Al-almaniya hiya al-hal (Secularism is the solution); Farouq El-Qadi, Cairo: Dar Al-Ain, 2010.
The questions raised by the book Secularism is the Solution have featured in Egyptian public debate this year, though it is not the word "secular" that has been used, but "civil."
The notion that Islam is “religion and state” was first developed by the Umayyads in the mid-seventh century in an attempt to impart legitimacy to an empire that they had seized through money, deceit, and assassination. The Umayyads, using religion to back up their monarchical powers, put rival Islamic sects, such as the Moatazala, the Khawarej, and the Shiites to the sword.
The opponents of the Umayyads never gave up. The Abbasids and the Alawites fought the Umayyads side by side. But once the Abbasids came to power, they turned against the Alawites with the same zeal as their imperial predecessors.
The defeated Shiites went underground, seeking refuge in the outskirts of Muslim lands. Eventually, one of their clans, claiming descent from Prophet’s daughter Fatemah, took control of North Africa and Egypt.
The asymmetric fashion in which power changed hands in the Muslim world is discussed by Farouq El-Qadi in his book, Secularism is the Solution, published by Al-Ain.
An intellectual tour de force, El-Qadi’s book is bound to reignite controversy over some of familiar motifs of our political life, especially the claim that “Islam is the solution.”
Born in 1928, Farouq El-Qadi took part in the student protests of 1946. He joined the Wafd Party briefly, before signing up for the Democratic Movement for National Liberation (DMNL, also known by its Arabic acronym HADETO).
Working as a journalist for papers such as Rose Al-Yousef, Al-Masaa, Al-Shaab, and Al-Gomhouriya, El-Qadi covered the Congo conflict in 1960 and the Egyptian-Syrian unity talks in Damascus in 1958. He interviewed President Tito of Yugoslavia in 1953 and Soviet President Khrushchev in 1956.
After the 1967 defeat, El-Qadi took up a job as media consultant to Palestinian movement Fatah and its leader, Yasser Arafat.
Since 1984, El-Qadi has been a full-time writer. He has published two books prior to this one: Fursan al-Amal (Knights of Hope) in 2002 and Afaq al-Tamarrud (Horizons of Rebellion) in 2004.
In his new 389-page book, El-Qadi takes to task the supporters of a religious state, refuting their controversial claim that “Islam is the solution,” and providing evidence to the contrary from Islamic history and the experiences of other cultures.
Like an artist composing a mural, El-Qadi juxtaposes dozens of arguments to form a cohesive scene. The picture that emerges, one drawing on the life of the prophet and the turmoil of the subsequent empire-building, suggests that innovative thinking, rather than dogma, is the essence of sharia (Islamic law).
El-Qadi is quite critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he voices appreciation of the ideas developed by Abul Ela Madi and his Wasat Party. Citing Hosam Tammam’s Tahawulat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (The Shifting Views of the Muslim Brotherhood), El-Qadi notes that Wasat “has overcome several thorny issues involving women and Copts.”
According to El-Qadi, Wasat is more of a secular party than a religious one, because it doesn’t discriminate between Muslims and Christians.
Presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh once said that “democracy is the mechanism through which decisions should be made throughout a political process... regardless of the attitude or religion of the citizens... sharia is not to be invoked unless the people wish to invoke it... and it should not be imposed on them without their will.” El-Qadi quotes liberally from Aboul-Fotouh and other liberal Islamists to support his argument.
Arguing that the caliphate is but a political issue that has nothing to do with religious texts, El-Qadi enlightens the readers on the moderate views of Tareq Al-Beshri, Mohammad Emara, and other moderate Islamist thinkers.
Islamic history, seen from El-Qadi’s perspective, becomes less divine and more pragmatic. The swearing-in of the first caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, for example, was an act of pure politics. So was Abu Bakr’s later appointment of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph.
Just before he died, Omar named a panel of six to choose a caliph, an innovative arrangement that proves, according to El-Qadi, that Islam is devoid of political dogma. “Had Islam set clear political guidelines, the followers of the prophet would have implemented them to the letter,” he notes.
After the death of the third Caliph, Othman Ibn Affan, the founder of the Umayyad Empire, Moawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, was reported to have said, “By God, I will buy with money the loyalty of Ali’s followers. I will make them incredibly rich, so they may start enjoying this life and forgetting everything else.”
When Moawiya’s son, Yazid, took over, he attacked Medina, shedding the blood of his opponents for three days.
Abdel Malek Ibn Marawan, a later ruler from the Umayyad dynasty, once delivered a sermon in the prophet’s mosque in Medina. “By God, I will rule this nation with the sword, and anyone who tells me to fear God should be prepared to get decapitated.”
Islamic history, as told by El-Qadi, may be colourful and educational. But there is nothing in it to suggest that Islamic rulers were less self-serving or more compassionate than any other politicians at any other time.