According to a Nov. 19, 2021 report, "an Egyptian court sentenced an 80-year-old-intellectual earlier this week to five years in prison over his remarks on the early Islamic conquests." Ahmed Abdu' Maher, a high-profile lawyer, expert on Islam, and author of fourteen books on Islamic history and jurisprudence, was found guilty of "contempt of Islam, stirring up sectarian strife and posing a threat to the national unity."
One of Maher's chief "crimes" is his view on the seventh- and eighth-century Arab conquests — a view based on a close and correct reading of both Muslim and non-Muslim sources: that Arabs conquerors invaded non-Muslim regions — specifically the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain — and engaged in atrocity after atrocity; that, while "spreading Islam" was the motive Islamic later historiography attributed to the Arabs, their true actions belied a lust for rape and rapine; and that they overthrew and supplanted much more advanced societies, to the region's lasting regret. ...
As the Nov. 19 report continues:
Maher claimed in many of his speeches, writings, and TV appearances, that the early Islamic conquests were "military invasions", and called on Egypt's top Islamic institution — Al-Azhar — to apologise on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad's companions who led the raids. According to Maher, those "invasions aimed to enslave women rather than spread Islam" around the world.
Maher's position naturally goes counter to the mainstream Islamic presentation of the early Arab conquests, which are referred to as futuhat — literally, "openings" for the light of Islam to enter (or fatah in the singular, as the Palestinian group tellingly calls itself). In this context, every land ever invaded or seized by Muslims was done "altruistically" to bring Islam to wayward infidels, who are seen as the aggressors for unjustly resisting Islam. Or, in the words of an article titled "The Wisdom of Jihad," published by Islam Question and Answer, jihad does not "only and simply mean to kill non-Muslims"; rather, "[t]he kuffaar [non-Muslims] whom we fight will themselves benefit from jihad. We strive against them and fight them so that they will enter the religion of Allah which is acceptable to Him, which will lead to their salvation in this world and in the Hereafter."
Maher questions the supposed altruism of the early Arab-Islamic conquests.
Maher made his position especially well known back in early 2017, when the Muslim world was in an uproar after the announcement of President Donald Trump's "Muslim ban" (as referred to by Trump's woke enemies). Then, Maher had posted a video on YouTube (since removed, naturally, though not before I had translated relevant excerpts, which follow):
Friends, in regards to ... Donald Trump, we wanted to ask our brothers — the fuqaha [jurists of Islamic law] and the ulema [scholars of Islam] — a question. If this man ... were to coerce, through the power of arms, the greater majority of Muslims living in America ... to become Christians, or pay jizya, otherwise he takes over their homes, kills their men and enslaves their women and girls, and sells them on slave markets; if he were to do all this, would he be considered a racist and a terrorist or not? ...
Simply put, Maher asked the clerics of Islam what, precisely, they were complaining about. All that Trump had done is ban immigration from Muslim nations closely associated with terrorism. What if he actually treated Muslims in America the way Muslims have always treated non-Muslims under their authority — the way Islamic law, sharia, demands — that is, in a manner far worse than simply banning immigration from terrorist nations in the interest of self-preservation?
For having such views and asking such questions, Maher has just been sentenced to five years in prison — the maximum penalty — in accordance with Article 98 F of the Egyptian penal code, which states:
Detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than five hundred pounds and not exceeding one thousand pounds shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever exploits and uses the religion in advocating and propagating by talk or in writing, or by any other method, extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division or disdaining and contempting any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto, or prejudicing national unity or social peace.
Nor is Maher's case an aberration; as the Nov. 19 report says, "[s]everal other intellectuals, writers, and public figures have stood trial or received verdicts over the past few decades for their views under the infamous anti-blasphemy law."
Egypt's President Sisi is now Maher's only hope of avoiding prison.
On Nov. 29, Maher appeared on BBC Arabic. He refused to offer an apology, insisted that all he had done is relay history and ask commonsensical questions, and urged Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi — now his only hope, as Maher's recent five-year-imprisonment sentencing is final and cannot be appealed before a higher court — to consider pardoning him. ...
Raymond Ibrahim is the Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.