Tarek Heggy

My interest in political Islam began in 1965 with the case of the famous member of the Muslim Brotherhood Sayyid Qutb. This interest intensified when the Muslim Brotherhood entered the arena of events in Egypt at the beginning of the 1970s. For a period of 40 years I have been studying the entire literature of political Islam and have followed all of its movements issuing from the Muslim Brotherhood current.

I also engaged in lengthy discussions with several of the leaders and followers of these currents. In this article I will attempt to summarize for the reader the import of four decades worth of discussions with this leadership and their followers on a number of major issues.

The killer had done what he had done 'only because the state had failed to do so'

Every Islamist – without exception – believes in the concept of ‘enjoining that which is good and forbidding that which is evil’, and not one of them considers a citizen or non-governmental body taking upon itself the task of enforcing ‘that which is good and forbid that which is evil’ as constituting a contradiction to the concept and the thinking of a modern state. For the Islamist believes that it is his right to take any measure (which he defines for himself!) against a woman who swims in the sea in a modern bathing costume, and holds it to be his right that should he see anyone expressing opinions that (in his opinion) contradict the faith he is to take such measures against him that will put a stop to it. In short, Islamists do not consider that any Muslim who undertakes activities against that which, in his opinion, run counter the dictates of the faith as contradicting the concept of the modern state or the concept of contemporary law. No better indication of this can be seen than the example of the famous Egyptian cleric M.A who attended the trial of the murderer of the Egyptian thinker Farag Foda and opined to the effect that the killer had done what he had done only because the state had failed to do so.

Naguib Mahfouz: His work 'Children of Gebelawi' held to justify an assassination

While humanity in other civilised, advanced communities has subscribed to freedom of thought in the sense of mankind’s freedom to believe (or not to believe) in that which he wishes and chooses, most of the Islamists in our world today do not accept this concept in its absolute form. Instead they believe in the duty to apply the death penalty to anyone who forsakes his faith in cases where a Muslim has abandoned his belief in Islam. And all of this in the full knowledge that they permit the conversion of followers of other faiths to Islam.

A few years after he won the Nobel Prize for literature (in 1988) the well-known Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz fell victim to an assassination attempt when an Islamist tried to slaughter him – and indeed he was able to sever a number of veins, arteries and nerves in Naguib Mahfouz’s neck. From then until now every single Islamist I have spoken with concerning this assassination attempt has insisted that his 1957 novel Children of Gebelawi justified his killing. The Islamists’ view on Naguib Mahfouz is the same as their opinion on the pillar of Arab literature Taha Hussein (1889 to 1973) on the grounds of his work On Pre-Islamic Poetry.[1] The reason is clear: among the Islamists there is a very low threshold for freedom of thought, and execution is to be the punishment for those who overstep the mark.

Among the Islamists there is a very low threshold for freedom of thought

Through 40 years of studying political Islam I have never read any book or heard any Islamist (and I have spoken to hundreds of them) lend his support to any modern state (with a Muslim majority population) promulgating legislation that regulates marriage or divorce on the basis of a complete equality between men and women, or prohibiting (or criminalising) a man's marrying more than one woman, or granting the woman the same right as a man to terminate marital relations, or licensing the division of the collective wealth of either party following a divorce, or reviewing the regulations on inheritance given that these were appropriate for tribal social conditions which are no longer in existence in the contemporary world.

Most Islamists prohibit depiction, in particular the depiction of persons. And the few that do not go so far as to outlaw it take no interest in it. If they had their way there would be no place for painting, painters, art galleries or the study of art in schools, or at least its presence would be marginalised. As a matter of course the depiction of women is prohibited by the majority of Islamists. If they had their way they would destroy the entire human legacy of art where painters had depicted women.

Taha Hussein: Pillar of Arab literature but a target for Islamist animosity

Singing, generally speaking, is frowned upon by most Islamists, and there are some who outlaw it outright. Others get to the same point by repeating this dictum: “if the singing be to the praise of God and His creation, lauding His religion and His rulings, then it is halāl and consequently ‘permissible’. But if the words in the songs speak of love, passion and desire, then (for sure) it is harām and ‘impermissible’”. The silliest of pronouncements by the Islamist leadership is that circulated recently by the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when he said: “When the singer ‘Abd al-Wahhāb sings: ‘Oppressors, my friend, have gone beyond all bounds’, this is permissible singing, but when he sings ‘her eyelids betoken love’ this constitutes impermissible singing.” This is deeply absurd and backward. The most ominous element here is the existence of a theocratic authority wielding its power over artistic innovation, defining what is ‘permissible’ and what is ‘impermissible’. It is worth noting that Islamists were behind the confiscation of the book The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil Gibran, merely for there being sketches by the pen of the author himself within the body of the text.

I have asked dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Islamists: “If your fervent wish took place and Islam spread over the entire globe, would you preserve the thousands of nude or semi-nude paintings and statues of persons (male and female) in museums over the world – from the Louvre, to the British Museum, to the Metropolitan”? The answer (without exception) is: “No. No Muslim ruler would permit the persistence of such ‘immorality’!”

