Sisi’s Remarkable Statement

We knew that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has it in for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has taken strong steps to suppress it. We did not expect the president of the most populous Arab country to call for a religious revolution against Muslim extremism, and back it up with specific programs through his religious ministry.

Western media ignored the statement in droves. We shouldn’t.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection with Mohamed’s upcoming birthday, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar [the most prestigious religious seminary of the Sunni world], before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective.
I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Further details emerged in an interview with the head of Egypt’s religion ministry in the London-based (and Saudi-owned) Asharq Al-Awsat “My ministry, which overseas around 200,000 mosques across the country, is exerting unremitting efforts to develop religious discourse by using modern technology to immunize Egyptians, and particularly the youth, against takfirist and destructive ideas.”

Decrying religious extremism to the imams of Al-Azhar is courageous, but understandable. Sisi believes that Egypt’s chances for economic prosperity – the key to solving its social problems – hinge on preventing his country from falling into the abyss of Islamic fundamentalism. The substance of his argument, however, is startling: Are you comfortable with a religion that is reviled and detested by billions of people around the world as primitive and bloodthirsty, prepared to slaughter everyone else to ensure its own supremacy? Have you not promoted certain religious texts at the expense of others, to the point that you are promoting nonsense?

It is too early to rejoice without waiting to see how this plays out. But the statement is encouraging, because he could not deliver the message if he did not believe that it would resonate with many of his co-religionists.

For years, many (although not enough) in the West have demanded that Muslim leaders be quick to condemn extremism, suicide bombing, and terrorism – without apologizing or equivocating. Some Muslim organizations have pushed back, saying that they are not responsible for actions of a segment of the population whose views they reject. Others have seen the practical benefit of distancing themselves from the extremists. Sisi’s remarkable statement is a vindication of those in the West who have continued to hold the feet of Muslim leaders to the fire. They argued that silence was acquiescence, and that it would be seen by non-Muslims as a black mark on Islam itself. We can’t know if making this argument repeatedly had any impact on Sisi or anyone else. It is clear, however, that Sisi and presumably others understand that – fair or not – the image of the larger group of Muslims in the rest of the world is shaped by the reaction of Muslim leaders to the horrors committed in the name of the religion.

The dynamic behind Sisi’s statement might give some of us an opportunity to ponder whether, lehavdil and to a much lesser extent, we do the same. Do we allow positions that our inner voices tell us just cannot be true to go unchallenged? Do we contemplate the damage done to the perceptions of Hashem and His Torah when views we find disturbing flourish in the popular media, including our own? Do we stop and think about what our own children might be thinking when they ask the same questions that we ask ourselves – and cannot bring themselves to articulate them, or find anyone with whom to discuss them, even if they could?

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15 Responses

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    I am shocked and amazed that Muslims actually
    admitted that a problem is their own fault.

    This is a big departure from their usual policy
    of blaming all problems on Israel.

    Will wonders never cease?

  2. dr. bill says:

    The issue is exacerbated by participation of “moderates” in events together with “extremists.” More troubling than sitting by silently, joint participation provides implicit acceptance.

  3. Yair Daar says:

    You need to be very careful when making these types of analogies. There is a difference between fighting back against extremism that leads to the murder and subjugation of millions and differences of opinion regarding religion.

    [YA- Of course you have to be careful! That’s why I used the word “lehavdil.” But there is still an area of overlap, namely how we want ourselves to be perceived by others. This was a concern of Sisi’s, and it should be one of ours, בזער אנפין]

  4. Raymond says:

    The Egyptian President’s statement above is certainly a step in the right direction. I am actually pleasantly surprised to hear any moslem, let alone the President of the largest Arab country of all, say such words. Still, I remain skeptical on two fronts: one is, that antisemitism is such a long and deeply held, completely irrational hatred, that I have to wonder if he means what he says even in the context of his people murdering Jews. And secondly, even if he truly does mean his words to apply in all situations and to all peoples, I think of the fate that awaited another great moslem peacemaker, namely Anwar Sadat. The Arab world simply does not take kindly to fellow moslems who are unwilling to celebrate the islamoNazi terrorism committed against us Jews and other non-moslems.

    As for applying all this to our own Jewish people, there are what I think are grave weaknesses among our fellow religious Jews, but I have been met with hostility when I have pointed these things out. What comes immediately to my mind are those able-bodied, religious Jews living in Israel who refuse to serve in the Israeli Army, and some who disdain work, instead living off of other people’s money, or expecting their wives to be both the main breadwinner while raising their numerous children. Nor does it impress me when religious Jews look down on any kind of learning that is not the Talmud, and/or look down on any Jew who is not strictly Chareidi in every aspect of their lives. Still, proper perspective is important, and the fact is that overall, our Jewish people remain the most civilized and humane of any people who has ever walked on the face of the Earth.

