Update: 5th August 2009
People have pointed out that Sheikh Ali Gomaa (who is Shaykh al-Azhar, not the Grand Mufti) is against the death penalty for apostates, so he can’t have encouraged killing Qimni. It seems he may have been asked about Qimni and said that he was an apostate. This might be insensitive, given what happened to Faraj Fouda & Nagib Mahfuz.
Similarly, it is unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood would officially call for Qimni’s killing. It has millions of supporters though, so some of them might have done. It should also be pointed out that the MB has repeatedly suffered the arrest without charge of some of its members over the years, and this continued recently. Egyptian society needs greater openness and justice.
The whole situation is actually a good opportunity for Al-Azhar, MB, Sh. Qaradawi and others to calm people down and show some maturity and wisdom, dialogue and engagement rather than rushing to death threats at the slightest whiff of heresy. Surely the last thing Egypt and Islam need is another Faraj Fouda or Salman Rushdie situation?
With the Name of Allah
The secular, liberal Egyptian historian and thinker Sayyid al-Qimni, son of a traditionalist Azhari sheikh, has had serious death threats issued against him by many (mainly extremist) religious scholars in Egypt since the end of June, as detailed in his Appeal (below) which he describes as ” a distress call to all bodies and individuals, a call to the consciences of every free individual in the world.”
The latest threats to him seem to have been sparked by his being elected to receive the Egyptian State Award for Social Sciences on June 25th.
In particular, it is alleged that those who have declared that he is an apostate and should be killed (perhaps even by ordinary Egyptians, not just by the state) include:
1- The Muslim Brotherhood
2- Al-Azhar Scholars’ Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush
3- 5,000 mosque khatibs in their Friday sermons on July 24th
4- Sheikh Ali Gomaa himself (currently still the Shaykh Al-Azhar, as far as I know)
The situation of a polarisation between religious and secular currents in is repeated in different Muslim-majority countries, eg Pakistan, Turkey, North Africa, etc., so this case is symbolic of a much wider and deeper issue, of course.
Whatever we feel about his views (I think he’s too apologetic about the history of Jihad, for example, and he should not ridicule the Islamic practice of constant remembrance of God out of frustration with the religion-exploiters), clearly, the death threats are pathetic, appalling and totally unacceptable.
Now, our FCO and embassy in Cairo has been working with Sheikh Ali Gomaa and Al-Azhar over the last few years, and also recently hosted the charming Rector of Al-Azhar in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury has also been working with Sheikh Gomaa – I was present last year at Cambridge University when they were the two main speakers at a “Common Word” event. I also took part in the FCO Projecting British Islam delegation to Egypt last year, which is partly why the matter concerns me.
I’m therefore asking for your help in encouraging our friends in the following places to do the right thing in this regard (and praying to God that they do so, if appropriate!): i.e. to investigate the death-threats and to take appropriate steps to promote peaceful dialogue and debate, including between secularists and fundamentalists, believers and non-believers, etc.
1- The FCO, especially the Foreign Secretary
2- Our embassy in Cairo, as well as the embassies there of other influential countries
3- Al-Azhar University and its various affiliated institutions
4- The office of Sheikh Ali Gomaa
5- The Muslim Brotherhood
6- The office of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qimni is highly-critical of Qaradawi. From what I know of Qaradawi, he is at least open and committed to dialogue with others, plus he has a less-hardline position on the alleged death-penalty for apostasy. Therefore, perhaps he may be able to have a calming influence here.
7- Religious scholars and shaykhs generally, especially those with links to the UK & Egyptian governments and religious circles
8- Lambeth Palace & the office of Dr. Rowan Williams
9- Members of the “Common Word” initiative
10- Human rights organisations & lawyers
I would appreciate your advice, suggestions, help, prayers, etc. Please publicise this matter and forward it to the relevant people. I attach pertinent quotes and some weblinks below.
The Arabic Network For Human Rights Information: Sayyed Alqimni’s Life Is At Stake Amidst An Extremist Campaign. Iftaa Council Declares War Against Free Enlightened Thought.
Abu Aardvark: The secularism debate.
Sayyid al-Qimni is on Facebook also, with that spelling.
(I have edited it for what look like translation errors. In particular, the Arabic takfir can mean both atonement and excommunication, but clearly the latter is meant throughout this appeal. Also, salafi means fundamentalist or traditionalist in this context.)
AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD’S CONSCIENCE
From the Egyptian writer and academic researcher of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Sayed Mahmoud El Qemany, who is being exposed to incitements to assassinate him
In the context of my academic research and practical work I have been able to provide an important set of motion in the stagnant Egyptian situation. I have attempted to make reforms from the inside and worked on the disarmament of those who exploit Islam politically and make it a source of livelihood at the expense of the simple, good people of Egypt. I have therefore created a secular movement that has imposed its presence, although still at a formative stage.
In a free ballot of Egyptian thinkers, I was granted the State Award for Social Sciences, on June 25th 2009. The hard-line radical militant groups considered that the state has adopted this intellectual secular trend officially, infuriating the mentioned group which called on the State to withdraw the prize with the declaration of my defection from Islam and excommunication which means in our country, I could be slain; any citizen is allowed to kill me and be awarded by God in Paradise.
The following parties have participated in the statements of excommunication (takfir), noting that none of them have read a single word of what I wrote, and have not been able to hold a dialogue to discuss my ideas:
1 – Al-Azhar Scholars Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush, which issued the first statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.
2 – The Islamic Group (condemned terrorist group) issued a statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.
3 – The Muslim Brotherhood hailed the excommunication, and were represented at the parliament by Hamdi Hassan requesting the withdrawal of the award and the declaration of religious-defection and excommunication on July 7, 2009. The Muslim Brotherhood also declared my excommunication on Mohwar Channel on July 11, 2009 and on Al Faraeen Channel on July 13, 2009.
4 – The Salafi (Fundamentalist) Group (condemned terrorist group) dedicated its Internet site named “The Egyptians” for excommunicating me and incitements to kill me, since the date of obtaining the prize until today.
5 – Al Nas channel, which represents the theoretical side of bloody terrorism which declared excommunication and demanded “all citizens who can” to kill me immediately, on July 24 and 25, 2009.
6 – The Hisbah Sheikh Youssef Al Badri in Egypt declared on the channel “ON TV” on July 3, 2009 that I have cursed God and the Prophet Mohammad in my books even though I have challenged him and others to refer to a single text written by me where such claims were made. Due to this proclamation, he has issued an incitement to kill me.
7 – A member of the Al-Azhar scholars, Sheikh Mohammed El Berry, on Mihwar TV Channel on July 11, 2009 announced my excommunication as he also said that he did not read any of my writings since he does not read “garbage”. He repeated the same words on the channel “ON TV” on July 22, 2009
8 – Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the former Chairman of the “State Religious Affairs Advisory Board”, issued a statement declaring my infidelity and calling for slaying me for “insulting the Prophet of Islam, the God of Islam” on July 24, 2009.
9 – The Sheiks of more than 5,000 mosques on Friday prayers on July 24, 2009 declared the incitement to kill me, especially in my hometown, which led to the rampage against my family and relatives, and that could possibly evolve to some serious consequences in the coming weeks.
Due to the above, I call upon the conscience of all humanity in the free world to come to me and my children’s rescue by providing moral support and the condemnation and denunciation of the radical thinking with quick solutions to save us from the danger that is luring around us. This is a distress call to all bodies and individuals. A call to the consciences of every free individual in the world.
Sayed Mahmoud El Qemany- Researcher
We, the Liberal Egyptian intellectuals, students, followers, readers and lovers of Dr. Sayed El Qemany call upon the officials to intervene to save our distinguished and respectable intellectual from the threats of radical Islamic movements who continue to incite to murder him, openly and publicly in mosques and on satellite channels, financed by those who exploit religion to serve their political agendas for nothing but their inability to hold a valid and a scientific argument with him and totally lost their minds over his being granted the State Award for Social Sciences, The fact that lead to their predicament that the state has adopted a secular ideology, which is synonymous with heresy and atheism in their ignorant minds.
We also urge the Press Syndicate to address the abuses of the fundamentalist brothers Mahmoud and Gamal Sultan as well as Jamal Abd al-Rahim against Dr. El Qemany inciting the general public to kill him. We call upon the Attorney General as well, to bring to justice those held accountable for incitement to kill an Egyptian citizen whose only crime was to use his mind.
LET’S ALL STAND UP TO THE FUNDAMENTALIST INQUISITION!
Cover snapshots of Qimni’s books: