Egypt’s playground fight: ‘My religion is better than yours’

Bassem Youssef
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Repetitiveness is often boring, and that’s exactly what I will be doing in this article. Some ideas are worth being analyzed, discussed and even “talked about over and over again,” especially if they are about the future of the country and those living in it.

Last week, I wrote about monotheistic religions and how we classify each other according to whether “you are monotheistic or not.”


The reactions were contradictory; some readers accepted most of the ideas mentioned in the article and some others rejected the whole idea, according to their own understanding of their religion. Therefore it may be better to discuss the subject again from a different angle: The angle of the religion itself.

Those who claim to adhere to the religion, its teachings and the approach of its clerics and followers, do not probably know that our predecessors were more open-minded and flexible when dealing with non-monotheistic religions.

Let us take, for instance, Sheikh Rasheed Reda – a Salafist scholar – who mentioned in the interpretation of al-Manar that Buddhists, Brahmins and the Parsis were initially people of the book who stopped following it, this is why we may still classify them as people of the book.

Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri said the same thing in “The book of Ornaments,” when he considered those who believe in the prophecy of Zoroaster as people of the book. Al-Baghdadi had already said in his book, “The difference between the teams,” that those who follow the prophecy of Zoroaster are considered as the people of the book.

So here we have scholars whom, despite living in the most glorious era of the spread of the Islamic Caliphate, still issued fatwas that cause us to consider Buddhist, Parsis, Zoroastrians and Brahmins to be monotheistic.

Failing to make progress

Do our scholars and clerics, whether they like to atone those who do not believe in their religion or to remain silent about them, dare to admit that fact, even if that would mean that they would have to face social and ethnic concepts that have nothing to do with religion?

At the peak of the Caliphate’s power, Jews and the worshipers of fire were in control of offices and ministries, yet after several centuries we are still discussing the validity of the Coptic mandate.

We do not see the reason behind the growing numbers of atheists and nonbelievers to be the failure of our religious discourse; we no longer have any choice but gather people under the fake umbrella of religiousness and god-fearing in the believe that we are protecting religion.

The time has come for Muslims to come out of the Dark Ages and realize that God protects every religion

Bassem Youssef

Speaking of nonbelievers and atheists, nowadays, our sheikhs are fond of distributing or withholding forgiveness. If we go back to past ages, we find that the majority of scholars, as cited by Sheikh Shaltout in his book “Islam: Doctrine and Law,” believe that those who die while searching for the right and do not reach it, die rightful, which means that those who search for God and do not find God are not infidels and do not deserve the torments that some say await them beyond the grave.

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali says: “Those who have not heard any interesting fact about Islam, are people of al-Fitrah.” Those who were not introduced to religion and had no one preaching to them are considered to be the people of “al-Fitrah,” which literally translates to mean instinct. This means that the responsibility lies mainly with the preachers and Muslims who are doing their best on a daily basis to scare people away from religion.

The Mu’tazilites, who belong to an Islamic school of theology based on reason and rational thought, believe that those who have searched for the right, but reached falsehood – unintentionally, will also die as faithful Muslims. God shall forgive them, because God does not judge his slave on what the latter could not afford.

They cite the verses “And they belied them [those verses] wrongfully and arrogantly, though themselves were convinced thereof, and hated to believe in his Message.” The reason is injustice and arrogance, the infidel is the one who knows the truth and the message but belies it.

If we abide by the Mu’tazilites’ beliefs, we find that the non-Muslim world is forgiven.

This is why they defined the infidels who deserve punishment as follows: Those who were told and taught about Islam – in a proper way – and were convinced.

The last requirement is very important; it was defined by the Mu’tazilites alone, so those who were not convinced by Islam are not infidels because convincing them by force is incompatible with the freedom of choice.
Before blaspheming the Mu’tazilites, remember that they led the doctrine of the Abbasid Caliphate.

The constitution

As for what is being discussed regarding the monotheistic religions in the constitution, this is nonsense and a form of public hypocrisy. How can we ask for citizenship and then put up artificial boundaries of religion and abolish the real meaning of citizenship?

