Emmanuel Sivan teaches history at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This article draws on research for a project conducted for the Twentieth Century Fund.

It is by now well established that the Islamic resurgence is not a throwback to the Middle Ages but a complex and sophisticated response to the challenge of modernity. The resurgence embraces some (but not all) of modernity's aspects and is certainly adept at using its instruments, "from the Kalachnikov to the tape recorder," as the saying goes.

Indeed, audiotapes offer a unique means to learn how Islamists actually go about spreading their message and how they discuss a variety of topics within their own ranks, for internal consumption. Perhaps the most interesting of these topics is their attitude toward democracy. The attentive listener learns that, when speaking frankly among themselves, they have strong views on this subject.


Muslim preachers are wont to complain that the world has become one global village (qarya i`lamiya), where CNN and Hollywood dictate the agenda and where Islam is marginalized.1 But these preachers themselves have carved out a formidable media niche for themselves in the realm of the audiotape filled with the message of the Islamists.

Since Ayatollah Khomeini's movement in Iran in the mid-1970s, the cassette has played a crucial role in the spread, survival, and success of fundamentalist Islamic movements. Tapes have such an important role because in the absence of a Comintern-style hierarchical structure, they constitute a resilient web that holds together a plethora of local movements and groups, operating mostly within national borders. The movements are loosely coordinated, to a certain extent, by informal contacts between leaders, activists, and, in particular, exiles. The constant flow of tapes in the area from Afghanistan to Morocco knits like-minded Muslims into a larger whole. Indeed, the tapes even flow into Europe and North America--and the other way, too, from France to the Maghreb, from the United States to the Middle East.

The following analysis draws on recordings by about thirty Arabic-language preachers whose audiotapes shop owners all over the Middle East judge to be most popular. All these activists-performers have passed, then, a market test of impact. The speakers are neither theologians and jurists splitting hairs in erudite treatises, nor journalists writing for external consumption. They run the whole gamut from proponents of reform to revolutionaries. The thirty speakers, it should be stressed, are often not just preachers. Some are veritable media stars (Ahmad al-Qattan, `Umar `Abd al-Kafi, and especially `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, the most popular preacher in the Islamic world). Others are major thinkers (`Abd as-Salam Yasin, Muhammad Qutb, Yusuf al-Qardawi, Nasir ad-Din al-Albani). They also include top leaders of fundamentalist Muslim organizations (the Front Islamique du Salut, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brethren). A famous martyr of the Afghanistan war (`Abdullah `Azzam) is yet widely listened to.

Audiotapes are cheap to produce and even cheaper to copy; in Egypt, for instance, they cost three pounds, or one dollar. (Videotapes cost four to six times as much as audiotapes and are still far less diffused). Their simple mode of reproduction leaves much of the distribution and usage to autonomous initiatives. They are easily marketed through mosques, booksellers, and various other shops.

The tapes mostly contain sermons delivered in mosque on Friday or on religious holidays, and follow a similar pattern: The speaker quotes the Qur'an or the Hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad) as well as their major commentators, mostly medieval but also modern. He endeavors further to probe their meaning with the help of examples from contemporary politics, references to everyday life, folk proverbs, and funny and salty stories. He weaves all this into moral vituperation or exhortation. The sermon serves as both an exercise in indoctrination and a form of entertainment.

Alternatively, the cassettes record a dars (lesson), usually delivered by the preacher just before the Friday prayer or, not necessarily in the mosque, on a weekday evening. The dars is geared systematically to teach articles of faith or chapters of law. The interaction with the audience is greater and the informality higher in this setting. Here the audience may pose questions, ask for legal guidance, even challenge the speaker's interpretation. The speaker resorts to a homely style, often in the colloquial language, picking examples from daily life. One can hear the audience laugh, cry, jeer, and talk back.

For close, sustained, checkable argument there is no substitute for print, but for direct exchange the oral electronic medium has advantages. The use of voice as a major vehicle in the tapes and the open structure it produces give a premium to the affective rather than to the analytic, which is highlighted by closure-bound written texts. The spoken word, with its acoustic quality, moves from interior (the mouth cavity) to interior (the outer ear), and thus creates a direct encounter of man to man. It permits the uncovering of emotional layers--the performer's as well as the listeners'--that underlie the readily accessible, rationally constructed arguments.

