Egyptian Army General Wrote Radical Thesis While Attending U.S. Army War College

As elucidated in the seminal analysis of Charles C. Adams, eight decades ago (i.e., “Islam and Modernism in Egypt,” 1933), the “Caliphate question” was settled by Egypt’s (and arguably Sunni Islamdom’s) most authoritative institution of religious education, Al-Azhar University, during August, 1925. On August 12, 1925, a court consisting of 24 of Al-Azhar’s most important Islamic legists, headed by the institution’s Grand Sheikh, met to hear charges against Ali Abd al-Raziq, an Al-Azhar certified Sharia judge, regarding his book “Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority,” which openly advocated the abolition of the Caliphate. Adams recounts the concordant decisions reached by both the Al-Azhar panel, and a Sharia Court Judiciary to whom al-Raziq appealed, claiming the Azhar panel lacked jurisdiction over matters of personal conduct:

The [Azhar] Court rendered a unanimous decision confirming the charges of unorthodoxy in what he had written and declaring him guilty, on that account, of conduct “unbecoming the character of an ‘alim [cleric]”; sentence was therefore passed, dismissing him from the body of the Ulama [clerics], and directing that his name be expunged from the records of the Azhar and the other mosque schools, that he be dismissed from office and henceforth be incapacitated from filling any office, religious or otherwise.

…the [Sharia] Court sustained the jurisdiction of the former court, since the “expression was not limited in any way and might logically be held to include matters of belief as well as conduct.” When Sheikh ‘Ali [al-Raziq] pleaded the right of “absolute freedom of belief” as guaranteed by the constitution of 1922, the Court replied that the guarantee of freedom was limited by the clause “within the limits of the law,” and could only be held to include freedom from civil or political disability on account of beliefs, and the right to maintain any belief that one chooses, so long as it is “within the limits of the law”; moreover, the constitution does not interfere with the right of special regulation by such bodies as the Azhar concerning its ‘Ulama, or by the courts concerning its employees. The decision of the Azhar Court was therefore sustained; and since by that decision Sheikh ‘Ali is no longer to be considered “one of the men of religion,” and the position of judge in the Sharia Courts being a religious officem the decision of removal from office was also confirmed.

In brief, what egregious heresies against mainstream Islamic doctrine had al-Raziq professed? Adams enumerated four:

First, the Caliphate as an Islamic institution should be abolished…[E]ven when the proofs, which are commonly adduced in support of this institution are examined, they are found insufficient to sustain the claim of this specialized form of government.

Second, the very idea of the Caliphate, as both a civil and religious hegemony in succession to and behalf of the Prophet, rests upon a mistaken conception of the Prophet’s purpose and the nature of the Apostolic office which he filled.

Third, since the authority of Muhammad was spiritual and not political, and the unity which he came to establish was religious not political, the conception of a “succession” to his authority falls of itself…He had exercised no political authority and therefore transmitted none…

Fourth, it follows from the spiritual character of the Prophet’s authority as just described, that the Divine Law which he brought for the guidance of his followers was concerned only with religious affairs, intended to regulate the relation between God and man; it did not have in view the regulation of civil affairs. [quoting al-Raziq] “All that Islam prescribed as law, and that the Prophet imposed upon the Muslims in the way of regulations and rules and moral principles, had nothing at all to do with methods of political rule, nor with regulations of a civil state.”

Thus al-Raziq’s modernist Islamic argumentation, which offered plausible theoretical bases for Egypt’s authoritative Muslim institutions—and masses—to reject theocratic Islam’s ossified, liberty-crushing paradigm of governance, and advance to a secular consensus treating all Egyptian citizens equally, placed him, according to the Azhar Court, “in the category of the [violent, puritanical “heretic”] Kharijites, not the majority of Muslims.” Adams notes, appropriately, that what al-Raziq had espoused:

…with reference to the Caliphate is manifestly contrary to the general Muslim belief, which has cherished the doctrine of the Caliphate to the present day.

In support of this contention Adams refers to the views of the much ballyhooed “reformist” orthodox Muslims, Muhammad Abduh, who attained Egypt’s highest religious office, state mufti, in 1899, held till his death in 1905, and Rashid Rida (d. 1935), founder of the period­ical Al Manar [The Lighthouse], an influential mouthpiece for  the propagation of his mentor’s, Abduh’s, doctrine. Adams observes that Abduh defended Islam’s fusion of religious and civil authority “explicitly and unequivocally. ” Abduh claimed:

The assertion that the Government and the State should be separated from the religion, is one that necessitates the blotting of Islamic authority out of existence, and abrogating entirely the Islamic Sharia.

Abduh added, that if Muslims adopted the position of Christianity on the matter, i.e. a comparable separation of mosque and state, “we should have laid aside half our religion.” Some four decades later, in 1939, another orthodox Muslim “reformer,” Mustafa al-Maraghi, while serving as the rector of Al-Azhar, reiterated Abduh’s mainstream Islamic viewpoint:

As for the celebrated maxim: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s”—it is no way related to the principles of Islam.

