Arab Identities and Tribal Culture

Arab Identities and Tribal Culture
(Wael Farouq, May 23, 2018)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

In his new book, Egyptian scholar Wael Farouq addresses such issues as tribal culture in Arab identity, the invention of the Caliphate, and the history and the role of the fatwā, including an analysis of what European Muslims are looking for as shown in their requests for fatwās today. Throughout, he examines the deeper roots of the perilous predicament of Arab reason revealed in the contemporary clash between religious and modernist discourse.

Professor Farouq is currently professor of Arabic language, literature and culture at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the Catholic University of Milan (Italy) and at the Faculty of Linguistic Sciences and Foreign Literatures of the same university. Previously, he has been professor of Arabic language at the American University in Cairo (Egypt), Straus Fellow at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice at the University of New York, and vice president of the Cairo Meeting.

He is author of several books and essays in Arabic, Italian and English in the field of Islamic studies and on contemporary Islamic thinking. Among other publications, he is a contributing author of the book Dio salvi la ragione (“God Save Reason”, Cantagalli, 2007) with Pope Benedict XVI, and coauthor of the book Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cambridge University Press, 2015). He has recently published two books: Conflicting Arab Identities – Language, Tradition and Modernity (Muta, 2018) and Discourse Analysis of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2018).

An excerpt from his monograph Hats and Turbans:  Adaptation to Modernity and Conventional Mind, (New York, 2012), can be read at:

For a companion lecture, see Robert Reilly’s Westminster talk, Not What Went Wrong in the Arab World, but Why It Went Wrong: A Theological Answer.


Barbara Gagliotti:

Good evening, everyone. My name is Barbara Gagliotti and I am the Associate Director of Crossroads Cultural Center, and we are co-sponsoring tonight’s event. I am very sorry to inform you that Robert Reilly will not be here tonight. He broke his arm last Sunday in two places, and so he is in a lot of pain, and he is also very sorry not to be able to be here to greet Wael Farouq, who is a friend of his.

Audience member:


Barbara Gagliotti:

He did not tell me, and he seemed like he was. I did not want to ask, but of course, he is on the mend, but it has just not been so many days, so he thought he would be able to throw his jacket over his arm and get away with it, but he quickly understood that was not going to happen, so he asked me to step in.

Crossroads Cultural Center is a co-sponsor of tonight’s event, and we are an organization that finds its inspiration in the charism of Father Luigi Giussani. It is a Catholic Lay Movement, which is present in 170 countries throughout the world, and our goal is to bring opportunities for education, which offer the possibility to look at reality with openness, with curiosity, and with critical awareness.

Often our events like the event that we are going to participate in tonight, are the occasion for profound dialogue and frank dialogue and the occasion for surprising encounters like the one that we have had with our friend, Wael Farouq.

Who could have imagined, I think, the importance of the chance encounter that that you between a Christian student of Arabic language and his Muslim professor that generated a long history of friendship and has opened pathways for greater understanding between cultures and religion. Perhaps Professor Farouq will tell us a little bit more about that in the question-and-answer period, but that is what we do to generate encounter, to generate an affection where you can actually speak of things and have a dialogue about things.

In addition to his academic work, and I will not go into his biography because you have had that in the announcements that were sent out, Professor Farouq was instrumental in publishing the Religious Sense in Arabic. The Religious Sense is the seminal work of Father Luigi Giussani about the human person, about the use of reason, about religiosity, and Professor Wael was extremely happy to bring that to light in Arabic.

He also dedicates quite a bit of his time to promoting dialogue between Christian and Muslim thinkers and leaders, and we thank you for that. And the last thing that I will mention before I introduce our speaker is that the last time that we had the honor of hosting you was when you shared the stage with Robert Reilly in 2012 and this was at the National Press Club. Bob had just published his work on the Closing of the Muslim Mind, and we were in sort of the waning period of the Arab Spring, so we had a very lively dialogue on was there any hope coming out of the Arab Spring and I hope that we can get a little update on that tonight, perhaps in the question-and-answer period.

So, the format of tonight’s discussion will be a presentation followed by questions and answers and we ask that during the question-and-answer period that all speakers please approach the microphone because this is being filmed, so that we can put it on the websites and to be as succinct as possible in your comments and to make questions in the form of a question.

Please join me in welcoming Professor Wael Farouq, who is professor of Arabic language, literature, and culture at the Catholic University of Milan in Italy. He will speak on his latest work, which is entitled, “Conflicting Arab Identities.” Thank you for coming, Wael, and being with us.

Wael Farouq:

Thank you very much, Barbara. I am really honored to be here this evening with you. I am really grateful for Bob Reilly for inviting me and for his hospitality. And I am going to ask you to excuse me for my English at the beginning because it is not [just] the strong Egyptian accent, but it is also combined by an Italian accent, so God help you.

Structure of the Presentation

The structure of the presentation [is as follows]. I am going to [start] from the explosion of [in the number of] fatwas [issued], this phenomenon that you can find in all [of the] Islamic world, especially in [the] Arab world. And after presenting this phenomenon, I am going to speak about why, and I am proposing two answers, one within the Islamic tradition itself, what I call the ‘duality of Ummah tribe’, and the other one within the form of modernity that has arrived [in] the Arab world. And after this, I will move to speak also about the fatwa [in the] West and Muslims living in [the] West, but particularly in Europe because it is a statistical study that I made on Muslims in Europe.

Explosive Growth in Fatwas

This fatwa, this phenomenon, is very important, and it is regarding all aspects of everyday life for all Muslims and for Muslim societies. As you can see here, starting from 1990, we have this explosion of this technology called fatwa. We can find fatwa on Facebook. Even on smartphones, there is an app for fatwa. There is Google Imam. There are a lot of forms of the fatwa in [the] modern world.

Just to give you an image about how huge this phenomenon is, we will see that Islam will, for example, you know, you see 170 fatwas, 24 fatwas per day. This is only one website in five languages. There are others in sixteen languages. There are millions of people who are following. I am not going to read everything so we will stay with time. [There are] millions of people who are following the Imams who are issuing these fatwas. And one of them, for example, is followed by Amra Khaled, an Egyptian preacher, and he is followed by 29 million [people], which is [equivalent to the populations of] three or four Arab countries combined together. [These are] fatwas that you can find in everyday life. [As a] Muslim, you can find it present from the very big questions to the very small questions.

One of these fatwas I found, for example, on the Facebook page of Al-Azhar University, and it is about a young man who just was [a] student in American University in Cairo. He had just got his new smartphone, and as we all do, the first thing he was going to do is to personalize his smartphone. And as a religious young man, the first thing he thought to do was download the Holy Qur’an on his smartphone. The Internet is very slow in Egypt, so downloading took [a] very long time. And while he was waiting for the download, his stomach started to move.