Audiotapes provide a privileged conduit to listen in on what is actually being said inside the movements of the Islamists. In most cases, the tape is recorded before an audience. As the target audience is the movement's adherents and supporters, the tapes indicate to what the audience is susceptible, in the name of what it is mobilized. In the tapes one can listen to the movements' activists speaking directly to rank and file; and, if lucky, may even hear the latter talking back.

It is these listeners to whom the preacher must be attuned, and they often take an active part in the sermon through interjections and questions. This opens a tiny window through which to peer into that great unknown, the mood and preoccupations of the rank and file of Islamic movements who attend such gatherings.

What, then, do the cassettes tell about Islamist views of democracy?


The preachers approach democracy with suspicion because of its Western origin, indicated by its Greek etymology and the development of democratic theory during the Age of Enlightenment, notably by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that "archenemy of Religion."2 An Egyptian sheikh, Ahmad al-Mahalawi, half-jokingly suggests that pagan Egypt may have been the originator of the democratic idea, for didn't Pharaoh offer unto Moses, according to the Qur'an, "to conduct a sort of referendum among the Jews so as to find out whether they actually want to leave Egypt"?3 Nowadays, democracy is the touchstone of that New World Order "created by George Ibn Bosh and Mister Zift Baker"4 to contain Islam.

No doubt many Muslims (or, rather, "Muslims in name only") clamor for democracy, but that is, says the Jordanian Yusuf al-`Azm, the end product of the "inferiority complex of those of us who are infatuated with Western culture. For isn't democracy one of those `imported ideas' they are so eager to embrace, ideas which also include nationalism, secularism, socialism?"5

Of course, many ulema (men of religion) argue that democracy is compatible with Islam, indeed, that it has an exact Islamic equivalent, the legal concept of shura (consultation).6 But, retorts the blind Egyptian sheikh `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman (presently in a New York jail awaiting trial), that is false Islam. It points to "the shameful predilection of our religious establishment towards apologetics; they wish to endow Islam with a face lift, lest they be accused of being reactionary."7 Or it could be that these pseudo-Muslims are motivated by fear of (or subservience to) the "powers-that-be." "In our times," sniggers Kishk,

Men of religion slavishly do the bidding of the powers-that-be, with an excess of zeal; they even contribute what they have not been asked for. If the ruler says that socialism is a great idea, the ulema sing the praises of socialism for hours on end. If the ruler declares himself in favor of democracy, the ulema deliver set speeches about Prophet Muhammad as an accomplished democrat.8

What else could you expect of such people whom the preachers call "scoundrel ulema," "ulema of the palaces," or "those hypocrites"?9


Such preliminary suspicions about democracy, predicated upon its origin, sponsors, and supporters, are just telltale indicators, a sort of guilt by association. The taped sermons probe further. What is the essence of democracy? The answer is unanimous: The sovereignty of the people means ultimate power to man, and not to God as enjoined by the Qur'an and Sunna. Man is a frail, fallible, easily tempted creature; how, then, could one even think of thus empowering him?

Ahmad al-Qattan explains: "When the Communist block collapsed, the governance of the people was declared victorious, yet that is tantamount to governance predicated upon such human faults and blemishes as egotism, sloth, greed, obtuseness, domination, and oppression."10 Such a pessimistic view of human nature--deeply ingrained in the living Muslim tradition--leads to a view of religion as a means of purification and regimentation.11 It likewise explains the evils that plague the Western countries, where democracy reigns supreme.

In itself, majority rule has little appeal to the preachers. For them, it is the quality, not the quantity, of the sovereignty-holders that counts. Further, Islamic activists--much like fundamentalists in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism--thrive upon the notion that they constitute an enclave of the virtuous, a band of the elect and the pure-hearted, the last defenders of a once glorious, now besieged religion. The virtuous few represent the only glimmer of hope.

A frequently quoted Hadith confirms this outlook. The Prophet Muhammad allegedly said that after his death the umma (community of Muslim believers) would be torn asunder and split into seventy-three factions, all but one addicted to false beliefs. The latter group will persist in fighting for the True Faith until Judgement Day; it alone will inherit the earth. If one follows this Hadith, how can an "impure majority" dominated by "factions of false beliefs" have the makings of a virtuous regime?