Sculpture is entirely forbidden by the Islamists, particularly statues that depict a man or a woman. If the Islamists had their way they would order the destruction of statues by Michelangelo and other master sculptors admired by civilised humanity.

Many Islamists have stated that banning male violence against women will destroy the family

Every single Islamist, from Indonesia to Mauritania, has refused to adopt the United Nations project that opposes violence against women under any circumstances. They have insisted that such a thing stands in opposition to Islamic law! Many of them have stated that banning male violence against women will destroy the family!

Well nigh 99% of Islamists reject the idea that a woman can become head of state. Most of them repeat the supporting hadith for this that holds that a woman is deficient in intellect and faith, or hadith that foretell doom for any human community that accepts a woman governing them. I would often say to my interlocutor: “Madame Curie obtained the Nobel Prize for physics in partnership with her husband, and later went on to win it a second time on her own, and brought up one of her daughters who herself gained a Nobel Prize for science. So I wonder – is Marie Curie also deficient in intellect? Is there a single Shaykh from among the Councils of Leading Scholars in Islamic faith, in any state with a Muslim majority population, that has attained the status of Madame Curie?”

Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes but for the Islamists  'deficient  in intellect'

The Islamists believe that the testimony of a woman equates to the testimony of ‘half a man’. Similarly many Islamists influenced by the fatwas of Ibn Taymiyya, believe that the testimony of a non-Muslim cannot be accepted over that of a Muslim. Consequently, should a Muslim enter a church and kill dozens of people, any testimony of this event made by Christians in the church would carry neither weight nor credibility!

All Islamists share the view that social intercourse (‘mingling’) between men and women is the cause of all calamities and evils. They are of one in calling for the need to separate the two genders in schools, universities and places of work. This is a deeply backward standpoint and one that evidences a deep contempt for womankind, whom the Islamist sees as nothing more than something that excites male instincts, a vessel for procreation or a means for providing him with pleasure and service! It is well known that the Wahhabist religious institution in Saudi Arabia considers Muslim society to be founded upon two basic principles: the application of the Sharīʻa and the prohibition of ‘mingling’.

Theirs is a deeply backward standpoint that evidences a deep contempt for womankind

The vast majority of non-Muslims are unaware that the doctors of law in all the various Islamic trends and sects do not consider that the woman has the right ‘to withhold the practice of private relations with her spouse’ for any reason whatsoever, even if this were to be stressful to her or if her psychological state were not conducive to such relations. Indeed most of the doctors of law have stated frankly that while it is the woman's right to refuse to undertake housework, or prepare food, or nurse children, she does not have the right to refuse to engage in these relations whenever her spouse should demand it! Many have even gone so far as to declare such a refusal by the woman deeply sinful, and are of one accord that the angels in heaven (all seven heavens!) will curse the woman who refuses these relations throughout the entire length of the night that she repudiates him!

To say that the laws of inheritance contained in the Qur’ān reflect social realities that are no longer present, or therefore to say that logic requires a reconsideration of the fact of a male’s portion is to be twice that of a woman on the grounds that this conflicts with present social realities – is rejected by all, and not just most Islamists.

The Egyptian harassment crisis: blaming the victim

Are women allowed to engage in physical exercise or participate in international athletic contests? This is a question I posed to dozens (or indeed hundreds) of Islamists, and the answer has always been the same: “Yes, on condition that they do this in an Islamic dress that reveals only the face, the feet and the hands of the woman and on condition that they do not mingle with men!” Many of them say: “it is better that women keep themselves away from such an environment altogether!”

The source of harassment is the ‘lupine male’ who sees woman as nothing more than a prey

Egypt is a society where male harassment of women is at its most widespread. Some of this harassment is ‘verbal’, but most of it is ‘tactile’. In my discussions with dozens (or hundreds) of Islamists the opinion which most of them regurgitate is that it is the woman who is primarily (or indeed solely) responsible for all these incidents of harassment. For were she to dress in ‘Islamic clothing’ or (even better) remain in the home, then harassment would be minimised. It is impossible to convince Islamists that the source of harassment is that which I have pointed to in several articles – the ‘lupine male’ who sees woman as nothing more than a prey to his desires and a target for his instincts. It is the education of men rather than the concealing of women that is necessary in this context. For a man who harasses women is nothing other than a construct of intellect, culture, education and psychology.

I have asked more than 100 Islamists – all of them leaders of political Islamic, Salafist and Jihadist trends – their opinion on men and women journeying together into space, and the constant answer is: “This is forbidden, they may only do this if they are married! It is even forbidden if the female astronaut is veiled since the men might see her!”

For more than 40 years I have asked dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of Islamists the following: “Is the life of an Albanian woman such as Mother Teresa – who gave her life to the service of the simple, the sick, and the needy in India – in your view an ideal, virtuous and noble life?” The reply has always been: “Not entirely so, for her life is marred by its failure to embrace Islam. All the works that she did will not avail her to gain paradise!”

Such a response applies to much of the relationship of the Islamists’ mindset to values such as pluralism, the acceptance of the other, relativism and objectivity.

Read Part 2 of this article

 

[1] On this, see the following Almuslih article: Taha Hussein and the fundamentalism/secularism struggle.