The president of the United States has somehow put himself on the opposite side of an Islamic theological debate from the Muslim president of Egypt.
President Obama has aligned himself with revivalist groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — that are trying to promote traditionalist Islam, while Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has begun championing Islamic modernizers.
Those modernizers want to defang the militant and supremacist Islam that has reigned since Islam emerged in the 700s. In contrast, the revivalists — and their allied jihadis — want to regain the regional power that traditionalist Islam held until roughly 1800.
The Islamic debate was dramatically exposed Jan. 1 when Sisi called a public meeting with the leaders of Islam’s leading seminary, which is based in Cairo.
“Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!” Sisi said in front of the TV cameras and religious leaders at Al Azhar.
Sisi tried to portray Islam’s traditional doctrines as outmoded ideas wrongly attached to the faultless core of Islam. “That thinking — I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!”
“You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective. … We are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move … because this umma [Muslim community] is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.”
In contrast, Obama has repeatedly praised Islam as a “religion of peace,” and says that jihadis are violating the established beliefs of Islam.
His attorney general, Eric Holder, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 11 that “we are at war with terrorists who commit these heinous acts and who use Islam, they use a corrupted version of Islam, to justify their actions.”
When quizzed by ABC’s George Stephanopolous the same day, Holder repeated the same traditionalist message. “We are at war with those who would commit terrorist attacks and who would corrupt the Islamic faith in the way that they do to try to justify their terrorist actions,” Holder said.
Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, repeated Obama’s theological claim Jan. 7, shortly after Muslim revivalists murdered eight journalists, two cops and two other people at the Paris office of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. “There are some individuals that are using a peaceful religion and grossly distorting it,” he claimed.
“We have enjoyed significant success in enlisting leaders in the Muslim community, like I said, both in the United States and around the world to condemn that kind of messaging … and we’re going to redouble those efforts in the days and weeks ahead,” Earnest said.
On Jan. 11, the White House announced it would hold a Feb. 18 meeting to showcase its efforts to prevent “violent extremism” in the United States. The announcement didn’t mention Islam.
The administration’s current policy recruits Brotherhood-aligned groups in the United States to identify and re-educate potential jihadis living in semi-segregated Muslim communities in the United States.
The White House’s continued support for traditionalist Islam is drawing new criticism. “The Obama White House is now a propaganda center for what Earnest described as ‘peaceful’ Islam,” said a Jan. 9 statement from Newt Gingrich.
“This is either madness or cowardice,” he added. “It could be madness because President Obama and his team are so out of touch with reality that they see themselves as the definers of a 1,500-year-old religion.”