Since we recently discussed the phenomenon of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi preachers warning their followers against wishing Coptic Christians a happy Easter, some reading I did yesterday may shed some light on the matter. It's from a book of essays called Global Salafism edited by Roel Meijer that contains contributions by many leading experts on the subject — Stephane Lacroix and Bernard Heykal on the Saudi variant to name but a few. The introduction refers to four "tensions" of Salafism as currently understood (that is, in its heavily Wahabbi-influenced dominant contemporary). These tensions, the author argues, have transformed a revivalist / puritan movement into one that is more politically problematic and often intolerant. Here's some screen grabs from the Kindle edition, since Amazon's Cloud Reader does not allow for even limited cut-and-paste:Read More
We’ve discussed several times, on this blog, the rivalries between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. If one goes by the results of the 2011–2012 parliamentary elections, the Salafis are the MB’s most potent political adversary, able to challenge them at the ballot box better than any other political movement. In terms of social outreach, the Salafis have a far more diverse and spread charitable movement than the MB’s, albeit one that is fragmented among any different organizations. And with regard to religious legitimacy, not only can the Salafis out-Islam pretty much everybody, they have a longstanding suspicion towards the MB’s secretive structure and the idolization of figures such as the movement’s founder, Hassan al-Banna (indeed, the former regime used to encourage Salafis to denounce Brothers as practitioners of shirk — basically polytheism or undermining the oneness of God — and hizbiyya, the prioritizing of the movement/party over pure adherence to Islamic values.
The article below is about video appearances by major Egyptian Salafi preachers in which they lambast the MB on religious ground. This is based on the usual roster of Salafi critiques honed by late 20th-century Saudi Wahhabi clerics such as Sheikh Bin Baz and Sheikh Rabee al-Madkhali — hence the references to “Madkhalis” in the article below to denote his followers. If you really want to know more, follow a site such as this one which goes on at length about Madkhali’s “exposure” of the MB, and especially al-Banna as a Sufi (the horror!) and Sayyid Qutb as a crypto-Leninist Ash’ari. There is a whole universe of anti-MB Salafi literature on the internet. Of course, this tension (which is not universal to all Salafis, of course) is one aspect of the uneasiness the Saudis feel towards the Muslim Brothers’ rise in Egypt and elsewhere. It appears it is bound to be a major feature of the post-uprisings Arab world for years to come, too.
Featuring translations from the Arabic press in Egypt and elsewhere is made possible with the support of Industry Arabic, a really good translation service specializing in Arabic. Reports, press articles, technical documents — you name it, they can do it. If you have professional Arabic translation needs, check these guys out.
Salafis Wage Video Warfare Against Muslim Brotherhood
Abdel Wahab Eissa, al-Tahrir, 16 September 2012
Political disagreement, or maybe even rupture, has come to characterize the relationship between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood recently, as statements from both camps against each other have become more heated and full of invective, which indicates that the united front they seem to present is only against common enemies. Some of these statements have been compiled by the Madkhali Salafi Front in a single video that contains harsh commentary and criticism against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) by Sheikh Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini. It also includes grim, virulent attacks by Sheikh Yasser Burhami, and a fierce offensive waged by the premier Madkhali sheikh in Egypt, Sheikh Mohamed Said Raslan.
From a really great TIME piece by Ashraf Khalil :
Ultraconservative Salafist Muslims and other Islamist factions essentially started this fight when—bolstered by several inflammatory television sheikhs—they marshaled a large protest outside the embassy gates on Tuesday evening, coinciding with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.. But having sparked the protests, the Islamists seem to have almost immediately lost control.
By Wednesday evening the clashes had begun—often despite the best efforts of some of the Islamist groups on the scene. On Thursday, I witnessed this dynamic in action as a temporary peace between police and protestors dramatically broke down.
A group of young men suddenly resumed throwing rocks at the police—who largely huddled behind a phalanx of plexiglass shields and made no offensive moves at first. Into this maelstrom stepped an incredibly brave group of bearded men—and one woman wearing the full Saudi-style niqab. Facing down a hail of rocks and yelling for calm, they essentially acted as voluntary human shields for the police. (In a slightly humorous side-drama, the Islamist men repeatedly kept dragging the woman away and yelling at her to stay on the sidelines for her own safety.)
