The retreat of the prominent Egyptian researcher Sayyed Al-Qemni, who specializes in the critical reading of Islamic traditions, is rather an insincere and unfaithful one. In my opinion, it was done out of fear for safety rather than due to critical and profound revision of thought. Is this kind of insincere retreat exactly what the people who threatened him want?
A brief outline of the story is as follows. Al-Qemni published a statement in which he announced that he retreats and abandons all his previous "heretic" ideas that are contained in all his books published over the past years. The statement came immediately after he received a written death threat from five members of the Jihad group in Egypt for his "announced heresy" in his writings, a threat which he believes should not be taken lightly. The threat also said that Al-Qemni would not always be protected by State Security if he reported them, adding that State Security forces cannot protect him from the bullets of a passing car, or a vehicle loaded with explosives.
According to the threat, which was received by email, the Jihad group gave the writer the duration of one week to announce his "repentance" on the pages of Rose Al-Youssef weekly magazine. The reason for this choice of publication was that this was the main forum through which Al-Qemni published his articles. However, the Jihad warning also said that the group expected Al-Qemni to be obstinate and firm and not to change his ideas. However, contrary to their expectation, Al-Qemni explicitly announced his repentance. He even expressed his concern of the group rejecting his "repentance" as his statement further clarifies, "By taking on this step of repentance, I will live many years to take care of those who need me, namely my children as long as the statement announcing my retreat and repentance is accepted."
Moreover, in an attempt to rule out any ambiguity for the five "Jihadist Lions," Al-Qemni added, "I announce a clear repentance for all the heresies that I published in Rose Al Youssef. A sincere and a deep regret are asserted by my intention of retiring completely from writing as of the date of publication of this statement, in Rose Al Youssef, as requested by the Jihad warning".
Al-Qemni”s action was received with anger by many Arab liberal writers who considered it a weak, cowardly act. Shaker Al-Nablusi, the Palestinian critique who lives in America, called Al-Qemni "a coward" in an article of the "Ilaf" website under the title "Sayyed Al-Qemni: The Weak Intellectual that You Are." Al-Nablusi expressed his disappointment of Al-Qemni”s weakness, relating his act to what he calls an Egyptian tradition of retreat by liberal thinkers since the 1920”s. He cited the example of the retreat by Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq from the ideas expressed in his book entitled ”Islam and the Origins of Government”, 1925. Also, Taha Hussein receded from his ideas in his publication ”Jahili Poetry”, 1926, by eliminating a full chapter. There was also Sheikh Khaled Mohamed Khaled who declined his ideas expressed in his book entitled ”The State in Islam” from 1981. Al-Nablusi called this phenomenon "the religious sin complex" of the Egyptian intelligentsia of the 20th century. He included Al-Qemni on the list.
Others perceive the matter differently. There are those who believe that the act has been tactfully planned by Al-Qemni to indirectly embarrass and reprimand the Egyptian authorities, as he had previously complained on several occasions, about the laxity of the Egyptian Security authorities in protecting him and other liberal Egyptian thinkers from the terrorism of the fundamentalists. This kind of analysis of Al-Qemni”s actions, came from both fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist sources.
The so called, lawyer of the Islamic Groups, Muntasser Al Zayat, suspects the credibility of the threat and perceives it merely as a "hoax" to worry Al-Qemni, nevertheless, the problem is that these matters can not be taken lightly. One cannot gamble with his life.
A friend of mine, who is an expert in the Egyptian press, told me "It may well be a hoax. The targeting of writers is no longer a tactic of Egyptian fundamentalists," I asked him how he interprets the "repentance" of Al-Qemni. Laughing, he said that he may be faithfully and sincerely repenting to which I replied, "What I know is that repentance is from violence not from thinking. As our early teachers taught us, thinking is a virtue that should be sought even more and not retreated from."
The retreat of Al-Qemni may or may not exceed his personal life that is ensuring the wellbeing of his family, which either way is his personal business. He is entitled to his freedom without any tutelage from either the right or the left. I just feel the necessity to discuss these dogmatic minds which are narrow-minded and do not realize the diminishing fate of their thinking. It is astounding to see this blindness in the minds and hearts of young men who have but an inkling of religious knowledge, yet think it is enough to kill a writer, or detonate a bus.
In a similar context, I followed the trial of the Dutch-Moroccan fundamentalist, Mohamed Bouyeri, 26 years-old, who killed the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in "revenge for Islam".
Before court, Bouyeri spoke in Dutch attacking democracy and refusing to recognize the court”s authority. He stated that democracy is all blasphemy. He emphasized that given the chance; he would do exactly the same thing if he were to be set free. Furthermore, he refused to direct a letter of apology to the mother of the murdered filmmaker and said, "I cannot sympathize with you because you are not a believer. I have behaved according to my faith, and not because I hated your son."
Such words are astounding and a total rebellion of the salient philosophy of life. The act was also a radical undermining of the basis of life in Holland. He is a human being who differs with you on every matter, with no middle ground and the most dangerous thing is that he will accept these differences, but will rather impose his convictions by force. He behaves according to "my faith" as Bouyeri said in court (or what he thinks his faith tells him), which is largely why the prosecution deprived him of his political rights of voting and candidacy for the rest of his life.
Another scene of renunciation of modern life, took place recently in
Jordan during the July 13 trial of the Jayoussi cell, that is affiliated with Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and was arrested for planning a comprehensive attack on Jordan. Ahmed Samir, the first accused member of the cell, told the Judiciary of the State Security Court and the General Prosecutor to "wait for the response from our brothers. Your blood is the most delicious." He then read an entire speech in which he portrayed his belief of the Jordanian regime as atheist, which led the court to refer him to the General Prosecutor of the State Security Court for slander. The fourth accused member, Hassan ”Omar Al Sameek, said "I left Jordan to prepare for Jihad for the sake of Allah and I returned to Jordan to wage Jihad, because the fight against the apostate rulers and regimes has priority over the fight against the original non-believers such as the Jews and the Christians."
That is how the overturn of our systems of our everyday lives takes place. They are people who actively strive to turn everything upside down. One may ask "well, what is new?" This has been the way of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt since the 1930”s as they sought to establish the "State of Islam", as they perceived it.
Essentially nothing is new; however, we are witnessing a stage in which the youth are growing impatient with self-restrictions and the patience of the elders. They believe that the wait continued for too long and that Islamic legitimacy should be reclaimed through strength and through terrorizing the "enemies" of God.
As mentioned in a different article, this belief is not representative of all ordinary Muslims. There are certain objectively measured political and social circumstances that facilitate the formation of people like the killer of the Dutch filmmaker, the Jayoussi cell members, and Abdel Aziz Al-Meqran in Saudi Arabia. However, we should not ignore the flames of fundamentalism thought in the mind, the engraved ideas, and the psychologically moulding effect from all the literature around us. This is the very literature that taught Bouyeri and the London bombers such as Shehzad Tanweer, that shedding blood is the way to get closer to God.
Because this confrontation requires an equal or increased amount of courage than that of the fundamentalists, whoever decides to stand up against fundamentalism must continue to the very end. He cannot weaken his standpoint by retreating as Sayyed Al-Qemni did. I clearly remember a gathering one night in Cairo, which included several people among whom were Al-Qemni and myself. Al-Qemni complained to his companions about how the official Egyptian regime was allied with the fundamentalists at the expense of liberalism and liberalists in Egypt. Back then, he remembered his companion Faraq Fouda”s fight against fundamentalism, who had been killed in 1992 by some of the Jihad Group members, and whose family has been neglected by the government.
I now ask Al Qemni, is retreating the solution? I doubt it.