Archive for February 12, 2011

Bravo Egypt! Thoughts on the Revolution in Egypt – Imam Zaid Shakir – New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

The Egyptian people have accomplished one of the major objectives of their historic revolution. They have brought the thirty-year reign of Hosni Mubarak to an end. As they celebrate, from Alexandria in the north down to Aswan in the south, they realize that this is only the beginning of the long and arduous march to a free and open system that will guarantee their dignity and fundamental rights. However, every journey has a beginning and this glorious beginning is a harbinger of a glorious end. As the great Egyptian sage, Ibn ‘Ata Allah Sankadari, mentioned, “An illuminated beginning is a portent of an illuminated end.” May that be so in the case of the Egyptian Revolution.

The size and strategic position of Egypt, her central place in America’s geo-strategic planning, her historical leadership of the Arab world and the sheer magnitude of the security “apparatus” that the people had to overcome to reach this point will ensure that the ongoing revolution will be deeply studied by many for decades to come. Here are some of my reflections on the revolution thus far.

First of all, I do not write these lines as someone unfamiliar with Egyptian society. Upon completing my graduate studies in 1986 I departed for a year of Arabic studies in Cairo. As a poor student with only the irregular salary from my part-time job as an English teacher at the ‘Aziz Billah Mosque in the Zaytoun section of Cairo, I ate what my neighbors ate, namely a steady diet of Ful and Ta’miyya sandwiches, supplemented by pickled turnips. I slept on the floor of the masjid with my brothers during my Ramadan retreat. And I rode the crowded buses, becoming adept at grabbing the pole and jumping into the backdoor of those constantly moving, diesel-belching wrecks.

I also had an opportunity to become familiar with the expansive reach of the secret police, the Mukhabarat. One day while walking to one of my classes, I was offered a “taxi” ride to the mosque where the class was being held. In my then broken Arabic and through pointing I indicated that the mosque was only two blocks away. The driver and the passenger in the front seat insisted that they take me to the Mosque. I was adamant in my insistence that I walk the remaining distance. Finally, one of them flashed a badge and demanded that I get in the car. Upon doing so, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions asking what I was doing in Cairo, did I know this or that Muslim personality, where was I really going, etc. Finally, convinced that I was just a student from America they let me go, but not before rifling through my briefcase and helping themselves to a few “souvenirs.”

I was allowed to go on to my destination, but for far too many Egyptians, their “taxi rides” ended on the “dark side.” I had the opportunity to get first hand descriptions of that “dark side” by talking to many Egyptians who had been in the “Zinzanah,” the torture cells of the regime. They spoke of the beatings, the cigarette burns, the dogs, and other horrors they had experienced directly or witnessed. This is part of the reality that contributed to the revolution that has succeeded in ousting Hosni Mubarak.

In the events leading up to and now culminating with Mubarak’s resignation there are accusations, such as that articulated in an editorial in the Israeli daily, Haaretz, that Obama will go down in history for losing Egypt. This sentiment succinctly expresses the deep, dehumanizing racism that has driven the policy of supporting authoritarian dictators in the Middle East. These paternalistic tyrants will keep their “children” in their “place” to protect foreign interests. The same racist sentiment also drives the idea of Muslim “exceptionalism.” Muslims in the Middle East, we were told, are too irresponsible, reckless or just plain undeserving of governing themselves.

The people of Egypt have shown that they are not the property of any foreign power to be owned, used, abused and then discarded or possibly “lost.” They are human, men and women determined to carve out a dignified existence for themselves and their progeny. In so doing, they have shattered, to this point, virtually every myth and stereotype encouraging Americans to view Muslims as our inherent enemies. For example, we have been told that Muslims are bloodthirsty savages. We have been told that political Islam is a totalitarian system that knows of no compromise. Yet in Egypt, as in Tunisia, we have seen a majority Muslim population engage in a nonviolent revolution. The Muslim ideologues in the movement, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have cooperated with their Christian and secular fellow citizens aspiring to a new Egypt, not as a domineering and condescending force, but as full partners.The youth have been universally recognized as the visionaries who expanded the realm of the politically possible. Finally, women have been accepted as equal if not surpassing agents of change -the heroine of the revolution is a brave and defiant woman, Asmaa Mahfuz, whose youtube appeal was critical in the success of the pivotal January 25, 2011 mobilization. All of these characteristics make the Egyptian revolution one of the great sociopolitical developments of this new century.

Here in the United States many politicians and pundits are asking, “Why didn’t we see this coming?” I will offer my answer here. Specifically, American policy-making towards the Middle East has become dominated by anti-Muslim bigots. They have projected their own fears onto the governing elite and created such an obsession with so-called radical Islam that the latter has accepted the draconian (and profitable for some) measures being put into place to fight it, including support for “moderate” regimes like Mubarak’s. All the while, they have failed to take note of the real, dynamic politics on the ground in the Middle East and the civil society that has sprung up around those politics. The Egyptian Revolution has shown just how weak and marginal so-called radical Islam is in most Muslim societies. In one of the great ironies of history, the violent nihilists of “radical Islam,” besides the army, represent one of the few potential counter-revolutionary forces in Egypt.