Muhammad Abduh also made plain his Sharia-based, jihadist predilections, inspired, explicitly, by the original Caliphate:

[Islam’s] Divine Law (Sharia) regulates in detail the rights and duties of all, both ruler and subjects. . . . It is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims to aid in maintaining the authority of Islam and Islamic rule over all lands that have once been Muslim; and they are not permitted under any circumstances to be peaceable and conciliatory towards any who contend the mastery with them, until they obtain complete authority without sharing it with anyone else. . . . The only cure for these [Muslim] nations is to return to the rules of their religion [Islam] and the practice of its requirements according to what it was in the beginning, in the days of the early Caliphs.

Abduh’s influential pupil Rida, was a full-throated avatar of a formalized, traditional Islamic Caliphate system, who vociferously rejected the abolition of this institution by Republican Turkey.

The Caliphate State is both spiritual and temporal; it is founded on justice and equity. . . . When they attack religious law, Turkish secularists, relentlessly attack with stubborn ferocity the freedom Sharia grants to the Ahl al-Kitab [“People of the Book,” typically Jews and Christians sub­jugated by jihad, as per Koran 9:29].

The orthodox Muslim “reformer” Rida, was quite unabashed in describing one of the traditional Caliphate’s (and Caliph’s) tasks, in its “modernist” guise: waging jihad for the propagation of Islam (even concluding his 1923 pronouncement with the Koranic verse that would become the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood).

Make war against anyone who declares his hostility to Islam, after first inviting him to adopt it [Islam] or accept its protection, in such a way as to pay his debt to Allah and proclaim the shining superiority of Islam. . . . Put in charge of your interests—may Allah guide you—a man with an iron fist who knows how to make war, who can resist the seduc­tion of luxury in times of prosperity and is not discouraged when misfor­tune strikes him. . . . [J]ihad . . . means the canonical war imposed on the individual and the collectivity. Jihad is not a strict obligation for every responsible man except when the enemy has seized a piece of Muslim ter­ritory and general mobilization is required to expel him. In normal times jihad is waged by those designated by the Imam [supreme leader; Caliph] for that mission according to needs. Jihad may also be accomplished in the form of a financial contribution, or an apostolate [office of a mission or apostle]: he who sends out the call to Islam with supporting proof is a mujahid [holy warrior; jihadist]. The Imam must be obeyed in all matters connected with military training, recruiting and organization. The Imam must use of all the resources of the Community to fight the enemy with equal or superior arms. He will supervise the construction of warships, submarines, fighter planes and weapons. The Imam [Caliph] must be strictly obeyed by all, and every man must be prepared to sacrifice his goods and his life in virtue of these words of Allah (Koran 8:60): “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to terrify thereby the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; God knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of God shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”

Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida directly influenced the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, who, in fact, succeeded Rida as the publisher of Al-Manar. Brynjar Lia’s 1998 analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s formative years (1928–1942) points out how Al-Banna’s, and the Brotherhood’s, vision remained steadfastly Islamic—hence its deep resonance with the timeless aspiration of the Muslim masses to establish a transnational Muslim Caliphate via jihad.

Quoting the Qur’anic verse [2:193] “And fight them till sedition is no more, and the faith is Allah’s,” the Muslim Brothers urged their fellow Muslims to restore the bygone greatness of Islam, and to re-establish the Islamic empire. . . [T]hey even called for the restoration of “former Islamic colonies” in Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands.

Over the intervening three-quarters of a century, it is not merely Muslim Brotherhood ideologues—most notably, at present, Yusuf al-Qaradawi—who have echoed these traditional Islamic goals. Al-Azhar University continues to inculcate such views, as reflected in the Islamic jurisprudence manuals it sill uses for teaching Islamic Law within the institution. Hence it is unsurprising that 67% of Egyptians recently affirmed their support for the eventual (re-) establishment of a Islamic Caliphate.

Al-Azhar also endorses these Sharia-based teachings for worldwide dissemination to Muslim communities across the globe. Regarding the latter, for example, Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy certified (in February, 1991) that the English translation of  Islamic Law manual “The Reliance of the Traveller,” by Nu Ha Kim Keller, “corresponds to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.” According to this currently authoritative manual,

The Caliphate is a communal obligation, just as the judgeship is, because the Islamic community needs a ruler to uphold the religion [Islam], [and] defend the sunna [traditions of Muhammad, and the nascent Muslim community]

In turn, as Reliance of the Traveller highlights, one of the Caliph’s  primary “obligations” is to wage jihad against non-Muslims, and thereby propagate Islam:

The Caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, until they become Muslim, or pay the non-Muslim poll tax (in accordance with Koran 9:29)…The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslims, because they are not a people with a Book, nor honored as such, and are not permitted to settle with paying the poll-tax (jizya).

The late, brilliant political scientist, P.J. Vatikiotis (d. 1997),  educated at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and author of many important analyses of Egyptian socio-political history, opened his seminal  1981 study, “Religion and State,” with these words:

“Religion and State” is not a new preoccupation in the study of Egyptian or any other society where the faith of Islam predominates.

