December 4, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 621

Leading Egyptian Feminist Dr. Al-Sa'dawi: Islam Should be Removed from the Egyptian Constitution as the 'Official Religion'

December 4, 2003
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 621

The Egyptian author Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi, known for her fervent Arab-nationalism and feminism, gave a comprehensive interview to the liberal Arabic website on September 20, 2003. The following are excerpts from the interview:

'The Egyptian Constitution Should be Amended to Remove Islam as the Official Religion'

Al-Sa'dawi called for amending the Egyptian constitution and eliminating the article that declares Islam to be the official state religion, "because we have among us Copts, and because religion is a matter between man and God and no one has the right to impose his faith, his God and his rituals on others. Therefore, I am one of the die-hard opponents of a religious state, because our God should not be involved in politics in any fashion.

"However, the Copts lived happily and in paramount fairness under the wings of Islam," commented the interviewer. Al-Sa'dawi responded: "We are the sons of one homeland, and we are partners in it, so that no one has to live 'under the wings' of anyone else."

As for the "Islamic culture," Al-Sa'dawi said that it was "part of a general culture based on Christianity, Judaism, and the Pharaoh's heritage. There is no pure culture, but an intertwined relationship among the cultures. I am against differentiating between a Western culture and an Eastern culture. We live in one culture, which is a culture of capitalism, patriarchy, classes, and inferiority that, regretfully, also uses religion as a tool for domination."

Al-Sa'dawi stated that she "knows more about the Koran than Sheikh Al-Sha'rawi: I learned the religions, and compared the Koran with the Torah and the New Testament. Sheikh Al-Sha'rawi never did that; he entrenched himself in the Koran, which is impossible to understand without comparison with other books."

Al-Sa'dawi added: "We are defeated intellectually because we do not have creative people. There was always a connection between creativity and rebellion, between creativity and opposition. But we are born, live our lives and die in fear. Therefore, we do not have rebellion and we do not have opposition… Our crisis is at the same time political and cultural. I do not differentiate between politics, economy, culture, feminism, and sex. They are all interrelated and when one central pillar collapses, the whole building collapses."

Al-Sa'dawi on Arab Leaders

Al-Sa'dawi talked about various Arab leaders, beginning with Anwar Sadat, who put her in jail, and ending with Saddam Hussein. "There is no comparison between Abd Al-Nasser and Saddam Hussein," she explained. "Saddam accomplished fantastic things for Iraq, but he was a murderer. Abd Al-Nasser was not a murderer… My husband, Dr. Sherif Hatata, was jailed for ten years in Abd Al-Nasser's era, and he left [the jail] without a scratch. Abd Al-Nasser was not blood-thirsty like Saddam… Sadat did not liberate Sinai, and even if he did liberate it, at what price?! He sold out the Arab interest and eliminated the Arab League!! We started using the term the 'Middle East,' while in the past we called it 'the Arab world.'

"The fact that the Palestinians are sorry today that they did not join Sadat signifies political ignorance. There is hypocrisy as far as Sadat is concerned, because the present regime is an extension of him… I have no personal quarrel with Sadat, Mubarak, or Abd Al-Nasser, [although] I was persecuted during his time also. I was persecuted by all the leaders, because I belong to the people and not to the leaders."

'Egypt's Democracy is Not Real'

When the interviewer stated that Sadat was "the first one to plant the seeds of democracy in Egypt, and even in the entire Arab world," Al-Sa'dawi responded: "This is the biggest lie I have ever heard in my life. There is no significance to the fact that he issued a presidential decree allowing multiple parties, because what was the result? Our parties are not real parties, but 'paper parties.' Real parties emerge from the womb of society, not from a presidential palace. Was it a democratic procedure to close my association in 1991 because we opposed the Gulf War? Two events demolished the Arab world: Sadat's Camp David and the Gulf War. As a result of these two events we are now in the gutter. If you had followed the Palestinian case, you would have seen how the regimes have been begging America to intervene. By the name of Allah, what could be more humiliating…?

"There should be demarcation between the regimes and the peoples in the Arab world. The Arab despot has always been an agent of the British, and later of American and Israeli colonialism. The only one who deviated somewhat from that was Gamal Abd Al-Nasser… In no way was he like Sadat. Sadat opened the doors to Islamic movements, while Abd Al-Nasser was diligent in fighting and eliminating them."

