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muslim-brotherhoodBack in the Middle Ages, AKA, 1987, I had my first glimpse of the pyramids. The pyramids of Giza took my breath away, literally. This was after I have been through the Valley of the Kings and the Luxor ruins and um, the lightshows! Nothing came close to the pyramids of Giza. There they were hulking above the cityscape of Cairo shimmering in the heat and dust. Nothing prepared me for the sheer majesty of it all. I have been to Egypt few times since then and I still catch my breath at the site of those majestic edifices.

Back in 1987, I was travelling around Israel, occupied Palestine, Jordan and Egypt with my then girlfriend Leslie. She happens to be a Jewish woman with family ties in Tel Aviv. She was reconnecting. I was a vagabond, after being fired six times from various jobs in less than two years, trying to take in as viagra of life as I could. We went to various occupied towns in Palestine and felt the murmurings of the first Intifada. We took weird chances like rode a broken-down motorbike in and out of the occupied territories through various checkpoints, ran up Masada with some bothersome orthodox Jewish activists who wanted to pick a fight, and spent the whole night hanging out with radical Marxists of all things in Bethlehem. Admittedly things were not as dangerous as they are today (no Hamas, no Jihadists) nonetheless those were reckless actions.

We left Egypt and took a boat (Felucca) ride up from Aswan (yes the river flows north) all the way to Cairo. The Feluccas are very much like the large boats that used to ply up and down the Surma River in my childhood. We took a 30-mile camel ride to hang out with the Bedouins near the Kharga Oasis. But, mostly we took in the country from the boat and its vantage point for 30 odd days. Cairo was the terminating point. We got there in the afternoon in a late summer day. The skies were hazy and our run-down and cockroach infested hotel was near the Giza district. We got into a taxi for the short drive and half way through the ride I saw the pyramids. I had hard time believing that these are things that human beings made with their bare hands. I felt dizzy and short of breath. I can still feel the sensation of breathlessness from that very moment I saw these things.

But, this is not a happy travelogue! This is about the attempt to obliterate human history and heritage and yes, the pyramids. The Al-Nour Party (the Light Party) wants to destroy or deface the pyramids. The Al-Nour came from nowhere in Egyptian life and politics. Behind the name of light they are the Salafis of Egypt. To them the pyramids represent “idolatry”.

During the last election in Egypt Al-Nour gained about 25% of the vote. Coupled with the 45+ percent of the seats won by the Muslim Brotherhood, AKA, Freedom and Justice, the Salafis can have real sway with the Egyptians. The table below shows the results as of January 9th, 2012. This may change but the changes will probably be in the direction of Al-Nour and Muslim Brotherhood.

salafisThese parties can command all of the machineries of the government, maybe not the Army quite yet. So, when Al-Nour says they want to do something it is best to take notice. The Salafis do not need absolute power to be a threat to Egypt’s antiquities and historical heritage. They already won enough vote to be a major force in proposing, approving, and blocking legislation. That will help determine priorities in government, and also threatens a gravitational pull toward stricter enforcement of Sharia as the Muslim Brotherhood competes with them for legitimacy and popularity. It will be a race to the intolerant militancy very much like the Republicans in the US who are racing to the intolerant right.

During the first few days of the New Year, Abdel Moneim Al-Sahat got on national TV and said, “Naked images of the Pharaohs are heresy and the pyramids need to be destroyed or concealed”. By concealment he means to cover the Pyramids in wax so that there will be these huge blobs as opposed to the wonders that took my breath away. This is the same guy who wants to burn the books written by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz because in his view the book Awlad Harretna (Children of the Alley) violates the principles of Islam and is therefore haram. I read that book and it is a beautiful and heartbreaking story, maybe one of the best of Naguib’s work.