Vatikiotis adds that this “difficult and largely unresolved problem”—which dated from the 7th century advent of Islam—derived from, and continued to manifest, in Egypt, the

…curious “marriage” between a universal religious truth or message and an otherwise very parochial community that held it and fought for it or in its name

Three decades later, despite widespread euphoria regarding the mass movement which prompted a military coup deposing Egypt’s first popularly-elected President, Muhammad Morsi, and his coterie of Muslim Brotherhood ideologues, the ancient-cum-modern conundrum elucidated by Vatikiotis, remains tragically unresolved within this Muslim-dominant society. Vatikiotis’ sobering and remarkably compendious 1981 analysis also explodes the instantly manufactured (and popularized) canard that Morsi’s ouster somehow “discredited and marginalized Islamism”—a chimerical Western construct invented to avoid dealing forthrightly with mainstream, traditionalist Islam, and its votaries in Egypt, and beyond.

Friday, 7/5/13, alone, in the aftermath of the coup which toppled Morsi, internecine clashes between pro-Morsi  and anti-Morsi Egyptian Muslim groups (along with predatory Muslim violence targeting Coptic Christians), killed 46 people, and wounded 1404, according to a local (Al-Hayat) television report. Understandably, such chaotic violence has inspired prevalent sentiments akin to those expressed by Cairene Headwaiter Attef Abdelghalil. Interviewed by Der Spiegel following the coup, Abdelghalil acknowledged that he and most of the staff at perhaps Cairo’s best known teahouse, Café el-Fishawy, had voted  for the Muslim Brotherhood due to their perceived honesty and reliability, after 30-years of kleptocratic rule under Mubarak. Now, in the wake of the economic failure wrought by Muslim Brotherhood governance under Morsi, Abdelghalil has no confidence in the “anti-Morsi opposition,” either—or “democracy” itself.

The army should not be in a rush to give up power. Democracy isn't important at the moment. Only the economy matters. Currently, all we have is chaos. It has to end.

Abdelghalil concluded by arguing that new elections be delayed for 3-years. But Egypt’s interim military caretaker rulers, and their appointed minions, will likely orchestrate a considerably more rapid timetable for drafting a revised Constitution, and holding new Parliamentary and Presidential elections. There seems to be little appetite within the military to govern directly given management errors which occurred during the transitional military rule following Mubarak’s sacking in 2011, till Morsi’s election in 2012. Transitional military rule then was punctuated by abusive custody of civilians, their trial in military courts, worsening crime, and economic stagnation, resulting in public ire directed at the governing generals.

Valid—and irrefragable—evidence of Egypt’s overwhelming, vox populi support for al-Sisi’s anti-secular, Caliphate-extolling Weltanschauung, as expressed in his thesis,  derives from the published findings of independent polls based on face-to-face interviews with large, population-based samples of Egyptians. While, as noted before, 67% desired to re-create the transnational Caliphate—whose goal is the universal application of Sharia via bellicose jihad conquests, these data also reveal that 74% of Egyptian Muslims supported making Sharia the official state law of their society; 70% favored Sharia-based mandatory (“hadd”) punishments “like whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery”; 80% supported the hadd punishment of stoning for adultery; and 88% favored the hadd punishment of execution for “apostasy.” Lastly, at present, as opposed to a merely “aspirational” goal of Sharia supremacim, female genital mutilation (FGM) is sanctioned by the predominant Shafiite school of Islamic law in Egypt, leading to current rates of this misogynistc barbarity among Egyptian women of more than 90%.

Vatikiotis lucidly chronicled Egypt’s 150-year experience (through 1981) of failed experiments with secularization imposed by forceful despots, beginning in the 1820s with Muhammad Ali (and including his equally “vigorous” grandson, Khedive Ismail). The process reached its apogee with the adoption of a constitutional parliamentary system in 1923. However, as Vatikiotis observes, the “very small group” attempting to impose this “borrowed secularism” never tried to resolve the contradiction between their adopted foreign ideology and “the native religious tradition.” Worse still, a more fundamental defect in the process emerged, which, unresolved ever since, continues to plague Egyptian society, engendering sectarian violence against the non-Muslim minority Christian (primarily Coptic) population, and bloody internecine conflicts between members of Egypt’s dominant Muslim majority.

Neither authority nor the source of law, despite all the state-promulgated and decreed legislation, was clearly divorced from its ultimate divine source and sanction. The constitution itself proclaimed Islam as the official religion of the state, inevitably undermining its other provisions relating to the rights of citizens such as freedom of worship or belief, speech, and so forth. Thus, such a provision was fundamentally contrary to the conception of a secular state because under the constitution the latter still sought and recognized a legitimacy based on divine sanction. The transcendent reference for authority and political power remained partly divine and not purely secular. The uniformity of individual citizen rights therefore remained unattainable.…[T]he more fundamental problem of the relation between religion and state remained unresolved. It was put in abeyance only to return to plague the Egyptian body politic. A concept of citizenship based on a clearly secular idea of identity for the individual and the society did not materialize, and the alienation of both from the state persisted.