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Khayrat el-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for the forthcoming Egyptian presidential elections, met with Islamic scholars from the Islamic Legal Body for Rights and Reform (al-hay’at al-shar’iyya lil-huqûq wal-islâh) on Tuesday.

According to the Body’s founding statement, one of their principle goals is:

“The creation of an Islamically-legitimate [râshida] source of authority, which revives the function of clerics and Islamic intellectuals in the Umma (global Islamic community), to support The People who Loosen and Bind [ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd] in strengthening freedoms and ensuring reform.” (إيجاد مرجعية راشدة تُحْيِي وظيفة العلماء والحكماء في الأمة، لمعاونة أهل الحل والعقد في تدعيم الحريات وتحقيق الإصلاح.)

Now, The People who Loosen and Bind is an historical Islamic legal term for those members of a community invested with the power to ‘elect’ a caliph or imam.  It is through this group that a caliph received an oath of allegiance (bay’a) on behalf of the people.

The modern institutional equivalent of the ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd is the legislature or the Majlis al-Sh’ab in the case of Egypt.  It is noteworthy, therefore, given Khayrat el-Shater’s reluctance to speak directly to the media since the annoucement of his candidature, that he paid a visit to this group of clerics and scholars.  Particularly so, given that the Body consists of a cross-section of senior Egyptian ulema; the sort of people likely to endorse or reject his nomination from an Islamic perspective.

At the meeting, Associated France Press reports him making some controversial statements on sharia:

“…Khairat el-Shater, has pledged to press for the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) if elected [and] said implementing the sharia was “his first and final goal,” […] Shater [also] said “he would work to form a group of scholars to support parliament in achieving that goal,”

What’s interesting again is that the Arabic term used at the Body’s website, from which AFP gleaned their information, for ‘a group of scholars’ is ‘majmu’a min ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd‘ (وقد أكد الشاطر أن الشريعة كانت وستظل مشروعه وهدفه الأول والأخير، وأنه سيعمل على تكوين مجموعة من أهل الحل والعقد لمعاونة البرلمان في تحقيق هذا الهدف.).  The use of this term further underscores the importance for Islamists of tradition.

El-Shater’s mention of this ‘group of scholars’ could signal his intention to use the Islamic Legal Body for Rights and Reform.  It will also alarm many who read the Brotherhood’s Draft Party Platform several years ago and noted its reference to the creation of ‘a council of religious scholars’ with the power to veto legislation proposed by the People’s Assembly/Majlis al-Sh’ab.  Could this be the same thing?  It certainly seems so.  If el-Shater is elected, and even if he is not (and becomes PM!), it will be intriguing, not to say worrying, to see what form this ‘group of scholars’ takes.

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