The road ahead in Egypt will not be an easy one. There are powerful interests, both in Egypt and in other countries who were profiting lavishly from the ancient regime and the system of crony capitalism it has put in place to syphon off the country’s wealth. They have much to lose from a new system and will fight hard to preserve at least some of the privileges they formerly possessed. New institutions will have to be built. A new balance of power will have to be hammered out between the groups the protesters represent and the older, more established parties and groups who supported the protests, along with those who did not. The health care and university systems, both of which have been destroyed by mindless and neglectful policies, will have to be rebuilt. The minefields of the Palestinian situation will also have to be traversed.  However, that is tomorrow’s work and tomorrow’s worry. As for today, let the people of Egypt celebrate. Bravo, Egypt, Bravo!

Originally posted on http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/articles/bravo_egypt/

Today’s Opening of the Red Sea (Lessons from Egypt)

By Yasmin Mogahed

When Prophet Musa (as) stood in front of the Red Sea, a tyrant and his army approached from behind. Some of those in Musa’s midst began to divide. Looking ahead, those people saw only defeat:

“And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Moses said: ‘We are sure to be overtaken.’”(Qur’an, 26:61).

But Musa (as) had different eyes. His eyes were spiritual eyes that saw through the illusions of worldly hardship and defeat. He saw through. With a heart connected to the Most High, looking at the same seemingly impossible situation, Musa saw only God:

26:62

“(Moses) said: ‘By no means! My Lord is with me! He will guide me through!’” (Qur’an, 26:61-62)

And indeed Allah did just that:

“Then We told Moses by inspiration: ‘Strike the sea with thy rod.’ So it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain. And We made the other party approach thither. We delivered Moses and all who were with him; But We drowned the others.” (Qur’an, 26: 63-66).

Today in Egypt, we are standing in front of a Red Sea. Today in Egypt, a tyrant and his army are at our back.  Today, there are some who see only defeat. But, there are others whose eyes are looking through the blockade to the path and the hope beyond it. Today in Egypt, there are some who – even with a tyrant at their back – are saying:

إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ

“Indeed my Lord is with me, He will guide me through.”

One might wonder why, at such a critical time in history, we would retell an ancient story. Why would something that happened thousands of years ago be relevant today? The reason is that it is not just a story. Nor is it ancient. It is an everlasting sign and a lesson for all time. In the very next ayah, Allah says:

26:67

“Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe.” (26:67)

It is a sign of the Reality of God and the secrets of this world. It is a sign that tyranny never wins and that obstacles are only illusions, created to test us, train us, and purify us. But most of all it is a sign of where success comes from. And it is a vision of what that success, against all odds—at a time we think we’re trapped, defeated, and powerless—really looks like.

Some might ask why, if we are indeed on the side of God, does victory not come easily? Some might wonder why God doesn’t just give the righteous victory without immense struggle and sacrifice. The answer to this question is also given by God. He tells us:

7:94

“And We did not send a prophet in a town but We overtook its people with distress and affliction in order that they might humble themselves (reach a state of tadaru’).” (Qur’an, 7:94)

Here, Allah says that the purpose of the affliction is to reach a state of tadaru. Tadaru is humility before God – but it is not just humility. To understand the concept of tadaru, imagine yourself in the middle of an ocean. Imagine that you are all alone on a boat. Imagine that a huge storm comes and the waves become mountains surrounding you. Now imagine turning to God at that point and asking for His help. In what state of need, awe, dependency and utter humility would you be in? That is tadaru. Allah says that He creates conditions of hardship in order to grant us that gift. God does not need to make things hard for us. He creates those situations in order to allow us to reach a state of closeness to Him, which otherwise we’d be unlikely to reach.

That priceless state of humility, nearness and utter dependence on God is what the Egyptian people have been blessed with today. Allahu akbar – God is great. But Allah mentions another purpose for these hardships and struggles. He says:

7:168

“And We divided them throughout the earth into different groups. Of them some were righteous, and of them some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience].” (Qur’an, 7:168).

In Surat ali-Imran, Allah tells us:

If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loveth not those that do wrong. Allah’s object also is to purify those that are true in Faith and to deprive of blessing Those that resist Faith. Did ye think that ye would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard (In His Cause) and remained steadfast?” (Qur’an, 3:140-142).

Here, Allah describes the purpose of hardship as being tamhees. Tamhees is the same word used to describe the heating and purifying of gold. Without heating it up, gold is precious metal—but it’s full of impurities. By performing tamhees, a process of heating, the impurities are removed from gold. This is what God also does with the believers. Through hardships, believers are purified—just like gold.

And so too are the Egyptians being purified. Only days before the uprising, the world had considered the Egyptian youth a lost cause. We believed they had lost their direction and their purpose. We believed that they had chosen to live their lives on the streets, catcalling girls, or at internet cafes smoking hookah. Through this hardship, the Egyptian youth have been brought back from the dead.

