In 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.