The West shows what democracy really leads to, says the Palestinian `Abd al-`Aziz Dweik:

Look closely at what is dubbed the American model, and what do you see? Drugs, alcohol, drunken driving, sex on television, pornographic films . . . AIDS which is caused by the spread of homosexuality . . . women and men kissing in public, and growing poverty due to economic policies geared exclusively to serve the well off. . . . Their very technology is saturated with eroticism, and that is what they export to Egypt in the form of movies and television serials.12

"Electoral rights do exist there, yet they are a sheer formality," mocks a Saudi sheikh, "for to be elected you need money, lots of it. And once elected you are beholden to the interests of the rich and neglect the downtrodden." "They do have a degree of liberty," concurs an Algerian, "but at what price? The rat race, no time for one's family, for things spiritual, and in their stead--addiction to entertainment."13

This is also the prevailing view with regard to Western Europe, "that same Europe where, many of our countrymen think, all is so much better." So says the now-imprisoned Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) leader, `Ali Belhadj, who also concedes that man-made laws have brought some equity and justice in France, Italy, and the United States. Being man-made, however, these laws might be easily abrogated or amended for the worse. For the Westerners have no moral guidance, no sense of measure. "The Europeans do not respect human rights alone but go further and defend animal rights in the manner of that tart Brigitte Bardot. They even defend vegetation rights like those of trees in public parks," he adds to the loud laughter of his listeners. "Indeed they equate liberty and permissiveness, notably in sexual matters. And this is what they call syphilization [civilization]," he notes with sarcasm.14

Democracy, and man-made laws in general, correlate closely with consumer culture. They go hand in hand, says the Egyptian Wajdi Ghunayim, "with the reign of decolleté and moda [fashion], with language suffused with advertising loanwords, such as chic, délicat, senso, rélaxe."15 Their common denominator is the appeal to the bestial instincts of human nature, let loose in the name of "doing one's own thing." Authentically Islamic behavior precludes hedonism and is the obverse of bestiality. Yet such behavior is quite rare in the nominally Muslim world. For bestiality consists in being subjugated by one's passions, whims, and pleasures rather than controlling them. And it is of little import--much like in the case of drunken driving--whether people do this deliberately or not. The cumulative consequences for society are destructive.16

Moreover, hypocritical as ever, the West does not practice abroad what it holds so dear at home. Examples abound, but three will suffice: French colonial rule in Algeria, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and Europe's indifference to the fate of the Bosnian Muslims.


Westerners pay little attention to the self-proclaimed "democratic" nature of such regimes as Gamal Abdel Nasser's in Egypt and Hafiz al-Asad's in Syria, seeing these, rather, as thinly-veiled despotisms. But for Islamists the Middle Eastern experience with "democracy" leads them to draw some harsh conclusions about the utility of democratic ideals for the region.

These regimes, says the Saudi sheikh Safar al-Hawali, "conferred sovereignty upon forces inimical to God--the forces of unbridled desires." Everywhere in the area the quest for democracy ended up with military regimes dominated by "riffraff and barbarians." He goes on: "What did Syria get from the struggle for democracy? The reign of that `Crusader' party, the Ba`th; a party hell-bent upon subverting Islam in the name of Arab blood kinship." The Sudan set upon a Western-type parliamentary course only to veer into General Ja`far an-Numayri's tyranny, a carbon copy of the Libyan and Iraqi regimes. And the litany goes on: in South Yemen, all powers were ultimately conferred upon the Presidential Council, which used them to impose "Leninist laws." Even in Habib Bourghiba's Tunisia, though less prone to violence, popular sovereignty signified presidential veto power.17

Sheikh Kishk recounts horror stories about his time in jail during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, "that great paragon of the people's rule." Massive torture accompanied adulation of the Ra'is (president) as if he were God. This modern Pharaoh's attitude toward Islam was illustrated by the case of a Muslim activist brought before the notorious People's Court. The judge forced him to recite the first Sura (chapter) of the Qur'an--but backwards, from finish to start. "Of what avail were to Nasser all his palaces and lavish resorts, all his bodyguards and henchmen? Like other despots who had eaten up the money of orphans and widows, oppressing the believers, he was ephemeral."18 But the Egyptian people paid a heavy price, and to this very day reel under its weight.

