In “Melting ice with Westerners” in the Chicago Tribune (thanks to Daniel), the Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa puts into practice the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s dictum that “war is deceit” (Sahih Bukhari, IV:52:268-270), and Michael Tackett, the Trib’s associate managing editor in Washington, willingly plays along.
Note how carefully Ali Gomaa spins his webs, and how Tackett never challenges him.
CAIRO — Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, was holding forth in a rare interview with American journalists on the campus of Al-Azhar University, a 1,000-year-old college of Islamic learning.
Lean and more than 6 feet tall, with a serious and authoritative mien, he is one of the most important religious figures in Egypt, one with the power to issue edicts, and his views are respected throughout the Muslim world.
The session was part lecture, part interview and always a dexterous display of rhetorical skills that show a command of politics in addition to religion.
That’s an understatement.
Whether the issue was terrorism, church and state separation, suicide bombings, female circumcision or the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East, his answers flowed in a manner that was both imperious and compassionate.
“As a mufti I am used to answering people’s questions,” he said through an Egyptian interpreter. “We live in a global world.”
His responses had the sound-bite-tested quality of a man who knew well how to craft a message. “We are totally against terrorism,” he said. “Now the term is … Islamic terrorists. Why don’t you say a Catholic terrorist or a Protestant terrorist?”
Um, maybe because there is no global network of Catholic or Protestant terrorists committing violent acts as part of a larger effort to establish the supremacy of their religion throughout the world, and justifying those acts by appealing to the teachings of their religion?
Some fear that he and others would like to see Egypt become an Islamic state. What of that prospect?
“Democracy doesn’t tell you, `Do not be a religious person,'” he said. “I think Mr. Bush is very religious.”
Logged and noted. Now: would you like to see Egypt become an Islamic state or not? Obviously the answer is yes, and Ali Gomaa knows that Tackett may be wary of such an open show of support for Sharia, so he sets up the false equation between George Bush and a Sharia state. The overheated paranoid rhetoric of the American Left aside, Bush is not trying to institute a system in which adulterers will be stoned to death and apostates likewise executed. There is simply no equivalence between his religiosity and that of Ali Gomaa. But Ali Gomaa would prefer that you didn’t think that through.
Like seemingly everyone Egyptian, he opposes the war in Iraq. “This is a big problem,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is. We can’t tell where the truth is. The blood is up to the knees. My heart is breaking. I hope the American youth go home and that is the end of the problem.”
The mufti has been in the news most recently for his fatwa that was reported in some Egyptian news media as a possible call for the destruction of statues, a potentially crippling edict in a nation that derives much of its income from the tourism generated by its antiquities.
The mufti firmly said he was misquoted. The fatwa related to statues, he said, was merely among the 7,000 a month he issues on matters that range from whether a woman should consider herself divorced to the nature of jihad. A staff of 10 helps him handle the volume.
And they exploit technology to reach his followers. “We deliver fatwas by all means–oral, fax, e-mail or Web site,” he said. His sermons are available on tape and CD.
He clearly saw some value in granting time for a group that is a prime source of news in the United States. He allowed himself to be filmed and his audio recorded. He emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace and that words so common to Islam, such as fatwa and mujahedeen, have been wrongly demonized.
Yes, of course. Wicked Islamophobes have been out there, all over the world, setting off bombs and beheading people in order to demonize Islam.
Islam, he said, has certain immutable tenets, such as abstinence from alcohol. “We cannot change that,” he said. But on other matters, such as the statues, there is room for nuance.
“We would not destroy our Pharaonic monuments,” he said. “We find it really funny that the media now focus attention on a fatwa that has been there for 14 centuries. And why are you so concerned about this issue? When the Taliban destroyed statutes, we were the first to speak out against them.
“When people open a museum and put statues in them, I respect that. But why would you not respect me if I were to think in another way?”…
Rewind that and look at it closely. He says that the prohibition of alcohol is immutable, which it is. He never says, however, that the prohibition of statues isn’t immutable. In fact, he says that it is 14 centuries old, which means that it dates from the earliest days of Islam, and suggests that it is also likely immutable. It is true that Al-Azhar condemned the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, saying that no Muslim scholar thought they impinged upon the Islamic faith; but Ali Gomaa is not so forthright. He says that he respects museums, so why shouldn’t people respect his opinion? And that is that representational art offends Islam and must be destroyed. But how open-minded, how generous it all seems. He is only asking for tolerance of his views. What fair-minded person could refuse?
He called suicide bombings a “crime.”
“There is a difference between fighting for a specific right and just going to blow yourself up, and that must be punished,” he said.
OK, but what if someone blows himself up in order to fight for a specific right? What if someone is taking seriously the Qur’an’s promise of Paradise to those who “kill and are killed” for Allah (9:111)? No clarification on this from the Mufti.
And he said female circumcision is not required by Islamic law. “We should fight it,” he said.
Not all of his colleagues at Al-Azhar agree. What is he doing to convince them? And why do we get no hint of this disagreement from the Tribune?