Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prominent Salafist cleric Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, one of the most renowned Salafist figures in Egypt, exclusively spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the future of the Salafist movement in the country. He also publicly announcing that the Ansar al-Sunna Society intends to form a political party and participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections that are set to take place next September. Sheikh Mohamed Hassan also said that he had no intention of standing for presidential election, and stressed that Egypt’s Islamists, like any other component of society, has the right to express their opinions and participate in politics.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Ansar al-Sunna Society is not known for its political activism however a number of Islamist groups, including your own organization, have recently entered the political arena, in support of the latest constitutional amendments. What is the reason for this?
[Hassan] The crucial stage that Egypt is currently passing through has necessitated the [religious] scholars to take action, as they have previously, with regards to [Islamic] dawa [missionary work]. They must take action as this current stage and direct people towards what they believe to be in the interests of this noble country. I acknowledge that the Salafists are not as efficient with regards to political action as other groups that are experienced in this field, but they have entered via the door of promoting virtue and preventing vice, they have entered as part of legitimate politics. We do not say “no religion in politics; and no politics in religion” but rather we believe that religion rules over all parts of life. We do not take from religion only that which is compatible with our needs and desires, we must take everything, both what we like and what we may dislike. It is the duty of our brothers to advise the nation about what they believe is good for this noble country, for as God Almighty said “O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly” [Surat al-Baqara; Verse 208].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following the establishment of the new political parties’ law, does the Ansar al-Sunna Society intent to establish a political party, or will it lend its support to an already established party, especially as a number of other Islamist trends have entered the political field?
[Hassan] Yes, we intend to establish a [political] party according to the laws and regulations, and this is something that is not denied to any Islamist trend, for any Egyptian citizen has the right to express his opinion politely, respecting the opinions of others. Nobody has the right to prevent any Egyptian citizen from political operation or participation, for they are citizens living in this country, and they have the right to participate like everybody else. The Ansar al-Sunna Society is made up of Egyptian citizens who want to participate in creating the future of our country, according to the holy book [the Quran] and the Sunnah [of the Prophet]. The group does not follow the policy of equivocation or deception, but will put forward a policy based upon mercy, justice, and righteousness.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will your party take part in the forthcoming parliamentary elections?
[Hassan] Yes, many of our brothers in Alexandria and Cairo will take part in this, both with regards to the People’s Assembly elections, and the Shura Council elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of the Turkish state model, namely a civilian state with an Islamic reference?
[Hassan] I will not name the desired features of a future state at this point, whether we are talking about a religious, civil, or democratic state. We will not discuss the model of the state or its terminology, but we will comment on the approach that the state should use. Our starting point will be the f of the Prophet, which says “hear and obey even if an Abyssinian slave with a head like a raisin is appointed over you.” Therefore the type of state is unimportant to us, what is important is that the approach that is followed by the state should be derived from Article II of the [Egyptian] Constitution, which states that Islam is the official religion of the state, and Islamic Sharia law is the primary source for legislation. The type of state does not matter, what is important is that the state follows the approach, provided for by Article II of the constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the dread or fear expressed by some components of society towards the possibility of the establishment of an Islamic state in Egypt?
[Hassan] There is no fear of Islam, for Islam is not just the religion of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, but the religion of all the prophets. Islam is not a scarecrow, I want to reassure our brothers of all different beliefs, sects, and ideologies, and tell them that Islam is the religion of Allah Almighty which is characterized by the divine approach. Islam is characterized by integration, balance, moderation, justice, righteousness, mercy, and tolerance in dealing with others. Islam does not impose its beliefs on others, and as it says in the Holy Quran “if it has been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed – all who are on earth! Wilt though then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” [Surat Yunus, Verse 99]. God Almighty also said “Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve.” [Surat al-Khaf, Verse 29]. Therefore I do not think anybody has the right to break the lamp which I hold in my hand and by which I bring the light to those who live in darkness. Let me also say that anybody who wants to enter God’s religion…they are most welcome!
The other issue is that Islam, is not as some portray it, Islam is not a religion of cutting off ears or throwing acid in women’s faces [in reference to recent attacks on Christians in Egypt]. Egypt has lived in a state of terror from Islamists in general, and Salafists in particular, for a number of weeks. Some said that the Salafists have now emerged and want to turn Egypt upside down, and this is not true, for Islam has controls in place with regards to taking action to prevent vice, and this should be clear to everybody.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the recent period, some enthusiastic Salafist youth have come out to carry out violence, believing that the change that occurred in Egypt is not for the best. This has led to general accusations that the Salafists are trying to impose Islam on the country by force. What is your opinion of this?
[Hassan] I have clarified Islam’s ruling regarding the jurisprudence of preventing vice, and it is not fair to prosecute Islam as a religion…based upon the mistakes of an individual or a group affiliated to this religion. Until now, I have not been informed of one event in which a Salafist has been accused in a just and clear manner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people are calling for the implementation of Islamic Sharia punishments; do you believe this will happen?
[Hassan] Allow me to say that it is unfair that Islam, with its faith, laws, morals and features, to be reduced to its legal punishments. However in spite of this, we are proud of our religious punishments, for this is the religion of our Lord, and God Almighty said “In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.” [Surat al-Baqara, Verse 179].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about women and Christians being allowed to stand at the presidential elections?
[Hassan] Jurists of the Islamic community have come to a consensus that women should not be granted the right to hold a leadership position, and I am not ashamed of this. I do not support intellectual etiquette or the diplomacy of dialogue regarding the principles and provisions of Islamic Sharia law. How can anybody renounce the [religious] consensus on this issue, and this is something that is clear and explicit. Scholars have prohibited woman from holding leadership positions…as for a non-Muslim holding a leadership position in a Muslim state, I say that when Rome thinks of nominating a Muslim to rule Italy, then we will think about this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some have called on you personally to stand at the forthcoming presidential elections, what is your position on this?
[Hassan] I am not looking for any religious or political post, my primary concern is serving God’s call, and after this, serving my country Egypt which I love, and I will continue to serve the people of Egypt. I can honestly say that for myself, I am not interested in talking about nominating myself for this position.