He got this basic, superficial, but very important need to go to bathroom. But he said, okay, I am not going to waste two hours of downloading, I will resist until I complete the downloading of the Holy Qur’an, and after [I will] run to the bathroom. And when he was on the limits of his tolerance, the download finished, and he started to run towards the bathroom. In front of the bathroom, he stopped. It came to his mind a question: can I enter the bathroom with my phone full of the words of God of the Holy Qur’an? Would it be an insult to the words of God and the Holy Qur’an? And he stopped in front of the bathroom, divided between the pain of his stomach and the pain of his mind [unable to] make a decision.

This fatwa gives an example of what I want to present today. This young man is not poor because he has just got his brand-new smartphone. He has got a relationship with technology. He is well educated. He is a student in university. He is everything that we used to give as an answer of the crisis of Islam today, not the poverty or the lack of education, not any of these things. He is educated. He is rich. He has everything, but he cannot make such a simple decision, whether to enter the bathroom or not, so this is what I tried to study in this book, what went wrong with the Muslim world.

What is a Fatwa?

But before I go through this, I wanted to quickly present what is a fatwa because fatwa and iftā’ is a very beautiful and important mechanism in Islamic tradition. The fatwa in language, we see has all of this beautiful meaning of renewal, of seeking knowledge, of seeking wisdom, so it has a beautiful meaning in the Arabic language. It has a beautiful meaning in Islamic tradition. It was mentioned eleven times in the Holy Qur’an, always with a very positive meaning. The fatwa at the end, we can say it is a sort of seeking for perfection. In fact, in Islamic history, we see the first one who issued fatwas is God himself.


In fact, we can divide the Qur’an into two different categories. One was revealed initially to Prophet Muhammad, and the other one was a response to a human question, a human curiosity or a human need, so the fatwa from its meaning in language, in tradition, and from its history is a very important mechanism, not only to keep living in a harmonious way with the Sharia, but to produce the Sharia, to produce the tradition itself.

This was in the history, in the beginning here in the early history of Islam. It used to be like this, but this beautiful tradition and this beautiful meaning with style disappeared. The fatwa became like a closed form that we have to force reality to enter into it, so we see the positive meaning of the fatwa that was at the beginning, producing the Shariah, producing the tradition, guaranteeing a harmonious relationship between what is religious, and the reality, and the human needs.

Fatwa in Islamic Jurisprudence

Okay, the mechanism of fatwa also in Islamic jurisprudence is very interesting because the fatwa cannot exist if there is no curiosity, if there is no question, the fatwa cannot exist. And after issuing the fatwa, the people, the seeker of the fatwa is not forced to follow this fatwa. He can accept it or refuse it, so the fatwa in summary is based on the freedom, the freedom to ask, the freedom to suppress your question, and the freedom to accept the answer or to refuse it, so the freedom is the keyword, the keyword of this Islamic tradition.

The Fatwa in Theory

The fatwa is in the Qur’an, also, as I said, present in a large part of the Qur’anic verses, okay? And we see also in a rhetorical way, the most common, the most diffused rhetorical and linguistic form in the Qur’an is the question, so I can say that the most important thing for the Islamic tradition is not the answer given but the question by the man, the question, the seeking of knowledge, the desire of knowledge, and this curiosity is the key to living in harmonious way with Islamic tradition.

Of course, here is another hadith. You will find it in the handouts, the full text of this prophetic tradition. And in this hadith, we have this principle, a very important principle, that Prophet Muhammad gave as an answer to some of his companions, seeking the knowledge of what is good and what is bad. And the Prophet Muhammad said to him, consult your heart. The heart is the ultimate reference for a Muslim. His heart is his reference. Of course, I said in theory because unfortunately, they said the theory, but the practice is very different, and the reality is very different from this theory.

The Fatwa in Practice
Women in the Workplace

I choose also another example of a fatwa that I am going to use as a starting point for this analysis. The fatwa speaks about a young lady, a Muslim lady, working in an international bank in Egypt. She was talking with some of her friends, relatives, and they told her yes, okay, you have a prestigious [job], you earn a lot of money, you have everything, wonderful, but all of this is coming from a sin. Okay? And she said what sin? And they said to her you are working in a bank, staying in a closed room alone with your colleague, and this, according to Islamic tradition, is a sin.

The lady was astonished and because she was sure that in Islamic tradition such a stupid thing cannot exist, she called one of the famous TV programs of fatwa because we have a lot of TV programs where the man listens on air to the questions of the audience and [he] gives answers. She was so sure that it is impossible [that] her work is against Islamic tradition [that] she went to [this imam]. She called this TV program, asked the imam if her work really is [against Islamic tradition], if she is really committing a sin by doing this work, staying alone in a closed room with her colleague. And strangely, the Imam, who was not an ordinary man, he was the head of the Department of Hadith in Al Azhar University in the Faculty of Religious Foundation, and he said to her yes, it is a sin.

The lady was shocked, and not only the lady, 35 percent of Egyptian families are supported by women who work, by women labor, so 35 percent of Egyptian families are going to face serious problems because most of these ladies are working in a condition that from his point of view are not going well with the Islamic tradition. She collapsed. she said what should I do? I am paying for university for my kids. What can I do? And he was astonished by her reaction.

Adult Breastfeeding

He said I do not know what [you should do]. The only precedent I can see in the Islamic tradition is that one of Mawla Abi Hudhayfah (مَوْلَىٰ أَبِي حُذَيْفَة). A young man was adopted by one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad, who when adopting children was prohibited by Islam. The Prophet Muhammad allowed his mother, who adopted him, to breastfeed him several times, five times, in order to be like a mother for him, [so] he could stay in the house, so [this imam] advised the lady to breastfeed her colleague in work five times.

It is not a joke. It might be funny, but it is not a joke, so he [instructed] her to breastfeed her work colleague five times until satisfaction because this is the literary tradition that you will also find in the handout. This lady, of course, was astonished. Of course, not only was the lady astonished, [but] the whole society was astonished. We have thousands of caricatures, of article of newspapers, of comedians, making fun of this fatwa, and making drawings. [For example], a line of men waiting in front of the office of a beautiful colleague, all of them waiting to be breastfeed.

The Muslim Brotherhood

The whole society was really astonished by this fatwa, but it did not stop there because at that time when this fatwa was issued, the Muslim Brotherhood, the community of the Muslim Brotherhood, had at that time 25% of the seats of the Egyptian Parliament, so when they heard this fatwa, all media TV talking about it, they said, okay, this was made by the government to defame us and our slogan because the slogan of Muslim Brotherhood is “Islam is the solution.” And how is Islam the solution? By the application, by applying the Islamic law or the Sharia. So, if this is the Sharia, nobody will accept [it] to be applied, so they thought this is a plan made by the government against their ideology.

They revolted in the parliament, and they invited the Minister of Al Kafr to question him in the parliament, so the university of Al-Azhar was also scandalized by the fatwa of its professor, and they decided to send him to retirement. The professor revolted. Why did you send me to retirement? I did not do anything wrong. I just followed the rules of the Islamic law that all of us [abide by], applying it to whatever case comes in front of us. The hadith that I used is hadith sahih, is correct, okay, and was never contested in the Islamic law books, so the jurists of Muslim Brotherhood replied to him, yes, but this hadith was only for this case of Mawla Abi Hudhayfah, so the debate went ahead.

