A recently published report by MEMRI documents a call for the implementation of gruesome “Islamic” punishments by the Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub. According to MEMRI, the cleric asserted in a televised interview that theft, robbery and similar crimes should be regarded as “war against Allah and His Messenger” and he recommended that those guilty of such crimes should “be executed, or…crucified, or…have their hand and foot chopped off on opposite sides, or…be banished from the land.”
If it is some obscure village preacher who comes out with such horrendous proposals, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that this incident was not really relevant enough to report on. But I think it is fair to say that even when notable Islamic clerics issue such statements, they rarely receive prominent news coverage in the West, despite (or because of?) the fact that this is arguably a very newsworthy item because it highlights the radical difference between discourse in the Islamic world and the West.
So who is Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub?
A paper entitled “Salafists Challenge al-Azhar for Ideological Supremacy in Egypt,” originally published in September 2010 in Terrorism Monitor (Volume: 8 Issue: 35), describes Yaaqub (Yaqub) as a “very famous” Salafist preacher “with experience in teaching and preaching in some Gulf countries.” The paper also provides a link to his website (in Arabic: www.yaqob.com); and apparently, Yaaqub even has a Facebook page –which goes to show that a preference for barbaric medieval “justice” does not preclude the savvy use of modern means to propagate the incongruous message.
Indeed, as noted in the paper, the “Salafist presence in Egypt has been further cemented lately through Salafist religious satellite channels such as al-Rahma (Mercy), al-Annas (People), al-Majd (Glory), al-Hikmah (Wisdom) and al-Fajr (Dawn).” The Salafist appreciation for modern media and marketing strategies seems to include a strong preference for Orwellian brand names, and accordingly, the newly established Salafist party is named Al-Nour (Light); it has emerged as the strongest member of Egypt’s Islamist bloc that garnered almost 28% in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
Given this context, Yaaqub is certainly an influential figure – and here he is venting his rage against Jews during Israel’s campaign against Hamas in January 2009:
One can hardly expect anything else from a fanatic who advocates atrocious punishments for his own society.
The rise of Islamists also means a brutal setback for the already severely disadvantaged women in the Middle East – though there are plenty of Muslim women who willingly endorse the abuse condoned by powerful Islamists. According to a recent report, Azza El Garf, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, “disagrees” with Egypt’s 2008 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM):
“‘It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor,’ El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to the practice as beautification plastic surgery. She was adamant that it was a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to have the outlawed procedure […]”
Likewise, a recent BBC report on FGM in Egypt ends with a Salafist leader evading the question whether he supports the ban on FGM by declaring that when it comes to women’s rights, this issue was “not a priority.”
That’s Israel’s Islamist neighborhood – and anyone who ignores the widespread social acceptance of such brutal practices in the Middle East will have a hard time to understand the region.