Egypt's electronic mosque

The recent arrest in Egypt of approximately 1,500 persons for "sectarian sedition" should not obscure the fact that Egypt under Sadat's leadership is step-by-step becoming an Islamic democracy.

While in the Nasser years egypt was officially "Arab" and a leader of the secular-nationalist movement to unite all of the Arab people whether Muslim or Christian, today officialdom asserts that the country is Islamic. A referendum was held in May 1980, and Article 2 of the Constitution was changed so that it now reads, "The principles of Islamic religious law are the primary source of legislation." This is a change from the indefinite to the definite article in front of "primary source." President Sadat has appointed committees to examine the entire legal code and suggest changes in light of this amendment.

Underneath formal pictures of the President, which adorn the walls of government offices and the frontispieces of government publications, is the logo , "The Beleving President, Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat." Neither the adjegtive "believing" nor the President's first name, Muhammad, usually ap pears in the West, but in reality, if not in name, it is also an Islamic Republic. In this respect, Egypt is simply returning to the fundamental Islamic principle, shunted aside in the secular-nationalist Nasser era, that "religion and state," "religion and the Islamic community" go together.

In Egypt, right-wing religious forces desire the restoration of a moral society. Common targets of criticism and censorship are Western movies with their vivid scenes of sex, magazines such as Playboy and Oui, any women's clothing that reveals more than just the face and hands, abortion, and homosexuality.

They desire a moral society with the family at the center, and feel that women's primary role is in the home. A model constitution drawn up by a committee of scholars at al-Azhar and circulated throughout the Muslim world states that the "family is the basis of society, and its tenets are religion and morality" and that the "state has a responsibility to support it, protect motherhood, and take care of youth" (Art. 7). Further: "It is a duty of the state to protect the family by encouraging marriage, honoring married life, facilitating it through housing subsidies, and providing the services which will enable a woman to serve her husband and children better and to consider the family as her first duty" (Art. 8).

Technology and the high standard of living which it produces are accepted by both as gifts from God. Muslims point out that roughly two-thirds of the world's oil resources lie in Islamic countries, a sign from God of the correctness of their belief.

One manifestation of the islamic revival and its connection with technology is Mustafa Mahmoud. WEll-known in Egypt and the Islamic world because of his book, "An ATtempt at a Modern Understanding of the Koran," and for his television program "Science and Religion," Mahmound is a leading influence on the thinking of millions of muslims who in the decades since World War II have received an education in the numerous institutes and universitiies that now exist in just about every Middle Eastern country. Trained in Egypt as a physician, Mahmoud practiced medicine until midlife, when he started to write about religious subjects, now a full-time occupation.

"I feel that the Koran is ultimate in all questions and that it is ultra-modern," Mahmoud told me in his Cairo apartment. "As a medical doctor in contact with the Western mind, I can interpret it to Muslims who have a modern Western education."

The contemporary resurgency of Islam is in part the result of the rise of literacy, the spread of television, and the advent of the inexpensive cassette tape recorder. Millions now read inexpensive and simply written magazines, tracts, and short books, sold by vendors at bus stops, street corners, and in the entrances to buildings. Mahmoud's own "Modern Understanding of the Koran" first appeared in serial fashion in a mass-circulation picture magazine. TV is now a common possession in middle-class homes, and in poorer neighborhoods it is widely viewed in coffee shops.

Small tape recorders are prized possessions for those just beginning to move up the ladder of material success. Seen and heard in homes and shops, they play bone-jarring Westtern rock music and mellifluous Middle Eastern music. Koran recitations and religious homilies, given by popular preachers or commentators such as Mahmoud, are also played on them. The vendors who sell newspapers, magazines, and tracts, also sell tape cassettes.

Mahmoud is a celebrity because of these modern media, and in the same way that television, computer mailing lists, and WATS telephone lines have contributed to the new fundamentalist Christian activism in the United States and have projected onto the national scene men such as Jerry Falwell, TV, tape cassettes, and a popular press have fostered the Islamic revival in the Middle East. In the US, what used to take place in the revival tent with an audience of hundreds now takes place in the air-conditioned TV camera-laden church before an audience of millions. The major mosques in the Middle East are also wired for radio-TV broadcast.

In the US there is an "electronic church," an "electronic pulpit," and influential and powerful radio-TV preachers. The same is true in the Muslim world. The words only need to be changed to "electronic mosque" and "electronic minibarm (pulpit)."

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