Concerning the American initiative to democratize the Arab world, Al-Sa'dawi said: "This is a joke. Are we going to continue to beg for everything Western? America will not solve our problems. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice will not bring us democracy… Do you think that the American occupation in Iraq will bring it democracy..? No nation and no state can attain democracy under occupation."

'Polygamy is a Mark of Shame to all the Arabs'

Al-Sa'dawi disagreed with the interviewer's opinion that, within the democratic process, Islamic groups have the right to try to establish their rule. She said: "They don't have such rights. They are blood-spilling criminals. They included my name and the names of other respected intellectuals and dedicated people in death-lists. If we were to review all their crimes, we would have realized that they were too many to count. If your ideas are different than mine, this is not a reason to kill me… We should distance our God from politics… You can worship the God who satisfies you and fulfills your interests, but you should not impose Him on me or the state, because all the citizens in the state are equal… Why should I, as a woman, be less of a citizen than a man just because the official state religion is Islam? Why does a man marry four wives, and I cannot [marry four husbands]? This is humiliating…

"…How is it possible that a man marries four women? This is moral corruption and an offense to the Koran and Islam. How can he move from one woman's bed to another's? Yikes. By the name of Allah, if my husband went to another woman I would have divorced him. Would a man agree if his wife hopped between men's beds? He would have divorced her… Tunisia outlawed polygamy, and some other Arab countries did the same. Have these countries turned into infidels? Polygamy is a mark of shame to all the Arabs and to all the countries that allow such an ugly behavior."

"But, the Prophet was married to nine wives," commented the interviewer.

"Why do you compare yourself to the Prophet?" answered Al-Sa'dawi. "He did not tell you that you have to do what he did. There is an important Hadith [oral tradition] that says that one of his wives found him, during her night, in another woman's bed and said to him: 'My night, in my bed Messenger of Allah!!!' and he answered her after this scolding: 'Shut up and don't mention it, I will not do it again,' because a prophet and a messenger should be an example of fairness. If the Prophet – who was a human being, erred sometimes and was fair at other times – did make a mistake, why do you want me to follow his errors? I will say it again that man, because of his moral corruption, selects what suits him from Islam…

"A woman who agrees to marry a man who is already married to three other women is a slave and is not fit to be a woman… The female brain is the same as the male's, and may be even better, depending on the environment and circumstances. Which Egyptian male achieved what I have achieved? Even [Nobel Prize laureate] Najib Mahfouz's books have not been translated to more than thirty languages like mine. I am a woman and I have a brain. The human being is the brain and not the sex organs which were made for procreation…

"[The] male takes advantage of religion in order to marry [several times] and satisfy his sexual lusts… I have no personal quarrel with men. I am married and I have a son… I have more male than femalefriends. I am not against men, but against the system that corrupts them… religion is such a system - religion the way it is implemented by the Arab states and regimes… We live a lie, our world today is based on a lie…"

Egyptian Clerics Respond: 'She Should be Executed, Crucified, or Her Limbs Should be Removed'

The Egyptian Islamic weekly Al-Haqiqa asked several senior Egyptian clerics to respond to Al-Sa'dawi. The responses can be categorized into two groups. One group maintained – as stated by Dr. Muhammad Al-Sayid Al-Glind, head of the Islamic Philosophy Department at Dar Al-'Uloum (Cairo), that "the best way to silence this woman is not to respond to her, so that she does not get published." Dr. Rif'at Fawzi, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Um Al-Qura, said: "If we allow killing Al-Sa'dawi [as a punishment for 'heresy'] we would be committing the same mistake that we did with Salman Rushdi, who would not have been marketable and whose book 'The Satanic Verses' had no value, but when the Fatwa to kill him was issued, he became famous and his book was widely marketed in the world and was translated to many languages. It is better to ignore Al-Sa'dawi."

However, others maintained that Al-Sa'dawi should be punished. Dr. Abd Al-Mun'im Al-Berri, former head of "The Front of Al-Azhar Clerics," explained that "we should ask her to repent within three days, but if she persists with these ideas, she should be punished according to what the Islamic Shari'a [religious law] determined for those who abandon Islam. The ruler, meaning the head of state or government, should carry out the punishment." Sheikh Mustafa Al-Azhari explained that the punishment for anyone who fights Allah and His Prophet is execution, crucifixion, the amputation of opposite limbs or banishment from earth." [1]

[1] Al-Haqiqa (Egypt), October 4, 2003.

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