The good Muslim

Sara Abou Bakr
9 Min Read

Are you a good Muslim? Do you pray? Fast? Do you wear the veil? Do you have a beard? How long is it?

If you answered No to any of the above, and some other questions to come, thou shall be tried in court!

This is the general sentiment now in Egypt. Religion has become the newest weapon of choice turning religious practice from a private habit into to a show of power, reminding me of a rabid auctioneer shouting, “do I hear more?”

I have always avoided mosques in Egypt, unless I had to use one for prayers and I do mean “had.” The women’s section in most mosques can leave you scarred; always filled with books and posters on “hell” awaiting women, it never made sense to me or the way I was raised. Add to this fellow women trying to “advise” you on what to do, how to pray, and sometimes even what to say to God, it’s enough makes me nauseous. Considering my temper and how I cannot, in a place of worship, say a few select words that come to mind, I avoided mosques.

I did not discover the serenity of praying in mosques until my early twenties on a visit to Istanbul. I expected a similar attitude as in Egypt, particularly as am not veiled, but was pleasantly surprised. You are left to pray on your own, no one tries to talk to you, or advise and prod you. It’s you and your prayers; the privacy of talking to God, uninterrupted. I found the same serenity in mosques in London, Doha and Hong Kong. Some mosques in Cairo are trying to establish this kind of atmosphere, but we still have a long way to go.

The brash way people in Egypt “advise” others on religion is the exact opposite of what Muslims are ordered to do in the Quran; “invite (all) to the way of thy Lord, with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.”

For me, the screaming bearded men on TV are repellant at best, and always revolting.  How do you expect people to hear you when you scream? How do you want to spread good when you accuse and single out people’s past and throw it in their faces? Speaking of Islam with a foreigner, readily conjures the image of an angry bearded men, shouting. And yes, many media outlets have been used to demonise anything related to Islam post 9/11, but this is not the only reason. Muslims have to own up to the ignorant hate-spewing Sheikhs and fight them. This is important not for the sake of westerners, but rather for the benefit of the next generation of Muslims.

Religion in Egypt is currently used to leverage power, as a means to an end by politicians who claim they are “implementing the word of God,” promising eternal heaven to those who elect them.

With the Islamic parties coming to power in Egypt, this attitude is on the rise from shows of religiosity from beards and veils spreading (which is a personal choice), to attempts in the current constitutional draft just released to form a template of how people should behave. Clauses such as people are to adhere to “authentic Egyptian traditions” and women have equal rights to men “in ways that does not contradict with Islamic Shari’a,” makes one wonder what is the true meaning behind them. What are our Egyptian traditions? Can someone define them? Quantify them and make a list for the rest of us? We had traditions that did not allow women to get an education and we changed them. We still have traditions in parts of the country that teach young generations that girls are not good at math and therefore should not be engineers. What traditions exactly do they mean and are they religiously-affiliated? Add to that, the rendition of Islamic Shari’a only when it comes to women’s rights! Scholars for hundreds of years have argued over what constitutes Shari’a, so which version would be implemented? The more conservative Saudi-like law or the more open-minded version? And why does Shari’a only apply to women? How about men? They have roles in Shari’a that are currently completely unfulfilled from the inability to meet the basic needs of their families to honouring and respecting their spouse.

When you leave the fate of a nation to the whims of would-be sheikhs, it is a recipe for disaster.

In the latest wave of piety taking over Egypt, protection of religion has become a priority for rulers while a good percentage of their people go to sleep hungry at night. Contempt of religion is now the name of the game.

A woman, having a fight with her daughter in Upper Egypt filed a complaint with the police accusing the latter of “contempt of religion”. Besides raising questions over this family’s dysfunctionality, it makes one wonder whether this new accusation is the current “fad”. She did not accuse her daughter of theft, for example, which would have made more sense! She went for the killer effect, the one that will guarantee maximum punishment nowadays.

Two Coptic children, nine and 10 years old were accused of contempt of religion by a Salafi Sheikh for apparently defacing a Quran. The Salafi was not satisfied with the boys’ priest’s promise to reprimand them and filed a complaint against the children with the police. Both boys were detained in a juvenile facility, where God-knows-what happens inside, for two days until Morsy graciously stepped in and they were released “pending investigation”.  I wonder how these children will treat Muslims as they grow up? I can only imagine.

A teacher was accused of “contempt of religion” after a “student” filed a lawsuit against her because he did not like the way she talked about Prophet Muhammad’s background, saying he came from a poor family, which is a fact and Muslims are generally proud of. Another teacher fled his governorate after similar accusations.

Is this how one honours religion? Accusations of contempt, superficial dealings from people and the police, anger laced with a good dose of ignorance of the basics of religion?

Tensions and sectarian strife currently blow up almost every day in Egypt over similar incidents, fueled by a misplaced sense of religiousness.

As a kid, I remember my mother telling me “a good Muslim does not lie, gossip or steal.” In my childish mind these three elements were enough to lead a good life. Now as an adult I discovered they still are, but apparently the current men of the cloth have not heard of this for their focus is on who said what so they can sue them, forcing people into a pretentious show of piety and having their own TV shows.

And if they cannot implement any of the three teachings then they better adhere to one famous hadith, “speak good or remain silent.”

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Politics editor at Daily News Egypt Twitter: @sara_ab5