Nor did the situation in Egypt improve much in the quarter century since Nasser's death. Sheikh Salah Abu Isma`il, who served in the People's Assembly (parliament) under Anwar as-Sadat, entertains an appreciative audience with savory stories about the security services' running one of their stooges as a candidate against him. Not only did they conduct a smear campaign but on election day many of the sheikh's supporters found their names absent from the voting rolls. He also criticizes the work of the parliament in which he once sat:

And what man-made laws did they pass in this parliament? A law letting off the hook an adulterer who killed the aggrieved husband, allegedly in self-defense; and another law which required the license for a newspaper to be renewed after the death of the owner--a deft means to restrict the freedom of expression. Parliament didn't apply this principle, however, to the renewal of license for a bar, which could automatically pass to the legal heir.19

Sadat and Husni Mubarak's rule was no tyranny and, it is admitted, did permit a measure of party activity. Yet the Egyptian regime is far from committed to liberty. To the extent that freedom was expanded it was essentially freedom from moral constraints. Kishk blames the regime for the flourishing trade on Pyramids Street in Cairo--that epitome of the open-door economic policy, "awash in alcohol, gambling, night clubs, and loose women." And all this so as the better to serve tourism and "that great ideal" of economic growth by all means.20 For Belhadj, the October 1992 earthquake in Cairo signalled divine admonition to Egyptians to change course.

"Let's observe how low did public morality stoop: people do not give to charity anymore, nor do they respect property which we entrusted to them. Males obey females, filial loyalty disappears when children get married. Men drink wine, clad in silk. They associate with musicians and belly dancers."

A particular cause for worry: the institution of marriage is on the decline. "Both men and women tend not to marry and rely upon servants and maids who help at home."21

Belhadj describes Algeria under the FLN as a combination of Nasser's and Sadat's formulae: despotic single ruler, single party, ever-present security services, moral laxity in the nomenklatura, permissive laws in order to attract tourists, and foreign technology.

Kuwait, "the sole parliamentary regime in the Gulf," is, due to its unearned oil wealth, an upscale version of the former two countries. According to Sheikh Qattan, Kuwaiti parents send their sons to private schools where foreigners, "usually atheists," teach, and where they are introduced to rock music and drugs. They send their daughters to finishing schools abroad and let male members of the household have access to pornographic and Marxist books. Christian Filipino nannies raise smaller children and are the object of licentious exploits by their employers. This multitude of sins, sexual and financial, accounts for God's retribution visited upon Kuwait via the Iraqi occupation. But nothing much has subsequently changed, Qattan ruefully noted in 1993.22


In the cultural sphere as well, Islamists choose to take Middle Eastern despots at their word when they claim to be democrats. They conclude that Arab-style democracy produces an "artistic rot"23 that is avidly consumed all over the Middle East. By artistic rot, the Islamists mean cultural artifacts designed to satisfy hedonism and individualism, which dominate the growing Arab communications market, pushed by technological progress and facilitated by the rapid evolution of the media. Immoral fare is offered to the masses--in the name of the democratic principle of freedom of choice--through films, television soap operas, songs, popular magazines, and the like. "Muslims are indifferent to the death of thousands of jihad fighters in Afghanistan, while the whole of the land of Arabism is in deep mourning over the death of one song star," scoffs a Palestinian Hamas leader.24 Marketing Arab-language artifacts is easier now and becoming more so every day, but their contents are almost to a fault un-Islamic, nay, anti-Islamic. The heroes of movie and television become icons, which attract tepid Muslims and none-too-sophisticated believers into the orbit of secularism and profanation. Lifestyles of the rich and famous artists provide vicarious gratification for the underemployed, unemployed, and badly housed youth of Arab countries. The loose mores of Egyptian and Algerian stars (sex, alcohol, drugs, family violence) laid bare in the media for all to hear and see serve not as cautionary tales of immorality but as titillating idiosyncrasies, as emblems of creativity and experimentation.

Revealing their fears, the Islamic militants detect the hand of the security services of the Egyptian pseudo-democracy in the performance and marketing of licentious songs, for these lull disgruntled youth and lead them astray. Activists also discern the fingerprints of a Hollywood-based, "Judeo-Masonic" conspiracy to de-Islamize the Middle East with the help of movies, soap operas, and shampoo ads.25


Judged by its origins, nature, and consequences, democracy deserves to be categorically condemned. What, then, is to be done?

