No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam

No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam

No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam

No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam

Synopsis

Shrouded in mystery, the Islamic presence in the Middle East evokes longstanding Western fears of terrorism and holy war. Our media have consistently focused on these extremes of Islam, overlooking a quiet yet pervasive religious movement that is now transforming the nation of Egypt. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, No God But God opens up previously inaccessible segments of Egyptian society--from the universities and professional sectors to the streets--to illustrate the deep penetration of "Popular Islamic" influence. Abdo provides a firsthand account of this peaceful movement, allowing its moderate leaders, street preachers, scholars, doctors, lawyers, men and women of all social classes to speak for themselves. Challenging Western stereotypes, she finds that this growing number of Islamists do not seek the violent overthrow of the government or a return to a medieval age. Instead, they believe their religious values are compatible with the demands of the modern world. They are working within and beyond the secular framework of the nation to gradually create a new society based on Islamic principles. Abdo narrates fascinating accounts of their methods and successes. Today, for example, university students meet in underground unions, despite a state ban. In addition, sheikhs have recently used their new legislative power to censor books and movies deemed to violate religious values. Both fascinating and unsettling, Abdo's findings identify a grassroots model for transforming a secular nation-state to an Islamic social order that will likely inspire other Muslim nations. This model cannot be ignored, for it will soon help organized Islamists to undermine secular control of Egypt and potentially jeopardize Western interests in the Arab world.

Excerpt

The scene from my balcony, in one of Cairo's wealthiest districts, offered a view the world had somehow failed to notice. Each Friday, within minutes of the awe-inspiring refrain of Allahu Akbar, God is Great, dozens of men flocked to a small plaza below, each clinging to a green prayer mat. They laid them out in unison, turning a small triangle in the street into a sea of green--the color of the Prophet Mohammed. They removed their shoes and prostrated themselves toward the mosque and, far beyond, toward Mecca itself. I was intrigued not by the sound of the muezzin, whose eloquent echo can be heard in various keys across most Muslim cities five times a day, nor by the instant field of green, which I soon learned was commonplace wherever Cairo's faithful gathered to pray. Rather, I was struck by the fact that the worshippers hunched over their mats were not the kind of men commonly seen in the streets and coffeehouses of Cairo. One glance revealed their social class: The smooth feet of this well-groomed set stood in sharp contrast to the rough calluses many Egyptian men develop from dragging their bare heels over the edges of their ill-fitting shoes.

I was stunned that middle and upper middle-class men would leave their luxurious apartments and villas in Zamalek, once home to Egypt's pashas and kings, to pray on a dusty corner of Ahmed Hishmat Street. Nearly everything I had read before coming to Egypt in 1993 described the Islamic revival as a movement reserved for the poor. The common explanation in press accounts and academic circles for Egypt's return to its Islamic identity had become a cliché: After experimenting with socialism, Arab nationalism, and capitalism under successive leaders Gamal Abd al-Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak, a vast majority of Egyptians were left poverty-stricken and embittered toward the West. The failures of Western-oriented ideologies . . .

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