The Modern Arab State: A Big Question Mark

The professor did not accept going to retirement, and he went to the court, refusing this. The Egyptian government issued an administrative decision that making a fatwa should be by license, so if somebody wants to give a fatwa, it is becoming the case that to give a fatwa, he has to get license from the Egyptian government, so it is a sort of monopolizing of the power of giving the fatwa. [The government did this] because it became a stronger phenomenon in the society.

When we speak, we also see what these societies lack is modernity. It is not true because we see the modern institution of the Egyptian state. All of them were involved for years because this lasted for years, debating whether a man should be breastfed by his female colleague in order to stay there in an office or not. We see the parliament was involved, university was involved, the government was involved, the media was involved, the court was involved, all the institutions that define what we call the modern state were involved in this debate, which put also another big question mark on what we call the modern state in the Arab Islamic world.

The Fatwa in Saudi Arabia

It did not stop there because after two years one of the counselors of the King of Saudi Arabia again issued the same fatwa. Thank God, today, women in Saudi Arabia can drive their own cars by themselves, but at that time it was still prohibited for the women in Saudi Arabia to drive cars, so a lady asked [if] she could make a long trip, traveling in her car with her male driver, and she received the same answer, that she has to breastfeed him.

The Saudi society is much more conservative than the Egyptian one. They did not make [a] joke about it. They were very angry, so the counselor of the King answered but you understand wrongly, we are not this open-minded [and] stupid like Egyptians. It is enough that the lady put her milk in a cup, and the driver drink this cup of milk, and that is it. They have to be in contact with her breasts, so to make it short, again, after another year, the same fatwa came back again, but this time from Tunis.

The Fatwa in Tunisia
[They had] the same debate, and Tunis is a very secular society [and a] very modernized society. They just lately, a few months ago, decided that men and women would be equal in inheritance, so [the law] that the son gets twice [as much as] the daughter no longer applies anymore according to the Tunisian civil law now. But the fatwa also arrived there, and there the answer was much more intelligent than the Egyptian and the Saudi ones because they said why does the woman [have to breastfeed] here? We have to acknowledge [that] today it is enough to put the web camera in the room so that they are observed all the time, and there is no need to do this thing of breastfeeding.

We see all [the] reactions were to go around the tradition. With all of these modern institutions, we still look to the presence of women in the public space as a source of sin and evil, so this fatwa gives a clear example, not about the conflict between Islamic tradition and modernity, but about the very harmonious way of coexisting together. But coexisting is not between Islamic tradition and modernity, but between a defamed Islamic tradition and the defamed modernity.

What Went Wrong with Arab Reason?

To make it clearer, in most Arab countries, we have a parliament. The main role of this parliament is to justify the tyranny so most of [our] modern institutions are functioning exactly against their meaning. And I am coming to speak about this. This coexisting contradiction, this crisis I think – and Barbara mentioned before how I met Robert Reilly for the first time reading his book in which he tried to give an answer to this crisis. And in my book, I also tried to give an answer.

It is not about two different things that cannot live together, it is about the coexistence and the adapting, the adaptation of tradition of the bad elements of modernity and the adaptation of modernity of the bad elements of the Islamic tradition. And I think this starts really from the early beginning of Islam. There are a lot of main factors dominating the Muslim thinking today. One of them, for example, is always looking to the past. We are always searching for legitimacy of whatever we do in the past.

Islam and Jāhiliyya

How can we understand this? How can we understand a lot of the actual, modern contemporary practice of Islam? I think we can find this in the moment of the beginning of Islam. We see this, the first dualism is between Islam and Jāhiliyya. The word Islam, as many of you I think know very well, comes from the root sa-la-meh which means peace, safety, and very beautiful meanings, but in the moment of the beginning of Islam, two words appeared in the Arabic language. The word Islam itself and the word Jāhiliyya. The word Jāhiliyya [was] always regarded as the pre-Islamic period comes from Jāhil, which means ignorance, and it is ignorance because people did not know God and they did not accept the faith of God.

But when we really study this moment of the beginning of Islam, we find it is not like this, and there are hundreds of studies by many scholars about this period that proved the Jāhiliyya is not a period of violence and stupidity and ignorance. In fact, I can say with certainty that Islam has adapted 99% of what we call Jāhiliyya. Most of the things that we know about Islam today, existed before Islam. The idea of the one God existed before Islam. Cutting off the hands of the thief existed before Islam. Fasting [during] Ramadan existed before Islam. Pilgrimage to Mecca existed before Islam. Everything that characterizes Islam today already existed before Islam.

What we call Jāhiliyya does not mean Jāhil, which means ignorance, but it means something else. I think I presented under ‘associated with violence against the other.’ This is the meaning of the Jāhiliyya. Jāhiliyya means, basically, ‘asabiyya (عصبيّة) or tribal solidarity. Why am I saying this? Because, as I said before, most of what we call Islamic practice already existed before Islam, and also because of the image of Islam, how Prophet Muhammad considered the previous religions of Islam, this very beautiful prophetic tradition that you will also find in your papers.

Prophet Muhammad is describing himself as just a brick in a huge, beautiful building that presents the prophetic tradition before him. As you see here, they asked him what relationship do we have with the previous prophets? And he said it is like a huge, beautiful house, okay, that people go around, admiring it, [saying] how wonderful, but they see in this house a missing brick, and say if it did not miss this brick, it would be perfect. Prophet Muhammad comments that I am this brick, so he is nothing but a brick. He is not more important than others. He is just a simple brick in the building of the religion. But it is the one that brings the religious tradition to perfection, so this is the role of Islam.

This is what Islam means, really. Islam came, in my opinion, in my humble opinion, to bring to perfection the religious tradition, not to bring new theology or new ideas, no, to give space for this religion to be practiced and to be lived correctly. Somebody said there was Christianity [and] Judaism before Islam. Yes, but we also know that the majority of Bedouins in the pre-Islamic period were Christians. Most of tribes were Christian tribes, but they had nothing from Christianity. The religion of the tribe, the religion of the pre-Islamic society, was the tribal solidarity. And for tribal solidarity, all kinds of evil were permitted for the sake of the tribe.

The Culture of the Tribe

Why was the tribe [so] important that it made valueless all religions, and all human values, and all human virtues? Tribe is very important, okay? This is what I was trying to say before, okay? Tribe was very important in the pre-Islamic period because tribe was the only way to survive the desert. Tribal solidarity was the only way to preserve life in the cruel environment of the desert. I chose a text, a dialogue, between one of the Arabian Kings long before Islam, and the emperor of Persia, in which they [had] a debate. The Arabs were very proud of themselves. They said how come you are this proud?