The preachers are unanimous: the sole solution is to normatively regulate sin-prone humans through divine regimentation, that is, by applying to the letter the Shari`a, the Sacred Law of Islam. "Sovereignty to the Qur'an, not to parliament," (as-siyada li'l-Qur'an la li'l-barlaman) runs their common adage. Muslims may not run their affairs as they please. They must obey the Shari`a as interpreted by Ahl al-Hall wa-l-`Aqd (those who untie and fasten, that is, forbid and enjoin; eminent authorities in matters of jurisprudence). Membership in this select group is determined by learning, virtue, and devotion to the application of the Shari`a. Given their age-old opportunism, few ulema qualify for membership. It is Ahl al-Hall wa-l-`Aqd, not parliament or the High Court, who should pass judgment upon the compatibility of existing laws and clarify moot points in the Shari`a and apply it to new issues.

Most preachers look askance at the option of "codifying the Shari`a," namely passing new laws that lay it out in modern terms, for the institution that legislates might later amend such laws, even abrogate them. An Islamic government may initiate a law in order to fill a gap where the Shari`a is silent or ambiguous, but not otherwise. The legislature might, for instance, render interest-taking licit by providing legal loopholes. Only existing laws should be subject to review in terms of compatibility with the Shari`a.26

True, application of the Sacred Law may seem harsh; yet it is just and effective. To illustrate this point, Sheikh Kishk quotes an interview with a professional thief broadcast over Egyptian radio. The thief admitted that he had been trained as a welder and used to earn his living in that trade. "Why then did he switch to stealing? Did he have no choice? He can indulge in whim whereas we have pity on him. God decreed that a thief's hand must be cut off. Should we have more mercy upon him than does his Creator?" Belhadj recites a similar story, stressing that where this Qur'anic injunction is implemented (in countries as divergent as Iran and Saudi Arabia), criminal acts against property are less frequent. "This goes to prove that, contrary to what our enemies say, we are not extremist but reasonable, rational people who call for the restoration of the Islamic way of life as a solution to social problems."27

And what about the executive authority? Here the shura concept is the panacea. Rejecting the talfiqi (apologetic, eclectic) gloss presented by time-serving (and modernistic) ulema, the preachers examine the historical evidence. They establish that shura was implemented only in early Islam. It was the Ahl al-Hall that elected the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs and provided them with moral and legal guidance during their incumbency. Consultation of the community-at-large--gauging the people's concerns--was optional and came second.

This form of government was spectacularly effective. One only has to remember how successful the Islamic state was in this Golden Age, winning battles from Spain to India and starting a glorious new civilization. "The most competent people were thereby picked, morality reigned supreme in politics, Islam spread the world over."28 Kishk recounts edifying stories about these halcyon days and remarks, to his audience's derisive laughter: "All this happened despite the fact that the Muslims knew nothing didthen about such wonders such as democracy or socialism."29 And this is indeed the model to follow.

Constraints upon the ruler in this order should be those set by the Sacred Law. The ruler is duty bound to consult with Ahl al-Hall wa-l-`Aqd but this consultation refers merely to points of detail in the application of the law and to matters not covered by it. All matters laid out explicitly by the law are beyond the purview of interpretation and consultation. This is all the more so with regard to Shari`a principles. They set limits that neither rulers nor ulema may transgress. They likewise set the terms within the precinct of which any consultation must be conducted.


Democracy may be a purveyor of moral dissolution and weakness. Yet the fact remains that resurgent Islam is usually unable to impose itself as a system of government through revolution or coup d'état. Its educational efforts have success but will pay off only in the long term. In the meantime, the situation appears to be getting worse as morality goes downhill and the market economy, which appeals to greed and instant gratification, surges. Violent action against regimes usually provokes ruthless repression.

Should the Islamists, then, have recourse to the much maligned electoral process when available? Despite the preachers' reservations with regard to "rule by the ignorant majority," they answer with a resounding "yes." They may despise democracy but they are ready to exploit it in the pursuit of power.

Should the Islamists, then, have recourse to the much maligned electoral process when available? Despite the preachers' reservations, they answer with a resounding "yes."