  5. Cherine Derbala says:

    This isn’t a “new” trend nor path, it’s actually an endorsement to an already implemented geopolitical agenda. The latest statement that should be emphasized is Erdogen’s: There is no “moderate” Islam, there is only “Islam”. The root of this statement derives from the Gulen Movement that was embraced in the US and began the spread of “Charter Schools” & “Educating” for the preparation for the “Interfaith” platform launched by the UN in 2009/10. Which is the basis & foundation of the new Universal Religions Platform (2014 at the Vatican). The once “movement” became an “Empire” based in Pennsylvania & has the membership of the Global Elite, also the US admin’s assistants – i.e Huma Abedin Hilary’s aide and Dalia Mogahed are “Gulen trained”. You can look Gulen up & research further….all the way to Turkey’s 2010 launch of “Muslim for a Month” program with a Rumi (Sufi) theme for non-muslims in order to “change” the perception of “Islam”….to the latest Gulen appearance in Turkey summer of 2013 that sparked polarization & an uprising from within the governing party and country. The region has taken a Turkish/Ottoman perspective since 2009/10 stemming from the “new Islamic reforms & teachings” of Gulen. All this to say that it isn’t “new” & definitely not for the first time nor is it spontaneous – it’s with an objective(s).

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    It is your final paragraph that resonates with me. I hope that people who read this post don’t overlook it.

  7. Dr. medhat Ghabrial says:

    very refreshing analysis and an honest essay about Mr. Sisi’s remarkable character and promising positive input. THANK YOU. One mistake, though, I need to add as an Egyptian speaking on behalf of 10s of millions others. We ARE NOT ARABS. Ethnically or culturally or historically. We just speak the language. If we should be called Arabs because of that, Jamaicans should be called English. The Pan Arab myth was imposed on us by Mr. Nasser in the fifties and we got stuck with it. Thank you.

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Raymond: The Arab world simply does not take kindly to fellow moslems who are unwilling to celebrate the islamoNazi terrorism committed against us Jews and other non-moslems.

    Ori: True, but those who demand approval of terrorism already hate him for his role in ousting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the first time that political Islam lost. They’ll already kill him if they could.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Sisi opposes the Muslim Brotherhood as if his life depended on it…because it does!

  10. Baruch B. says:

    I hope people will see how Israel’s policy of settlement building has caused such resentment, and how no one understands it, and thinks we don’t want peace because of it.

  11. Charlie Hall says:

    “Others have seen the practical benefit of distancing themselves from the extremists. Sisi’s remarkable statement is a vindication of those in the West who have continued to hold the feet of Muslim leaders to the fire.”

    A lot of Muslim leaders in America have made a point of distancing themselves from extremists without any prodding. There are several here in the Bronx. But these tend to serve small immigrant communities that don’t have much influence.

    There have also been more prominent Muslim leaders in other parts of the world who have spent entire careers promoting non-extreme forms of Islam, particularly in Indonesia. But they don’t get a lot of press in the US and don’t have the resources that extremists do.

    [YA – While our readers are aware of the battle-to-the-finish between Sunnis and Shi’a, fewer know about the struggle between Sufi- leaning and Salafi (or its equivalent) within the two Muslim worlds. It is something that we should keep our eyes open for. The former may pave the way for a moderate Islam; the latter only build multi-lane highways to the grave. The struggle is quite alive in places like Pakistan and Turkey]

  12. Charlie Hall says:

    “continued to hold the feet of Muslim leaders to the fire.”

    It occurred to me that I should make clear that I certainly do not object to holding to the fire the feet of Muslim leaders who do need prodding!

    “The former may pave the way for a moderate Islam; the latter only build multi-lane highways to the grave.”

    This often violent dispute even made it to Indonesia within the past two decades. Indonesians who have studied in places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have started terrorist groups, violently opposing the ideologies the two huge moderate Indonesian Islamic movements Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah each of has about as many adherents as the entire population of Saudi Arabia.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    Hooray for your last paragraph. I wish more people with influence and a following would say out loud what so many think, that extremism is not a sign of more truth or closeness to the Divine.

  14. One Christian's Perspective says:

    Sisi’s remarks are a flame of hope in the middle east that sanity and truth, even if for a moment, prevail among those whose heart is not dark. Yet, Sisi is not alone. The King of Jordan has made a conscious effort to correct the flawed thinking of the Islamists who do evil in a number of ways. This King has sent fighter jets to fight ISIS and he and his wife both marched with the leaders in Paris a few days ago. Sadly, our President chose to not attend.

  15. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    There are many more Muslims who are afraid to speak up as Sisi did. Sisi has the advantage of having an army behind him. He sees it as part of his obligation to move his nation on the right path. I wish him well, and also to be the voice for all those others who don’t have those guns to protect them. Once Christians were in a similar position vis a vis crusades and pogroms, to say nothing of the Holocaust. Today everyone has to deal with the fear of radical or perhaps unhyphenated Islam. Islam today needs a protestant reformation, a serious reading of the text of the Koran, which says many things which are unpopular in todays Islamic world, such as that Allah gave the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel. Of course the Islamic conventional wisdom explains this away, but anyone such as Sheikh Palazzi who speaks credibly in favor of positive teachings and makes serious distinctions between reliable and unreliable traditions, as we understand from our experience in learning gemara, is worthy of our respect.

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