You are living like animals. You are eating the worst food. I mean you have nothing to be proud of. How does it come you are this proud? And the Arab King, Al-Nu’man III ibn al-Mundhir, replied to him, giving three pillars, presenting the three pillars of the Arab identity. And this content of this dialogue was repeated a hundred times in a hundred different papers of scholars through [the ages], since the time, for example, of Al Jahiz until Ahmed Amin and the Taha Hussein. This content was always repeated, this idea of the language.

Language in Arab Identity

The language is the most important element that built the Arab identity, and it is not because [in] all civilizations, the language was the element that presents the identity of whatever civilization. We see the word barbarism came from barber, [which] means he cannot speak the language. Also, in [the] Arabic language, the word foreigner is ʿajamī (أجنبي), and the word ʿajamī comes from owjma. This word means animals because animals have voices, but it is not language, so even Arabs look to the others like animals because we cannot speak [a comprehensible, mutually intelligible] language. The Romans did the same, and everybody else did the same, but the language is very particular in the Arabian case.

Memory in Arabic Language

Okay, of course, in the desert, life is very particular and there is a great difference between life in desert and life in agricultural societies. In agricultural societies, the cradle of civilization is the space. You see in Rome, in Italy, in Egypt, in all agricultural societies, its buildings, its paintings, it is the art. What is preserved in space? Preserve the memory, the ideas, the virtues, the values of the people, but in the Arabian case, it is not the space, it is the time because there is no space. People in desert move from one place to another. They are nomadic people, and even when they go back to the first place, it is not the same place anymore because with the unpredictable movement of the wind, this place changed completely, so when you go back to the first place, it is not the same anymore.

That is why in [the] Arabic language, the word house, the word home, for example, in [the] Arabic language has many words. Some of you know the Arabic language. We know bayt means house. What does it mean, the word bayt in [the] Arabic language? The word bayt means to spend the night, to spend the night wherever you want, sleeping or not sleeping. If somebody spends a night, he bayt, okay? The other word, for example, is manzil, which comes from the word nazala. What does it mean? Nazala means to come down. To come down from where? From the camel, so your home, your house is where you come off your camel.

Another word [is] the word dara, which [means] to make a circle. What [is the] relationship between dara and home? [The relationship is] because the caravan in [the] desert when the night comes and they want to camp, they make a circle, and they sleep inside this circle. The word maskan comes from the verb sakana, which means to stop, to stand still, so we see all words that express space, place, [and] home in [the] Arabic language are expressing a moment of stopping in a continuous moment.

Okay? [This is] because the biggest threat for Bedouins is the time. Why the time? [This is] because the passing of the time is what kills people, the passing of the time is what makes [it so that] people are forgotten. This was the fear of the people living in the desert. That is why all words in [the] Arabic language that have a meaning of time [also] have at the same time a meaning of something bad or something evil. We see, for example, the word day. Day in [the] Arabic language is yawm. It means day and it means war. We see the word hin, okay? It means death. The word time itself in [the] Arabic language is zaman. It means the time and also it means disease.

The word dahr means a period of time and catastrophe. So, all words in [the] Arabic language that have a meaning of time [also have] a meaning of evil at the same time. Here we see the people in agricultural societies when they meet together, usually they ask what is your name [and] where are you from. [Are you] from Italy, from Egypt, from the United States, [etc.]? But people in the desert, when they meet, they ask who are you from because they do not come from a place. People come from a person, so people in the desert do not belong to a place, they belong to a person, to the ancestor of the tribe, so the tribe is the only space for existence. Without the tribe, people do not exist. That is why the tribe was very important for the people in the desert. It was only a way to survive the desert.

This tribal solidarity, the tribe, is the only way to keep the memory. We see that the worst punishment in desert was not death. There is another much worse penalty, to be out of the tribe, to be cut from the tribe because being out of the tribe means you will be killed and you will be forgotten, so the tribe was the only way to preserve the life of the person, of the individual, and also of the whole tribe.

This has resulted [in] a lot of things. That also defined the concept of reason in Arab culture because now reason is not the effort to link, and to understand, and to generate knowledge. Reason became merely the memory, the art. The art in Arab culture is poetry, and they even call one verse of poetry bayit, which means home. Why? [This is] because poetry was the art to keep the memory of the tribe. Even when a poet was born in whatever tribe, they spend years celebrating the birth [of] a poet, not [of] a child. They celebrate the presence of a poet for years. Why? [This is] because this means the legacy of the tribe will keep [living on].

We see the concept of reason in the Arabic language became to tie up, to keep, to not let go [of] the knowledge and the memory of the tribe. And this was passed to Islamic tradition. We see here a definition was presented by Al Ghazali, atil comes from atil bayit to bind the camel by joining its legs together, and atila is to hang the calf. Why? [This is] because the concept of atil, of reason in the Arabic language is to keep the knowledge from being lost, not to seek the relation to [things], not to seek understanding of the relationship between the phenomena in our world.

The language became the most important element of the identity of Arab people. When Al-Nu’man responded to the emperor of Persia, he said to him, we have the Arabic language, the most beautiful language, the language that is better than all other languages, which also passed to Islam. It is the language of the paradise. In Islamic tradition, people in paradise speak Arabic, so try to learn some Arabic if you want to go to paradise.

The second pillar, of course, is lineage in the Arabic because knowing the line of the tribe is what keeps this tribal blood solidarity pure. And the third was the extremism of virtues. Why? Those who have visited the Arab world can see this by themselves. If you go to a very poor family, they can even sell their bed to buy for you a decent meal. They are extremely generous. They can offer everything for their guests.

They are extreme in God’s virtue and also in bad virtues, but where does this extremism in virtue come from? It comes also from the pre-Islamic period, from the culture of the tribe. Why? [This is] because the memory, the collective memory, does not preserve the ordinary, does not preserve the normal. In order to keep for yourself a place in the collective memory, you have to be extraordinary, so extraordinary in generosity, in courage, in whatever. You have to be extreme in order to keep for yourself a place.

Of course, I am not going to [read this whole thing]. The whole dialogue is in the handout, so you can have a look at it, but we have hundreds of stories of people. In [the] desert, also, each value, each human virtue has a symbol, has a person that makes a sort of incarnation of this value. For generosity, for example, we have Hatim al-Tai. Why? [This is] because once [upon a time], he had some guests arrive. He had no food in his home. He could not offer his guests anything, so he asked his son if he would accept being slaughtered and cooked to feed the guests. And the son for the sake of keeping the virtue of generosity, accepted the request of his father. Of course, some people say this is mythology, it is not real, but it is reflecting the very long life of such stories, accepted and glorified by the people, [which] means it is responding to some elements in their culture.

We see that Islam came basically to fight this tribal solidarity. Why am I saying this? Islam, as I told you before, did not bring anything, almost anything new to the world. Islam tried to create a space [for] the good things brought by previous religions to be practiced and lived, okay? What was the main obstacle against this Islamic dream, the dream of Prophet Muhammad to create on earth his utopia? A lot of people speak about Islam as the paradise. They speak about beautiful women in paradise that people go to explode themselves. In fact, the attempt of Prophet Muhammad was to make a paradise on earth before the afterlife.

