light of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's ongoing trial, Western
readers may be surprised to learn who some of Mubarak's staunchest
defenders are: Salafi Muslims, that is, those Muslims who practice the
7th century Islam of Muhammad, often referred to as "radicals."
Sheikh Mahmoud Amer, leader of Ansar al-Sunna in Damanhur, recently
appeared on the Egyptian news program Life Today arguing that, according
to Sharia, it is illegal to try Mubarak, whose dealings with
Israel—specifically the charge that he sold gas to it at cheap
rates—were similar to prophet Muhammad's dealing with infidel enemies. I
translate the most relevant excerpt: He
[Hosni Mubarak] was the imam [Muslim leader]; all his actions have their
circumstances. Regarding this gas issue you're talking about, whoever
said that exporting gas to enemy combatants, Jews or otherwise, is
impermissible? Who among the Muslim jurists [fuqaha] said this? The
prophet himself died while his armor was held by a Jew [an infidel
enemy] as collateral; and in the Battle of the Trench , the prophet
negotiated with one of the polytheist tribes [enemies] to give them
dates, Medina's main source of income, just so they would quit the
war—because "war is deceit"; he negotiated for this purpose . Nor did
divine inspiration [Allah] come down to censure him for his actions, had
such actions violated Sharia. So, show me one jurist saying that it is
impermissible to deal with enemy combatants—I do not say treaty-holders,
as there is a treaty between us and the Jews, but I posit that between
us and the Jews is war. So who among the classic jurists said that it is
impermissible to deal with combatants, buying and selling? Here are the
books of jurisprudence… I say the prophet negotiated with the
polytheists to give them free dates just to keep their strength at bay
at that time [as opposed to Mubarak, who only sold gas cheaply, Muhammad
went one step further giving things for free]. So these are political
and military matters, and the authority is free to pick whichever he
deems most appropriate.
Along with stressing Muhammad's attempt to appease Islam's infidel
enemies with gifts when the latter were stronger than the Muslims, the
sheikh also stressed that Mubarak was the "sultan"—an Arabic-Islamic
term of special significance, conveying a certain form of sovereign
political and temporal authority in Islam, complete with dispensations
unavailable to the average Muslim.
Nor are these arcane notions; al-Qaeda itself has stressed these exact
points. When discussing the permissibility for Muslims to deceive
infidels, the late Osama bin Laden often alluded to Muhammad's attempt
to appease the infidel tribe; and Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's new leader,
quotes Islam's jurists as "unanimously agreeing" that "it is forbidden
to overthrow" Muslim rulers, even if they are "cruel and despotic" yet
"it is obligatory to wage jihad against" Muslim rulers found to be
"apostate infidels" (The Al Qaeda Reader, pgs. 26-27, 121-122, 129 ).
The non-hijabbed, Westernized looking female host, somewhat flustered,
retorted: "Excuse me sheikh, but this issue of comparing the actions of
our blessed prophet and a former president, I mean, forgive me, but
maybe one can't speak on or judge between similar circumstances."
Then Montaser al-Zayyat, an Islamist lawyer who regularly represents
jihadists—including, formerly, Zawahiri—chimed in saying he too "found
it hard listening to the sheikh," insisting that Mubarak should be
condemned for selling gas to "the Zionists, for this is a betrayal of
the [Egyptian] people."
Eventually, the debate descended into the usual shouting and yelling,
with the sheikh boasting that at least Mubarak was a hero in Egypt's
1973 war with Israel, and asking the hostess and Zayyat, "Where were you
on October 6, 1973?... Did you ever shoot a single bullet at a Jew?!"
This leads to the most telling aspect of this whole anecdote: while the
two Muslim experts on Sharia argued over many things, there was no
disagreement over two points—enmity for Israel and Jews, and the
permissibility of using deceit to undermine them.
Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published Islam-specialist, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.