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Opinion: Egypt’s War of the Posters - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Religious posters have quickly and suddenly appeared in public places across Egypt over the last few days, encouraging Egyptians to recite an invocation known as As-Salatu Ala Al-Nabi, a ritual salutation to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are accustomed to making this invocation, literally blessing the Prophet Muhammad, whenever his name is mentioned.

The content of the call is normal and familiar to the Egyptian people, who are religious by nature. But the manner in which this “campaign” is begin managed gives the impression that it is nothing more than a maneuver, or perhaps a rehearsal, for some forthcoming event or activity. In the light of the ban imposed on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in Egypt, some people are speculating that this campaign may be a test of the Egyptian government’s vigilance.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry removed the posters from vehicles and walls owing to suspicions regarding who had distributed them and why. Not much time passed before supporters of the Brotherhood came out decrying the “malicious” government for banning posters praising the Prophet, and with this the true intentions behind the campaign became evident.

The campaign was clearly meant to embarrass the government, and is again another example of religion being used for political purposes. Who could question the piety of the Egyptian people, whose country is home to the Al-Azhar and Al-Hussein mosques?

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Ibrahim Allam, reacted to this move, publicly stating that the proliferation of posters which asked “Have you blessed the Prophet today?” should not be exploited in a bid to make gains or cause social disorder.

Citing the Treaty of Medina, in which the Jews did not recognize Muhammad as a prophet, Allam said that if Muhammad himself agreed to this provision in order to achieve peace for society, then Egyptians today could stand not to make the ritual invocation. “Any Shari’a ruling that leads to disorder in society should not be applied,” the Grand Mufti said.

The essence of the Grand Mufti’s remarks is that even if there was not a political motive and a hidden agenda behind this poster campaign, religion should not be used to incite political polarization. Religion and matters of faith should remain sacred and disassociated from any acts of political score-settling.

Clarifying the source of these posters even further, some Muslim Brotherhood members on trial on charges of terrorism shouted these slogans from the dock, bringing the issue of religion into the heart of an open political conflict.

This has been the modus operandus of Islamist groups over the past century; they not only monopolize religion but seek to employ it to silence political adversaries and embarrass them in public. But who has the courage to confront those who raise religious slogans, even when it is not truthful?

When Muawiyah I was facing defeat at the hands of the forces of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Muslim Caliph, he came up with the idea of ordering his fighters to raise the Qur’an aloft on their spears to deter the advancing soldiers. The idea being that Ali’s soldiers—loath to insult the Holy Book—would stop fighting. This was nothing more than a canny trick to avert defeat, even if it did prove successful.

The situation has not much changed today, and politicians are still using religion as a facade to hide ulterior motives. Therefore, I say well done to Egypt and its Grand Mufti, and down with the hypocritical Islamists and their false agendas.