In making this paradise on earth, the main obstacle was the tribe because people are divided, and when justice confronts tribal solidarity, tribal solidarity wins. [When it comes to] generosity [versus] tribal solidarity, tribal solidarity wins. And we have a lot of poetry and a lot of stories in Arabic heritage not studied in this context. Usually, when we speak about Islam, we go to study the Islamic jurisprudence, and the Sharia, and these things. Many do not study the cultural context of this Islamic law, and it is the cultural context of this Islamic law, the tribe, [that] was the biggest enemy of Islam.

When you read [the] Qur’an carefully, you see that Islam did not condemn the religions before it, but it condemned the worship of others because many times in [the] Qur’an we have [unintelligible], and if you ask them who have created the earth, and the heaven, and the whole world, they respond Allah, so why you do not accept Islam? No, because our fathers did not do it. Our fathers did not follow new traditions. We keep the road, the path that was followed by our fathers, so the tribe was the main enemy, the main obstacle to realize what is called the Ummah.

The Umma-Tribe

What is the Ummah? The Ummah is the community of believers that gave this space for the human values and virtues to be to be left, so we see now the true conflict was not between people who believe in God, and other people who do not believe in God. The main conflict was between people who want to keep the tribe, and the Ummah, the Islamic dream to make the brotherhood between all people on the basis of the faith and of this human virtue, this Ummah. This new society was in conflict with the tribe. For example, when Muslims wanted to start their calendar, they affronted this question.

When did Islamic history start? [Was it] when Prophet Muhammad was born? No, Prophet Muhammad is just a man. By the way, Prophet Muhammad is sacred for many Muslims, but for Islam, [he] is not sacred, he is just a man [who] was selected by God to deliver a message, but [he] is not sacred. He is not [the] Jesus Christ of Muslims. [I am telling you this] because many people think so. He is just a man, so we cannot mark the beginning of the history of Islam by the birth of Prophet Muhammad. But [surely] we can mark the beginning of Islam by the beginning of the revelation, the Qur’an, the only sacred thing for Muslims? No, not even [the] Qur’an [marks the beginning of Islam].

Muslims choose the Hegira, the emigration when Prophet Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca, and he decided to escape from Mecca and go to Medina, to another city. They choose this moment of weakness, of persecution to mark the beginning of their history. Why is this? [This is] because this moment is very significant. It is the moment in which Prophet Muhammad left the tribe, and built the Ummah, the community of Muslim believers.

And even the first thing that Prophet Muhammad did in Medina was very interesting. He made something called a muakha (مُؤاخاة), a fraternity, the brotherhood between Muslims. And was that just [saying], you know, we are brothers, you are my brother, I am your brother, we are good? No, it was a legal brotherhood. It means if somebody dies, this brother can inherit his share of his fortune. [The Prophet Muhammad] built this society, [this] anti-tribal society, in which the tribe is not present.

Even the pagans of Mecca, when they wanted [to oppose him], Prophet Muhammad started to make his propaganda, started to preach to the tribes to convince them to embrace Islam. Okay, so in order to make the tribes not listen to him, they said, okay, what should we say about Muhammad? We say he is a crazy man. [We say] he is saying nonsense. No, this is not true, okay? He is a very good speaker. He is very good. He is very convincing. We can say he is just a crazy man, okay? He is just one of these poets who comes every [once in a] while, speaking about human virtue. No, what he is saying is not poetry, and it is not similar to poetry, so what is Prophet Muhammad?

At the end, they decided in the parliament of the Quraysh – because Mecca was the New York of the old world, by the way. There is no time to say everything, but the very long-standing war between Persia and the Byzantine Empire had destroyed all roads for trade. The only one left was this one in [the] desert that [went] through Mecca. The pagans and the merchants of Mecca controlled the [transnational] trade at that time. They were buying from the west and selling to the east, and the opposite, so they were extremely rich. The society in Mecca was [a] multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious society. You find even the young men who followed Prophet Muhammad at the beginning, from their names and their origins, you understand Mecca was like New York.

There was Suhayb from Rome. There was Salman from Persia. There was Bilal from Ethiopia, so you see in this very tiny, small city in the desert, it was a multi-ethnic society. It was a multicultural society. All of these people were permitted to express their religious and their cultural ideas. In fact, what Prophet Muhammad wanted to do was to purify Mecca by destroying all these statues of the different gods of different tribes and the different people. And they refused because they saw his claim as a threat [to] their trade because if we cut off the gods of the tribe from Mecca, they will start a war against us, and this war is going to be bad for the trade, for our economy. They refused the call of Islam for economic reasons, also, so this pre-Islamic society of Mecca was multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic society, not a primitive society as we used to read in the box of Muslim scholars later after.

When Muslims choose the beginning of their history, this was the Ummah. When the pagans wanted to defame Prophet Muhammad in front of the tribe, they said he is not a poet, he is not a crazy man, he is a person whose preaching divides brothers, son and father, husband and wife. All [of the] tribes quoted Prophet Muhammad because they were afraid of his magic that divided the tribe, that deconstructed the tribe. This was the idea that all of them adopted.

Here we see Islam came basically to destroy the tribe. Why the tribe? [This is] because these elements of the tribe deprived the society of truly living and profoundly living the religious values, and we see in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, all religion, even some so-called pagan religions adopt [such values]. Many say the word rahman was not only the word rahma but also the word rahman, which is one of the names of God, was a God worshiped in Yemen, for example.

We see that Islam tried to adapt everything good, and that is why when Islam spread over in the world, it never had a conflict. There was never a conflict between Islamic law and the local tradition because the main principle of Islamic law is to adopt whatever [is] good in the tradition. What is prohibited in Islam is very few things. All the rest is permitted and is lawful, so this strong conflict between tribe [on] one side, and Ummah [on] the other side, okay, in Islamic history created a new entity.

[I call] this a coexisting contradiction. Why? [This is] because at a certain time, the Ummah itself became a tribe, so the Ummah came to destroy the tribe but in the course of history, the Ummah became a tribe. How is this? I mentioned only two elements. One historical element [is that] soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad, his companions gathered together to decide who was going to inherit his temporal power, not spiritual power.

Those of Medina who invited Prophet Muhammad to emigrate to them, [who] protected him as [though he was their own] child, and [who] fought all the battles of Islam [alongside him], gathered together in a place called the Saqifah, Banu Sa’ida. Okay? And in this Saqifah, Banu Sa’ida, they decided [to] choose one of them to be the ruler after Prophet Muhammad.

Those Muhajireen from the tribe of Quraysh who emigrated with Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, rushed to this place [of] Saqifah, Banu Sa’ida, and they said no, this cannot happen, and they started a very long conversation. You will find it again in the handouts, okay?