Read the whole thing.
Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith reporting for the FT from Beirut:
Syria’s rebels are also driven by religion in their relentless 17-month campaign to bring down Bashar al-Assad, first through peaceful protests and now through a military struggle. Abu Berri says he became a committed Salafi, the ultraconservative Sunni sect, after spending nine years in conservative Saudi Arabia.
Many of his peers, he says, are becoming Salafi even if they have little understanding of this brand of puritanical Islam. The charismatic leader of a Homs brigade, Abdelrazzaq Tlas, traded his moustache for a beard, he notes. “They grow beards to defy the regime,” he says. “In fact, we’re even willing to say we’re al-Qaeda to annoy the regime.”
This kind of comment goes to the heart of the trouble in identifying who's a jihadist in Syria, and what that exactly means, as discussed here the other day. Worth reading the whole thing.
The above graphic is from the Facebook page of presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, aka the world's cuddliest Salafi. It says "Buy your dignity for only LE72".
The calculation it makes is that Egypt's $1.3bn in US military aid amounts to about LE6bn, which divided by 84 million Egyptians makes just about LE72. What a bargain! Of course Sheikh Hazem — a Salafi from the Muslim Brotherhood (the MB-Salafi distinction becomes irrelevant away from syndicate and national politics) — is always full of brilliant ideas. His entry on Wikipedia says he "has presented 10 great national projects in all fields to overcome most of the Egyptian people problems." I'll have to do a fuller profile at some point.
Yet another sign that the US-Egypt NGO crisis is plumbing into new depths of facile populism. Of course, not only on the Egyptian side.
This week’s In Translation piece is a departure from the usual focus on commentary on current events in the Arabic press. I chose a piece recommended by As’ad AbuKhalil, aka Angry Arab, that takes a scholarly look at the key inspirations of the Salafi movement, the theologian and thinker Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 AD), who was born in Harran in what is today Turkey and lived most of his life in what is today Syria. Ibn Taymiyya’s times coincided with the destructive Mongol invasions which razed Baghdad and, from his perspective, must have appeared as an end-times event. He is considered to be a key inspiration inspiration to the Wahhabi and contemporary Salafi movement.
Angry Arab wrote of this piece:
This is an interesting discussion of the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah and how it differed from Hanbaliyyah on some theological issues. Ibn Taymiyyah warrants a lot of academic attention (given his influence on today’s Islamists): French Orientalists of the 20th century did pay attention to him but the reason that he is not studied as, say, Sayyid Qutb, is because he left a vast body of literature and access to this text requires a deep understanding of Arabic. He was a dangerous but effective and sophisticated polemicist.
That’s an important point: a deep understanding of Qu’ranic exegesis necessitates advanced study as a grammatician and even etymologist. For more on Ibn Taymiyya and how the democratization of religion in the Arab world that has given rise to new forms of fundamentalist Islamic thought, I recommend reading As’ad AbuKhalil’s critical essay The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism: Arabic Islamic Thought At The End Of The 20th Century [PDF 2.6MB]. It includes his usual verve against the late Saudi Mufti, Abdel Aziz Bin Baz, who counts among the handful of founders of contemporary Salafism.
This is a difficult piece, but I thought it might be enlightening not only for the learned (and unorthodox interpretation) the writer gives of Ibn Taymiyya, but also in the second degree as telling of some of the discussions taking place in the quality Arab press in reaction to the electoral success of the Salafis in Egypt and the rising intellectual and spiritual influence of the Salafi movement more generally.
As always, this translation is possible thanks to Industry Arabic, which provides multi-lingual translation of many different types — media, technical, legal, etc. — and really did a great job on this difficult piece.