In America, you are a U.S. citizen who has all the rights by the virtue of the constitution at least, as for us, we set conditions on the Egyptian nationality. For instance, a real Egyptian should adhere to one of the three monotheistic religions. So in case you aren’t a “monotheistic believer,” you should lie about your religion to join the club.

In the “infidel atheist” West, they came to a conclusion that it is absurd that people continue to deal with each other on the basis of religion. But here, we are still fighting over who is monotheistic and who is Salafist.

The fighting over whose religion is better is like listening to fifth grade children fighting: “My religion is better than yours.”

Every believer has the right to think that his religion is the best and that his community is the only one who is going to survive the fire after death. It is ok if it stopped at that level, but to reach the extent of stating this issue in the constitution is beyond a childish fight.

Learning from history

What happened when such a conflict erupted in the era of the Prophet?

A group of Muslims, Jews and Christians got into a fight about who will go to heaven. They all started bidding on who will go to heaven and who will burn in hell.

A verse of the Quran answered the debate: “It will not be in accordance with your desires [Muslims], nor those of the people of the book whosoever works evil… And whoever does righteous good deeds, male or female, and is a true believer, such will enter Paradise.”

Although it is normal for Islamic verses to prevail in such rivalry, God refused that any people – whether Muslims, Jews, or Christians – might have the monopoly of paradise and forgiveness. He stated that only he can decide who will be punished. Those who act in a bad way will be sanctioned and those who do good deeds and believe in God shall be judged accordingly and enter Paradise.

After all these examples from the Islamic religion and its ability to coexist with others, we have become, after 1,400 years, more radical and started classifying who is monotheistic and granting him citizenship accordingly.

The religious classification in the constitution is to be expected from an extremist group that praised it as “the best constitution in the world,” but what is the excuse of the open-minded committee to be subject to such blackmail?

What is the excuse of al-Azhar, whose leadership has endured the worst as a result of such religious extremism, to enter such fake conflicts for “the identity of the country.” They already know that Egypt does not need this religious classification?

The time has come for Muslims to come out of the Dark Ages and realize that God protects every religion; they do not need written materials in the constitution. We have wasted our time with these delusional wars on our identity, our Islam and the monotheistic religions, but if we had looked around us we would have seen that most of the wars in the world are only wars between these religions. If you scrutinize the wars you would find that most of these wars were waged between Muslims themselves. It is normal to hear that “the Shiites are more dangerous than the Jews and the Christians.”

Aren’t they all followers of monotheistic religions?

Aren’t we all the same?

How do these religions accuse each other of infidelity and then meet in the drafting committees of the constitution and label themselves monotheistic, closing the door to the beliefs of others just because of their political connections or because their number do not qualify them to be considered as citizens?

It is time to recognize the racism of religious articles in the constitution and that they only lead to more hatred among citizens. Enough hatred is issued through extremist fatwas about how to treat our brothers in monotheistic religions. Do we really need constitutional laws that cancel out the principle of citizenship?

I am sure that this article, and other articles calling for equality, will be in vain. We live in a time of religious and social hypocrisy, so it is logical for our constitution to reflect that.

We will keep on pretending that we are looking for the principle of citizenship, but the truth is that we are racist towards those who do not believe in what we believe in and we therefore consider that they do not deserve this equality.

Some sheikhs will mislead us saying that these laws are set to protect our “identity” and some others will try to convince us that if the constitution stipulates the full equality between citizens unconditionally, and without sanctioning religious laws, this will lead to gay marriage and orgies. They simply think that anything will lead to homosexuality and orgies; in fact, that’s all they think about.

They say that redundancy helps in learning the lesson, however I know for a fact that repeating the same ideas in this article won’t make any difference, if authority is in the hands of the military, religion or the elites. We are all hypocrites and we all talk about “citizenship” but in fact we all love classification and segregation.

I would like to congratulate you on our new constitution that will carry on the racism, hypocrisy and classification that was already established.

A note from the author: I have to thank my dear friend Mohammad Dweik, for providing this article with the doctrinal and historical aspects that were new to me, and for his valued help in writing this opinion piece.

This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Oct. 17, 2013.


Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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