My Debut Blogpost
On 2009 Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany wrote an article describing a phenomenon which he termed “al-tadayon al-badeel” which literally translates to “alternative religiosity”. The translation of most of the article below.
It is known that many of those working in Egypt’s internal security force are religiously observant; they pray the prayers on time, they fast, they perform the hajj [to Mecca]…but that does not ever prevent them from conducting their daily work of torture, beating, and electrocution of prisoners.
In the same context, I know of a prominent official in the government who is known for his role in forging elections and violating the judiciary’s independence, while he is known within the family for his deep religiosity to the extent that he gives his relatives lessons in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Such examples are uncountable. Many Egyptians perform their daily religious obligations with devotion, but in their daily lives behave in a manner that is completely at odds with the religion.
Last Ramadan the daily newspaper al-masry al-youm published an excellent investigation of public hospitals during iftar [when fasting Muslims break their fast]. They found that most of the doctors leave the patients without care so that they can perform the [non-obligatory] taraweeh prayer. Those who do this are not ignorant, quite the contrary, they are educated doctors, but they simply consider the taraweeh prayer to be much more important than taking care of the ill, even if their lives are in danger.
Thus, the issue isn’t merely hypocrisy or ignorance, but it is a corrupt and twisted understanding of the religion that leads to a sort of superficial apparent religiosity that becomes an alternative to true religiosity.
Alternative religiosity is profitable and easy and doesn’t require a lot of effort or incur costs because it restricts religiosity within the limits of slogans and appearances. Defending the true principles of Islam – justice, freedom, and equality – is an issue fraught with dangers in Egypt that will ultimately lead you to jail, destruction of livelihoods, and destitution. But alternative religiosity, on the other hand, costs nothing while giving one a false sense of security and self-contentment.
Those who adopt alternative religiosity fast, pray, they greet people with the Islamic greeting, they force their wives and daughters to wear the hijab [modest clothes combined with a head covering] and niqab [hijab with the addition of a face veil], and they may even participate in protests against the Danish cartoons or the ban on hijab in France, or they may publicly lament the increase in provocative video clips…and they believe that by this they have performed their religious duty to the fullest. …Alternative religiosity is a sad illness that has inflicted Egyptians and has led them to passivity and unawareness, and has made them susceptible to oppression and tyranny. This was not always the nature of the Egyptians. Since 1919 and until 1952 the nationalist Egyptian movement with the leadership of the Wafd party went through a violent struggle and sacrificed thousands for the purpose of ousting the British occupation and achieving democracy.
The truth is that the spread of alternative religiosity has several causes, for until the end of the 1970s Egyptians, both Muslim and Coptic, were less interested in the appearances of religion and more attached to its true principals, until the arrival of Anwar al-Sadat who utilized religion as a tool to strengthen his political clout against the leftist opposition. Then the Iranian revolution happened which created a real threat to the Saudi Arabian system that was allied with the Salafist Wahaby ideology. And over the course of three decades Saudi Arabia spent billions of dollars for the purpose of spreading its interpretation of Islam which necessarily leads to alternative religiosity….Salafist thought provides a basis for alternative religiosity that frees you from the burden of ever taking an actual stand for justice and freedom.
Indeed, some of the new televangelists take pride – as do their followers – in the fact that they have been able to convince scores of girls to take on the hijab – as if the great Islam was descended from Allah (SWT) for the purpose of covering women’s hair, and not for justice, freedom, and equality [despite the fact that during the time of the Prophet (SAWS) ‘equality’ was one of the most revolutionary and central ideas due to tribal hierarchies etc].
Tyrannical systems always promote alternative religiosity, for these citizens are actually the model citizens under tyrannical/authoritarian rule because they live and die without ever rocking the boat, always in a state of non-opposition, and their opposition is restricted either to what happens outside of Egypt or things that don’t affect the governing system such as a revealing dress worn by an actress in her latest film (a group of such “alternatively religious” citizens are now actively advocating on the internet to sign a petition against singer Tamer Hosni because he stared at the body of the female star in his latest movie in an inappropriate way).
Thus, the system is absolutely welcoming of alternative religiosity because it clears it of its responsibility. For in the true Islam the ruler holds primary responsibility for the problems of his/her citizens. However, the alternatively religious citizens, when suffering from poverty and unemployment, will never think of the responsibility of the ruler towards this, rather they will reduce this phenomenon to one of two possibilities: this tribulation is either a punishment or a test from Allah, so they must be patient and not complain.
The martyrs of this system whose numbers have exceeded the number of all the martyrs of all the wars Egypt has ever gone through – the victims of burning trains, sinking ferries, falling buildings, kidney failure and cancer – all of those in the eyes of true Islam are victims of corruption and oppression, and the ruler is primarily responsible for their deaths and the destitution of their families. However, in alternative religiosity, this is viewed merely as fate and destiny and no more. It is believed that these victims’ time was up anyway, and they would have died somehow, so there is no point in placing blame on anyone for their deaths.
The great Islam once pushed Muslims to rule the world and teach humanity civilization, art, and science. Alternative religiosity, on the other hand, has led us to all the strife and humiliation we are immersed in. If we want to change our reality we must first adopt the true Islam and not only superficial religiosity as an alternative.
I believe this phenomenon is not restricted to Egyptian society. In fact, I see it almost anywhere I go around the world. This disconnect between where we claim to be religiously versus where we actually are spiritually and intellectually seems to be an ever-widening gap. It is for mainly this reason that I am interested in participating in this blog.
It is not that hypocrisy or “alternative religiosity” will be the only thing I ever write about. But it seems that the world is always putting “modernity” against “traditional religiosity” as if the two are necessarily in conflict and to productively engage in one entails sacrificing the other. Whether this means giving up your traditions or calling yourself “progressive” just to ease the burden of figuring out what it means to be a Western Muslim, or whether it means being selectively religious as the many examples in the above articles.
I just don’t see it that way. To me, there is no dichotomy between the world we live in today and the traditions and beliefs that have been held by Muslims for centuries. They are part and parcel of the same universe, and they are intricately linked in my outlook and worldview. I hope that comes across in my blogposts.