Soon after reporting that Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, had pronounced all Christians “infidels,” I received several emails forwarding what looked like a response from Gomaa. Some websites—such as the ever-hysterical “American Muslim“—published it, providing the following additional information:
Prof. Faroque Ahmad Khan took it on himself to investigate [the claims of my article]. Dr. Khan requested Dr Ibrahim Negm—a senior advisor to the Grand Mufti [and an Al Azhar professor] to provide a clarification of the remarks attributed to Sheikh Ali Gomaa. Here is the response that was received [followed by the same text others had emailed me].
Though he makes several points, including the need for “dialogue” and “mutual respect,” [read entire response here] Gomaa’s grand point, the crux of the issue—what kafir which I routinely translate as “infidel” means—unfortunately exposes dishonesty on his part (the other option, ignorance, being inapplicable). He writes:
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.
In fact, from its inception, Islam has been the quintessential religion—historically and doctrinally—to enforce and institutionalize “exclusion and violence” for the “other,” to the point of influencing medieval Christianity. Gomaa therefore takes the standard way out—blame Christianity and its “wars of religion” (code for “Crusades”)—without alluding to what prompted these wars in the first place: five centuries of unprovoked Islamic aggression, land-grabbing, subjugation and persecution of Christians, which continues to this very day.
Gomaa’s sophistry continues:
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.
Yes, the word kafir is a “legal term” denoting non-Muslims; and yes, most modern English Qurans translate it as “non-believer.” However, and as Gomaa knows full well, the word kafir (plural, kafirin) is heavy laden with negative associations, or, as I originally wrote, it “connotes ‘enemies,’ ‘evil-doers,’ and every bad thing to Muslim ears.”
Accordingly, Sharia mandates hostility for kafirin—war and subjugation when they are weak, deception and smooth-talk when they are strong. Quran 2: 98 simply declares that “Allah is the enemy of kafirin“—regardless of whether we translate that word as “infidels” or “non-believers.”
In fact, doctrine aside, consider how the Quran alone portrays “non-believers”: they are “guilty” and “unjust” (10:17, 45:31, 68:35); terror is to be cast in their hearts for their injustice (3:151); they are “disliked” and “accursed” by Allah (2:89, 3:32, 33:64); they are the “vilest of beasts” (8:55, 98:6), like “cattle” and “devoid of understanding” (47:12, 8:65); and “enemies” to Muslims (4:101).
And why are “non-believers” described thus? Simply because they are non-believers—because they are infidels.
So much for the Grand Mufti’s assertion that the “much less charged translation ‘non-believer’ is appropriate” for the word kafir. Perhaps he is operating under Quran 3:28: “Let believers not take kafirin [infidels, non-believers, whatever] for friends and allies … unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.” Not only is this yet another verse depicting non-Muslims as enemies, but, according to Muslim jurisprudence, it justifies deceiving them.
There is also much peripheral evidence that “non-believers” are seen negatively: when Gomaa’s colleagues, the Muslim Brotherhood, recently declared that only “drunks, druggies, and adulterers” reject Sharia—and considering that non-Muslims by nature reject Sharia—were they not in essence asserting that all non-believers are junkies and faithless perverts?
Aside from distorting the word kafir, Gomaa made the following points which require remark:
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…
As for his words being “delivered within the context of a mosque study circle,” that is no excuse: as Grand Mufti of a nation of some 70 million Muslims, Gomaa is responsible for every doctrine-related utterance he makes—whether he knows he is being videotaped or not. Likewise, even if his comments “were intended exclusively as a pedagogical explanation of the Qur’anic view on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,” they still culminated in categorizing all Christians as infidels, which is the point here.
Accordingly, his comments are, in fact, related to the Maspero massacre. Consider: when the Grand Mufti of Egypt himself categorizes Christians as “infidels”—a word that, as we have seen, conveys to the Muslim mind images of guilty, oppressive, accursed, bestial-like enemies—is it surprising when Muslims, including the Egyptian military, attack and kill Christians—all while calling them “infidels”?
A personal note to Sheikh Gomaa: the time for sophistry, apologetics, euphemisms, and projections is past. We live in an age where the historic, doctrinal, and contemporary facts of Islam are increasingly exposed for the world to see, in part thanks to the Internet and satellite, which defy censorship. Operating according to this fact—that is, respecting people’s intelligence—is the first step to meaningful dialogue.