Dr Sayyid al-Qimni is a remarkable Egyptian political theorist who started off as a pan-Arabist and Nasserite, and ended up an Egyptian liberal.
It should be a source of shame to us, as fellow liberals and progressives, that his name is not more widely known. His face should be beaming down from posters in Universities and his ideas hotly debated on the European Left. But, instead, he is largely unknown here. He doesn’t even appear to have a Wikipedia page.
Qimni became a controversial figure in Egypt, when he gave an interview in which he expressed the following views:
1- Quran needs to be re-arranged and looked upon more carefully.
2- There is no priesthood in Islam.
3- The law of apostasy does not exist in the Quran.
4- Muslim scholars do not want to recognize woman’s rights and label her as deficient in religion and intellect.
5- The concept of Jihad is a communal and racist idea and is rejected by the modern time.
6- What the early Muslim Mujahdeen had done in those countries they had invaded need to be apologized for today.
Al-Qimni controversially argued that the occupation of Arabs in Egypt should be counted as the longest foreign occupation in the world.
As a result, he received a series of death threats, which for a while forced him into retirement. Indeed, he publicly retracted all his anti-clerical writing. But he didn’t stay silent for long.
If you would like to see Qimni in action, you must watch this video, from Al Jazeeera, of Qimni setting out his conception of democracy. He is pitted against a firey Islamist preacher (who surreally believes that the practice of eating Turkey at Christmas is a jibe at Muslims!).
So why is Qimni back in the headlines?
On 25 June 2009, he received the Egyptian State Award for Social Sciences. As a result, all hell has broken loose.
Usama Hasan of the City Circle takes up the story:
In particular, it is alleged that those who have declared that he is an apostate and should be killed (perhaps even by ordinary Egyptians, not just by the state) include:
1- The Muslim Brotherhood
2- Al-Azhar Scholars’ Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush
3- 5,000 mosque khatibs in their Friday sermons on July 24th
4- Sheikh Ali Gomaa himself (currently still the Grand Mufti, as far as I know)
The situation of a polarisation between religious and secular currents in is repeated in different Muslim-majority countries, eg Pakistan, Turkey, North Africa, etc., so this case is symbolic of a much wider and deeper issue, of course.
Usama Hasan has therefore published this call to defend the life of Dr Sayyid al-Qimni:
I’m therefore asking for your help in encouraging our friends in the following places to do the right thing in this regard (and praying to God that they do so, if appropriate!): i.e. to investigate the death-threats and to take appropriate steps to promote peaceful dialogue and debate, including between secularists and fundamentalists, believers and non-believers, etc.
1- The FCO, especially the Foreign Secretary
2- Our embassy in Cairo, as well as the embassies there of other influential countries
3- Al-Azhar University and its various affiliated institutions
4- The office of Sheikh Ali Gomaa
5- The Muslim Brotherhood
6- The office of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qimni is highly-critical of Qaradawi. From what I know of Qaradawi, he is at least open and committed to dialogue with others, plus he has a less-hardline position on the alleged death-penalty for apostasy. Therefore, perhaps he may be able to have a calming influence here.
7- Religious scholars and shaykhs generally, especially those with links to the UK & Egyptian governments and religious circles
8- Lambeth Palace & the office of Dr. Rowan Williams
9- Members of the “Common Word” initiative
10- Human rights organisations & lawyers
I publish, immediately below this article, Dr Sayyid al-Qimni’s own appeal.