In this conversation to elect and to select the ruler after Prophet Muhammad, the word Qur’an and the word Islam were not mentioned. They spoke only about the realistic issues, that the tribes in the desert would never accept the power of any tribe apart from that of the Quraysh. Why is that? [That is] because Quraysh was the tribe of merchants who to protect their trade made [used] marriage relationships in each tribe [to forge alliances], so they were cousins [or] uncles of people in each tribe in the desert. That is why the one who came after Prophet Muhammad [had to] be one of the tribe [of] Quraysh, and after in Islamic theology, this was developed by the false prophetic tradition, in my opinion, that says Imams are from Quraysh.

But anyway, so in this debate about who [would] inherit the temporal power of Prophet Muhammad, the only thing present [in the conversation] was not Islamic values, [it was] not [the] Ummah, [it] was tribe, the logic of the tribe, okay? And this continued [in the] so-called Apostasy War soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad, many tribes did not want to [be] part of the Ummah anymore. In the box of Islamic history, this is usually called the Apostasy Wars because they say this tribe would turn its back, and they refused Islam, but this is not true.

These tribes were paying a zakāt, alms, to Prophet Muhammad. Why? [This is] because in the Qur’an, there is a verse that says take from them fortunes, share that to purify them and their fortune. Okay? And they said Prophet Muhammad died, and Abu Bakr cannot purify us because he is not a prophet, so we are not going to pay this money anymore. This was the main reason of the war soon after the death of [Muhammad], the first civil war. Abu Bakr, the first caliph, decided to fight all the tribes in the desert. [And who did he use? He used] the pagans of Mecca who just entered Islam after the conquest of Mecca. Okay? They were not those Muslims who fought the battles of Islam.

No, they were the enemies of Islam because when Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca, he gathered the people of Quraysh and asked them what do you think I am going to do with you? And they said to him you are our brothers, and the son of our brother. And he said to them, go, you are free. And he used the word in Arabic atulaqah, which means somebody became free after being a prisoner.

The generals of the Islamic army, who reconquered the Arabian Peninsula after [the death of Muhammad, were] generals from the tribe of Quraysh, from this category of atulaqah, those who were freed by Prophet Muhammad. So, the tribe came back. The Quraysh was the richest, most intelligent, most prepared, [and the] most [literate], so they took over the administration of the newborn state of Islam, and they ruled it according to the rule of the tribe, so we see that Islam from its early beginning was living this dualism, this coexistence because no one at that time criticized the Prophet Muhammad or criticized the Qur’an. All of them were believing in Qur’an and believing in the Prophet Muhammad as the messenger of God, but all of them were behaving at the same time according to the values and rules of the tribe. This is one element.

The second element that I want to mention is the element of language. We said that Islam came basically to destroy the tribe. After 40 to 50 years of Islam, the Bedouins, the Arabs conquered all the ancient world, and these Bedouins went out of the desert, and started to live in Iraq, in Persia, in Egypt, in these extremely civilized countries. [They were] astonished by this civilization, how they dress, how they eat, how they talk, and their language started to disappear.

The new generations were speaking Arabic hardly like those Arabs who were born in the West today, and they cannot speak Arabic correctly. The Muslims were astonished by this phenomenon and said now we are going to lose everything. If we lose Arabic, we are going to lose Qur’an, and the foolish Qur’an we lost everything, Islam is finished, so what do they do? The caliphs heavily financed a unique movement in human history in which thousands of scholars went to the most isolated tribes in the desert.

Many of them were similar to these tribes that [are] found every [once in a] while in the Amazon, completely disconnected with the outside world, and they go there to these tribes. Some of them did not even know that there was a prophet sent and the new religion called Islam. They knew nothing about this, and they [went] there with their camels, tons of paper, and ink, and they stayed there for years, writing every word that came out of the mouths of these Bedouins.

The Bedouin became the high reference of the Arabic language because they present the purity of the Arabic tongue, which is the main element of the Arabic identity, so here is a very interesting contradiction because Islam came to destroy the tribe, but now this collected language, the language of the tribe, is the only reference to understand Qur’an. We cannot understand Islam today if we do not use this language you collected from these Bedouins.

And it was very powerful at that time in which most Arabic signs and, by the way, most of Arabic, most so-called Arabic signs were thanks to non-Arabs. The founder of Arabic grammar, Sibawayh, was a Persian. Al-Bukhari himself, the one who wrote the second correct book after the Qur’an, Sahih al-Bukhari, was from Ukraine, okay? So, most of the scholars who established what we call the Arabic signs were not Arab, so in front of this purity of the language of the Bedouins, they could not do anything.

Al-Tabari and the other scholars interpreted the Qur’an. You will also find now in the book many examples of what I am saying. For example, one of the interpretations of the Qur’an [includes] a verse about the right [of] a man, how a man can punish his disobedient wife, so one of the things was to ahujruna. It means from also hajara, hijra. It means to leave them, to boycott them. This was the rationale. If your wife is disobedient, do not talk to her anymore, okay? But Al-Tabari said but this is the wrong interpretation because the verb ahajara comes from hijar, and the hijar is a sort of rope that they used to tie up the camels, so they interpreted. He chose [as] the right interpretation to tie up the women to their [unintelligible] as a punishment for their disobedience.

We see this [in] everything in Arabic signs, that it is the main source of what today is so-called Islamic law. Everything was really submissive to this language of the Bedouin society that Islam came basically to destroy it, and this is the second element of coexisting contradiction within the Islamic tradition. That is why in Islamic tradition today, I am a Muslim, and I believe Islam is really a religion of peace, but I cannot deny that many verses in [the] Qur’an can be easily interpreted completely against peace. Why? [This is because] if you follow the line of the tribe within the Islamic tradition, [you get this alternative interpretation] because what we call Islamic tradition today is not only Islam, it is [also] these coexisting elements from Islam and the tribe.

The very same verse in the Qur’an can be interpreted in a way, and then [the] completely opposite way at the same time. Democracy, for example. You see some Muslims say with certainty democracy is like atheism, it is against Islam because the only legislature is God, and democracy gives the people the right of legislation, so it is against Islam. Some other Muslims, like Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi, for example, made a huge book like this to prove the main inventor of democracy was Islam and was Prophet Muhammad. And that document that was written you will also find in the book.

That document that Prophet Muhammad wrote when he arrived in Medina is the fairest written constitution in human history. How can you bring those two things together? [On] one side, Islam invented democracy, and [on] the other side, Islam condemned democracy. How do you bring these two things together? The only answer that I found is this coexisting contradiction within the Islamic tradition. When the Ummah came to destroy the tribe, this Ummah became a tribe.

You find it even in everyday practice. You find today in mosques in Egypt or in Iraq or in other Muslim countries, they pray only for Muslims, which is against Islam, against the idea of Islam. In the Ummah-Islam, we are obliged to love everybody, and to invite him to live within our Ummah, even keeping his different faith, okay? But in practice today, Muslims look to themselves as a tribe, not as Ummah, not as the space that gives liberty and the freedom to everybody to live according to his faith, so this is what I call the coexisting contradiction within the Islamic tradition.