Realities have a way of shaping positions. Hence the appearance of catchphrases as launched in Algeria, "Islamic state through the will of the people" (dawla Islamiya bi-iradat ash-sha`b). FIS leader Rabah Kbir, now in exile in Germany, elaborated upon this slogan (in a sermon recorded in Oran in October 1991) but was ambiguous over whether it means a plurality of parties would be maintained under an Islamic state. He was likewise opaque about accepting the principle of alternating governments. "God may deploy stratagems of deception against His enemies," he remarked.30

Other speakers are more forthright. Sheikh `Abd ar-Rahman declares that it is sinful to sit alongside apostates in a parliament that does not abide by the Shari`a. Political parties would be a factor furthering dissension within the umma, as evidenced by their fissiparous effect in the West.31 Salah Abu Isma`il, who sat in one such parliament, holds that the Egyptian regime's slogan, "In the name of God and in the name of the People" (bismillah wa-bismi'sh-sha`b) is totally oxymoronic. Yet he refuses to be drawn into a discussion of the Islamists in power.32


The electronic preachers do not make general statements about intellectual and cultural pluralism, the sinews of democracy, but their chance comments on the subject give an idea of where they stand. Belhadj laid down a principle in early 1991, before the first round of the elections, that "no anti-Muslim ideas may be aired in public" in the future Islamic state.33 Kishk, in a sermon recorded in the early eighties, fulminated against Mahmud Muhammad Taha, a Sudanese scholar and thinker whom he called a dajjal (impostor, Antichrist), on the grounds that his "ideas woo hundreds of thousands [sic] in his native country." Kishk feared, lest Egypt might also be contaminated by Taha's theories, to wit, that the authentic revelation was that of the Prophet's Meccan period; when Muhammad moved to Medina (in 622), he was transformed into a politician and had to make compromises; consequently, norms and precepts laid down there are not binding.34 (Taha paid a heavy price for his iconoclastic approach to the holy texts: in 1985, the Sudanese dictator Numayri executed him for apostasy.)

A decade later, the same Kishk launched a venomous attack upon another alleged apostate, the Indo-British novelist Salman Rushdie, whom he depicted as the last link in a long chain of "false Muslim conspirators." That chain included, among others, Kemal Atatürk (said to have been a Jew masquerading as a Muslim, the better to subvert Islam) and, long before him, medieval Jewish "false converts" to Islam, such as Ka`b al-Akhbar. Ghunayim tars Rushdie as "an atheist" for claiming that the Prophet received revelations from Satan and that his wives whored around. Ghunayim is equally vituperative against those Muslim intellectuals (such as Naguib Mahfouz and Yusuf Idris) who defended Rushdie.35

The question of Christians in Muslim lands provides more insights into the preachers' attitudes toward pluralism. They agree that the Christians cannot become full-fledged members of the polity, due above all to the fact that they are nonbelievers, but also due to their role during the last century or so as conduits for "cancerous" Western ideas (such as nationalism). The principle of equality before the law is not applicable here; they would enjoy dhimmi status, the legal category offered to monotheistic non-Muslims living in an Islamic state. This assures them security of life, limb, and property, but disbars them from military service and positions of authority (judges, ministers, top civil servants, and so forth). They may neither proselytize nor conduct religious activity in the public sphere.

The preachers' tone is unambiguous. Listen, for instance, to Sheikh Mahalawi:

"Before this Friday sermon, an official of the Religious Endowments Ministry came and gave me a paper containing instructions to preach on Islamic tolerance towards dhimmis. I protested against such dictates but I'll readily tackle the subject. Verily Islam is and has always been tolerant with regard to dhimmis, yet on the condition that they know their place."

In contemporary Egypt, "the Copts do not fulfill this condition and the state gives them free rein." If Egypt has anti-Coptic riots,

Which I [Mahalawi] do not condone but understand, this is in part because of the government's criminal negligence; has it not permitted them to build new churches, though there are more than enough of them in a country where over ninety percent of the inhabitants are Muslims; has the regime not let them parade their religious affiliation in public (for example, crosses on car stickers and dresses), which is a sheer provocation to Muslims? Have our rulers not let the Copts store arms in churches and set up summer training camps?

The paragon of this "Christian arrogance" is U.N. secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali (whose sins include the Camp David accords and the Bosnian tragedy).36

For Sheikh Kishk, such arrogance is personified by Pope Shenouda III, that "American agent," and his assertive politics.37 Kishk also delves into the past, claiming there were no Christians among the political prisoners in 1955, 1965, 1974, and 1977, only true believers (namely the Muslim Brethren and its radical offshoots). Instead, many a Copt served on the staff of the military prisons. When Kishk was arrested in 1965, a Coptic prison doctor mocked him: "How come you have pains in your joints if you can do the gymnastics of prayer?" Earlier crimes soon come to preachers' minds: Coptic and Syrian Christian collaboration with imperialism, their subversion of the Ottoman Empire (through Arab nationalism and missionary work), and their aid to the crusaders.

