Salafis divided over forms of political engagement

Salafi Muslims are divided over how to participate in Egypt's political life after a long absence, though a council has been formed to explore Salafis' options during the current transitional period.

Prominent Salafi figures Mohamed Hassan, Mohamed Hussein Yaqoub and Gamal al-Marakby recently formed the Scholars Shura Council, headed by Abdallah Shaker. 

In its first statement, council members said they will urge Muslims to engage in politics and choose candidates who adhere most to Islamic sharia law. At the same time, they called on scholars and preachers not to run in elections but give their attention to the call to Islam.

Salafis typically reject the idea of a democratic government, saying God's rule is the only correct way to govern. 

Marakby said the council made a decision to ban its members from participating in politics, whether by nominating themselves for positions or joining a Salafi party. He said their role will be to raise awareness about the best candidates and serve Islam.

The members of the council said this decision was made because none of them are qualified to run in elections. 

“We respect our role very well," the statement said. "This does not mean we are against the nomination of Salafis. Any Salafi has the right to nominate himself and we won’t stand opposed to him.”

Marakby added that the council will not necessarily support the Fadila Party – a Salafi party that is still being formed – but rather that the party has a comprehensive political and economic platform along with a religious one.

He said that the council will back any party that calls for a plan to amend articles in the criminal law that violate sharia.

Marakby added that there will undoubtedly be differences between Salafis. However, Salafis have shared interests and agree on matters related to sharia, such as Article 2 of the Constitution.

“The council still insists on its fatwa that bans disobedience to the ruler even if he is oppressive, in order to prevent bloodshed,” he said.

Even though Salafi youth have used Facebook to urge Hassan to nominate himself for the presidency, Hassan’s brother Mahmoud has said the leader joined the Scholars Shura Council because he refused to run.

Mahmoud Hassan said his brother does not think he is capable of assuming a political position. He said Amr Moussa, a presidential hopeful himself and former Arab League chief, phoned Hassan to ask him to play a political role but he still refused.

Hassan emphasized that politics and the call to Islam should be separated, he added. “We will not support any political party unless it seeks to serve the interests of the country, even if its religious program has some defects…”

Hossam al-Bokhary, a member of the Fadila Party, is among Salafis who decided to participate in politics. Bokhary said preachers who refuse to engage in politics are concerned participation would affect their credibility and come at the expense of the call to Islam.

“There are people who still subscribe to pre-revolution thoughts. They believe enegagement in politics segregates Muslims,” he said.

Alexandria’s Salafis have joined the Nour Party – another Salafi party in formation.

“I do not see any problem in entering political life. We have the right to participate," Bokhary said.

Hesham Kamal, a founder of the Fadila Party, said Salafis in Egypt do not constitute a homogeneous wave.

He said some call for abstaining from politics and banning protests and disobedience to rulers, believing that preaching and serving the call to Islam is better. Others oppose this. 

The Fadila party, he added, wants openness to all political and religious waves in Egypt.

“Most of the party’s founders are practical, broad-minded people," Kamal said.

Kamal added that it would be difficult for all Salafis to come together in one organziation. Still, he said, Salafi movements complement each other.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

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