Saturday, April 18, 2009

The phenomenon of Alternative-Islam: Was Islam revealed just to cover womens' hair?

This is a translation for an article published in Arabic in Al-Dustur Egyptian newspaper in July of last year. In this posting, I explain why I am translating it with some information and links about the author, a renowned Egyptian writer.

The phrases in square brackets are my own, and are meant to add some clarification of cultural of historic background where I deemed some clarification may provide context. In some instances non-literal translation was need to convey the meaning of the Arabic text more accurately.

The article, in Arabic can be found on many websites including the author's blog, here:

Translated from Arabic by Khaled Hamid

-------------** Translation begins here **---------------

The phenomenon of Alternative-Islam
Was Islam revealed just to cover womens' hair?
By Alaa Al-Aswany

Last year [Egypt’s Culture] Minister Farooq Hosni attacked hijab tradition. Members of the [ruling] National Party stood up to him defending hijab and the women wearing it. One of them was as zealous in his defense as to accuse the minister of transgressing against Islam, seconds before passing out of extreme emotional distress.

I found myself asking ‘why, if the representative of the ruling party are so concerned about violating Islam, would not have they had some worries about rigging the elections, detaining, torturing and sexually assaulting innocent citizens [by government agents], and about pilfering public funds dedicated to help Egyptians, or about impoverishing their citizens and about all the other crimes that the ruling regime they represent commits, and that is in no way consistent with the principles of Islam.

It is well known that many of the ‘State Security officers’ are religious; performing the daily prayers on time, fasting Ramadan, and performing pilgrimage to Mecca. But that never stops them from performing their daily duties that includes torturing, beating, and electrocuting detainees. I happened know of an in-law relative of mine who is an eminent political government figure, well-known for his role in rigging elections, and violating the independence of the Judiciary. Still, he is known in his family circles for his deep religiosity to the extent that he holds classes teaching Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] to his relatives.

There are numerous examples of Egyptians that are meticulous in performing religious rituals, but in their everyday life they behave in a way that is as distant as can be from religion. Last Ramdan [the Muslim fasting month], Al-Masri newspaper published an excellent report about public hospitals after sunset time [Islamic end-of-fast time in Ramadan]. The report revealed that most [in house] physicians left their posts and patients without care in order to attend the [religiously optional] taraweeh prayers.

Those that committed such a deed are not ignorant people. They are educated physicians who, to put it simply, considered an optional prayer of taraweeh much more important than providing care for patients even if their lives were at risk.

The issue then is not that of hypocrisy or ignorance. It is an issue of corrupt perception of what religion is about which leads to some kind of superficial religiosity that becomes an alternative to real religion. That alternative religion is convenient, non-burdensome, and ‘low cost’ as it limits religion to the practice of rituals and to appearances.
[The term ‘alternative Islam’ will be used instead of ‘alternative religion’ from here onwards as the author is specifically talking about Muslims and their religious practices. Khaled]

That is because the defense of the true principles of Islam: justice, freedom and equality, is fraught with danger in Egypt and, with certainty, will lead you to prison, loss of livelihood and loss of [safety in your own] homeland. To the contrary, alternative Islam costs you close to nothing and gives you false sense of security and self satisfaction.

Those who adopt alternative Islam do pray and fast, and greet people with the ‘greeting of Islam’. [Some] force their wives and daughters to wear hijab and niqab, and may even participate in demonstrating against the Danish cartoons or the restriction of wearing hijab in France. They may even write letters to the editor of Al-Ahram [Egypt’s most widely distributed daily newspaper] denouncing ‘skin-baring’ video clips. And with that, they believe that they have fulfilled their religious responsibilities to their satisfaction.

There pay no heed to political issues, and they could not care less about [Egyptian presidency heading for] inheritance [by Mubarak’s son]. Some of them do not even see harm in Egypt being inherited from father [Hosni Mubarak] to son [Jamal Mubarak] as if it were a chicken farm.

Alternative-Muslims do not believe that they basically are entitled to political rights as citizens. And [the lack of] democracy does not bother them. The most they do in that regard is‘pray to God to give us a good leader’. Then they start talking enthusiastically about historic great leaders like Umar Ibn Al-Khattab or Umar Ibn Abdel-Aziz. [These leaders were most known for glorious eras of justice and prosperity in Early Islam. Khaled]

Alternative Islam is a depressing disease that afflicted Egyptians and led them to passiveness and lack of awareness, and made them prone to consenting to oppression and repression.

That was not the nature of Egyptians. And since 1919 and until 1952, the national Egyptian movement, under the leadership of Wafd Party, have engaged in fierce struggle and offered thousand of martyrs to rid Egypt of the British occupation and to establish democracy.

The fact of the matter is that the spread of alternative Islam had many causes. Until the end of the seventies, Egyptians -- both Muslims and Christians – were less interested in religious appearances and more interested in religion’s true principles. Then came [President] Sadat who used religion to tip the political balance against the leftist opposition. Then came the Iranian revolution to pose a serious threat to the Saudi regime, the ally of the Salafi-Wahabi ideology.