This could be dismissed as the ranting of a mad man except for the little inconvenient fact of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban. The seed for destruction of the Budhhas was planted by a madman equivalent of Abdel Moneim, a Taliban Commander named Abdul Waheed in the Hazarat province way back in 1996. In early 2001 some 400 religious scholars came out with a decree that the Buddhas are against Islam and must be destroyed. So, the Buddhas that have been there since before the days of the Prophet were destroyed using dynamite over several weeks starting on March 2, 2001.

They tried other methods like anti-tank guns but finally resorted to dynamite to destroy the peerless Budhhas and the history and heritage that was part of the statues. The world stood by and debated. The debating society known as the UN passed resolutions and mullahs kept on destroying. If the mullahs were asked to build something with such grandeur I am not sure they would know where to even begin. On March 6, 2001, the Taliban leader (self-declared Amir-ul-Muminin) Mullah Mohammed Omar said, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.” Well, I am a Muslim and I am not proud of the destruction. Now, I am afraid that an even bigger evil is about to be perpetrated on humanity if we do not stop the whole line of exploration right on its tracks.

So, who or what is Al-Nour and who is behind them. As I said before, Al-Nour is the Salafi party in Egypt. Salafis want to go back to the purest (in their view) version of Islam. They believe that only the first three generations since Muhammad (PBUH) have practiced pure Islam. The first three Muslim generations are collectively referred to as “as-Salaf as-Saleh”, or The Pious Predecessors. Hence the name the Salafists. The principal tenet of Salafism is that the Islam that was preached by Muhammad (PBUH) and practiced by his Companions, as well as the second and third generations succeeding them, was pure, unadulterated, and, therefore, the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the two sources of revelation given to Muhammad, namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They want to make everything as Spartan and simple as those times, never mind that three of the four Caliphs were brutally murdered and we live in the days of internet and space travel.

The Al-Nour Party was formed in the spring 2011 as the liberal and secular revolution centred on Tahrir Square was beginning to rock the foundation of the Egyptian autocracy as well as the society. The party was formed as a melting pot of various militant and ultra conservative groups. These people thought the Muslim Brotherhood was corrupt and pliable by the secularists. But, the most amazing thing is that the Al-Nour party managed to field candidates in almost all the seats in the recent elections and won a good quarter of the seats. According a well sourced report by The Daily Telegraph, some $100 million has come into coffers of Al-Nour from the intolerant Wahhabite kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Have we not seen this movie before?

The Saudi kingdom gave billions of dollars to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan who then morphed into the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The atrocities in Afghanistan, the destruction of Bamiyan Budhhas, the constant and slow degrading of the Pakistani state and the subjugation of basic human rights in most of the Middle East and in South Asia has the stench of Saudi money associated with it. Whenever, we see the Wahhabite money we see great spectre of destruction and unmitigated bloodletting. Egypt is now the new hunting ground for the Wahhabite money and it’s evil.

Let us agree on one fact. In country after country the population went for the Islamists after the overthrow of the autocrat of the realm. Wherever free elections have taken place in the Islamic Middle East in recent years, the religious parties have won: in the Gaza Strip in 2006, in Iraq in 2010, and in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco in 2011. This basically shows that populations after years of repression are going back to one sure stable beacon in their lives, the all-encompassing faith.

However, most of the population would not want to destroy their heritage and in Egypt’s case one of the largest sources of income. However, extreme madmen percolate in the midst of the discontent and the euphoria of new found freedom and power and focuses on symbolic trivialities at the behest of some rich ultra conservative denizens of the dark in the Wahhabite kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Salafists want to do more than destroy the pyramids. They want to stop all education for girls, force women to wear full nikabs and they want all men to wear full beard without moustaches etc. As you can see they want to make sure the outward signs of piety are adhered to at all costs. However, there is so very little in terms actual plan to enhance the spirituality of the population under their rule.

