The following letter was written in response to Raymond Ibrahim’s article, “Top Muslim Declares All Christians Infidels.” According to American Muslim, “Prof. Faroque Ahmad Khan requested Dr Ibrahim Negm—senior advisor to the Grand Mufti to provide a clarification of the remarks attributed to Sheikh Ali Gomaa. Here is the response that was received.” Written in the first-person, it is presumably authored by the Grand Mufti himself.
It is no exaggeration to say that the need for people from different religious backgrounds, countries, and cultures to live together in peace and harmony is the need of our time. The world has seen far too much violence and hatred over the past few years, and it has long been part of my mission as Mufti of Egypt to participate in initiatives which stress dialogue, cooperation, and mutual respect between all communities.
Despite all efforts, however, it unfortunately remains the case that we are living in difficult times when the words of Muslim leaders are regularly twisted and taken out of context so as to serve the political agendas and interests of writers whose sole purpose it is to put Islam and Muslims on the defensive, and to convince well-meaning citizens of the world that each and every Muslim is suspect, and so must be feared or censured. This recent uptick in Islamophobia has been monitored and written about by a number of credible observers. Some of these attempts are so intellectually dishonest that they hardly merit a response, except out of concern that the silence on the part of the victims of such smear campaigns is taken as evidence of their guilt.
In an entirely speculative and unsubstantiated article, Raymond Ibrahim absurdly tries to link my commentary on Muslim theological doctrine, delivered within the context of a mosque study circle, to the regrettable Maspero events in Cairo last month. My comments at the mosque that day were intended exclusively as a pedagogical explanation of the Qur’anic view on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and as Ibrahim himself acknowledges, I explicitly said that this theoretical positioning has no effect on the duty of Muslims to live in peace and harmony with their co-citizens, the Copts of Egypt. Rather, Muslims are obligated to live in accordance with their fellow Christian citizens, and always strive towards the upholding of safety, security, and prosperity for all.
Moreover, this is a long-standing position of mine, which I have reiterated on numerous occasions. Most recently, when churches were being targeted in Egypt, I took a clear stance on the impermissibility of such transgressions, saying that they violate the bond of citizenship in which all Egyptians participate. As co-participants in society, Egyptian citizens are all entitled to live together amongst each other, and conduct their daily affairs in peace, safety and security. Therefore, harming them or intimidating them – to say nothing of spilling their blood or destroying their houses of worship – is a stark violation of that trust. The Qur’an is clear that Muslims must honor their commitments. The Prophet has remarked that infidelity to one’s commitments is a sign of hypocrisy, and that one who reneges on a commitment and kills someone under his trust will be branded a traitor on the Day of Judgment, undeserving of any association with the Prophet whatsoever. This offence is so serious because it goes against the most fundamental objectives of the Shari’a, its very raison d’être: the preservation of life, religion, reason, honor and property.
It bears noting that Mr Ibrahim’s choice of wording is regrettable. The English word “infidel” carries with it strong connotations of exclusion and violence, inherited from the European experience of Christianity during the wars of religion which devastated that continent for decades. The Arabic “kafir” is a legal term which denotes very precisely and simply those outside the Muslim community, those who do not believe in the particular message and worldview of Islam. The much less charged translation “non-believer” is appropriate here, especially when there are explicit instructions accompanying any statement exhorting towards living in peace and harmony.
Muslims must always continue to speak out for the values of justice and mercy we hold dear, quite independent of what motives others may attribute to us. Indeed it is an act of allegiance to Islamic tradition to maintain at all costs that Christians in Egypt, though they diverge from us Muslims theologically, remain part of our nation, and that they must not be put in harm’s way at any cost.