Response to Raymond Ibrahim’s Attack on Sheikh Ali Gomaa
by Sheila Musaji
This week, Raymond Ibrahim wrote an article Top Egyptian Muslim Declares All Christians ‘Infidels’. In this article he attempted to “prove that” Sh. Ali Gomaa, a professor at Al Azhar university and the Grand Mufti of Egypt used the word kuffar referring to Christians in a speech and this term means (according to Ibrahim) “infidel” and is “a word that connotes “enemies,” “evil-doers,” and every bad thing to Muslim ears”. This was of course picked up by the Islamophobic blogsphere (Middle East Forum, Sheikh Yer’Mami, Front Page Magazine, Free Republic, Act for America, Jihad Watch, etc.). In the article, Ibrahim links to a video of Sh. Ali Gomaa’s speech, but the video is entirely in Arabic with no translation. The article was, as are all of Ibrahim’s articles, extremely negative and put the worst possible connotation, and drew the worst possible connections about this word.
Raymond Ibrahim and the Middle East Forum are part of what I would consider to be an Islamophobia network. He has, in the past made some pretty disreputable and biased statements, for example if Prophet Muhammad were alive today, he would do what Bin Laden is doing now. TAM has an article about his history of Islam bashing here and similar articles on other Islamophobes here
At one point Ibrahim was a research librarian at the Library of Congress, but he resigned from that position under curious circumstances after a Muslim wrote an oped countering many of Ibrahim’s statements. Loonwatch pointed out at that time that
... After this piece (by Salaam Abdul Khaliq) was published, Raymond revealed that he faced heat from his employers eventually leading to his “resignation”:
... after this Islamist op-ed was published, I received much heat from my supervisors at the Library of Congress, partially culminating in my recent resignation from that American bibliotech — another institution that goes out of its way to appease, especially where Saudi money and princes are concerned.
It was good to see the Library of Congress take a stand against rabid anti-Muslims like Raymond Ibrahim. Notice also how he does what Islamophobes do best, resort to conspiracy theories and blaming it on those “influential” Saudis.
No, Raymond those who employed you at the Library of Congress weren’t “appeasers” or “dhmmis” beholden to the world wide influence of the Saudis, they just got fed up with your hate. Kudos to them.
All of this meant that I was extremely suspicious about his translation of and interpretation of Ali Gomaa’s speech. Many other American Muslims were also wondering about exactly what was said and in what context, and numerous email group discussions took place. I am not fluent in Arabic, and the same is true of many American Muslims.
Prof. Faroque Ahmad Khan took it on himself to investigate. Dr. Khan requested Dr Ibrahim Negm—senior advisor to the Grand Mufti to provide a clarification of the remarks attributed to Sheikh Ali Gomaa.
Here is the response that was received:
It is no exaggeration to say that the need for people from different religious backgrounds, countries, and cultures to live together in peace and harmony is the need of our time. The world has seen far too much violence and hatred over the past few years, and it has long been part of my mission as Mufti of Egypt to participate in initiatives which stress dialogue, cooperation, and mutual respect between all communities.
Despite all efforts, however, it unfortunately remains the case that we are living in difficult times when the words of Muslim leaders are regularly twisted and taken out of context so as to serve the political agendas and interests of writers whose sole purpose it is to put Islam and Muslims on the defensive, and to convince well-meaning citizens of the world that each and every Muslim is suspect, and so must be feared or censured. This recent uptick in Islamophobia has been monitored and written about by a number of credible observers. Some of these attempts are so intellectually dishonest that they hardly merit a response, except out of concern that the silence on the part of the victims of such smear campaigns is taken as evidence of their guilt.
In an entirely speculative and unsubstantiated article, Raymond Ibrahim absurdly tries to link my commentary on Muslim theological doctrine, delivered within the context of a mosque study circle, to the regrettable Maspero events in Cairo last month. My comments at the mosque that day were intended exclusively as a pedagogical explanation of the Qur’anic view on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and as Ibrahim himself acknowledges, I explicitly said that this theoretical positioning has no effect on the duty of Muslims to live in peace and harmony with their co-citizens, the Copts of Egypt. Rather, Muslims are obligated to live in accordance with their fellow Christian citizens, and always strive towards the upholding of safety, security, and prosperity for all.
Moreover, this is a long-standing position of mine, which I have reiterated on numerous occasions. Most recently, when churches were being targeted in Egypt, I took a clear stance on the impermissibility of such transgressions, saying that they violate the bond of citizenship in which all Egyptians participate. As co-participants in society, Egyptian citizens are all entitled to live together amongst each other, and conduct their daily affairs in peace, safety and security. Therefore, harming them or intimidating them – to say nothing of spilling their blood or destroying their houses of worship – is a stark violation of that trust. The Qur’an is clear that Muslims must honor their commitments. The Prophet has remarked that infidelity to one’s commitments is a sign of hypocrisy, and that one who reneges on a commitment and kills someone under his trust will be branded a traitor on the Day of Judgment, undeserving of any association with the Prophet whatsoever. This offence is so serious because it goes against the most fundamental objectives of the Shari’a, its very raison d’être: the preservation of life, religion, reason, honor and property.
It bears noting that Mr Ibrahim’s choice of wording is regrettable. The English word “infidel” carries with it strong connotations of exclusion and violence, inherited from the European experience of Christianity during the wars of religion which devastated that continent for decades. The Arabic “kafir” is a legal term which denotes very precisely and simply those outside the Muslim community, those who do not believe in the particular message and worldview of Islam. The much less charged translation “non-believer” is appropriate here, especially when there are explicit instructions accompanying any statement exhorting towards living in peace and harmony.
Muslims must always continue to speak out for the values of justice and mercy we hold dear, quite independent of what motives others may attribute to us. Indeed it is an act of allegiance to Islamic tradition to maintain at all costs that Christians in Egypt, though they diverge from us Muslims theologically, remain part of our nation, and that they must not be put in harm’s way at any cost.
Answering Questions from American Muslims, Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/answering_questions_from_american_muslims
Despite Religious Violence, Egyptian Mosques Calling for Muslim-Christian Unity, H.A. Hellyer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/despite_religious_violence_egyptian_mosques_calling_for_muslim-christi
Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, prays with generals, urges Muslim-Christian unity http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/03/11/egypts-grand-mufti-prays-with-generals-urges-muslim-christian-unity/ Addressing the sectarian violence that broke out in Cairo this week, killing 13 people, Gomaa said attacks on Christians were un-Islamic. Thousands of Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian, gathered after Friday prayers to call for unity and to condemn the arson attack that ignited the sectarian tension. Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Muslims in Christians in Cairo on Tuesday night after the arson attack on a church. Activists have described the violence as a threat to the revolution.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Counters the Tide of Islamic Extremism, Jay Tolson http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2008/03/06/egypts-grand-mufti-counters-the-tide-of-islamic-extremism
Grand Mufti Ali Gomma FATWA: Islam Allows Church Building in Islamic Countries http://www.islamopediaonline.com/fatwa/grand-mufti-ali-gomma-islam-allows-church-building-islamic-countries