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May 05, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany


Bassam Michael Madany

11 July 2022

The 20th century witnessed great advances in the recording of music and of speech, beginning with 78 RPM, to 33.3 RPM records, and transitioning to tape-recordings of 15 IPS, 7.5 IPS, followed by CDs that were safer and durable. 

The advances in the same fields during the 21st century came at the speed of light! The Internet coupled with the galloping advances in computer manufacturing, allow the dissemination of knowledge, orally and textually, without hindrance. This phenomenon has ushered in the Era of the Acceleration of Time! The implication of this fact plays a special role in the Arab/Muslim world at the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century. 

Two decades ago, the situation was entirely different as explained in the following quotation: 

“At the turn of the 21st century, the Arab creative writer operated at a local level within a social environment that, more often than not, constrained freedom of expression and indeed subjected literature to strict forms of censorship. Many prominent Arab authors spent large segments of their life in exile from their homelands for political reasons. More broadly, the confrontation between secularism and popular religious movements, which might in the best of circumstances provide for a fruitful interaction of opinions, instead—because of local, regional, and global factors—created an atmosphere of tension and repression that was often not conducive to creative thought. This confrontation also prompted Arab litterateurs to view the global environment with considerable circumspection.”

Thus, the appearance in June 2022 of “Qanat Al-Mulhid” an Arabic-language channel for reformist Arabs to express their views, was a significant phenomenon.  They plan to counter the Islamists’ campaign of imposing their beliefs on Arab societies, a campaign that has been going on for the past fifty years.

To begin with, It’s important to recognize that the Arab world had been in the process of modernization since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was prompted by Napoleon’s expedition in Egypt, an event that had far reaching consequences, not only for Egypt, but the entire Arab world.

Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire. Following Napoleon’s retreat, Muhammad Ali Pasha was appointed in 1805 by the Ottoman Sultan, as ruler of Egypt, He is considered as the founder of modern Egypt. His dynasty ruled for almost 150 years. It ended in July 1952, when Gamal Abdel-Nasser, staged a coup d’état, and dethroned King Farouk, the last Egyptian monarch.
Egypt became a republic under a leadership that promoted a Pan-Arab ideology. In 1958, President Nasser entered into a union with Syria, creating the UAR (United Arab Republic.) The union was short-lived and ended in 1961. Nasser’s adventurism led to Egypt’s involvement in Yemen’s Civil war, “which Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser later referred to as ‘my Vietnam.’
The Hazima (Defeat) of Egypt, in the Six Day War of June 1967 gave rise to a Sahwah Islamiyah (an Islamic Réveille) whose leaders claimed that the defeat was occasioned by Nasser’s Pan-Arab ideology.

After President Nasser’s passing in September 1970, President Anwar Sadat reversed his predecessor’s policies, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to resume its campaign of Islamizing Egyptian society. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel, Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, allowing Egypt to regain the Sinai Peninsula that it had lost in 1967. In October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, during the Armed Forces Day military parade commemorating Egypt’s victory in the October 1973 war.

Hosni Mubarak became the third president of Egypt from October 1981 until February 2011 when he was forced to resign during the turbulent demonstrations in Cairo, triggered by the Arab Spring.
The by-products of the Arab Spring throughout the Arab world were varied. Some regimes became democratic, allowing for the proliferation of social media channels, who began to challenge the dominant Islamist ideology.

One YouTube Channel began in June 2022, with a very bold title, “Qanat Al-Mulhid,” The term “Mulhid” is derived from “Ilhad” i.e., “Unbelief, or Atheism.” The name indicated a break with the past, and the birth of a secularized Arab civilization. Subjects that had been taboo, would henceforth be discussed openly and without restraint. 

For example, on 5 July 2022, Sa’eed Shoaib, an Egyptian reformist intellectual dealt candidly with some very delicate topics, such as: “Why do some Muslims regard the Caliphate sacred and part and parcel of the Islamic faith?”

“Why do Muslims consider their Futuhat (Conquests) as divinely sanctioned; rather than admit they were imperialistic invasions, no different from those of the Tatars and Mongolians?” 

“What’s the difference between the Ottoman Empire and the British or French Empires?”

On 5 July 2022, Sa’eed Shoaib, interviewed Dr. Zainab Al-Tijani, a Tunisian scholar, about the topic of Islamic Imperialism.  The Interview was very lively and informative. 

