In the ongoing conflict between those Egyptians who strongly oppose a Sharia-based constitution—moderates, secularists, non-Muslim minorities—and those who are strongly pushing for it, Islamists are currently evoking the one argument that has always, from the very beginnings of Islam, empowered Islamists over moderates in the Muslim world.
Examples are many. According to a December 1 report from El Fagr, Gamal Sabr, former campaign coordinator for the anti-freedom Salafi presidential candidate Abu Ismail, made the division clear during an Al Jazeera interview, where he said that “whoever disagrees with him, disagrees with Islam itself,” and that many Egyptians “are fighting Islam in the picture of President Muhammad Morsi and in the picture of the Islamists,” clearly implying that the latter are one with Islam, and to fight them is to fight Islam.
The logic is simple: Sabr, as well as those millions of Egyptians who want Sharia, only want what Allah wants—that Egypt be governed according to Sharia law. According to this position, any and all Muslims who disagree, who do not want to be governed by Sharia, whatever their arguments and rationale, are ultimately showing that they are at odds with Islam itself.
Sabr is hardly the only Egyptian Muslim making use of this age-old argument. A Dostor report, also appearing on December 1, quotes Tarek Zomar making the same point. A leader of the infamous Gam’a Islamiyya (Islamic Group), who was formerly imprisoned for his role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, released with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, and is now a member of the Shura Council of Egypt’s Parliament, Zomor asserts that whoever votes against the Sharia-based constitution that Morsi is trying to enforce “is an infidel”—an apostate enemy to be slain in the cause of Allah.
Others like Sheikh Abdullah Badr—who earlier said that anyone who opposes or rejects the Sharia will have their tongues cut out—after describing protesters as “mischief makers” said they would be “hung on trees,” a distinct allusion to Islamic crucifixion, as proclaimed in Quran 5:33: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this: that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off…”
Even Ahmed Morsi, President Muhammad Morsi’s son, accused the many demonstrators in Tahrir Square who object to his father’s attempts to impose Sharia on them of belonging to the “former regime”—code for secularist-minded people, who are opposed to the totality of Sharia law. Writing on his Facebook account, he asserted that “all the people in Tahrir Square are remnants of the old regime,” adding that “my father will eliminate them soon.”
Such is the difficulty encountered by moderate Muslims, past and present: how can they justify their rejection of Islamic teachings, as captured in the Quran, hadith—teachings and doings of Muslim prophet Muhammad—and the words of the Islamic scholars throughout the ages, all of which constitute the “Sharia” of Islam, a word that simply means the “way” of Islam?
History offers insightful parallels and patterns. A few decades after the Islamic prophet Muhammad died, during the First Fitna—whence the Sunni-Shia split emerged—a group of extremely fanatical Muslims, known as the Kharajites, based on a word that literally means “those who go out” (of the Islamic fold), rejected both Sunni and Shia leadership claims and deemed themselves the “truest” Muslims. Accordingly, they engaged in takfir, that is, randomly accusing any Muslim not upholding the totality of Islam’s teachings of being infidels, often killing them.
Today’s radicals and Islamists are similar; in fact, that is the primary way more moderate Muslims portray them, as “Takfiris” who themselves sin by judging fellow Muslims, when that is Allah’s prerogative alone.
Due to the impossibly high standards the Kharajites set—to sin even once was to be deemed an apostate and executed—mainstream Islam eventually rejected their approach, to the point that merely saying the Islamic profession, orshehada—”there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah”—is usually enough to safeguard someone as a Muslim.
Yet it is not that simple today. The Kharajites of the 7th century were truly extreme—ritually slaying even Muslim women and children for not being Islamic enough—whereas the Islamists of today are merely insisting that Sharia law be enshrined in the constitution and enforced in Egypt. From a historical point of view, this is not an “extreme” position and only seems so to those “globalized” Muslims who espouse enlightened and rationalistic principles.
Hence why these secular, moderate, or liberal Muslims—so long as they define themselves as Muslims—are destined to lose the debate with their more radical brethren, who will always say, “True Muslims support Sharia: if you reject this, then you are no Muslim, you are an apostate, an infidel, and thus an enemy.”
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.