Islamophobia Rumor Mill Manufactures “Pyramid Jihad”
by Sheila Musaji
The source of this rumor (at least in the American Islamophobia echo chamber) appears to be Raymond Ibrahim who wrote an article on Front Page magazine Calls to Destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids Begin in which he claimed that “prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids”.
This was then picked up by PJ Media, The American Thinker, and, of course, Robert Spencer, and his partner in hate, Pamela Geller who added her own commentary:
There are only two reasons why the Pyramids have survived through centuries of Muslim domination in Egypt: because the Egyptians have lacked the technology to destroy them, and because they bring in tourist money. The Islamic supremacists who have just come to power in Egypt view the Pyramids the way the Taliban viewed the Buddhas of Bamiyan: as idolatrous leftovers from the time of jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. Pre-Islamic archaelogical artifacts in Muslim countries all over the world are treated with contempt and allowed to fall into decay and disrepair, because Islam places no value upon any human achievement that is outside Islam’s purview. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Egypt, you better book your ticket fast if you want to go see the Pyramids—and the Sphinx, too, for that matter.
Other than one legitimate journalist who should have known better, Joel Brinkley, who posted an article which included all of the spurious claims on Newsday, all the rest of the furore over this story was provided by the Islamophobia echo chamber. Brinkley seemed to think that the “fact” that Morsi had not spoken out against these allegations was somehow ominous. As noted below, Ahmed Sobeai, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, responded, “Dr. Morsi cannot respond to something that hasn’t happened.” Mr. Sobeai called the whole affair “an attempt to fabricate a crisis from an illusion.”
Rod Nordland & Mayy El Sheikh in a NY Times article Contrary to Gossip, Pyramids Have No Date With the Wrecking Ball wrote that this is ”... a textbook example of how a rumor, especially about a place as tumultuous as Egypt these days, can take on a life of its own — fed by a kernel of fact, a dash of Twitter, and a convenient coincidence or two.”
The claim that radical Islamists had, in the name of the Muslim aversion to artifacts of paganism, asked President Mohamed Morsi to have the pyramids torn down apparently began with a June 30 item in Rose el-Youssef, an Egyptian magazine that for years was a mouthpiece for Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi’s ousted predecessor.
The magazine quoted a prominent Bahraini sheik, Abdellatif al-Mahmoud, as demanding in a Twitter posting on June 24 that Mr. Morsi “accomplish what the Sahabi Amir bin al-As could not” and destroy the “idolatrous” pyramids. The allusion was to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who went on to conquer Egypt, although scholars of Islam say he never even tried to take down the pyramids.
By July 12, someone claiming to be the Bahraini sheik had repudiated the Twitter posting as a hoax, saying that a faked screen shot had been published to make it look as if the sheik had posted the message. “This tweet hasn’t been written by me, and the traitors have fabricated it through Photoshop to distort my image,” said Sheik Mahmoud — or at least, said the user @amahmood2011 professing to be Sheik Mahmoud.
However, if @amahmood2011 really is Bahrain’s leading Sunni cleric, some of his Twitter postings are a bit peculiar, like the one suggesting that he had seen the Prophet in a dream and was given permission to shake women’s hands.
The biographical description accompanying that Twitter feed notes, in Arabic, that it is the sheik’s “Official Barody Account,” which sounds like a faulty transliteration of the English word parody. The real Sheik Mahmoud could not be reached for comment.
None of that nebulous sourcing did anything to tamp down the steam sizzling from online reports that began appearing this month, most of them quoting one another rather than an original source, warning that the Islamists wanted to finally finish the job that the Islamic conqueror of Egypt had started (although he hadn’t), and that President Morsi was doing nothing about it (which he wasn’t).
“The things Americans say show us they are crazy,” Abdel Halim Nur el-Din, an Egyptian professor of antiquities and former chairman of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in an interview.
One posting on a blog called American Thinker said, “It should surprise no one that the fanatics want to blow up 5,500-year-old monuments to the genius of man,” thus introducing high explosives into the narrative.
The magazine Commentary was more restrained, but worried, “That such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist Web sites should be cause for concern, given precedent.”
The obvious antecedent was the recent destruction of ancient monuments in Timbuktu by extremist Islamists who had taken over northern Mali and deemed them un-Islamic. The Taliban’s destruction in 2001 of 1,500-year-old statues of the Buddha carved into a cliff in central Afghanistan was also brought to mind. But for the most part, the pyramid story gained traction only in a relatively few outlets.
There was an Egyptian television talk show that mentioned it, but only to denounce a Saudi sheik, Ali Al Rabieei, who had been quoted in an early report as a would-be destroyer of pyramids. The sheik not only repudiated the remarks attributed to him, but also offered a reward to anyone who could tell him who had made the remarks in his name, using what he said were two phony Twitter accounts.
“These stories are cheap acts aimed at hurting Egypt and its image, and Mr. Morsi as well,” said Mr. Nur el-Din, the antiquities professor. He said Mr. Morsi had reassured Egypt’s tourism officials that the country’s antiquities were in no danger from the new government.
Still, the flames were fanned by intemperate statements from some Salafis, as Egypt’s hard-line Islamists are called. The Salafis have shown considerable political muscle: their presidential candidate won 25 percent of the vote in the first round, and then they backed Mr. Morsi, the candidate supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, in the runoff. They are much more conservative in their views than the Brotherhood, and scorn all works of art representing the human form because such works suggest an alternative to the perfection of God.
In January 2011, the spokesman for the Salafi Preaching Movement, Sheik Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, said the question of Egypt’s antiquities was simply a theological problem, and he suggested a compromise: Cover the heads of ancient Egyptian statues in wax. This would leave them visible, but would technically “obliterate” the faces. “I’ll do something that combines religious adherence and leaving antiquities as historic monuments,” he said on a television program. Then last August, Sheik Shahat was asked to explain the difference between his plan and the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddhas, which he pointedly refrained from criticizing. “The Taliban was in power at the time,” he said, whereas the Salafis in Egypt are not. A video of that exchange was posted on YouTube.
Younis Makhyon, a senior member of the Salafi Nour Party, said that no one from the group had ever suggested pyramidicide. “These allegations have no foundation whatsoever and no basis in reality,” Mr. Makhyon said. “They are part of an attempt to turn Islamists into scarecrows and frighten the world about them.”
On July 20, the story gained life with a commentary on Newsday’s Web site by Joel Brinkley, a professor at Stanford University and a former correspondent for The New York Times.
“Morsi has been Egypt’s president for less than a month, and already senior clerics in his country and around the Islamic world are loudly calling for the demolition of the pyramids,” Mr. Brinkley wrote. “Morsi has had nothing to say about this, not a word,” he added.
Ahmed Sobeai, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, responded, “Dr. Morsi cannot respond to something that hasn’t happened.” Mr. Sobeai called the whole affair “an attempt to fabricate a crisis from an illusion.” The pyramids, he said, are safe.
An Egyptian news site reported in the article Holy hoax: Radical Islamists call on Egypt to destroy pyramids that
“Calls from a Bahraini Sunni cleric to destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids have been revealed as a hoax. The demands were made from a Twitter account which claimed to be owned by Bahrain’s President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud.
In the post, a person masquerading as al-Mahmoud labeled the pyramids “idolatrous” and asked Egypt’s new president to destroy them, as Egypt’s Daily News reports. Several conservative websites used the news to raise alarm over the rise of Egypt’s Islamist government. According to rumors, al-Mahmoud encouraged Cairo to “accomplish what the Sahabi Amr bin al-As could not.”
This report did not give a source for their claim that the twitter account was not owned by Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud. However, Bikyamasr
provided more details:
Bahrain sheikh says that the tweet to “destroy Pyramids” was a fabrication.
A Bahraini sheikh has denied reports that he called on Egypt President Mohamed Morsi to “destroy the Pyramids” in a tweet on the micro-blogging site Twitter. Abdel Latif al-Mahmoud said the use of his name and making up the statement is part of the “conspiracy” to paint Islam in a poor light. “I did not write this tweet, which has been fabricated by traitors to damage my image,” the Sheikh was reported as saying today by ANSA.
So, it seems that the entire story has no basis. The Saudi Shaikh Ali Al Rabieei denied remarks attributed to him, the Bahraini Shaikh denied sending out any such tweet, President Morsi’s spokesman denied that this was even a possibility.
