Interview with MB Guidance Bureau Member Abdel Rahman al-Barr

Abdel Rahman al-Barr

A few days ago I posted an article I wrote for Lapido Media exploring the religious motivation and justification for protesting an insult to Islam. Much of the perspective rested on the answers of Abdel Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood and a specialist in the Islamic sharia.

Due to the events al-Barr was unavailable for a face-to-face interview, but graciously provided his time in answering my written questions. For deeper understanding of the subject treated in the article, here is the transcript in full:

  • A popular chant during the protest was: ‘With our souls and our blood we will redeem you, oh Islam!’ What does ‘blood’ imply, and how will it ‘redeem’ Islam?

This phrase means the speaker is ready to give his life for the sake of his religion, willing that his blood may flow in its defense. If it becomes necessary he will enter a military confrontation to defend Islam even if he must face being killed or martyred in the path of God.

  • The film was clearly offensive to Islam. But what does Islam teach about defending the religion against insult? Even if peaceful, why are such demonstrations religiously necessary?

Religion is one of the sanctities that man will protect and defend with all he has, even if this leads to giving his life. In the case of this offensive film it is necessary to announce refusal, condemnation, and anger with the most powerful expressions. We request the government with allowed this film to appear – that is, the United States of America – to prevent [its showing] and to hold those who made it accountable, as they have instigated hatred and incited animosity between peoples. Expressing this refusal is a religious obligation, because Islam requires the Muslim to reject error and seek to change it with his hand, if he is able. If he cannot he must reject it with his tongue, and demonstrations are one of the ways to do so.

  • During the demonstrations, some called the Copts of the Diaspora, especially those involved in the film, ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’. What does Islam teach about the use of insults against those who insult it?

Those who use such phrases are likely from the common people – not scholars – who were pushed by their anger from the enormity of the crime. But Islamic teachings call for the use of good phrases which do not insult. God the exalted said in the Qur’an: ‘Speak well to people’, ‘Say to those who worship me, “Speak what is good”’, ‘Return the evil with that which is good’, and ‘Return what is good if there is animosity between you’.

  • The Qur’an states in al-Nahl, 125: ‘Invite to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in the best manner.’ Even peaceful protests seem to diverge from this, and open the door for many to express anger poorly. How do demonstrations, though politically legal, help shape an Islamic morality? How should anger be expressed in Islam?

We must know that free demonstrations are a new experience for our people, as the repressive regimes dealt with them extremely harshly, to not allow them. Because of this, until now the culture of demonstration remains disfigured for many. Maybe this will improve in the future, but the careful observer will note that demonstrations organized by the Muslim Brotherhood are better disciplined even in the slogans and phrases used. This is because Islamic morality is moderate in both satisfaction and anger. Powerful expressions of anger must respect justice and avoid triviality. The Qur’an says: ‘God does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged’. So if a man is oppressed he may use forceful phrases to express this oppression, but without triviality or debasement.

  • Almost no Americans had ever heard of this film until Egypt began to demonstrate against it. To what degree to Muslim religious leaders bear fault for the excesses of these protests, as the Brotherhood called originally for escalation?

Religious scholars are not the ones who began the incitement, and they had no means to prevent it. Those who incited people were some activists who knew of it from the internet, and from here the common people began talking about it. It is natural the scholars could not stay silent in the face of this rejected crime. Personally, if it was in my power I would not have given this subject any importance because it is a vile work. Its producers do not posses human decency or creative value, and the film has no artistic merit. But the new media in its modern form diffuses the insignificant to work up the people – this is what happened with this vile film lacking creative value. Of course, the expansive publication via media had the largest influence on the common people, stirring them up and giving attention to this insulting film.

Thanks to Amr al-Masry for translating the questions into Arabic; any errors in translating the answers are my own, with graciousness asked specifically for the verses from the Qur’an.

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