Since there seems to be a lot of interest in the English media in Bassem Youssef, I figured I would jump on that train and provide a translation of a recent column he wrote in Al-Shorouk. In it, he responds to those who attempt to silence opposition by invoking God’s law, something Youssef sees as a concerted political strategy.
Youssef is, of course, not opposed to Islam or “Sharia.” He is, as this article makes clear, opposed to anyone claiming a monopoly on religious truth exercising power. He believes that a separation between religion and the state is better for the spiritual health of Egyptians because people will not be turned off to religion because of compulsion. He has gone on record claiming that “a terrible wave of atheism and secularism” spread in Europe as a result of religious oppression, and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to Egypt.
See translation notes at the end.
Also be sure to catch Dr. Bassem Youssef on the Daily Show again this Wednesday evening!
How do you confront religious blackmail?
Al-Shorouk April 9th, 2013
In America until the 18th century, if there was a rumor that a woman or a young girl was a witch or a sorceress the entire village would hunt her down and put her on trial. The witch had to pass the holy test before the court that would prove whether or not she was guilty: they would tie a heavy rock to her and then throw in in the river. If she floated on the surface, there was no doubt she was a witch who used her black magic powers to save herself. In that case, the accusation is proven and the village would burn her for sorcery. If she drowned, which is to be expected of course, the people of the village realized that they made a mistake and would pray for the messiah to accept her and to forgive their sins and hers.
This is the method that anyone who has anointed himself the guardian of the people’s religion has adopted throughout history. Spanish Catholics adopted it during the inquisition and the church in Europe implemented it with scholars and their political rivals. Even the Americans did it in the 50s – albeit through ideological terrorism, not religious – during the vicious attack of McCarthyism when the charge of being a communist was a sword hanging over the necks of American intellectuals and celebrities.
The best way to win any intellectual, social, and even economic battle is to put your adversary in the column of heretics, unbelievers, and enemies of God’s religion (or the communist traitors hostile to the beloved homeland such as in America). By doing so, you don’t need to present any real solutions as part of your plan and you need not expend any effort to prove your theories. In the court of public opinion, they’re an unbeliever, a heretic, and a belittler of religions. Even if they’re right, no one will listen to them.
This method is not far off from our own Islamic history. When the Kharijites appeared and declared every muslim a non-muslim (takfir), including Imam Ali, they did it with God’s book. They committed massacres and atrocities all while claiming to be the custodians of God’s book.
And despite the fact that their approach was as far outside the bounds of what is right, of religion, and even of correct politics as it could be, it didn’t matter as long as they wrapped themselves in the banner of religion and repeated Quranic verses, even as they tried to one-up Ali himself. It is related that after Ali delivered a sermon to a group of people during the Great Upheaval (al-fitna al-kubra), one of the Kharijites called out “God is the Greatest!” to which Ali replied: “A word of truth that serves a lie.” And the Kharijites were among those who forced Ali to accept the scheme of arbitration by God’s book after it was raised on spears.
Maybe you think that what I’m saying is just memories from time immemorial. But, my friend, we are subject to this religious blackmail on a daily basis.
After the revolution and the emergence of a great many who spoke in the name of the Islamic project, it was them who silenced their opponents in disagreements with expressions such as “What have you seen of God to make you hate his Sharia?” or “How are you opposed to Sharia? How do you oppose God’s law?” Many young people wavered before these accusations, as they are, at the same time, accusations of sorcery: either drowning or burning. No young person would dare deny Sharia with the threat of excommunication (takfir) and “departure from the Islamic community” (al-khuruj min al-milla) looming, and with the possibility of being called an obscene liberal unbelieving secularist. If he accepts the labels, his opposition to the Muslim Brothers and the Salafis is meaningless.
But, my young friend, you are not forced to accept these choices because the Salafis do not have a monopoly on Sharia and the Muslim Brothers are not its guardians. You must realize deep inside yourself that these questions that come in the form of accusations must be turned around and repeated to those who ask them in the first place.
Ask those who rant about Sharia about their media that is filled with pathologies, lies, and slander. Ask them about their Sheikhs’ sermons that are filled with hatred, racism, and insults. Ask them about their tendency to align themselves with every wrong political position after the revolution and how they have made themselves out to be lions now after having been like house cats under Mubarak. They did not commit themselves to death for the sake of Sharia until after having trampled on the bodies of the youth whom they belittled for their demonstrating, their religion, and their nationalism.
What do you mean Sharia when we see the disagreements among the religious currents such a degree that some of them are excommunicating others and accusing them of lying, disbelief, and corruption?
What Sharia? What model of the Islamic project do you want to implement? What do you want to add to the law besides what restricts and constricts? According to them Sharia revolves around outlawing alcohol (khamr) and implementing the hudud, as if we see people in Egypt going around committing adultery, being promiscuous, and getting drunk for all to see in the light of day.
Why don’t the Islamists who have arrived in power and their sponsors among Islamic countries implement the Zakat Al-Rekaaz, which is a 20% tax on natural resources extracted from the land such as minerals and petroleum to be distributed to the poor? It would be enough to eliminate poverty in all Muslim countries. But that isn’t important. Concentrating on what a woman is wearing, on alcohol, and the hudud is, without a doubt, much more important.
Then they come with their smugness and their filth and their breaking of promises and they want to talk about Sharia.
My young friend don’t let anyone blackmail you with Quranic verses that they take out of context to try and make you feel that their Islam is better than yours. Don’t give them the opportunity to put you in front of verses such as “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the disbelievers” or “it is those who are the wrongdoers” or “it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”
They are the ones who have not ruled by what God has revealed and they are the ones who have not set an example to be emulated in discussion, dialogue, or morals. Straight up: we cannot trust these people to implement a sharia that they don’t understand and don’t live by.
Remember that the most famous who ranted about these verses was Zayd bin Hasan Al-Ta’i, who gave sermons to the Kharijites in his house, after which they went out to commit murder, torture, and to excommunicate other Muslims.
When one of them comes to you and tries to put you in a tight spot by saying “what have you seen of God’s law to make you hate it?” say to him: “Unfortunately, I have seen you and your morals that have no relationship to God’s law. We don’t hate God and are unable to hate God, we just cannot stand you.”
Some translation notes:
1: The story about the trial by water Youssef mentions is probably apocryphal. I’m pretty sure they used ropes to pull sinkers from the water before they died. Also I don’t remember anything about rocks. Any witch-hunt experts know?
2: The Great Upheaval (al-fitna al-kubra) refers to a period of internecine fighting among competing claims to the Islamic caliphate after the assassination of the third Caliph, Uthman.
3: The Qurans on spears incident refers to a fight between Ali’s forces and those supporting his rival Muawiya. Basically these guys were losing so they put Qurans on their spears to force Ali to accept arbitration instead of killing them all, a trick that weakened Ali’s position and eventually led to a falling out between him and the Kharijites (correct me if I’m really wrong on this, I’m not anearly Islamic history buff).
4: Hudud refers to the particularly nasty punishments for the most egregious crimes in Islam such as blasphemy, adultery, and theft. The punishments for these crimes, the hudud, include capital punishment and amputation among other deterrents.