Politics and Faith in Egypt’s Zawiyas

Hi everyone,

Before I begin this post I would like to thank Kyle for this wonderful opportunity to guest blog with his organization, Institute for Religion and Public Policy. I wish him a safe, fun and productive trip to Colombia. He’s in my prayers.

Also, as a minor bit of shameless self-promotion, I just want to let readers know that the posts I write here will also be reproduced on the Minaret of Freedom Institute blog. So I encourage you all to check out it when you get the chance in order get your daily news round up and see past, present, and future blog entries by my boss Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad and yours truly…

Ok, so enough with the formalities! One of the things I like to draw peoples’ attention to when discussing issues of religious freedom in Muslim-majority countries is the State’s control over religious institutions and it’s social and political ramifications. Well, this morning I came across an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about the growth of Egypt’s zawiyas, small community Muslim prayer rooms used as substitutions for mosques. What makes it particularly interesting is that the article points out the growth of zawiyas seems to be a grassroots effort to continue practicing their faith without government interference. Here’s the money quote from the internationally respected Egyptian civil society activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim:

“In the beginning, the state cared only about regulating the big mosques,” said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and human rights activist. “It wanted to establish a very mainstream, noncritical Islam. But those with different ideas began to turn toward the zawiya…. It’s become an urban phenomenon popular in the slums. The government will try to step in and nationalize it. But as soon as they succeed in regulating one zawiya, others will mushroom. It’s almost like an informal guerrilla war.”

Pretty simple. People don’t like the government interfering in their practice of religion. After all, Islam is a faith that emphasizes a direct relationship between the Creator and the created. Government interests trying to dictate certain politically expedient interpretations of the faith to people taint that relationship.
The only issue I take with the article is that the random tidbit about how a state cleric calls for the destruction of the US. I find that part extremely odd since the other parts of the article talk about how state-sponsored Imams are vetted by the government. Egypt, a close ally of the United States would not very approving of a such a statement, if it was actually said.

In spite of my one criticism I’m not willing to throw baby out with the bathwater and found the article extremely informative.

– Alejandro

P.S. There’s a great three-article series by Gihan Shahine from Al-Ahram Weekly on the relationship between Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Islamic religious institution, and the government. It’s almost two years old, but it’s a great beginner’s series for those interested in learning more.

Original link: http://religion-culture-dialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/politics-and-faith-in-egypts-zawiyas.html


Alejandro Beutel is program assistant for the Minaret of Freedom Institute with expertise in religious freedom, democratization and security issues.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email