My response to Majdī Khalīl is presented in the form of bullets that contain comments, arguments, or questions. I will be referring to relevant sources to provide further details on this debate.
- Reviewing the full text of the article shows that the author commits the three common mistakes.
1- Generalization. This is evident in his argument that all Islamic scholars, be they from old or new generations, are moving in the same rigid frame which will always result in “old wine in new bottles” by rephrasing old literature, thereby giving the impression that they are undergoing a process of revision.
2- Turning a deaf ear to voices from within the Islamic circles, describing recent theoretical contributions that aim at rereading the Islamic statecraft as “empty buzz.”
3- Judging the intentions of contemporary Islamic scholars by claiming that they are feigning a reformation and reinterpretation of the Islamic Sharī‘ah, while they are actually maneuvering for political gains or to gain appeal.
I would like to direct the attention of the author to the following:
1- Dr. Muḥammad Salīm al-‘Awwā, the deputy chairman of
the International Union for Muslim Scholars, was one name included by the author
along with other contemporary scholars accused of creating “empty buzz” around
statecraft in the Islamic vision. Dr. al-‘Awwā however, has introduced
a new theoretical contribution to the question of citizenship and Dhimmah,
which is an obvious contribution. According to al- ‘Awwā,
dhimmah linguistically means ‘convention.’ Dhimmah is not a status,
it has rather been classically agreed that dhimmah is a contract
ratified by the Islamic state with non-Muslims in which the Islamic state committed
itself to securing non-Muslims and their freedom to worship. Non-Muslims in this
contract were committed to accepting the rule of the Islamic Sharī‘ah
in the public sphere and pay the Jizyah, unless they choose to participate
in the state’s army of defense. This contract was not an Islamic invention, but
an Arabic pre-Islamic tradition that was approved by Islam. Islam however, eternalized
the contract which used to be ratified on short-term basis during the pre-Islamic
era. Al-‘Awwā argues that in modern Islamic countries [nation-states],
Christian citizens participate in the armies and defense duties of their home
countries on an equal basis as their fellow Muslim citizens, which absolves them
of the Jizyah. Christians struggled shoulder to shoulder with Muslims against
the Western occupation of the remnants of the Islamic/Ottoman Empire in Africa
and Asia. Furthermore, the disappearance of one of the two parties of the Dhimmah
contract—the unified Islamic state—makes the old contract of Dhimmah itself
void and out of context Today, nation-states, which are supposed to be civil entities,
establish a new form of social contract between governments and subjects other
than those tackled in the classical Islamic literature, and according to which
both Muslims and Christians are equal before the law. However, that does not absolve
Muslims, whereby they constitute the majority of population, from their commitments
toward Christians [such as securing them and guaranteeing their freedom to worship]
as this is a necessary commitment of theirs before God.
2- In a conference organized by the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation
in October 2007, the Islamic scholar Dr Bayyūmī, a former deputy of the
Committee for Religious Affairs in the Egyptian Parliament and member of the Islamic
Research Academy at the Azhar, referred to the inaccurate results from adopting
outdated interpretations by some Islamic scholars. He illustrated this by using
the example of some extremist groups’ attempts to implement an analogy between
the contemporary international order and the Islamic classic dichotomy of theDār
al-Islam vs. Dār al-Ḥarb [the abode of Islam vs. the abode
of war], which is definitely inconvenient as the abode of war is classically defined
as the territory where Muslims are prohibited from practicing the Islamic rituals,
the definition that applies to none of the states across the world in our own
day. “Minarets of mosques are seen in the heart of Paris today” he added.
3- Majdī Khalīl obviously condemns the Islamic vision of the world as
a biased set with a discriminatory religious basis. In this context, it would
be interesting to invite the author to read what Western scholars have written
about the roots of international law. Although its advocates usually assume that
it is a system of universal validity and acceptability and that it is religiously
and culturally neutral, international law can hardly be described as unbiased.
It is highly probable that international law contains cultural values as it originated
from the European law of nations; namely, as agreements concluded by various European
states in their efforts to regulate hostile relations among themselves. Given
the European origins of modern international law, which now serves as the basis
for most interstate arbitration, it seems obvious that this law will in many ways
reflect the ethical values of the Western Just War tradition which find its
roots in Christianity.
