Mohamed Fattouh’s collection of published articles hit a nerve
CAIRO: The recent confiscation and banning of Mohamed Fattouh’s Al-Sheyoukh Al-Modern Wa Sena at Al-Tatarof Al-Deeni (Modern Sheikhs and the Making of Religious Extremism) has caused a stir in Egypt’s literary circles.
Last week, the arts censorship division of Cairo police raided a number of bookshops in the city and removed copies of the book published by El-Madbouli bookstore.
Al-Azhar authorites said Madbouli bookstore had not acquired a license from the Islamic Research Council (IRC) before publishing the book.
The general manager of the committee for research and publishing at IRC, Mohamed Abdul-Zaher Abul Razek, said that this case dates back to last February when the IRC got a note from a sovereign body requesting an investigation into the book. After reviewing it, IRC recommended its confiscation as it violates Islamic thought and criticizes some Islamic trends.
But publisher and Madbouli owner Mohamed Madbouli told The Daily Star Egypt that Al-Azhar might have overstepped its mandate this time.
Al-Azhar, as an Islamic entity, is in charge of issuing Islamic fatwas (religious opinions) and it can only confiscate Islamic books. But this is not the case with this book as it is not on religion.
Author Fattouh says he was taken aback by the decision to remove his book from stores.
The book was on the shelves of many bookshops for nine months and nobody objected. Even the celebrated writer Dr. Morsi Saad El-Din wrote about it in state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper saying that it tackled enlightening issues, he said.
The 140-page book is a collection of articles the author has published in the press throughout the past few years. It consists of three sections: the first section on general intellectual visions, the second on religious terrorism, and the final one on women and male-dominated culture.
The book s title – taking its name from one of the book s articles – is a bit misleading, as it gives the impression that it is a book on Islamic thought and discourse, while this is only a part of the book.
It is true that the book is divided into three sections, but the second one about religious extremism is the bigger and most controversial one, Fattouh said.
The book as a whole criticizes social aspects other than religion like citizenship, Arab passivity and the scarcity of political participation, the necessity of separating religion from the state and the suppression of women and their right of immamah (leading both men and women in prayers). But it seems the section on religious extremism is what most outraged Al-Azhar.
The second part severely criticizes Al-Azhar sheikhs and jurists who are not up to date on shifts in societal trends but nonetheless interfere in people s lives, considering themselves the people’s guardians in the name of religion based on their old-fashioned knowledge and beliefs.
It seems my opinions irritated Al-Azhar sheikhs who consider themselves sacred creatures that are above criticism, Fattouh says sarcastically.
Another article indicates what Fattouh considers the roots of intolerance in Egypt, as represented in phenomena like stickers on the walls of underground metro stations, the spreading of books about the torment of the tomb and extremely loud speakers at mosques announcing prayers and religious speeches.
In another article the author accuses Islamic proselytizers of inciting fanaticism and envy instead of spreading concepts of tolerance. They stress the fact that Islam is the only heavenly religion that is right, whereas other religions are missing their way, Fattouh writes.
The book also spotlights the phenomenon of young Islamic proselytizers who exploit religion as something to market and promote for at luxurious hotels, the houses of the rich and retired artists.
For its part, the Egyptian Human Rights Organization (EHRO) has condemned this action in a statement referring to the confiscation of the book as a violation of freedom of opinion and expression stipulated in Articles 47, 48 and 49 of the Egyptian constitution, which states the freedom of opinion and expression in literature, art and culture.
EHRO previously reaffirmed that granting Al-Azhar judicial seizure authority is only an example of a whole framework of legal and administrative restrictions blocking the way to freedom of opinion and expression. EHRO also called for an end to what it called a religious guardianship of thought, literature and art in Egypt.