A state security court in Cairo has sentenced a woman who claims to be a Sufi mystic and leader of a Sufi sect to five years jail with hard labor.
Sufism is a mystical way of practising Islam that is widespread in Egypt. The court found Sheikha Manal guilty of “denigrating Islam by claiming prophecy, and using the Muslim faith to propagate extremist ideas.”
Sheikha Manal and her followers revere a dead sheikh, Manal’s uncle, who was the founder of the sect.
The court heard that the defendants, who were arrested last November in the Cairo quarter of Sayyida Zeinab, considered the deceased sheikh to be the supreme being and resorted to him in their religious and worldly matters.
Manal claimed to receive instructions for the followers from her uncle through a special spiritual relationship and visions of him.
Through written and oral messages, Manal said her uncle exempted some of her followers from daily prayers and pilgrimage, two of the five essential tenets of Islam. Manal’s defense implicitly admitted the charges but argued that the actions of the defendants were part of Sufism "and if they committed wrong or sinned, they should be rehabilitated and driven back to the right path.”
Three of Manal’s followers - educated professionals - were jailed for three years with hard labor, and seven received sentences of one-year’s hard labor. Two women were sentenced to six months in prison and another two were fined EL1,000. (UD$1=EL3.5)
Ezzat Atiya, Professor of Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s tradition) at the Faculty of Religious Fundamentals Al Azhar University, and himself a Sufi, defined Sufism as a “way to get nearer to God, depending on continued remembrance of God and performing rituals.
“The main condition for Sufism was its agreement with the outward features of Islamic Sharia [Islamic law] in rituals and dealings with people. It should not contradict the teachings of the Holy Quran or the Sunna (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad),” he said.
Atiya said anyone claiming special circumstances crossing the boundaries of Islam and its teachings would not be considered a Sufi but a believer in “polytheism.”
As for followers, Atiya said they should know and resort to knowledgeable sheikhs to gain a clear understanding of things they were confused about. But he said they should not leave all their thinking to one sheikh, in order not to be led astray.
The cleric added that in Islam, people should not imitate anyone except the Prophet Muhammad, since “he is considered to have the wisdom, vision and sight due to his transfer of orders from God and because he was safeguarded from committing wrong." But sheikhs do make mistakes, Atiya said "and the layman has to ask more than one sheikh to arrive at the right understanding of religion.”
He said that judges should consult knowledgeable people before they take their decisions, so as to base them on a solid understanding of the issue. Atiya said as long as Sufi practices do not interfere with the outward rituals and practices of religion, the judiciary should not interfere. But if Sufi practices negatively affected the status of Islam, its practitioners should be stopped.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )