Heroes in Egypt Confront Islamist Ideology
March 7, 2015
What made Egyptian
President Sisi's speech remarkable is that he pointed to the problem within and
did not blame a Western or Jewish conspiracy for the problems facing Muslims.
The sad fact, which
Western leaders and peaceful Muslims do not want to know or publicly
acknowledge, is that when Western and other leaders say that ISIS has nothing to
do with Islam, they are simply flat wrong.
About a month after
Sisi said "We must revolutionize our religion," Ibrahim Eissa, an
Egyptian journalist and another hero of the Middle East backed him up, saying,
"when the people of ISIS perpetrate slaughter, murder, rape, immolation,
and all those barbaric crimes, they say that they are relying on the sharia.
They say that this is based on a certain hadith, on a certain Quranic chapter,
on a certain saying of Ibn Taymiyyah, or on some historical event. To tell the
truth, everything that ISIS says is correct."
Sisi wants to defeat
extremism, not use it as a tool of statecraft. He understands the importance of
defeating this expansionist ideology, and deserves the full support of America
and the international community in this struggle.
intellectuals have called on Cairo's Al-Azhar University to change its
pre-medieval mindset of jihadism, without any success. This time might be
In December 2014,
Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, gave
a speech at Al-Azhar and told clerics there that it is time to modernize the
Muslim faith, which has put itself at odds with the rest of humanity.
It was the perfect
venue for the speech. Al-Azhar is the pinnacle of Sunni Islam's education
system. It is influential not just in Egypt, but throughout the world. Al-Azhar
has educated many of the leaders of Islamic fundamentalist groups such as the
Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups.
For the first time
in the history, a heroic head of state stood before Al-Azhar's scholars,
insisting they acknowledge that there is a real problem with Al-Azhar's
teachings and asking them to reform the religious ideology, primarily through
changing its core domain, education. Sisi had the courage to call for a
religious revolution within Al-Azhar. In the house of the religious scholars, he
took them on.
What made his speech
remarkable is that he pointed to the problem within, and did not blame a Western
or Jewish conspiracy for the problems facing Muslims.
About a month after
Sisi's heroic speech, in which he said, "We must revolutionize our
religion," Ibrahim Eissa, an Egyptian journalist and another hero of the
Middle East, backed him up. Eissa said on Egyptian television, on February
3, that no one in Egypt has had the courage to admit that the ideology and
activities of ISIS are based on Islamic sources. Eissa added,
people of ISIS perpetrate slaughter, murder, rape, immolation, and all those
barbaric crimes, they say that they are relying on the sharia. They say that
this is based on a certain hadith, on a certain Quranic chapter, on a certain
saying of Ibn Taymiyyah, or on some historical event. To tell the truth,
everything that ISIS says is correct."
On February 11,
Eissa named the extremists among the Al-Azhar leadership, and noted that Al-Azhar
had become a shelter of an extremist ideology. In addition, Eissa questioned why
Al-Azhar refused to denounce ISIS as "Kufar" or
President Sisi is
not alone in his call for a religious revolution. Professor Dr. Sheikh Ahmad
Muhammad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, made a similar
statement, in Saudi holy city of Mecca, no less. There, he spoke of "bad
interpretations of the Koran and the sunna [the teachings of
"There has been
a historical accumulation of excessive trends," al-Tayyeb told a Saudi
conference, and said that a reform in education was needed.
The major difference
between the visionary Sisi and al-Tayyeb is that al-Tayyeb still could not
resist blaming others. "We face major international plots targeting Arabs
and Muslims, in a way that agrees with the new world colonialism that is allied
with world Zionism," he
said, relying on the worn-out conspiracy theories that everyone --
especially after the "Arab Spring" -- can see are not true. Such
conspiracy theories are merely used to deflect blame from the real source of the
problem: the many leaders in the Arab and Muslim world who still practice
corrupt and capricious governance.
The real heroes
remain Egypt's president, who got the process started, and Ibrahim Eissa, for
speaking the truth. Sisi's call for religious revolution encouraged others in
Egypt finally to state publicly that Al-Azhar had been hijacked by radicals.
Egyptians, for the first time, were also able to state publicly what else
everyone knew: that Al-Azhar was producing books promoting hatred and violence.
Most Egyptians, however, expect that a great thinker such as al-Tayyeb, who had
the courage to come such a long way, will also soon rise to the same stature as
Both Sisi's and al-Tayyeb's
statements represent the real "Arab Spring": the beginning of a
historic shift in how Sunni Islam will henceforth be interpreted, taught and
Coinciding with this
intellectual assault, a U.S.-led coalition has been bombing the Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for the past several months. These attacks have killed an
unknown number of the group's members, but at the same time also actually
gaining new recruits for the organization, even in the West.
ISIS has been able
to attract new followers mainly because of its online presence, through which it
promotes its ideology to restless, disaffected young Muslims across the world.
ISIS has gained followers by videotaping and airing its barbaric beheadings of a
number of victims -- including American hostages and Egyptian Coptic Christians
-- as well as the burning of a Jordanian pilot, and reportedly 45 others in the
Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi.
Most people are
shocked by these actions, but ISIS takes pride in slaughtering and burning its
victims, as it seeks to establish a caliphate in its first step toward world
domination. As a totalitarian organization, ISIS is more than a threat to the
national security of America and its allies; it is a threat, as Sisi was among
the first to see, first of all to Muslims, and then to the rest of humanity.
Sadly, the U.S. has
failed to enunciate a comprehensive strategy for defeating this rapacious
organization. On February 11, the Obama Administration formally asked Congress
to authorize military force to "degrade and defeat" ISIS. Clearly,
military force is necessary, but President Obama needs to be honest with himself
and the public, and admit that ISIS will not be defeated by a military campaign
alone. Bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria may kill its members, but it will not
defeat its ideology.
Obama, for his
legacy, would do well to take a leading role in supporting Sisi in the
ideological war against Islamic extremists and their ideology. He is fortunate
to have a potential Muslim ally in the Egyptian President, as well in the Muslim
Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, yet another hero who clearly wants his
people to have far-reaching opportunities.
Sisi is continuing
with his heroic campaign. On January 22, he spoke for the first time of the
genius of the late President Sadat's vision of peace in the Middle East. He also
spoke of not allowing jihadists to use the Sinai peninsula to attack Egypt's
neighbors, referring to Israel.
Sisi also refuses to
follow in the footsteps of former President Hosni Mubarak, who used the threat
of Islamic extremism to blackmail the West. Sisi wants to defeat extremism, not
use it as a tool of statecraft.
Sisi understands the
importance of defeating this expansionist ideology, and deserves the full
support of America and the international community in this struggle.
a U.S.-based news analyst, was born and raised in Egypt.