Ultimately, the sheikhs reach back to the original discord: Muhammad's disputation with fellow monotheists, where it is evident, according to Qattan, that the "Christians are in a pretty bad way, though not as bad as the Jews." To prove this point, both he and the Egyptian Muhammad Hasan sort out the Qur'anic polemics against Christianity: the spuriousness of the Trinity, the Resurrection, the Second Coming. The Crucifixion was a punishment meted out to Jesus because his disciples attributed divinity to him.38

Hasan hastens to draw what for him is the logical conclusion: as nonbelievers but monotheists, Christians are entitled to forbearance but should live on sufferance and pay the poll tax as a sign of their second-class status. In this, he is joined by Sheikh As`ad Bayyumi at-Tamimi, leader of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad: "We are not against the Christians; they will have their rights according to the Pact of `Umar," a reference to the seventh-century edict setting out the dhimmi status. Maronites who have transgressed the pact will receive their retribution from Hizbullah.39

Or listen to another popular cassette (and television) star, who occupies a grey zone between dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist and conservative, Sheikh `Umar `Abd al-Kafi. How should one greet Coptic neighbors and fellow workers? he is asked in his Cairo mosque. "Never be the first to greet," he advises, "and when you do greet, just use the perfunctory `good morning,' and not a more effusive salutation.40 And above all, never, never go out of your way and give them your good wishes on their holidays, especially those related to false beliefs such as Christ's Resurrection [i.e., Easter]." The point is clear: keep sociability to a strict minimum. In a meeting with a group of women, he answered in the negative a question by a student sharing a dormitory room with a Coptic girl on whether she can undress before the Copt at night. Says `Abd al-Kafi: "This is haram (forbidden), for it would be tantamount to male gaze being set upon you; it is an affront to your chastity."41

Cairo cassette-shop owners attest to the popularity of tapes that claim to expose the "secrets of the Coptic church" (moral turpitude, conspiracies with foreign agents and missionaries); the sources for the stories are recent converts to Islam. And on a more strident note, `Abd ar-Rahman seems to have rendered licit in a fatwa (religious opinion) the robbing of Coptic jewelers in Upper Egypt to finance the operations of armed Islamic bands. He may also have legitimated the killing of "Coptic zealots."42

Even in Algeria, where a miniscule number of Christians live, Belhadj finds time for theological polemics on Christology. In his typically pithy style, he concludes that in the future Islamic Algeria, their status will be in conformity with a fourteenth-century treatise on dhimmis by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya, a most restrictive interpretation of the rights of non-Muslims.43


No quarter for democracy: this is the verdict of the thirty most popular Sunni Islamist preachers. No quarter for pluralism, liberty, and equality before the law either, unless subordinated to and constrained by the Shari`a. Their multitude of fans seem to concur.

Westerners debating the question of Islam and democracy would do well to listen to these voices, representing as they do the hegemonic discourse in the Islamist movement. When Islamists talk to each other rather than for external consumption, the talk is clearly and unambiguously anti-democratic. And so would be their behavior should they seize power.

A Who's Who of Islamist Preachers on Cassettes

Jamal 'Abd al-Hadi: Egyptian, historian and preacher 'Umar 'Abd al-Kafi: Egyptian, television preacher

'Umar 'Abd ar-Rahman: Egyptian, sheikh currently awaiting trial in connection with the World Trade Center bombing

Salah Abu Isma'il: Egyptian, Muslim Brother and former member of People's Assembly