4- The author quotes the contemporary Islamic thinker Rāshid al-Ghannūshī
saying: “Acquiring citizenship in the Islamic state is restricted by two conditions:
(1) being a Muslim and (2) residing the Islamic territory.” From this he concludes
al-Ghannūshī excludes by this definition non-Muslims from the scope of
citizenship even if they are the indigenous people. I believe that the author
was unsuccessful in quoting this specific statement of al-Ghannūshī who
is well-known for being a pro-citizenship Islamist and who is usually criticized
by hardliners, simply because this quote clearly stipulates that these conditions
of citizenship applies to citizens of the “Islamic state,” which is no-longer
an existent entity!
5- This takes us to the ongoing interesting and serious debate about the so-called
crisis of the nation state, the adorable political actor by liberal thinkers,
and the Islamic state versus the nation state. Scholars from both Western and
Arabic academic and intellectual circles have been preoccupied with this debate
in the last two decades, and it might be useful to Majdī Khalīl to follow
it up to help him see the other side of the coin. In her study entitled, ‘Citizenship:
A Study of the Development of the Concept in the Liberal Thought,’ Hibah Ra’ūf
‘Izzat argues that “citizenship” is strongly related to “nationalism”
which has been experiencing a crisis both as a thought/ideology and as a state
since the late 1980s. Over-individualism, abandonment of the spirit of the community,
and neglecting the public interest are among the main reasons why nationalism
is undergoing this crisis. In addition to these factors is the neglect of the
cultural element of the individual which relates him to a certain group of people
and denying the primordial belonging of him which empties man of his sophistication
as a human being and turns him into a one-dimensional legal/civil “citizen.”
‘Izzat assures that the question is not whether or not to adopt citizenship
that is coupled with equity because this should not be debatable, the question
should rather be: which citizenship and with what features? And to what extent
is it going to guarantee an individual’s identity as it is supposed to guarantee
his/her rights? The latest constitutional amendments, for example, have adopted
a vague concept of citizenship coupled with the elimination of all socialist references,
thereby abolishing every feature of the welfare state from the Egyptian economo-political
sphere. Is this the kind of citizenship people should work for, given that Egypt
is already witnessing severe economic injustice and given that in order for citizenship
to be complete it has to have an economic dimension?
6- The latest constitutional amendments which introduced “citizenship” to the
socio-political milieu in Egypt have demonstrated the regime attempts to monopolize
defining “citizenship” by introducing its own vision of the concept. The new definition
highlights certain aspects of it, obviously the aspects that would guarantee its
survival, and obscure the others that would terminate its existence. The same
applies to religion which is ironically described by some researchers as the only
element that is being “nationalized” in Egypt which has been witnessing a process
of privatization for decades.
7- Fahmī Huwaydī, another name mentioned under the “empty buzz” category,
has obviously stated: “By reopening the file of citizenship we are reinventing
the bicycle, in other words we would be reexamining already well-established concepts
that are implanted in the collective experience of humanity…There is no rational
person who would oppose the idea of citizenship or deny the civility of the state…The
serious debate should then get over the question “what” forward to the question
8- Thereafter, I am introducing a translated brief of a paper entitled, ‘The Dichotomies
of the Society/the State and the Religion/Citizenship: The Space of Societal Consensus
and the Obscured Spaces,’ by ‘Amr Ḥamzāwī, which I found
very interesting as a foundation for any further debates on this topic. The paper
uses a historical approach to the relationship between the religious institution
and the state in Europe and concludes with a reading of the contemporary relevant
situation in Egypt.
- In Europe, although the relationship between the religious institution and the states was allegedly decided a long time ago, Europe continues to witness a debate about the religious phenomenon and its relevance to society [e.g. religious symbols in the public sphere in France and Germany]. In addition, there is indeed obvious religious presence in the public sphere [e.g. the political parties with the Christian background and which are efficient across the continent].
-One of the main differences between the experience of secularization in the European and in the Arab region is the lack of institutional mechanisms of negotiations in the Arab world, which makes it harder to develop consensual forms of intersection between religion and the political regime.