And over the following three decades, the Saudi regime spent billions of dollars to spread the Saudi understanding of Islam, which lead naturally to alternative-Islam (and any one that disputes that need only to review to obscene contradiction between appearances and core morals in the Saudi society).

In the Saudi Satellite channels, tens of clergy talk 24 hours a day about the ‘principles of Islam, and not a single one of them would ever mention the right of a citizen to elect the leadership, or mention ‘marshal and emergency laws’ [in effect for decades in most Arab countries. Khaled], or talk about torture and [political] detentions.

The Salafi ideology sets the foundations for alternative-Islam that relieves followers of the consequences of taking a stance on [achieving] justice and freedom.

Some of the ‘modern’ preachers and their followers boast about their success in convincing numerous women to wear hijab. As if the great Islam was revealed from God for [the sole purpose of] covering women’s hair, and not for achieving justice, freedom and equality.

As for the oppressive regime of Egypt, it has always favored the spreading of alternative-Islam because the alternative-Muslim is the ideal citizen for an oppressive ruler; living and dying on the sidelines, always minding his own business, and never resisting the authorities.

[The alternative Muslim] limits his protest to what happens outside Egypt, or to issues that does not disturb the ruling regime such as a new dance performed by Dina, and new dress worn by [the actress] Yusra in one of her movies. In fact, a group of alternative-Muslims are now enthusiastically active in cyberspace collecting signatures for a petition protesting the way the singer Tame Husny, was ‘inappropriately’ staring at the body of the heroine of his new movie.

The regime welcomes without reservations alternative-religiosity because it relieves the regime of responsibility. In the eyes of true Islam, rulers hold the primary responsibility for solving the problems facing their own citizens.

But for the alternative-Muslims, who suffer from poverty and unemployment, holding the rulers accountable will not cross their minds. And the problems they face will be a result of one of two things: either they are not adequately performing their rituals and therefore, God is punishing them, or, the hardship they face is a test from God and as such they should endure patiently and must not object.

The victims of Mubarak regime exceeded in number the casualties of all the wars Egypt fought: victims of trains that burst in flames, ferryboats that sank, apartment buildings that collapsed on residents, and the numerous renal failure and cancer victims of the carcinogenic insecticides approved by [former agriculture minister and prime minister] Yusuf Wali and many others.

In the eyes of true Islam, all those are victims of corruption and oppression, and the rulers are directly responsible for their death and for ruining their families’ lives.

But for alternative-Islam, all these tragedies are just a matter of ‘predestiny’ and nothing more.
In the eyes of alternative Muslims, the victims would have died anyway because their time to die has come. Therefore, there is no point in blaming anyone for their death.

True Islam have empowered early Muslim to rule the world, and to teach mankind civilization, art and science. Alternative-Islam, on the other hand, has led us to all the humility and misery we live in today.

If we want to change our reality we have, before all, to adopt True Islam, and not the façade of alternative religion.

-------------** End of the translation **---------------



  1. Great translation Khaled, for a very good article. I liked the article because it is putting on paper, what we have been feeling and taling about for years. Hope that writing like these, would help improve "thing" here and there.

  2. Did alternative Islam "led us to the humility and misery" or it is just a product of the humility and misery. I believe it is the second. This is not in defense of the alternative Islam but it is a statement about the state of mind that continues to dominate most of the citizens of Egypt and may be a large part of other Arab countries. Assume that Egyptians will completely stop caring for any religious aspect of life, an ingrained crocked approach to understanding the world, daily interactions, perceptions of the cause and effect and the will to change and improve will still continue to be hampered by ignorance and a built-in lack of leadership and lack of the ability to follow a leader or help to correct.

  3. Khaled, such hypocrisy is sadly widespread in all religions. But it's encouraging to see that this article was published in an Egyptian newspaper. I hope for success for you, and Al-Aswany, and all those working for the revitalization of "true Islam"!

  4. Ashraf:
    The causation link cannot be ascertained. But I am certain of one thing. If, and that is a big if, true religion can be revived, the will to change will be revived. And the willingness to pay the price for trying to change (individual and societal sacrifices) will be more prevalent.
    True religion will be a tool for liberation and revolution as much as alternative-religion is a toll for control and stagnation.

  5. A O A.
    Hello In charge,
    I visited your website and deeply impressed by your work and teachings. I found that you are doing a great work for the Islam and Islamic people in the meantime. I am a professional translator as you know that the Urdu is the language of different countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan,etc. i want that your work Should be appreciated in these countries. I want to do work with your ministry OR organization as a Urdu Translator’s. Hopes that you will consider me for this great option.
    Yours Sincerely,
    Zainab Naseem

  6. Salaam to you too Zainab and Thank you for your kind comment.
    This is my personal blog and is not part of any ministry or organization of any kind. I just express my thoughts when i have some.
    As for the translation, if you want to translate it on some web site that you post on, I am fine with that as long as there is a direct link to my original posting for those who are interested and for trnalsation verification purposes. Also, since the whole thing is free, I would expect any translation to be available for free to the audience. Of course I still claim the nominal copyright to the content and that you notify me with the link to where the translation is.
    The whole point of my blog is to share the thought and provoke and decent and rich discussion. Any appropriate means to that goal is welcome.