A Fake Modernity

Okay, I will go. In modernity, it is the same. The modernity has the same problem of tradition. We see [the] so-called modernists in [the] Arab world today and the liberalists in [the] Arab world today are not much different from Salafists and from traditionalists. They think in the same way. [For] traditionalists, [for anything] to be legitimate in our reality today, [it] has to [have] a root in the past. And we say why [do] Arabs sacrifice the past? Also, modernists when they want to say no, but there is no contradiction between Islamic law and reason, what [do] they do? They justify this by going back to figures like Averroes, okay, so it is the only way, search in the past for a legitimacy in the present.

Overlapping Discourses

This is what I call overlapping discourses and its many elements. The conflict or the instrument became more important than its goal, preserving life. For example, to preserve life, we have all of these penalties, but these penalties became more important than preserving life.

We see also searching in the past for a source of legitimacy to exist in the present, a contradiction between form and content. I am sorry, I cannot speak about everything, but if you are interested, you can ask me after. This is what we said, for example, in the breastfeeding case. Everybody is justifying, nobody had the courage to say this is incorrect or this is not valid anymore for our reality, and I am not saying this because I am criticizing Islam. In fact, the great scholars in Islamic history did.

Reason and Reality in Past Scholarship

Abu Hanifa was one of the founders of the four doctrines of Islam, Hanifi doctrine. Once people went to him and said the deal between the seller and the buyer cannot be concluded as long as they are in the same place. He said no, this cannot be, this is not valid. And this is not [valid], but this is a confirmed, prophetic tradition. You cannot contest what Prophet Muhammad said. He said no, I can contest it if it is against reason, I can [do it]. And they said it is not valid for our reality today. Imagine if these two persons who made the deal in prison or they are travelling for [a] month in a ship, so I come buy your shirt, I use it, and after three months, I give it back to you before we get off the ship, and I said to [give] back my money. So, he said no, it is not valid anymore. So, this way of thinking is not strange for the Islamic tradition. In fact, it existed, but it was marginalized in the history of Islam. But today, we see what we call modernists and liberalists are very similar to traditionalists.

Of course, they also rejected the positive principles shared by Islam and the modernity, and there are endless examples for this. This is also very interesting because the society today does not think anymore. There is a mediation. Modernists are mediators between modernity and societies in the West, and our local society. Salafi are mediators between present and past, between people who are living today, and the origins, and their ancestors in the past. Okay?

Exclusion of the Different vs Exclusion of the Difference

This is very interesting: exclusion of the different and the exclusion of the difference. Some Muslims say if somebody is Christian, he has no rights, he is out, because they think exactly like in [the] tribal way. Others say no, there is no difference. Islam [and] Christianity are the same. There is no difference. [There are] little things, [yes], but [there is] exclusion of the different or exclusion of the difference, looking to the difference as evil, not as a grace from God.

[There is] lack of harmony with time and the place, and between time and place. Why? [This is] because those who work may choose to be mediator between present and past. Traditionalists, they are living here because they go deep in the roots of their culture, but they are not living now because they are alienated from the modern civilization. The modernists are the opposite. They are living now, [of] the moment, the civilization of today, but we are out of their own local society, so there is no harmony between time and place, whether for modernists or traditionalists, okay?

Statistical Study

I would love to also present this study that I made, this statistical study. I chose 999 questions because usually, when you study fatwa, we go to study the answer of the imam, and when we go to study the answer, we think in the theology and the debate between jurisprudential schools and all of the things. I made a different choice. I choose to study the question of people because technology has afforded finally for us for first time these questions because before the question was not there. The answer [was] the most important.

Qatari Propaganda

Now, on these websites, and this is something really very alarming, I advise you to go and see these websites: Islam Question and Answer, Islam Today, all of these websites, and see what kind of Islam they are preaching. And you see how hundreds of millions of Muslims are following them, especially in [the] West. Go to the Islam Today, Islam Question and Answer that is financed by the Ministry of Awqaf of Qatar. Search for the word democracy and see what will come out for you.

Content Analysis

For [the] first time we have the text of the questions. I started [compiling these] questions to understand what Muslims are looking for today, and the result was astonishing. Most Muslims living in the West do not care about the stereotypes that we know. They mostly care about living in [a] harmonious way with their neighbors and with their society. Okay? You see, for example, (I studied the questions), 28 percent, which is the highest one, [comprised] questions about social relationships, 18 percent [comprised questions] about devotional acts, worshiping, relationships with non-Muslims, 17 percent.

So, you see the true interest of Muslims is not building the mosque, is not the veil of the women, is not all these stereotypical things that we usually talk about, burqa or burkini, all of these things are totally marginalized. When you go and see what Muslims are really looking for, [you find out that] they are looking for a good relationship with others. Okay? The answers are something, but the questions are really very interesting, so these questions reveal [what you see here, including about] alcohol. All of these questions [are revealing].

Final Note

Now, I think I [have been speaking for] fifty minutes, [which] we agreed to, but if you ask questions, I will answer. These statistical studies show – and now we are doing this on a very large scale with the University of Bicocca in Italy. We are now studying with the Department of Statistics. Up to now, we asked 250,000 questions of Muslims living in Europe and the United States to study the structure of the text of this question and see the amazing things that [are] coming out from these questions.

What are really Muslims looking for in the West? They are looking for living in [a] harmonious way with others. The mosque, marginal. The hijab is marginal. All what we present in media and the public debates about Muslims, Muslims do not care about it, okay? But this very [small] percentage [of Muslims] makes rumors, and they are very loud, and they are here and much more present. I think the best solution to the problems of Muslim of West is to give space for this silent majority of Muslims not living in another continent or on another- living with us here amongst us here in West, giving the same visibility space and voice and this extremist voices will be marginalized because the science proves that the majority of Muslims do not care about the other things.

You remember we left this young guy in front of the bathroom in pain. [He] cannot decide if he whether entered the bathroom or not seems very dramatic for us but for him was no drama because in one second he wrote a question to the Facebook page of Al-Azhar, “I am in front of the bathroom with my cell phone full of Qur’anic verses. What should I do?”

And the imam, ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week – not the same imams, they make them [take turns] – he answered to him, “My dear young man, do you by chance memorize some verses of Qur’an?” The young kid [replied], “Of course, what a question! Yes, I do.” The imam asked him to leave his cell phone and his heart out of the bathroom. And this is what remains of Muslims today if they do not gain back the attempt to build an Umma and they give up the elements of the culture of the tribe. Thank you very much.


Audience member:

I have one question. You talked about the importance of the Muslims in the Western world, this silent majority, how important it is for the voices of the silent majority, the Muslims in the Western world, to be heard to sort of overshadow these myths about the hijab and things of that nature. How will that happen? What is the mechanism that will happen when it appears to be that the Muslims, the silent majority, are afraid to express their opinions and concerns because of more radical Muslims?

