The speech that was delivered by Saudi Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi in praise of Egypt, made several of our citizens jealous. True, the speech, published on several websites as “The virtues of Egypt in the Quran and the Sunnah,” turned out to have been almost literally copied, as the sheikh himself admitted. He claims to have lifted the speech from a series of articles written by Egyptian researcher Mohamed Moussa al-Sharif and published in al-Mujtamaa magazine under the title “The virtues of Egypt and the merits of its people.” However, it acquired a different meaning when delivered in a fiery manner at the Amr ibn al-Aas Mosque in Cairo and broadcast on al-Jazira Channel. Worshippers listened to it and it spurred the desperate to become hopeful.
The speech praised beloved Egypt in every possible way; the speaker made use of the Quran and the Sunnah, as well as statements by the prophet’s companions. Furthermore, the speaker referred to statements by scholars like Kaab al-Ahbar ibn Ishaq who said, “Had it not been for my love for Jerusalem, I would have chosen no place but Egypt” and poets like al-Mutanabi. Arifi also praised the Copts of Egypt and cited a saying by the prophet that calls for treating them well. He forgot to mention the famous saying by military leader Amr ibn al-Aas about Egypt’s men “supporting winners” and its women being like “toys” and preferred to cite him when he said, “Whoever wants to see heaven, look at Egypt.”
The speech traced the roots of Egyptian-Saudi relations when he said that both Arabs and Egyptians from Adnan to Qahtan are the offspring of Abraham’s wife Hajar. He praised Egypt’s women, men, and land as well as its knowledge which was sought by the grandson of Sheikh Mohamed ibn Abdul Wahab. He talked about Egyptian victories starting from the battle of Ain Jalut against the Mongols to the Crusades and the defeat of French King Luis IX. He stressed that Egypt with its natural and human resources is not in any way less than Turkey, Korea, and Malaysia. Sheikh Arifi selected from Egypt’s history all that has made Egyptians and others proud and forgetful of their nation’s present conditions. We hoped all what he said was true and we repeated after him, “Ameen!”
No longer a heaven
Although Egypt deserves all the praise Arifi had said and deserves overlooking the mistakes he made in the speech, among which is the fact that Egypt was described as heaven. That is no longer the same. After centuries of deterioration, 55% of Egypt’s population are poor with an income that does not exceed two dollars a day and with around 12 million living in slum areas. Despite the Nile, Egypt is suffering from water and irrigation problems. Illiteracy has reached 41%. Around seven million Egyptians left the country to make a living abroad. In addition, the grandson of Sheikh Mohamed ibn Abdul Wahab went to Egypt following the fall of al-Diriyah in 1233 Hijri as a captive and not to seek knowledge. As for Mutanabi, he is the last to be cited when praising Egypt for he left it in anger and wrote satirical poems about it. I will not tell Sheikh Arifi that the first caliphate established in Egypt was the Fatimid Empire, whose sect he opposes, but I will remind him of a more important matter: Islam came to Egypt through Amr ibn al-Aas and not the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt deserves all what was said, but since you are citing the prophet’s request that Coptic Egyptians be well treated and if interaction between Muslims and Christians is seen as coexistence and national, why are Saudi students abroad told not to mingle with Christians or eat their food? And if you are praising the women of Egypt who are members of parliament and presidential advisors, why was the minister of labor slammed for allowing women to work in stores? Why are women deprived of having their own businesses and why do they have to have guardians and remain isolated?
We are not going to remind the sheikh that it is on our land that Islam was revealed to the prophet, that we are worthy of praise, or that charity begins at home. I am just going to say one thing to him, “Consider us Egyptian please!”
* This article was first published in Al-Hayat on Jan. 16, 2013. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/472881
(Dr. Badreya al-Bishr is a multi-award winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut and an aluminus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program, her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University, Department of Social Studies.)