The other side of Ibn Taymiyya – on the occasion of the political ascent of Salafis and Islamists
By Abdel Hakim Ajhar, al-Quds al-Arabi, 14 December 2011
The terms and concepts that have achieved wide circulation with the Arab revolutions – those such as democracy, tyranny, civil society, and citizenship – have no place in the writings of Islamist thinkers before the Nahda period. However, the writings of one such pre-Nahda1 thinker, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), contain material that could enable his followers to adopt a different mentality, one that would guide them – with a little effort — to these prevailing concepts of the age.
The Ibn Taymiyya whom we read about is not the real Ibn Taymiyya: he is a theoretical reproduction and refabrication that has made him into one of the authorities for religious extremists among both his supporters and detractors alike. The real Ibn Taymiyya, on the other hand, the one who needs to be read by Islamists ascending to the political forefront, is one who will help these Islamists adopt a flexible, rationalistic mode of thinking, and perhaps change many of the intellectual assumptions these forces still live by and consider to be fundamental tenets not subject to review.
This is a guest post by Nathan Field.
One of the major themes I’ve noticed in the media after the Salafi al-Nour party won 25% of the votes in the first round of Egyptian elections was a surprise (or as in this week’s In Translation – anger). Yet their success shouldn’t be considered a surprise. Here are four points to ponder:
(1) Most popular T.V. stations to 25% of the votes isn’t a huge jump:
In 2008 Ahmed Hamam and I talked to dozens of Egyptian Salafis, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and various journalists and academics for a study on Salafi Satellite TV Stations in Egypt, published in Arab Media and Society in April 2009.
While precise Nielsen-style statistics don’t exist in Egypt, the general consensus was that Salafi-oriented TV stations such as Al-Nass and Al-Rahma, featuring charismatic preachers like Mohamed Hassan, were drawing higher ratings than any other TV stations in Egypt. So the evidence of the popularity of Salafism has been clear for years.
The electoral success of the Salafis has alarmed many in secular circles, but not only. Fahmy Howeidy, an Islamist writer considered to be one of the most-read commentators in the Arab world, wrote last week of his relief in seeing a prominent Salafi personality defeated in Alexandria. The article was translated courtesy of Industry Arabic, which is sponsoring our In Translation series.
Society Has Issued Its Verdict
By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 8 December 2011.
I cannot conceal my feelings of relief at the defeat of Eng. Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, one of the representatives of the Salafi movement, in the run-off election.1 I consider this defeat a message sent to him by society, which should be taken in by him and his ilk of fanatical Salafis, who incessantly terrify people with their abuse of both the sacred and the secular. When I heard the results, I said that the issue here is not a question of who won, but rather the real story is that this man failed and did not succeed.
I do not know Eng. al-Shahat personally, but whenever I heard him or followed him speaking in the media, I felt like he was launching a personal insult at me in my capacity as a researcher concerned with Islamic issues. When I learned of the final tally in the second round of elections in the al-Nuzha electoral district in Alexandria, I said that voters’ aversion to him was a sort of punishment vote against him for the statements he keeps spewing, especially as of late. This is a story that deserves to be told.
But when a few hundred men gathered last week in a narrow, trash-strewn lot between the low cinderblock buildings of this village near Cairo, what they heard from the sheiks, known as Salafis, was a blistering populist attack on the condescension of the liberal Egyptian elite that resonated against other Islamists as well.
“They think that it is them, and only them, who represent and speak for us,” Sheik Shaaban Darwish said through scratchy speakers. “They didn’t come to our streets, didn’t live in our villages, didn’t walk in our hamlets, didn’t wear our clothes, didn’t eat our bread, didn’t drink our polluted water, didn’t live in the sewage we live in and didn’t experience the life of misery and hardship of the people.”
“Brothers,” he continued, “we, the Salafis, the founders of Al Nour Party, were part of the silent majority.”
Except the senior Nour Party official I met a few months ago, who very kindly drove me to Alexandria's train station, has a rather swanky BMW. And I bet Sheikh Mohammed Hassan or Sheikh Yasser Borhami don't live among the poor either.