And, yet literally thousands of posting appeared on the internet repeating and adding to this non-story.
Sadly, there seems to have been a genuine call to destroy the pyramids and sphinx coming from an Egyptian extremist. Al Arabiya reports that a
Salafi extremist leader with self-professed links to the Taliban, called for the “destruction of the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.” Murgan Salem al-Gohary, an Islamist leader twice-sentenced under former President Hosni Mubarak for advocating violence, called on Muslims to remove such “idols.”
“All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues,” he said on Saturday during a television interview on an Egyptian private channel, widely watched by Egyptian and Arab audiences. “God ordered Prophet Mohammed to destroy idols,” he added. “When I was with the Taliban we destroyed the statue of Buddha, something the government failed to do.”
His comments came a day after thousands of ultraconservative Islamists gathered in Tahrir Square to call for the strict application of Sharia law in the new constitution.
But in retaliation to Gohary’s remarks, the vice president of Tunisia’s Ennahda party, Sheikh Abdel Fattah Moro, called the live program and told Gohary that famous historic military commander Amr ibn al-Aas did not destroy statues when he conquered Egypt. “So who are you to do it?” he wondered. “The Prophet destroyed the idols because people worshiped them, but the Sphinx and the Pyramids are not worshiped.”
Gohary, 50, is well-known in Egypt for his advocacy of violence, Egypt Independent reported. “He was sentenced twice, one of the two sentences being life imprisonment. He subsequently fled Egypt to Afghanistan, where he was badly injured in the American invasion. In 2007, he traveled from Pakistan to Syria, which then handed him over to Egypt. After Mubarak’s fall in early 2011, he was released from prison by a judicial ruling,” the newspaper added.
In recent months, fears have surfaced that the ultra-conservative Salafi political powers may soon wish to debate new guidelines over Egyptian antiquities.
Islamists have swept the recent presidential and parliamentary elections in the country’s post-revolutionary stage, with the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamists rising to political power.
“The fundamental Salafis have demanded to cover Pharaonic statues, because they regard them to be idols,” Egyptian author on ancient history Ahmed Osman told Al Arabiya English, explaining that Salafi Muslims follow conservative religious principles which view statues and sculptures as prohibited in Islam.
“But so far the government has done nothing to indicate what is the future of Egyptian antiquities,” adds Osman.
Many hope that Egypt’s new President Mohammed Mursi will help usher better preservation of Egypt’s proud cultural heritage. Egyptian officials have recently announced the country will reveal more of its ancient buried treasures.
The tomb of Queen Meresankh III, the granddaughter of Khufu, of Great Pyramid fame, is set to be opened to tourists later this year, with the last resting places of five high priests also slated to be put on show. Officials are also believed to be reopening the underground Serapeum temple at Sakkara, to the south of Cairo.
This sort of extremism in the name of preventing idolatry or destroying pagan idols is tragic, and a result of Saudi-Wahhabi influence. On TAM, we have published many articles on the Saudi destruction of historical sites. And, we know that the extremist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam has been responsible for spreading the idea that not only non-Muslim, but also Muslim historical sites promote what they consider to be idol-worship. We also know that this Saudi propaganda has led to the destruction of more historical sites in the past 50 years than the world has seen in the past thousand years. The Buddhas of Bamiyan stood in Afghanistan for millenia until just a few years ago, Sufi shrines in Mali and Libya and the Maldives stood for centuries. And, now the Taliban, al Shabbab, and others influenced by this Wahhabi mentality have destroyed them.
It is to be hoped that all of the mainstream scholars in Egypt, and particularly the scholars of Al-Azhar will speak out loudly and clearly, and that the government will do everything in its power to protect what are not only Egyptian historical treasures, but world historical treasures.
Another hoax: cleric calls on President Morsy to destroy Giza Pyramids, Hend Kortam http://thedailynewsegypt.com/2012/07/11/another-hoax-cleric-calls-on-president-morsy-to-destroy-giza-pyramids/
No, Egypt Isn’t Going To Destroy The Pyramids, Doug Mataconis http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/no-egypt-isnt-going-to-destroy-the-pyramids/