In Afghanistan the Islamists have bankrupted the population in moral terms. Widows are not allowed or able to take care of their children because they are not allowed to do any form of legal work. So, the only path left them is to sell their bodies. Children begged for food on the streets of Kabul. They warlords fought over young boys! In Egypt where the society is far more advanced with higher levels of education in both men and women and great literary and intellectual tradition it maybe difficult for the extremists to enforce Taliban like destruction and paranoia.

The young people who started the Tahrir Square revolution earnestly believe that the tilt to the radical Islamists is a transitional phase in Egyptian life. One of the leaders of the Tahrir Square is Amr Iss al-Rigal says, “This is merely a transitional phenomenon. We had a feeling that the religious groups would triumph at first — because they, like the Salafists, have friends in the oil monarchies. And because they, like the Muslim Brothers, were long members of the opposition, which gave them time to organize.”

We hope for the sake of humanity that Amr is right about the transition. We should all give him all the help we can muster in order to stop the denizens of the Stone Age bomb us back to the Stone Age!

Kayes Ahmed lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA with his three dogs. He runs a small yet global apparel and design business based in Boulder.

14 Responses to “Pyramids, “idolatry” and the Salafis”

  1. Barrister AKM

    This writer, whenever he writes, he writes against Quran and Sunnah. He wants to interpret Islam according to his own way for his personal benefit. These type people are greatest “corruption” in the face of the world as they talk only on the basis of emotion and not knowledge. This article lacks intellectual contents and seems like Standard-VI essay (which if marked the writer would fail.).

  2. Saima Khan

    As salaamu alaikum

    Keeping Islam aside, the pyramids represent the age of slavery, violence, persecution, infanticide and all other forms of inhumanity. It is natural for us to be mesmerized by the architecture of the pyramids. But isn’t this just an eyewash? Are you forgetting what the ancient Egyptians sacrificed for this? How their lives were destroyed because of the pharaohs’ whims? This ‘thriving’ civilization thrived on people’s blood. Remember Prophet Musa’s (a.s) story? What answer will you give to those victims or their descendants for championing their oppressors?

    How can you say that destroying the pyramids is an act of inhumanity when the construction of it itself was an act of inhumanity? Who’s ‘bare hands’ constructed it – the Pharaohs’ or the slaves’?

    Regarding the other points, we Muslims are more concerned about the afterlife which is for eternity than this temporary worldly life. The day of Judgement itself is 50,000 years long, which renders our lifespan, of arnd 80yrs, to a nano-second in comparison. And we know that idolatry is a sin that would make us dwell forever in hell. So to us, ‘being a good human being’ is wishing paradise for everyone because we want to meet everyone again in paradise and live happily forever. That should be every Muslim’s intention. You’re right, we should not use force because forcing someone does not fulfill that purpose. It should come from the heart. On the other hand, championing an act of sin or disbelief just for the sake of ‘open-mindedness’ means that you hate that person so much that you’re pushing that person towards hell knowingly. It is very difficult to take the neutral path or to define what the neutral path should be and humans are prone to error. There is a mistaken belief that ‘neutrality’ means ‘tolerance’. We should remember that ‘intolerance’ and ‘tolerance’ are both extreme cases, so we should always try to explore from all perspectives before judging. We should realize that ‘logic and reason’ are actually relative terms, prone to many influencing factors and usually, that makes our reasoning biased towards one side.

    Saima Khan

    • Runu

      If the pyramids are built on blood and inhuman torture of the slaves, it does not give anyone the right to destroy them. A person may use them to show how bad that that pharaoh was, that’s about it. Islam gives you the right to not idol worship. It does not give you the right to take someone else’s right to do it. You may dissuade that person, show him/her the way of Islam, but not go and destroy his worship. THAT is WRONG. Grossly wrong.

      What the Salafis and their rich mentors and their supporters are really doing is completely against the basic grain of our religion apart from being inhuman.

  3. Kazi Saifuddin Hossain

    Kayes, sorry for commenting so late.

