Islamisation by Stealth- old report on “Intellectual Terrorism” revisited

Looking into the horror of the Islamic State, the jihadists movements ( almost all born from the womb of the Muslim Brotherhood – despite British left, BBC and the CIA & the Foreign Office  attempts to change historic facts-) I wrote this piece , the obituary of Egyptian Television Muslim evangelist Sheikh Sharawi 15 years ago upon his death in 1999. .. Revisiting it in a research I am doing for a new book, I realised how many of the predictions came true.. hence I put it here again. I didn’t change anything or update it all.. I only added  links to names and events with which people might not be too familiar.

Sheikh Mohammed Metwali Sharawi:
Islamisation by Stealth  19 June 1999, the Independent Newspaper, London

By Adel Darwish


Egypt best Known Islamic cleric Mohammed Metawali Sharawi, who died at the age of 87 on 17th June 1998, got his chance of stardom at the age of 59, in the last year of President Nasser’s rule, when he took part in the country’s first ever Islamic religious discussion programme to be televised, nour ala nour ” Light upon Light” presented by Ahmad Farrag a handsome presenter but a failed cinema actor who had gone to make
a career in television religious programme. Within few years Sharawi had upstaged
Farrag and became the Billy Graham of the Islamic world to an estimated 70 million Arabic speaking viewers ( spoken Egyptian language – containing many Arabic expression is dominant and understood by Arabic Speaking nation thanks to 80 years Egyptian Film industry spreading it among Arabs)  .

The Sheikh’s evangelist mission via television screens and millions of  his audio cassettes was made possible by lavish subsidies from conservative oil Sheikh’s from Arabia and wealthy Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and North America. They played a
vital role in transforming the public opinion in Egyptian society from liberalism to a medieval repression, as Egyptian writer Ibrahim Issa, put it in his book ” Turbans and Daggers,” (1994), which examined  the dual effect of fundamentalists’ campaign of terror and that of ” terrorising the collective mind,” through media evangelism. The result is the
Islamisation of society by stealth while the government remained complacent, to the horror of liberal intellectuals and human-rights activists. Born in 1911 in village of Daqadous in the Nile Delta, Sharawi’s primary education was confined to Kuttab (religious madrasah) , the rural Koran teaching schools for peasant children  where the emphasis was on learning the verse of Koran by heart and believing in every word without questioning. The Syidna (our-holy-master), as the children referred to the cleric- teacher, used his cane liberally to lash those who did not recite the verse verbatim, or those who dared to ”think” and interpret what they learnt.

In the 1920’s Al-Azhar, the official Muslim church and the seat of Islamic learning condemned Attaturk’s modernisation of Turkey and his revolution in education as he replaced Arabic letters with Latin letters making books easy to print and thus accessible to the public at affordable cost.  Al-Azhar, controlled by men whose intellectual training came from Kuttab forbade Egypt- which had broken ties with the Ottoman Empire
in 1922- from going the same way.  Sharawi graduated from Al-Azhar in 1941, and obtained the teachers’ qualification in 1943. His view of the world was very much influenced by his outlook. In fact Sharawi did not break from that early Kuttab taboo of daring to interpret the Koran until he was in his mid 60’s. His interpretation never went beyond the linguistic meaning of the Koran verse. He seldom attempted to examine the essence or the wisdom of the verse as some contemporary Islamic scholars like Sayyed Qutb (  the jihadism ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood) , for example, did. Last year he boasted that he hadn’t read a single book since 1943  except the Koran.’

In the 1940’s Sharawi raised the late King Farouk (1920-1965) to a near divine status in  poem linking him to the founder of Islam prophet Muhammad. He also
wrote a religious poem glorifying the late dictator President Nasser (1918-1970).

As minister of religious endowments in 1978, Sharawi defended President Anwar Sadat (1918-1981) – in parliament quoting a verse from Koran – which Muslims believe to be the word of Allah revealed to Prophet Mohammed: ” you are accountable to him but he is accountable to no one.” The  verse in its seventh century AD origin was referring to Allah.

From the 1970’s Sharawi used his populist status to mount media attacks on intellectual giants like the late Youssef Idriss, Egypt’s  great modern philosophers the late Tawfiq el-Hakim ,  Zaki Naguib Mahmoud, and the Nobel Prize Winner writer Naguib Mahfouz. Their sin  was to question some of the Sheikh’s reactionary fatwas and opinion as they warned that placing him above the possibility of making errors would be damaging to the health of the nation’ intellectual being. But the state controlled media came to the defence of the sheikh. During a six year long battle with Islamic terror groups, the government of  President Hosni Mubarak, which used heavy handed tactics to defeat Islamists,  wanted to appear more Islamic than the Islamic terrorists, gave Sahrawi prime time for his ” interpretation of  Koran” open lessons, while cutting time given to secular debating  programmes that flourished from the 1950’s to late 1970’s.

On his death, sources in Saudi Arabia, where Sharawi was seconded from Al-Azhar in 1950’s and again in the late 1970s to teach in the King Abdel Azziz University poured praise on the Sheikh and lamented” the  great loss of the Islamic nations.” But political Islam also lamented him.

Moustafa Mashhour, the leader of Egypt’s largest fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which introduced terrorism into the political  scene in the 1930’s and  1940’s stated, “Sharawi’s fingerprints on Islamic teaching were matchless,” . Sharawi was a founder member of the group  with Sheikh Hassan el Banna in 1928, but later criticised their ”  impatience as they started violence before they were ready to take
over”, he told me in an interview in 1987.

