Dialogue of the Salafi and the Secularist
What should serve as the foundation for Egyptian democracy?
In any government office, in a factory, or field, or perhaps in a meeting of the council for the drafting of the new Constitution, two men meet. One of them, a Salafi; the other is referred to by the Salafi as the “Secularist.” The Salafi is dressed in a Jellabiya and sandals. He has a long, full beard and on his head is a saudi gutra. The Secularist has long hair and prescription glasses. He looks like an intellectual or an artist.
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
The Salafi approaches the Secularist, saying:
“Why are you against applying Islamic Sharia to the government? Aren’t you a Muslim? Or are you an enemy of Islam?”
The Secularist, taken aback a little, swallows hard and says:
“Take it easy sheikh, we are all Muslims. But may I ask you what you mean by applying Sharia law?”
The Salafi starts to raise his voice, shouting:
“The noble Islamic Sharia—the laws and regulations dictated to us by God from the 7th heaven! Do you not see the blasphemy that is sweeping through the country? People, God save us, stealing, fornicating, and drinking alcohol…Women wandering around the streets and night clubs and cinemas and theaters… Songs that incite sinning and temptation!”
The Secularist replies:
“My kind colleague, do you not see that there is more to Islam than the cutting off of hands and stoning and locking up of woman? Do you not see the fine manners and high morals? Did Islam not embrace people’s freedom of worship? Was it not a revolution against tyranny and persecution? Does it not promote justice and human dignity and the people’s best interest? If you remain hung up on the appearances, you will lose the very heart of Islam. Is Islam nothing more than a beard and burqa?
“Furthermore, our understanding of the traditions of Islam is different even in the faith itself. There is Sunni and Shia and Ibadiyya and many more sects. And in the heart of Sunni alone there are four schools. So why do you insist on ownership of the truth and the claim to righteousness?”
The Salafi stops for a second and says:
“You secularists! There is no use in talking sense into you; you will remain in darkness forever. But we will cleanse this country of the dark-minded corruptors who would love to see sin spread amongst the people and who do not want the correct Islam for this country, an Islam that is a peace and wealth in this life and the next.”
The Secularist objects and asks:
“Who told the people that you know more about the ways of their lives?”
The Salafi says:
“The kind and generous Prophet. But he also said on behalf of the Al Mighty in a Haddith: ‘Today, I have completed for you your faith and have bestowed upon you my blessing and have granted for you Islam as your religion.’ and in the Quran and Sunna everything is for the greater good in this life and the next. So return to the texts, and may God lead you on the right track.”
For a moment the secularist recalls a youth that roamed Tahrir square, holding a sign reading: “I want to apply the Sharia. Does anyone wish to partner with me?”
And then he realizes, speaking to the Salafi, that there can be no partners for these people. After a few moments he responds:
“May God lead you on the right track. You are living 1400 years in the past. You are living in the desert and we are in the center of a metropolitan Cairo, in the 21st century.”
Their dialogue ends in curses and swears. The Salafi says:
“You are the people of disbelief and infidelity and darkness.”
And he storms away in anger.
Translation: Nour Abdelghani