Wael Farouq:

Yes, I can give [an] example from my experiences living in Italy. It Italy, for example, every year on Christmas, [there is a] debate in newspapers for those who defend the rights of Muslim kids to not celebrate Christmas. And [there is a] debate in society, those who say no, they came to our society, they have to follow our culture. [There is] all of this debate, but when they investigated, the Muslim students in school, they found that many of them are participating in the Nativity [celebrations], so this is really very important to say what – to say integrating people will not be by their submission to the law and the culture of the society, but by a proposal of the society.

People do not integrate, but if this society is absent, if this society has no cultural proposal, if this society has no social space for these new elements, this people will live in a parallel society. And this is exactly what is happening, at least in Europe, where I live and where I study. Muslims are living in a parallel society. In Paris, one kilometer away from tour Eiffel, you find a neighborhood that is 100 percent from North Africa; language, voices, smells, everything. They are living in a parallel society. They are not integrated into society.


Thank you for this question because it is very important. Today, in our world, there are two models of integration, the French one and the British one. The French one is secularism. In order to guarantee for everyone an access to the public space, we have to deprive everyone from manifesting his own identity. A Jew cannot bring his cap. A Muslim woman cannot bring her veil. A Christian cannot bring his cross to the public space, for example. Why? In order to guarantee for everybody a space for him, but what kind of public space is this where everybody enters only without his identity? What kind of person, what kind of dialogue [can occur] between people without identity in public space? This has created a parallel society in the French model.

The British one is much different. In the British society, you say everyone is permitted to come to public space with whatever kind of clothes or religion or symbols he wants. It is open society for everybody, but this is also very dangerous, okay, because in the absence of a profound cultural proposal and social proposal, this becomes a sort of communitarianism. Each community is living with its closed door. For example, a young lady from Pakistani origins is forced to marry somebody from Islamabad, okay, or she is deprived of her inheritance. She cannot go. She cannot go to the civil court to complain. Why? Because in the idea of multiculturalism, they approved the Sharia court. And if this lady decides to go to the civil court, not to the Sharia court, she will be excluded from her community.

Outside of her community, there is no community. Outside of her community, there is no society. Again, this people cannot be integrated because of the lack of the social and cultural proposal. I think the problem of the West today is not that different people are coming to the West, but it is not having the courage to say this is our identity, and this is our culture.

Audience member:

At the beginning of your talk, you said that the ultimate authority for behavior is the heart. And I am wondering if it is in the case that the decision of the heart is in contradiction to Sharia, is in violation of Islamic law, is it permissible for a Muslim to obey the heart and to disobey Sharia?

Wael Farouq:

It is not [merely] possible, it is obligatory because what is Sharia? The word ‘law’ does not exist in the Arabic language. The word we use is a Roman word, Qanun, so the idea of law does not exist. What is Sharia? Sharia, [for] those who know a little bit of Arabic like shera, which means street, so what is Sharia? Sharia is the very path towards water in the desert, and it is not any path, it is not any road. It is that one made by the step of the ancestors of the previous people, so it is a road made by those who have passed before.

In the desert, this is the only guarantee for life. In the desert, you do not joke, say I walk from here, I am not following the path, no. This means only one thing, death, so this is the meaning of the Sharia. Sharia in the Arabic language, in [the] Qur’anic context, [is] always used in a rhetorical way to say religious faith is the Sharia, is the very path towards eternal life, so Sharia does not mean law. And now finally, the scholars in the West started to do this. They started to write Islamic law, and they started to write Sharia because Sharia is not law, Sharia is the source of law.

In [the] Egyptian constitution of 1971, President Sadat imposed the Second Article of the Egyptian Constitution that says Sharia is the main source of legislation in Egypt. In the constitution of 2012, the year after the Egyptian revolution, in the parliament of the majority Muslim Brotherhood, they had a huge battle to change the words “Sharia is the source” to “Islamic jurisprudence.”

Why? Because the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt in a debate about niqab, the burqa, in public space, in hospitals and schools, defined the meaning of the Sharia by the general principles of Islam, so this is the meaning of the Sharia according to the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt accepted by the majority of Muslims. The Sharia is the principles of freedom, justice. These are human values.

How can [the] heart be in contradiction with justice? That is why Prophet Muhammad in this prophetic tradition said consult your heart. But they say I am an ignorant man. He said consult your heart. I am a simple man. Consult your heart. Consult your heart. Consult your heart. This is how it is written in the prophetic tradition, so the heart is the ultimate reference. It cannot be in contradiction with the Sharia because Sharia is not a codified law. Sharia is general human principles, and values. The Islamic jurisprudence can be contested, can be refused, can be changed. This happened in the history of Islamic religion one thousand times before. I hope I answered your question.

Audience member:

When you spoke initially about the tribes and Arab countries, and how people identify themselves by tribe, which is like the same identity because it is easy, right? It makes things easy. You spoke about Sufis and how they approach this, one single identity, because my understanding is why should I have one identity, why can I not have multiple identities? It is very dangerous if you define as a Muslim when people say that you can only be a Muslim, but you cannot be American, you cannot be separate. Why can I not be a Muslim and American and more, right? The Sufi perspective in terms of one identity versus multiple identities, which I think is kind of the solution. You do not have to simplify things by saying that you are of only one identity, and the Qur’an has a saying, that “We have created you… and made you into races and tribes,” so you know each other, so that is the whole idea of being created as different tribes or nations, to know each other [unintelligible].

Wael Farouq:

I completely agree with you about this, but the biggest problem of all Sufi movements [is] that they do not care about the reality. In fact, the most important value of Sufi movements is what they call the absence, being absent from your surroundings, and connected to God. This is a disastrous element in my opinion in the thinking Sufi thinking that makes it always out of the history. [In] the history of Islam, Sufi [Islam] was never counted as a critical element in this history because they choose to be out of all kinds of political conflict, out of all kinds of social practice. And even if they have all these wonderful ideas about self, about God, about the relationship between man and God, [it does not matter because they are historically irrelevant].

They are really beautiful, really, because they seek to find the beauty of God in each creature, and each human being, and each place. This is wonderful, but their choice to be out of the reality, to not make a fight, to [not be] present and bring their ideas to life is a fatal thing because this resulted in their complete absence. Even if in Egypt officially the Sufis are registered in Egypt, they are 25 million, they are the biggest party, the biggest community ever in Egypt and the Arab world, but they never partook in the political life or the social life. I understand [the beauty of their ideas], but how do you bring this beauty to reality? This is something very fatal. But I agree, we love Sufi [Muslims], Ibn Arabi and all of them, yes, Rumi, all of them. They bring wonderful readings of Islam, really, but unfortunately, they are always marginalized by their choice, by their choice.

Barbara Gagliotti:

Thank you very much. Thank you all very much.