The interesting thing about the Salafis is that they are more inclusive in some respects than Muslim Brothers, who have an in-group mentality, are difficult to join (and its members are mostly middle class or elite). At Egyptian universities, Salafi groups often formed among marginal people who feel ill at ease with the more urbane, middle class student population (this was particularly the case at Cairo University). The Egyptian uprising of 2011 has unleashed the rage of a highly stratified society where economic privilege is compounded by the lack of rule of law (just look at how the police talk to people who appear upper class — and connected — compared to those who look poor).
The sad thing is I have yet to see a response from the Egyptian elite that even begins to address this problem — among the liberals or Brothers at least.
This morning's WSJ makes the Salafist - Tea Party comparison:
Political analysts don't expect the Nour Party and their allies to win more than 5% to 10% of the incoming Parliament. By comparison, leaders of the Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party have said they aim for about 35% of the incoming legislature.
But the Salafis' popularity could create a "tea-party effect" on the Brotherhood, said Shadi Hamid, an expert on Egypt at the Brooking's Institution Doha Center. Likening the Salafis to the American conservatives whose electoral gains have helped move the Republican Party to the right, Mr. Hamid said these Islamists have the potential to alter the political platform of the Brotherhood, which has been comparatively more moderate.
"It's very likely that Salafis will be the second-largest bloc in Parliament behind the Brotherhood," said Mr. Hamid. "Down the road, the Salafi competition could...drag the rest of the political spectrum rightwards."
As we await the results, what may be more important than the size of the Salafist presence in the next parliament is their results compared to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafists pose a problem for Egyptian society overall, but also pose a particular problem for the Brotherhood in two ways: first, they are competitors for "the Islamist vote" (whatever that is), but secondly and more importantly, they have an internal impact in a Brotherhood that is partly Salafist-oriented itself. Hence a big question is whether Salafists, who are more intellectually innovative than the Brotherhood has been in years (at least in that they produce a lot of cultural, theoretical and theological output whereas the Brothers largely stick to Hassan al-Banna) might not drag the Brotherhood their way — rather than the entire political spectrum.
If the Salafists remain under 10%, the Brothers can afford to make alliances with centrist forces knowing that the Salafists will have their back on social conservative issues. If they start to rival the Brotherhood itself, it becomes more complicated, especially if both the Brotherhood and Salafists do well, because it will freak out the rest of the political spectrum. But we should also remember that politically, the MB and the Salafists are different political animals. The MB have a political project, whereas good parts of the Salafist movement (which is diverse) might have more narrow interests related to the role of religion in public life, social mores, education and similar issues. They've shown in the past that they could be quietist about who holds power, and the Salafi movement has a strong tradition of defference to the rulers. They are not necessarily upstart radicals out to change the political system, which is how the Tea Party presents itself. They might be more like the Israeli party Shas, focusing on a narrow range of issues. It might not be getting funding for Yeshivas (or madrassas), but rather fighting the culture wars they've been fighting for decades: influencing education, state-backed religious and cultural production (al-Azhar, the Ministry of Awqaf, the Ministry of Culture, etc.), and laws having to do with women and family.
Love the last line in this story on the emerging feud between Salafists and Sufis in Egypt after a bunch of Salafist neanderthals burned several shrines revered by Sufis (Salafists hate any version of Islam that incorporates mysticism and esoteric beliefs):
A leading figure from the Azeemia Sufi order has warned of a sectarian war between Sufis and Salafis over the destruction of several shrines connected with revered religious figures.
Sheikh Mohamed Alaa Abul Azayem labeled as “thugs” Salafis who carried out the attacks, and accused them of trying to erase important symbols of Islamic Egypt.
On Tuesday, the Azeemia order held a symposium in which it announced its intention of forming a political party named the Egyptian Liberation Party, which aims to protect Sufis in the event that either the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis come to power.
Abul Azayem also said he had proposed a meeting with Salafis at Al-Azhar in 2006, but they rejected the proposed venue, and even refused to hold a meeting on their own premises.
However, on Monday, Sufi leaders finally managed to meet with their Salafi counterparts in Alexandria, where Salafis denied responsibility for the demolition of shrines.
For his part, Al-Azhar University Professor Ahmed al-Sayeh said he had asked his relatives in Upper Egypt to send him a machine gun with which to kill those who have demolished shrines.
Bring it on!