He might be a controversial leader with a roiling country simmering with protest, but Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's latest comments on religion are being well-received by moderate and secular Muslims.
On multiple occasions this month, Sisi called on Muslims for a “religious revolution” in order to adapt to the constantly changing, modern world – a remark made in the wake of the latest Paris attacks by Islamist terrorists.
On Monday, while addressing the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Sisi stated:
“The rise in terrorism… requires a thoughtful response from the international community. The fight must not only be restricted to security and military aspects… but should include a reformed religious discourse from which false ideologies that could lure some into adopting violence to impose their ideas have been removed.”
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Most recently, during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he reiterated the same need for a “change in religious discourse.”
Speaking to Muslim religious leaders at al-Azhar University in Cairo earlier this month, he said:
"We are in need of a religious revolution. You imams are responsible before Allah,” he said. “The entire world is waiting for your word ... because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost … by our own hands.”
Sisi’s theory could make a significant difference, if applied to the following most controversial issues surrounding the Muslim world:
It’s considered an unforgivable offense in almost all the Muslim countries in the world (it is punishable by death).
Most of the times, if we consider Pakistan as an example, people are even murdered over mere allegations of blasphemy.
This, of course, needs to be changed.
While blaspheming is indeed forbidden in Islam, several analysts and researchers have found that people who ask to be pardoned have to be spared the death penalty – but this is a relatively unknown fact.
The situation of women’s rights in most Muslim countries is quite bleak. (Case in pont: Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed to drive.) However, not many people in the Western world know that the first lady of Islam, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah, was a businesswoman and in fact his superior. Historically, women in Islam have also served in the military.
Muslims need to highlight – and practice – these aspects of Islam more to make the religion less at odds with the modern world.
Freedom of speech:
Most recently, the flogging of blogger and activist Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia has sparked international outrage.
However, what contrary to what Saudi laws might purport, Islam doesn’t discourage dialogue. In fact, the entire concept of mosques and religious congregation is to promote dialogue between the followers and clerics of Islam. Criticism is not a punishable offense – there is no religious decree saying that.
But all we see nowadays is violence in the name of silencing freedom of thought and it needs to be stopped.
As thought-provoking as his latest comments might be, there’s little chance Sisi’s calls for religious revolution will be taken seriously, considering he has a lot to answer for at home. Apart from mass death sentences – reportedly without fair trials – the Egyptian leader is being criticized for not taking concrete steps to free three Al Jazeera journalists. They were arrested in December 2013 over charges of aiding a terrorist organization when they covered the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the military.