Nasir ad-Din al-Albani: Syrian, scholar living in Saudi Arabia

Hasan Ayyub: Egyptian, popular preacher

Yusef al-'Azzam: Jordanian, leader of Muslim Brethren

1 Safar al-Hawali, al-Aqabat al-Sab` li't-Tawba; idem, Muqawwimat al-Mujtama` al-Muslim; Hamid al-Bitawi, Humum wa-Ma'asi al-Muslim al-Yawm; `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 402.
2 Safar al-Hawali, Qira'at min ad-Dasatir al-Arabiya; `Abdullah `Azzam, al-Ghiba.
3 Ahmad al-Mahalawi, al-Fitna at-Ta'ifiya fi Misr.
4 Ahmad Nawfal, Utruhat. Ibn Bosh can be translated as "son of the rabble"; zift as "annoying."
5 Yusuf al-`Azm, Aqlam Arabiyat al-Huruf Ajnabiyat al-Wala'.
6 For examples, see John O. Voll and John L. Esposito, "Islam's Democratic Essence," Middle East Quarterly, Sept. 1994, pp. 3-11.
7 `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman, Shubuhat Hawla'l-Jihad.
8 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 314.
9 `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman, Ulema al-Az'ar. See also Harb Jabir, La Ilah illa-llah wa-Atharha fi'n-Nafs; `Abd as-Salam Yasin, nos. 3, 30.
10 Ahmad al-Qattan, Huquq al-Insan.
11 `Azzam, al-Ghiba; idem, al-Hubb fi-llah; `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 37.; `Ali Belhadj, no. 9.
12 `Abd al-`Aziz Dweik, al-Mithal al-Amriki; Ra'id Salah, al-Quds wa-Makka; Muhammad Qutb, Dawr al-Mar`a; Nawfal, Utruhat.
13 Safar al-Hawali, Muqawwimat; Ahmad al-Qattan, al-Afan al-Fanni, no. 3.
14 `Ali Belhadj, nos. 45, 5.
15 Wajdi Ghunayim, Suluk al-Khatib; idem, Hijab al-Mar'a al-Muslima; Hasan Ayyub, Fi-l Mar'a; Yusuf al-Qardawi, Khutba fi-l Mar'a.
16 Ahmad al-Qattan, Tarbiyat al-Abna', no. 3.
17 Hawali, Qira'at.
18 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 395.
19 Salah Abu Isma`il, al-Mukhattatat al-Isti`mariya.
20 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, ath-Thalitha al-Kabira; idem, az-Zilzal.
21 `Ali Belhadj, al-Amr bi'l-Ma`ruf, no. 7/1.
22 Ahmad al-Qattan, al-Fasad fi-Kuwayt; idem, Tarbiyat al-Abna', no. 5; idem, Khutbat al-Mu'tamar al-Islami.
23 Qattan, Afan Fanni.
24 Bassam Jarrar, al-Quds wa-l-Aqsa.
25 Qattan, Afan Fanni, no.3.; `Azzam, Aqlam.
26 Nasir ad-Din al-Albani, al-Amr bi-l-Ma`ruf (4 cassettes); `Ali Belhadj, nos. 7/1, 7/6, 19, 42; Jamal `Abd al-Hadi, Akhta' fi't-Ta'rikh; `Abd al-Basit Muhammad, Khutba; Yasin, al-Manhaj an-Nabawi (series, 9 cassettes).
27 Kishk, no. 395; `Ali Belhadj, at-Ta`a; idem, no. 9.
28 `Abd al-Hadi, Akhta'.
29 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 515/516.
30 Rabah Kbir, Khutba.
31 `Abd ar-Rahman, Shubuhat; Isam al-Iryan, al-Amal at-Tulabi al-Islami.
32 Abu Isma`il, Mukhattatat. See also Hawali, Qira'at; `Ali Belhadj, Silsilat al-Jihad, no.2; id. no. 7/6,45.
33 Belhadj, no. 9.
34 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, no. 373; idem, al-Radd `ala Rushdi; Ghunayim, `Uqubat; see also `Umar `Abd al-Kafi, Salman Rushdi.
35 Mahalawi, al-Fitna.
36 Ibid.
37 `Abd al-Hamid Kishk, nos. 410, 422.
38 Ahmad al-Qattan, al-Tasammum fi Filastin; idem, Mujadala ma`a Nasrani; Muhammad Hasan, Salb al-Masih.
39 Hasan, Salb al-Masih; As`ad Bayyumi at-Tamimi, Khutba.
40 By the latter, `Abd al-Kafi means As-salamu `alaykum, a salutation reserved by many pious Muslims only for fellow Muslims.
41 `Abd al-Kafi, al-A'yad; idem, Dars li-l-Nisa'. Same ruling on undressing in Ghunayim, Hijab al-Mar'a.
42 I`tirafat Qasis (anon., 3 cassettes); Fawzi al-Mahdi, Kuntu Nasraniyan; `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman, Tafsir Surat al-Kahf.
43 `Ali Belhadj, nos. 15, 19, 38.