Takfir is a doctrine that permits the murder of whoever is judged guilty of having renounced faith in God. This doctrine, which allows man to set himself up as a judge where only divine knowledge would authorise final judgment, is itself an impious doctrine which has no basis in the Koran nor in the texts of the founders of the four great Sunni systems: Malik, Abu Hanifa, Al-Shafii and Ibn Hanbal. It nevertheless appeared at moments of crisis in the political history of Islam.
Its first appearance dates from the time of Khawareg in the middle of the seventh century of the Christian era, during the war of succession which, following the assassination of Uthman Ibn Affan, the third caliph, opposed Ali?the Prophet'scousin?and Muawiyya Ibn Abu Sufyan. Ali was on the brink of victory at the battle of al-Jamal, when the soldiers of Muawiyya adopted the stratagem of carrying the Koran on the point of their swords. Ali stopped the fighting and accepted the principle of arbitration between him and Muawiyya. Some of Ali'ssupporters called Khawarij (dissidents) turned against him and proclaimed his takfir as well as that of Muawiyya relying on the principle that only God can decide truthfully?He is the best of judges. Ali, who was later murdered by Muawiyya'ssoldiers, fought and conquered them in AD 656 ( year 39 of the Hegira). This was written in Arabic with Hussein Abdel Kader: Ali Kerhan made a first French translation and Elisabeth Leypold undertook the final editing.
The takfir appeared next in the thirteenth century when Ibn Taymiyya proclaimed it against the Mongols and Tartars who had attacked Baghdad, Damascus and Egypt. This imam was born in AD 1262 (year 661 of the Hegira), after the Mongol victory of 1258 over the decadent Abbasid state whose last caliph, al-Muta?sim Billah, they killed. They invaded Baghdad and destroyed its library: the legend goes that their cavalry crossed the river on the books that had been thrown into it. The Mongols then advanced on Damascus and invaded it en route to Egypt. But Hulagu (son of Ghengis Khan) was obliged to return home with half his troops to sort out a problem of succession, leaving control of his army to one of his lieutenants. The Mameluk sultan al-Zaher Baybars took advantage of the situation and conquered the Mongols in the battle of Ayn Jalout (Goliath'swell) in AD 1260 (year 658 of the Hegira). But the Mongols and the Tartars continued in their attempts to invade Damascus. This was the situation when Ibn Taymiyya was born in a town with the name of Haran on the border of Syria and Iraq. His father fled with him to Damascus, which was then under the rule of the Mameluks. It was in this troubled time that Ibn Taymiyya passed his childhood. He took part in the conflict with the Tartars, and issued to the population his famous call to become monks by night and knights by day in order to confront the enemy. He pronounced his edict of takfir against the aggressors who were attempting to invade a Muslim country?despite the fact that the Mongols and the Tartars had in the meantime converted to Islam. His edict (fatwa) was an integral part of his activities as an agitator in a politico-military struggle.
It is only at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, that is to say in the period when the west appeared as a military power in the Middle East thanks to the armies of Bonaparte, that the takfir reappeared. This period was indeed that of the birth of nationalism. In Arab countries this took a particularly virulent form against the Ottoman Empire, which proclaimed itself the guardian of the Holy places, whose importance as the centre of pilgrimage for the Muslim world, as much economic as spiritual, is so familiar to us. The tribe of al-Saud was the most powerful in the peninsula of Arabia. It declared itself the standard bearer of the nationalist movement, which had as its most eminent ideologist Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. AI-Wahhab didn'tcontent himself with hurling the accusation of infidel against the Ottomans, but he radicalised to limit the most rigorous of the Sunni systems, that of Ibn Hanbal. He also declared infidel those who did not say their prayers at the allotted times and forbade all prayer in front of tombs as well as in mosques which contained tombs; he waged an iconoclastic war worthy of the Taliban and suchlike. This doctrine is perpetuated still in Saudi Arabi with a fanaticism which pays no attention to the Koranic saying ?no constraint in religion?, nor to the Prophet'sdeclaration that anyone who is intransigent in matters of religion is tyrannised by it.
These fanatics don'teven understand that no prayer has any value if it is produced under the whip of mad men who claim to dictate belief. In short, it would not be an exaggeration to speak of religious terrorism.
The takfirist movement in Egypt has a very different history. It is necessary at this point to make a brief comment about the specific characteristics of Islam in this country. Egypt was Shiite under the rule of the Fatimids; the founder of the AI-Azhar mosque was a Fatimid caliph. It'strue that Saladin restored Sunni beliefs, but Islam remained, in Egypt, halfway between Sunni and Shia. This balance shows itself for example in the festivities of al-Ashura, dedicated to the memory of the murder of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet. Cairo shelters the tombs of the family of Ali (Ahl-al-Beit). It is thus not astonishing that in the 1930s a meeting was organised between the Egyptian Sheikh al-Islam and one of the Shiite leaders with the aim of bringing the two doctrines together, a meeting whose conclusions were published in a book which deserves to be republished: Revisions ?AI-Maragaat?. Indeed, one of the reasons for the conflict between Nasser and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt was that the Brothers, who dominated the student organisations in the universities in 1953, invited Nawab Safawi, one of the Shiite leaders in Iran, to give lectures in Egypt. This led to clashes between Nasser'sfollowers and the Muslim Brothers in the universities. How then did the takfir appear in Egypt, given that the Egyptians are so remote from this doctrine? To answer that question it is necessary to consider someone about whom opinions are very divided but who nobody denies is one of those rare writers who have contributed to the development of the political history of our country, Sayyid Qutb.
