I was invited to Bibliotheca Alexandrina to give a lecture on the experience of Islamist parties. During the questions and answers, one member of the audience asked me to stop criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood and the president because the whole Islamic Project, he said, was under threat.
I realized that the man, like most Egyptians, didn’t maintain the necessary distinction between the holy Islamic principles as such, and pious people who may do wrong or right and who can be criticized for their policies and opinions. I asked him the usual question: “where is the project?” He became anxious and said: “I mean the Islamic current is threatened.” I re-asked: “you mean the project or the current?” He finally said: “they are the same.”
I then argued in reply that there is a huge difference between both concepts but that, unfortunately, the members of those currents he was referring to were wrongly inculcated with the idea that they stood for Islam itself. Accordingly, they – subconsciously – loathe most other people and cannot believe that anyone but themselves can possibly achieve any good for Islam. They can’t even imagine that others, who don’t belong to their current or group, could be more virtuous than themselves.
Confusing our assessment of people and their mission leads to the wrong conclusion that any criticism must falsify the Islamic project, and, moreover, that we must take whatever the leaderships says as the absolute truth on all occasions. All this serves to do is to justify and ensconce mistakes instead of pursuing the virtue of self-criticism, which allows us to learn from our mistakes.
Omar Ibn Al Khattab criticized the Caliph Abu Bakr’s insistence on including Khaled Ibn Al Waleed in the ranks of the supreme leadership, and Abu Bakr didn’t refute this judgment. Abu Zar criticized some of the Caliph Othman Ibn A`afan’s economic policies, although the majority were in favour of these measures, and nobody doubted his religiosity. The Prophet (PBUH) said about Omar Ibn Al Khattab: “God has placed justice at Omar’s tongue and heart,” and “If a prophet was to come after me, it would’ve been Omar,” and spoke to Omar and said “whichever path you take, the devil takes another.” If someone was told this, he might be rather unwilling to accept criticism or investigation. However, Abu Obaida criticized one of Omar’s political decisions as a caliph.
If people are afraid that criticism paves the way for their enemies to gloat over them, they should read Surat Al Nesaa` and understand the ten verses that take the side of a Jew over a whole household from Al Ansar. This was at a time when Jews and hypocrites were fiercely challenging the new Islamic state.
We didn’t sign an agreement with the Egyptian people to the effect that we would disregard any mistakes that we made. People didn’t follow and choose us in order to confine their comments to compliments and desist from criticizing our every inclination. We promised people to be truthful and to recognize the truth to the best of our ability, even if it was against ourselves. And Muslims – as the Hadith states – are obliged to stick to what they promise.
Islamists have to be alert to the fact that it is an impossible illusion to think that you can represent or ‘be’ Islam. Endowing people (regardless of how superior they get) with the status of having a holy approach is a very dangerous move to make, and one that is a threat to the Islamic project itself. It is not healthy for Islamists - a term I am not altogether happy with in the first place - to believe that they are on one side while the whole Egyptian people are on the other. It contradicts the very principles of the call for Islam.
I am keen on defending Sharia as long as I live, with the understanding of the first Muslim generation. However, I refuse to defend people who may do right and may do wrong, instead of defending Islam itself.