By Loubna Flah
30 August 2013
Beyond the abortive bid to depict the heavy handed massacre against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt into a kind of a pseudo-revolution, there are many topical issues that transpire from the Egyptian chaos. It is worth paying a close attention to all the elements that stood on both sides of the wide rift that is shattering the body of the Pharaonic nation. On one hand, a handful of confused liberals tried to shelter themselves into uncomfortable neutrality out of pathetic prudence, whereas others were too jovial to witness the downfall of the Muslim Brothers without considering the injurious effects of General Sissi’s coup on the idea of democracy.
In the midst of this mayhem, religion was once again used as a channel to achieve worldly pursuits. The Muslim Brotherhood along with their stern Salafist brothers were often accused of parachuting early religious judgments into a modern context only to make their ascension to power and this what has certainly earned them the wrath of a large segment of Egyptians. When Egyptians became too disgruntled with this fatwa-based politics, they tried to unseat Morsi with the assistance of the army, the scaffolding of Saudi Arabia and of course the hearty blessings of the West.
Nonetheless, regardless of any stand one may takes about the events in Egypt, the position of some high ranked Muslim clerics towards the slaughter of hundreds of civilians by the army remains by far the most disconcerting backlash of the Arab Spring. The position of AL Azhar’s Grand Mufti could not be odder when he boasted his unwavering support to the military coup and his indifference to its costly toll. To top it all, many other clerics waved the card of the ”Wali al Amr” urging Egyptians to obey their new leader and to resign their hearts and intellect as if they were living under the Umayyads or in the Middles ages.
Suddenly those who loathed the MB for using religion to serve their vested interests saw no harm in seeking those weird Azhari Fatwas just to convince the masses to turn a blind eye on the massacres of Morsi supporters or those backing the “legitimacy” of the ballot. Before we can bid to unravel the circumstances of this politico-religious pact, it is interesting to examine the standard role of Ulema or clerics in Muslim societies.
Muslim Clerics, Lanterns Made in Heaven
We need to pinpoint that the status of Muslim clerics became less predictable in the course of the secularisation of Muslim societies. Their power was incrementally diminished with the adoption of Western model of thoughts based solely on rationalism. Muslim clerics are usually well versed in the field of Islamic scholarship. These Ulema are generally expected to have solid background knowledge of Muslim jurisprudence known as Fiqh, which constitutes the sum of principles and stipulations expounded in the Quran and those revealed or enhanced by the prophet’s tradition, the Sunna.
The Muslim jurisprudence has two major components, namely those related to worship Ibadaat and the code of dealings and transactions known as Mu’amalaat. In Sunni Islam, the cleric has no sacred quality, but remains a highly dignified person for detaining a precious knowledge essential to Muslims for their religious practice. Muslim clerics can take up different functions depending on their erudition in Sharia law and the roles available to them in their countries, a parameter directly related to the extent of secularization or Islamisation. That said, the power of Muslim clerics should not be underestimated for they may take up the role of the judiciary in Sharia-governed countries like Saudi Arabia. Thus, they can embody a compelling force by pronouncing verdicts and issuing sentences.
On the other hand, Muslim clerics can have a less forcible function such as the deliverance of sermons in Mosques or by simply leading prayers. Preaching is part and parcel of their commitment to Islamic scholarship. Thus, they are entrusted, by virtue of their theological knowledge, with the advocacy of Islamic ethics, as well as the counseling on religious matters. Muslim scholars can also issue Fatwas, or Sharia-based judgments on several matters usually assigning the label Halal (allowed) or Haram (un-allowed) to critical incidents. Generally, Fatwas are not binding and Muslims can consider their soundness according to the evidence and the reasoning provided by the scholar.
Yet these inoffensive men of religion have always been linked to the relentless struggle for power. They have often formed a solid alliance with Sultans and kings even if that meant the loss of their own moral compass just to dodge the wrath of rulers and to reap heaps of privileges. One might think that these types of strategic alliances are reminiscent of the early decades of Islamic civilization. But truth be told, despite the fact that the balance of power shifted more towards rulers and presidents, the association between Muslim clerics and decision makers is still relevant in Muslim postmodern societies.
Muslim Clerics and the Unscrupulous Deal
Starting from the 19th century, most Muslim societies went through a wave of secularization where the prominence of religion in the public sphere, at least, shrunk considerably. That is not to say that Muslims relinquished their religion, but they became less zealous to manifest outward signs of religiosity, a trait that varies greatly from one person to another.
In postcolonial societies, the osmosis of Western modes of thoughts and lifestyles became increasingly threatening not only to national identities, but to the Islamic and traditional morals. The tide of Islamism that gave birth to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and later to similar sister formations across the Arab World were not but a reaction to the so called “loosening of moral values” often paired with despotism. To quell the appeal of the Islamic “Nahda” or Revival, state-sponsored clerics allied themselves with presidents and kings. These scholars were soon given a new role, stemming the tide of political Islam just in the same fashion as Sufism is used today to offset the rhetoric of political Islam and most importantly that of hard-line Salafism.
The set of odd Fatwas issued by late Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, Egypt’s Grand Mufti and the Grand Imam of Al –Azhar are the most staggering examples of the clerics’ moral surrender. In 2007, Tantawi accused opposition journalists of spreading rumors and concluded that purchasing the opposition newspapers was a “sinful enterprise.” He also called on the Egyptian government to toughen sanctions against dissident journalists.
Similarly, Ahmed Tayyab, Al Azhar‘s current sheikh, expressed his steadfast support for General Sissi when he called Egyptians to take to the streets to topple democratically elected, president Morsi. Nevertheless, Tayyab remained hushed despite all the bloodshed and the piles of red-stained corpses the military reaped. In the same vein, Saudi clerics close to the king also exemplify the lack of moral integrity and blind allegiance. The judgments issued by Saudi Mufti have always been a copycat of the king’s positions. No wonder that the Saudi Mufti fretted to decide whether Hezbollah’s counter offensive against Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war was a legitimate struggle.
While surveying the moral stances of some Muslim scholars and their subservience to their kings and presidents, it is hard to eclipse the thought of those corruption charges leveled against the Catholic Church during the renaissance despite the fact that these two religious systems are glaringly distinct both structurally and theologically.
Thus, one cannot fail to notice the collapse of ethics embodied by those who are supposed to be the most ethical ones. Without falling into sweeping generalizations, it is unfortunate to see that some servants of God have become the servants of tyrants and despots, the worst incarnation of human vice. Those who cannot raise a dissident voice simply because they enjoy the warmth of their pricy Abayas and the rounded zeros of their paychecks are in dire need for some preaching. Those who read shallowly their pre- typed sermons to the crowds of Muslims in mosques are also in dire need of preaching and redemption.