Commentary  Islam is not monolithic

Re: “Women in Egypt” | Commentary | March 14

Davide Mastracci’s romantic appeal for a secular state in Egypt is admirable, but his approach to Islam is similarly subjective. He claims that Sharia law is incompatible with democracy, freedom, and human rights and blames the Muslim Brotherhood’s departure from what he would no doubt deem secular values on its strict adherence to Islam.  While fundamentalist interpretations of the Qur’an may support misogynist policies, as Mastracci fears an Islamic state would, there is a definite difference between the texts and traditions of a faith and how they are re-appropriated.
In claiming that the misogyny of the Muslim Brotherhood is inspired by Islam, Mastracci accepts as authoritative and normative their interpretation and approach to Islam itself and the faith’s position on issues like women’s rights and roles in society. This is a common theme in scientific-atheist critique of religion, as epitomized by the works of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. However, in proving wrong a particular interpretation, particularly a hyper-literal one, one does not prove an entire faith or a scripture invalid – especially when discussing a text like the Qur’an that cannot be confined to one interpretation alone. His citation of Bill Maher situates Mastracci firmly in this camp, though perhaps he should have chosen someone more academically qualified to present the party-line. The irony is that in implying that Islam, and by extension the Qur’an, oppresses women, Mastracci is in agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood on how the Qur’an demands to be interpreted and applied, though their values precipitate opposing conclusions.
I do not necessarily disagree with Mastracci’s conclusion that a secular state would be best for Egypt, but the blame for the shortcomings of a fundamentalist political movement should not be placed on the shoulders of the faith it claims to represent and expound.  Surely Mastracci would agree, just as the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision of “democratic values, freedom and equal social justice” does not contaminate those values in their abstract form; so neither should fundamentalist re-appropriations of Islamic texts and traditions define Islam.

Elena Dugan
U1 Religious Studies and Middle Eastern Languages