Costa Salafis aim to challenge stereotype

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CAIRO: A fight between people of different political and religious backgrounds claiming ownership of a store is the first scene in Costa Salafis’ (Salafyo Costa) second film soon to be uploaded on the group’s YouTube channel. The store is used as a metaphor for Egypt being the center of argument between people who have different agendas.

The new film is short compared to their first "Ayna Wedny" (Where is my ear?) that dates back to last March sarcastically depicting the division among Salafis over joining Tahrir protests to overthrow Mubarak’s regime.

The film was shot in Ezbet El-Haganah, close to Nasr City, and includes some Coptic actors. "One Christian is even bearded, people would consider him among the Salafis and call him Sheikh," Mohamed Tolba, Costa Salafis cofounder told Daily News Egypt.

Founded in the aftermath of March’s referendum over the constitution, Tolba along with Waleed Mostafa opted to give Salafis a friendlier face. The idea to create the group also came from Tolba’s brother, Ezzat Ameen Tolba, a “liberal” director, who also helps out with the short films.

The group’s logo, derived from Costa’s, has a bearded man and their slogan is a famous Egyptian saying: “We’re always paying for your drinks” – a reference to Tolba’s belief that Salafis are being unfairly blamed for many of the problems in post-Mubarak Egypt.

"We fight stereotypes. We are against generalization. We Salafis suffered from them the most. I don’t have to portray liberals [in a negative light] to justify and defend my ideology," said Tolba.

Costa Salafis are indeed a different form of how Salafis are perceived in the society; both Tolba and Mostafa work in a global IT company where they deal with customers from different walks of life, of various religious backgrounds. This was one factor that helped them smoothly interact with "the other."

Tolba in his early 30s is bearded and married to a woman who wears niqab and founded Salafeyat Costa (the female branch of the group). A decade ago, Tolba was totally on the other side of the coin. He wasn’t religious and did not pray until he had a near death experience that turned him to what he is today.

Members of Costa Salafis appear to come from wealthy families, driving expensive cars, hanging out in medium and high class spots, holding good positions and travelling around the world.

"I do not accept to be driven like sheep. I have a mind to use," Tolba said, with Mostafa adding that they listen to preachers from different schools of Islam without having the concept of the one leader that they blindly follow.

"Every person makes mistakes. I would listen to all and follow what I see right but there’s no righteous person all the way," explained Mostafa.

In Ramadan, Costa Salafis organized a football tournament between youth of different political and religious backgrounds. Copts, Baradei supporters as well as Salafis competed against one another.

The group’s founders believe that Salafis constitute a wide spectrum of Egyptians yet they are very diverse from within. "I would ask people to stop the cut and paste policy. Take what you believe is right and leave what you see wrong but don’t exclude anyone," Tolba said.

"Salafis don’t have a Khomeni to follow," said Tolba’s brother Ezzat. noting that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t control Salafis. He explained that nobody has control over Salafis not even Salafi imams and preachers.

Costa Salafis are now in the process of building on their media exposure and popularity and launching an online radio station and an independent website to open a new channel for healthy debate.

The group’s founders reached out to some Salafi leaders to build on the group’s popularity but they were not enthusiastic, claiming they had no time, according to Tolba.

"We want to market the idea of working scholars, that religious scholars don’t have to be isolated from their societies and we aim to introduce unknown figures that represent another face of Salafis," said Tolba.


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