a commandments whose validity is absolute: "If someone recognizes the oneness [of Allah] and the mission [of Muhammad], and later becomes infected... with heresy as a result of ignorance or misinterpretation, this does not negate his recognition [of God and the Prophet]... He shall be judged only by a shari'a court. Preachers should steer clear of these narrow corners, so as to avoid disputes and fitna. The freedom to think and express one's opinion in speech, writing, etc. are legitimate rights, as long as they do not harm the shari'a texts that are absolute, and do not [contravene] the fundamental principles on which there is a consensus. No one in the field of da'wa must ever deny this [right] to anyone..."

Permit Limited Political Activity to Clerics

The charter permits establishing and joining various Islamic organizations, as long as they agree on the basics: "Modern Muslim organizations are the building blocks of the Muslim community, and constitute tangible milestones on the road to reviving it in its comprehensive form, so long as they follow the straight Sunni path, and are free of partisan or sectarian extremism. There is nothing wrong with a multitude of such organizations, each one specializing [in its field, as long as] they are at harmony [with each other], agree on the fundamentals of the faith, consult with one another on religious questions that require ijtihad [i.e., independent reasoning], and adopt a unified stance on important issues and questions.

"Thus, this proliferation [will create] a range of organizations, each specializing in its own field, as opposed to a multitude of competing organizations at odds with each other. Establishing organizations and professional unions and joining them is a legitimate right; it is forbidden only if involves violating unequivocal shari'a [laws], deviating from principles over which there is a consensus, or bringing misfortune and corruption upon Islam and Muslims – as in the case of clandestine or armed activities..."

The charter also permits establishing and joining Islamic political parties, with several restrictions: "Promoting religion by means of political activity, through political parties and parliamentary seats, is a modern means of influencing reality in order to partially or completely improve it. This activity lies in the balance between usefulness and corruption. Fatwas on this matter change with the time, the place, and the circumstances. As in the case of other activities, there is no escaping legitimizing [political] activity, while committing to follow [certain] rules and avoiding damage, so that this activity adheres to the straight path.

"[The political activity of clerics] is permitted so long as it does not exhaust [the cleric's] energy, does not cause him to abuse others, and does not replace [his] da'wa, teaching, and educational activities. In multicultural societies, [any] public political move by clerics must be an Islamic move, not a partisan one. It is unbefitting of clerics to engage [in such a move] when they are divided and scattered... If a joint move is not possible, then their public move should, at the very least, be based on agreement and consultation between all [the forces] through dialogue and coordination..."

Enable Religious Pluralism

On the status of religious minorities, the charter says: "Purity of heart and justice are at the base of relations with non-Muslims who seek peace with Muslims on the local and global levels. Differences of religion are not a reason to oppress or abuse anyone... since acknowledging the existence of [other] religions does not mean acknowledging their validity...

"Citizenship is a bond of common life and coexistence between sons of a single homeland, no matter how different they are in terms of religious [school] and faith. They have mutual rights and obligations, and are forbidden from [harming] each other's lives, money, and honor, except in accordance with Islamic shari'a and final legal rulings..."

The document concludes with the clarification that "inter-religious rapprochement" means "an attempt to establish a secure coexistence between members of different faiths... and find a formula to realize the vital common interests of all people...", but does not mean "merging religions, mixing groups, or striving to find a common theological framework that would distort the unique characteristics of the tenets of each faith or group..."


Endnotes:

[1] www.egyig.com, May 22, 2011.

[2] Wasatiyya is a Muslim approach that promotes taking the "middle path."