Sayyid Qutb began as a literary critic. He was the first to write a book devoted to the work of Naguib Mahfouz and to make his work know. He also published a book with the revealing title: The Artistic Image in the Koran. In 1948 he won a scholarship to study pedagogy in United States. While there, he was shocked by what he called the lack of ?social justice? in that country. When he returned to Egypt at the beginning of the 1950s he published a book with the title Social Justice in Islam, and then joined the Muslim Brothers. When conflict broke out between Nasser and the Brothers, following an assassination attempt which was laid at the door of the Brothers, Nasser'srepression was not limited to massive arrests but used forms of torture unprecedented in that country: moral torture (the threat of raping women in the family), physical torture (encouraging dogs to savage prisoners? bodies), sexual (forcing bellows into the anus). In short, the scandals of Abu Ghraib started in Nasser'sprisons. At the end of this period Qutb denounced the ignorance (djahiliya) of Arab societies, which he compared to the situation that prevailed before the Prophet'smessage was received, and he published his celebrated Maalim fi ai-Tariq (Milestones) at the beginning of the sixties.
He went straight to the point, declaring that all human government was takfir. God alone governs. This entails the obligation to follow only that law which has been revealed in God'scommandments. Published abroad, the book was not a great success in Egypt. Then came 1965. After a spell in the Soviet Union for medical treatment, Nasser returned to Egypt. His secret services (the Mukhabarat) informed him?and we have no idea what proof they had?of a plot being hatched against him by the Muslim Brothers. This time the arrests were in the tens of thousands and the tortures used went beyond all limits?if it is possible to assign limits to human ferocity. In this atmosphere of terror, the ideas of Sayyid Qutb spread in the concentration camps. An organisation was founded by Shukri Mustafa with the name of AI-Takfir Wal-Hidjra, a name that alluded to the Prophet'sdecision to quite Mecca, a hostile town, for Medina, where he found his supporters. The members of this organisation adopted the ideas of Sayyid Qutb on the ignorance of society and the necessity to apply Islamic law (the sharia).
Referring, amongst other texts, to a saying of the Prophet that ?he who kills a Muslim loses his faith?, they; proclaimed takfir against Nasser and his agents, everyone from ministers and the officers who had presided in the improvised military courts to the jailers. Although the number of those tortured to death was in the hundreds, without counting those condemned to death by military tribunals (amongst whom was Sayyid Qutb, executed in 1966), the leader of the Muslim Brothers, the chancellor Hassan el Hodeibi, who was himself a prisoner, rejected all these ideas. We can find an echo of his debates with the dissident extremists of the party in a book in which he maintains that the Muslim Brothers are proselytisers who do not claim the right to judge: preachers not judges.
We known that the murderers of Sadat were recruited amongst the takfirist groups that multiplied in Nasser'sprisons. Hosni Mubarak conducted a war against them, which did not finish them off but which led them, because of the impossibility of hiding from the eyes of the state, to emigrate, imitating the Prophet, and to link up in foreign countries with other terrorist groups. It is amongst these people that one finds people like the ex-paediatrician Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is considered one of the leading strategist of al-Qaida, or like the engineer Mohammed Attiya who flew the aeroplane that destroyed one of the towers of the World Trade Center. What is most worrying is that the numbers of this terrorist movement will grow as long as the Egyptians refuse to recognise the Muslim Brothers movement as a party which has its role to play in the political life of the country. Certainly terrorism is a crime which must be fought, but this undeniable truth must not be used as a pretext for refusing to recognise the existence of Islamic parties that have denounced and continue to denounce terrorism?given which, the obstinate refusal to recognise them loses all justification save that of wanting to hold on to the monopoly of powered.
With the impossibility of revising the concepts which rule our existence and which appear as self-evident or things that are part of the natural order. As long as the contempt for our mother tongue as a language unfit for thought lasts, the people have no choice but to resign themselves to leaving that revision to those who don'tthink. Far from calling despotism into question, the bankruptcy of the despotic regime is always blamed on the despot: all one has to do is wait for another! As for non-governmental organisations, they would do better to allocate a large part of their resources to the republication of the really innovative writer such as those quoted earlier in this article, to multiply the study of the grammar of Arab mother tongues, to establish centres for the study of foreign languages, to publish the masterpieces already written in the vernacular and those that will be written. Without political and cultural reorientation of the West, the difference in political philosophy between it and the Muslim world risks degenerating into a ?clash of civilisations?, or worse, into crusades.
(The writer is an ex-member of Court, MD University, Rohtak, R/O D-64, University Campus Kurukshetra, E-mail: [email protected])