    Let’s begin with the pyramids and idolatry issue. One amazing fact is that the Salaf as-Salihin i.e. Hadrat Umar and the caliphs after him, who belonged to the first three generations of Muslims, never tried to dismantle these relics. Against this backdrop, the initiative of the modern day ‘salafis’ runs detrimental to the heritage of the Salaf as-Salihin.

    It is true that idolatry is prohibited in Islam. We Muslims do not worship the pyramids. In a hadith quoted by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, our Prophet (peace be upon him) declared, ” I do not fear that you (the Muslim community) will return to idolatry after I am gone; but I do fear that (out of greed) for worldly interests, you will kill each other, and thus be destroyed like ancient communities/tribes.”

    The ‘salafis’ are zealots who have transgressed. I came to know about them from an article ‘Salafiyya’ that was written by the late Turkish Islamic savant Husayn Hilmi Isik Istanbuli. It has now been translated into Bengali by me and published as a booklet. The second print is due on the eve of holy Eid-i Miladun Nabi.

  4. Md Golam Faruque

    Dear readers,
    Please mark the last line of the article where the true face of the writer is disclosed. The gentleman is living with three dogs! The animal like life that he lived devoid of Islamic values rewarded him such a life. Please follow the types of articles he writes; in almost all of those he rejects Islamic values.

    While I cannot but agree with him that Pyramids should never be touched let alone destroying them, I cannot accept his motive. He, like the non-believing western people, criticised the Muslim women with Hijab. Fine, although claim to be Muslim, you may not like Hijab; but what makes you so impatient of those who choose to follow Islam they think to be right?

    So dear readers, make your own conclusion. Thanks

  5. Sumon

    The writer invalidates the goal of the ‘deen’ ISLAM. He should go and seek Islamic knowledge from Islamic school, rather internet or friends or learning Islam from the writers who hardly has Islamic background.

  6. asif

    The writer claims he is a Muslim even though he writes “Back in 1987, I was travelling around Israel, occupied Palestine, Jordan and Egypt with my then girlfriend Leslie”. Doesn’t he know that keeping girl friend is completely prohibited in Islam? He has committed adultery and proclaiming it openly in public. How shameless! I seriously doubt this man’s a Muslim.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      Shame has never been my strong suit! Some would say I have none. Shame is always in the context of others. I could not care less about what others think. Never did, never will. I wonder how you define a good Muslim? Someone who kills other people because of some obscure fight that took place hundreds of years ago. Or, maybe you are a good Muslim if you keep all the girls uneducated and illiterate. Maybe, if you burn books (like the destruction of Alexandria library) that you do not agree with. I can go on. I may not be a Muslim by your definition. I have no conflict between my private and public lives. They are one and the same. I think a good Muslim should strive to define what it is to be a “good” human being and then maybe he will be a good Muslim.

  7. Mostofa Sarwar


    What a wonder! I finally found you. How is everything? Please reconnect. It is a good piece. Thanks.

    Sarwar from New Orleans

  8. Farid Ahmed

    The problem is that we don’t agree on your definition of “extremism”. What you consider as extremist is actually following Islam the way it should be based on Quran and Sunnah. We don’t change Islam to suit us but rather we should change ourselves to suit Islam.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      So, by your definition you would destroy the Pyramids, burn books by people that you do not agree with and generally be intolerant? Pray tell what is the definition of “extremism”? Also, do not forget long before Islam became a thriving religion there was a thriving civilization and the Pyramids are but one expression if such civilization.

      • Runu

        Kayes, you were worried of extremism in Egypt. What does the responses to your article tell you about Bangla?

  9. Golam Arshad

    Kayes: Your conclusion is mind boggling. And I quote, “We should all give him all the help we can muster in order to stop the denizens of the Stone Age bomb us back to the Stone Age!”

    Let the charlatans of extremists fades out in the pit of logic and reason. Islam always prevails in moderation and fairness to ultimate justice! Good job!!

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