Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dr. Jackson's preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence

The tumultuous events that have gripped Egypt since the January 2011 revolution have raised many questions. Among the most disquieting has been whether the country would be thrown back into the kinds of Islamist violence it experienced during the 1980s and 1990s. Those decades were the "heyday" of the notorious al-Gamā'ah al-Islāmiyah, and from the time they declared their decision to renounce political violence in 1997 (the subject of this book) suspicions regarding their sincerity have ebbed and flowed. But if ever there were circumstances that might reinstate violence as their primary medium of exchange, the chaos, brutality, and direct targeting of Islamists following the July 2013 ousting of president Mohammed Morsi would certainly seem to qualify. Yet, through all of this, the Gamā'ah has maintained its commitment to nonviolence, and its public statements and gestures suggest an ideological resolve to stay the course.
For weeks following the bloody removal of pro-Morsi supporters from Rābi'ah al-'Adawīyah square in August of 2013, the Gamā'ah's official website streamed the following: "Stopping bloodshed is the religious obligation of our time and the form of religious devotion of our era, being superior to any other supererogatory act of worship." Meanwhile, news reports around this period have them condemning attacks on military forces in Sinai (even as they enjoin the army to "stay out of politics"), and denouncing attacks on Christian churches. This is in addition to various commentaries by prominent members of the Gamā'ah that underscore the fallacy of wanton violence as an approach to change. All of this is consistent with the message of the work under review, which repudiates political violence as a primary language of negotiation.
Yet, the future remains far from predictable. For, beyond the radically changed fortunes of Egypt's Islamists in general, it is difficult to ignore or assess the impact of the military government's mass arrests and torture of prisoners. As the Gamā'ah points out in this and other works, this was a major contributor to the radicalization, resentment, and thirst for revenge that seized thousands of young Islamists in the 1970s and 1980s. And this played an obvious role in the cycle of violence that rocked the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. For now, however, the Gamā'ah appear to be firm in its commitment to nonviolence. Given the present circumstances in Egypt, we can only hope--and some of us will pray--that they continue along this path.
-Dr. Sherman Jackson's Preface to Initiative to Stop the Violence (Mubādarat Waqf al-'Unf): Sadat's Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), xi-x.

The Words of Shaykh Emad Effat - God have mercy on him!

One prominent example [of speaking truth to power in the midst of the Egyptian revolution] was Emad Effat, a jurist from the Dar al-Ifta, or “the Abode of Verdicts”. Ironically, he served at a time when Ali Gomaa’ was head of the institution. Effat disagreed with Gomaa’s politics—but loved and respected him dearly, according to numerous accounts by his students and colleagues. Reports at the time indicated that military forces killed Effat in clashes with protesters in November 2011. Effat was opposed to the return of the Mubarak regime, deeply critical of the military council of the day, and simultaneously had antipathy to the Muslim Brotherhood. When he died, he earned two titles – shaheed al-Azhar (the martyr of the Azhar), and shaykh al-thawra (the shaykh of the revolution). Since his passing, no one else has taken up that banner.
No one could. In the years running up to the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising in Egypt in 2011, Effat wrote to his student and revolutionary figure, Ibrahim al-Houdeiby. The contents of that message show clearly how rare the likes of Effat were – and are:
There are all these good words about respect for shaykhs, giving them leeway and excuses, but where is God’s right to His own religion? Where is the right of the public who are confused about the truth because shaykhs are silent, and your own silence out of respect for senior shaykhs? What is this new idol that you call pressure; how does this measure to Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s tolerance of jail and refusing to bend and say what would comfort the unjust rulers?”
“What is this new idol you invented? The idol of pressure! If we submit to these new rituals, to this new idol, we would then tolerate everyone who lies, commits sins and great evils under the pretext of easing pressure and escaping it. Oh people, these pressures are only in your head and not in reality. Is there a new opinion in jurisprudence that coercion can be by illusion? Have we come to use religious terms to circumvent religion and justify the greater sins we commit? So we use legitimate phrases such as pros and cons, the lesser of two evils, and pressure to make excuses for not speaking up for what is right and surrendering to what is wrong!”

Also see

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Talal Asad on tradition

The concept of "tradition" requires more careful theoretical attention than the modernist perspective gives it. Talking of tradition ("Islamic tradition") as though it was the passing on of an unchanging substance in homogeneous time oversimplifies the problem of time's definition of practice, experience, and event. Questions about the internal temporal structure of tradition are obscured if we represent it as the inheritance of an unchanging cultural substance from the past - as thought "past" and "present" were places in a linear path down which that object was conveyed to the "future." (The notion of invented tradition is the same representation used subversively.) We make a false assumption when we suppose that the present is merely a fleeting moment in a historical teleology connecting past to future. In tradition the "present" is always at the center. If we attend to the way time present is separated from but also included within events and epochs, the way time past authoritatively constitutes present practices, and the way authenticating practices invoke or distance themselves from the past (by reiterating, reinterpreting, and reconnecting textualized memory and memorialized history), we move toward a richer understanding of tradition's temporality.
note 39: [...] One should not take it as given, as progressivists tend to do, that all positive invocations of the past are inevitably "nostalgic."

-Talal Asad, "Reconfigurations of Law and Ethics in Colonial Egypt" in Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 222-3.