- Secularization of the European societies has taken place through a long period of time, a process that included serious social changes such as the dispossession of the church’s property and changing its position on the European social and religious map. That was NOT a total rejection or marginalization of religion as a phenomenon, although this was the opinion of a considerable number of thinkers and theorizers. It can, however, be said that religion has generally been an element of the discourse of the enlightenment project.
There are two types of change that may take place within a society: (1) partial and (2) radical. Partial change occurs either through highlighting the cultural elements that had been abandoned, or by importing new cultural and civilizational elements that have developed in other contexts. Radical change takes place by reviewing old elements of the culture of the society and the accumulation of thought developed in the society radically. Reviewing the history of the concept “reform” in the Arabic experience in modern ages will indicate that the concept has developed in affiliation to the religious reform in the 19th century, although this we find liberal reformists in these days in the Arab world insistent on setting religion aside from this process of reform.
The concept of citizenship emerged in the Egyptian political sphere in the 1990s and did not have strong religious referentiality or respond to the concept of identity at that time, it was mainly affiliated to the prevailing equation: the society [including the rising Islamists] versus the state which [the state] failed to meet the needs of its individuals.
Gradually, and with the constantly rising power of Islamism, both the liberal and the communist intellectuals started to push for the formulation of a religion-free civil sphere. Non-Islamic intellectuals at that point developed an “either/or” understanding of the relationship between religion and citizenship. That all came in cooperation with the state which actually found it to be a good chance to hit the Islamist movement and to cover up the confrontation between the state and the society. This confrontation between the state and the Islamists and the oppressive strategies adopted by the state against them has resulted in the “revisionary” discourse within the circles of Islamists that we are currently witnessing in Egypt.
The state has recently been instrumentalizing the concept of citizenship in the sense that it introduces itself as a religiously neutral entity that refuses any religious power, whether Islamic or Coptic, to take over in the public sphere and that it is protecting the citizen from any “religiously fanatic” force. In other words, the state is trying to distract society from its confrontation with the regime and redirect the interest of society’s opposition forces into the confrontation among themselves by focusing on the religion/citizenship dichotomy.
One of the main conclusions of Ḥamzāwī is that reformist Islamists such as the members of the Wasat party share some common features: an anti-violence tendency, a tendency to rediscover elements of power within religion other than the political ones. He further argues that this all comes with their attempt to introduce some yet-vaguely reformed Fiqh. This Fiqh demonstrates the ability to accept liberal diversity and the concepts of citizenship and human rights with all of their universal bearings, and even shows readiness to accept such values as central values in the society along with religion. This movement is trying to create a form of socio-political consensus that would contain seculars. In the end of his paper, Ḥamzāwī predicts that this stream - in case it crystallizes - will be able to resolve the religious/political dilemma in the Arab region.
9- Ultimately, I agree with Majdī Khalīl on two points: the first
is that there is indeed a category of Islamist theorizers and activists who refuse
to think “outside the box” and who are, as well as Majdī Khalīl himself
I would say, turning deaf ears to “the others.” Even when their ears catch a different
voice, even if slightly different, they raise suspicions regarding the speaker’s
intentions. The second is that there is a vagueness surrounding the Islamic
conception of some notions. What should be taken into consideration in this regard
is the fact that the whole Islamic scholarship is undergoing a state of revision.
The Western concept of citizenship, among other concepts, are relatively new to
the Islamic thought. This means that a prolonged debate should take place in order
for the conclusions to be mature and well-established.
10- Finally, I am joining Majdī Khalīl’s “empty buzz” group in their invitation
to all thinkers and activists in Egypt to engage in a constructive debate on the
kind of citizenship we would like to introduce into our socio-political environment,
and to stand together in the face of all forms of manipulation of religion and
paternization of thought.
69- M.Salim al- cAwwa ,The Dhimma System: A Modern Islamic Vision , (visited October 2005 at) < http://www.islamonline.net/arabic/contemporary/2005/07/article01a.shtml>
70- Arab West Report, not published yet
71- Firestone, Reuven, Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam, Oxford University Press, (1999), Oxford
72- Said al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Fattāh The Unholy Creep…The Nationalization of Religion by the State',(2005), Cairo