Freethinkers, human-rights’ activists and feminists remember him in a rather different light. Sharawi issued fatwas – edicts- supporting the mutilation of female genitalia (female circumcision) and ruled that  women should not be appointed to top government positions or become judges as women ” have incomplete minds and faith.’  Doctors were perplexed by his fatwa banning organ transplant and  donating organs after death as blasphemy. ”You have no right to donate your organ because you are only a keeper of that body which belongs to Allah”.

In early 1990’s Sharawi apparently influenced several of Egypt’s top belly dancers, and female film stars who announced – always during TV chat shows – that they have seen the light and were going take up the veil, all thanks to the Sheikh’s teaching. Press reports claimed, however, that they had been given large sums of money from rich oil  Sheikhs from Gulf Nations – and some tore the veil away after discovering  that the money was less than the agreed sum-. Sheikh Sharawi and his followers attacked the reports, but neither he, nor they demanded  correction from editors.

Some of Sharawi’s fatwas were either contradictory or double  standards. He ruled against paying of interest on bank deposits, yet he was the religious adviser to one of Egypt’s top Islamic banking finance institutions which used pyramid savings schemes that started off paying inflated returns and collapsed in 1988 robbing thousands of
poor Egyptians of an estimated $5 bn  of their savings.

When I interviewed Sheikh Sharawi in 1987 in London, he was staying at  the Hampstead house of the chairman of Al-Huda Islamic banking. He  then savaged the Iranians’ call to ‘internationalise’ the holy Islamic sites in Mecca after Saudi police clashed with Iranian pilgrims killed  over 200 when the Iranians held noisy demonstrations calling for
establishing an Islamic state.  Saudi Arabia was footing the bill of his London trip for treatment.   But he refused to condemn Islamic fundamentalists’ terrorism during the
interview. He was only critical of their timing, suggesting that they  should work closely with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and ‘  avoid confrontation with the ruler’s police’ and advised that they should wait until the time is right when society will be ready to
accept the fundamentalist’s rule by preaching and by economic  measures.

His preaching was a major factor, among many, in moving his society,  from its position 20 years ago as an open liberal secular pluralistic debating culture that was a lighthouse for the whole of the Middle  East, into a conservative Islamic closed and often xenophobic society, displaying hatred to the country’s Coptic minority – Christian orthodox- of 10 million who predate Islam in Egypt by seven centuries. As he called them  Ahl dzthyma  or second class citizens who can either convert to Islam or remain under the ”protection” of the Islamic ruler if the pay Jizyah a poll tax which the Arab Islamic military commanders imposed on the citizens of the countries they conquered.  Terror attacks by Islamic extremists against Copts in upper Egypt increased in the past few years; although Sharawi several times parroted the Egyptian government official, line that condemned the Islamists’ terror methods but emphasised that Egypt is a Muslim nation- the declared goal of the terrorist groups.

While other Islamic intellectuals left a wealth of books and essays which scholars can study for generations to come, Sharawi’s legacy is mainly the popular cassettes and video tapes of his preaching, which in the view of many Egyptian intellectuals a ” a reactionary and dangerous demagogic message,” that was in general discouraging people from thinking independently and interpreting Koran for themselves. He even attacked electricity as anti’ human nature as god intended it to be’ because electricity turned night into day and made people `’active at night”. But after consultation with government he then issued a fatwa that men who have to work at night could sleep during the day ” as long as they get up to pray”.

There has, however, been a minority of Egyptian Intellectuals horrified by the national display of morning surrounding Sharawi’s death, has proven what they feared years ago: the official and popular endorsement of preaching the message of bigotry and intolerance.
During his life they warned against the ” intellectual terrorism” used by Sharawi’s trend to further the Islamisation by stealth as the state competed with the terrorist to demonstrated to the confused public that they government as more muslims that the Islamic groups.

Like his life, the death of Sharawi, was yet another proof that little has changed in the structure of power which ensured the supremacy of the Egyptian State for over  6000 years. The state deploys its two powerful wings to grantee an overall tight rule over the population and possibly over the region: The priestly class, which have always remained faithfully subordinated to the Pharaoh as the head of this state; and the army. The events of ancient past foreshadowed contemporary events.

Serving both god and Caesar, the high priest of Egypt in 332 BC kept the triangular structure intact. He made the conqueror Alexander the Great not just a Pharaoh but a god by revealing that Alexander’s mother was conceived by the spirit of Egypt’s great god Amun-Rae.

For 6000 years, Pharaohs came and went, Egyptians or conquerors; with blue blood in their veins or Khaki uniform over their skin, but Egypt  remained within the same borders and the same triangular structure of power: the head of the state; the Church and the Army.

The official religion might have changed twice before Christ, and three times after his death, but the triangle of power remains more or less the same. Sharawi’s Television evangelism mirrored this structure of power but  the interests of the three institutions were so intractable that the government moved closer to the position of the clergy changing the nature of the secular state.  The difference now is that the priestly class is no longer dependent on the State for its massive wealth.

* Mohammed Mutwali Sharawi; Islamic Preacher & televsion Evangelist
*Born Daqadous, Egypt 15 April 1911
* Died Giza Egypt 17 June 1999