Now, these youth are standing on the streets in defiance of tyranny, on their knees praying, and with their hands facing the sky, calling on their Lord. The same people who just days before barely prayed, stand today in front of military tanks to bow down to their Creator. Only days before the uprising, the tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Christians had grown to an all-time high. Today the Christians and Muslims stand side by side in defense of each other and their country. The same people who did not trust each other the day before their ‘heating,’ have come together as brothers and sisters, as one body, to defend their streets, their homes, and their neighborhoods. And through this hardship, a person who only days before lived for his cell phone, sheesha, and cigarettes, has become willing to sacrifice his own life to give freedom to his people.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

10:31

“Say: ‘Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?’ They will soon say, ‘(Allah)’.  Say, ‘Will you not then show piety (to Him)?’” (Qur’an, 10:31)

It is Allah who brings the living out of the dead. He has brought us back from the dead. Don’t think for a moment that a single moment of this is not happening with a purpose—a deep, profound and beautiful, liberating purpose. For decades the Egyptian people have lived a life of fear. But when you let fear control you, you are a slave. Allah has liberated the Egyptian people from this slavery, by making them face–and overcome–their greatest fear. Allah has liberated the Egyptian people by allowing them to look their oppressor in the eye and tell him, and the whole world, that they will no longer live in fear.  And so whether Mubarak stays or goes, lives or dies—it doesn’t really matter. The Egyptian people have already been liberated.

They have been liberated.

Hosni Mubarak is irrelevant. He is nothing but a tool—a tool by which God carries out His plan for the Egyptian people and for the entire Ummah. A tool to carry out His plan to purify, beatify and liberate the Egyptian people and the Ummah. And whether we are in Egypt today or not is unimportant. Egypt is just one limb of our body. The purification of Egypt is a purification of the whole body of our Ummah. It is the purification of you and me. It is our chance to ask ourselves to what are we attached. What are we afraid of? What are we striving for? What do we stand for? And where are we going?

When a body is in a deep, deep slumber—a coma—it is only out of His infinite mercy that He sends us a wakeup call. It is only from His infinite mercy that He sends to us life where there was once only death. We were heedless, so He sent us a sign. We were asleep, so he woke us up. We worshiped this life, and preferred our material possessions to the liberation of a soul attached to, and afraid of nothing but Him—so He freed us.

How many people will experience something like this in their lifetime? How many people will experience the opening of a Sea, the humbling of a tyrant? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why we were chosen to see it? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we were intended to learn, change, transform? Because if we think for a moment this is all just about the people of Egypt, then we have desperately missed the point. We were asleep, and Allah chose to wake us.

We were dead and Allah wants to give us life.

We were conditioned to believe that our enemy was outside of ourselves. That he had power over us. This is also an illusion. The enemy is inside of us. All external enemies are only manifestations of our own diseases. And so if we want to conquer those enemies, we must first conquer the enemy inside ourselves. This is why the Qur’an tells us:

13:11

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they first change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an, 13:11)

We must first conquer greed, selfishness, shirk, ultimate fear, love, hope and dependence on anything other than Allah. We must conquer hubb ad-dunya (love of dunya)—the root of all our diseases, and all our oppression. Before we can defeat the Pharaohs in our lives, we must defeat the Pharaoh inside ourselves. So the fight in Egypt is a fight for liberation. Yes. But liberation from what? Who is truly oppressed? Are you and I free? What is true oppression? Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) answers this question when he says: “The one who is (truly) imprisoned is the one whose heart is imprisoned from Allah and the captivated one is the one whose desires have enslaved him.” (Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Wabil)

When you are free inside, you will never allow anyone to take away your freedom.  And when you have inner freedom, you can look through tyrants and thugs to the Lord of the tyrants and thugs. When you are free inside, you become unenslaveable, because you can only enslave a person with attachments. You can only threaten a person who is afraid of loss. You only have power over someone when they need or want something that you have the ability to take away. But there is only one thing which no person has the power to take away from you: God.

And so when we fight to free Egypt, on a grander and realer scale it is a fight to also free ourselves. It is a fight to free ourselves of the tyranny of our own nafs and desires. A fight to free ourselves from our own false attachments and dependencies, from all that controls us, from all that we worship—other than Him. It is a fight to free us from our own slavery. Whether we are slaves to the American dollar, to our own desires, to status, to wealth, or to fear—the purification of Egypt is a purification of us all.

That is why the formula for true success given to us in the Qur’an consists of two elements: Sabr (patience, perseverance) and Taqwa (fear of God alone):

3:200

“O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear God (alone) that you may be successful.” (Qur’an 3:200).

So if we watch Egypt today as if it is only a spectacle happening outside of ourselves, without cleaning, examining, and really changing ourselves and our lives, then we have missed it’s purpose.

After all, it isn’t every day that a sea is opened before our very eyes.

Orignially posted on www.suhaibwebb.com