Professor Zainab didn’t mince words. “Yes, Islamic conquests were driven by imperialistic motifs, and meant for the enrichment of the Arab conquerors.” 

As usual, people watching the Interview on YouTube, began texting their comments. Here are samples translated from the original Arabic text:

“Thanks so much for this program and your exceptional guest. You are liberating us from the slavery that had been our lot. Now, we may work on building a homeland that respects our minds. I wish that those who praise the Ottoman Caliphate would be listening to this session!” 

“Thank you for your program, it’s indeed a useful one. I appreciated Dr. Zainab’s interpretation of history and benefited greatly.”

“This is to express our deep thanks for this enlightening session; now we’ve become acquainted with a new Tunisian intellectual. Most of the enlightening programs seem to invite Tunisian guests!”
“As I was listening to your session that dealt with the dream of reviving the Islamic Caliphate, I couldn’t stop reflecting on the poor conditions of the 53 Islamic states that have missed development. That didn’t happen by chance. Muslims had remained static and attached to the Qur’an, clinging to the motto that “Islam is the solution to all problems (هو الحل) and is valid for all time and in all places.  مكان يصلح لكل زمان

The most radical voice was that of a Saudi Mulhid who critiqued the Islamic Boycott Campaign Against India, occasioned by two Indian politicians’ views of Muhammad’s marriage to young Aisha.

Listening to his voice on YouTube one got the impression that he had thoroughly rejected Islam.

It’s equally surprising to read the text messages his speech had elicited!

“You are a genuine thinker, your words gave peace to my mind, may Allah enlighten your way!”

“I’ve been following your channel for some time, your words spring from your heart.”

“Thank you, brother, you are speaking the truth!”

“Dear Brother, thank you for your efforts to spread the truth among the public. May Allah bless you; we need more people like you.”

The rise of Qanat Al-Mulhid was indeed a unique and surprising phenomenon. I don’t imply that Ilhad is new in the history of Arab/Islamic civilization. There were some prominent Unbelievers in the past, such as Al-Rawandi (827-911), Al-Ma’arri (973-1057.)

The most celebrated Mulhid in our days was Sadiq Jalal al-Azm (1934-2016) who authored in 1969 “Naqd al-Fikr al-Dini” (“Critique of Religious Thought”)

The book is available in Arabic only! The following is an apt description of the book. “Nothing better describes the goal of the “Critique of Religious Thought” than the publisher’s statement on the back cover of the book:
“Rarely does modern Arab thought attempt to openly challenge the intellectual structures and the dominant metaphysical ideology of our society, because penetrating this realm touches its most sensitive area, which is the religious question.  But the contemporary Arab revolution cannot endlessly avoid addressing vital questions that are connected with metaphysical religious ideology and its relationship with the revolution itself – including all the problems that arise from reactionary Arab forces using religion as a major ‘theoretical’ weapon to mislead the masses. Thus, this series of critical studies of religious thought form a daring and necessary attempt by Sadiq Jalal al-Azm to destroy the dominant mythological mentality and substitute it with contemporary revolutionary and scientific ideas.”                                                                 
Forty-Year-Old Classic Remains Influential:                                                                                            
Sadiq Jalal al-Azm’s ‘The Critique of Religious Thought’

[1] On July 1, 1798, Napoleon landed in Egypt with 400 ships and 54,000 men and proceeded to invade the country, as he had recently invaded Italy. But this Egyptian invasion was to be different. For, in addition to soldiers and sailors, Napoleon brought along 150 savants — scientists, engineers and scholars whose responsibility was to capture, not Egyptian soil, but Egyptian culture and history. And while the military invasion was an ultimate failure, the scholarly one was successful beyond anyone’s expectations. 

Ii Viewing the Six Day War as an unintended consequence of the Saudi-Egyptian struggle over Yemen, Ferris demonstrates that the most important Cold War conflict in the Middle East was not the clash between Israel and its neighbors. It was the inter-Arab struggle between monarchies and republics over power and legitimacy. Egypt’s defeat in the “Arab Cold War” set the stage for the rise of Saudi Arabia and political Islam. 



V (282) ملحد سعودي يرد على حملة المسلمون المسعورة ضد الهند | قناة الملحد - YouTube 


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