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The shrine affair
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 04 - 2011

Another facet of the counter-revolution? Injy El-Kashef follows the destruction of holy shrines sweeping the nation and the resultant friction between Al-Azhar and the Sufis on the one hand and the Salafis on the other
A Sufi massive protest was held last Friday before Al-Hussein Mosque, as well as a march from Al-Azhar Mosque to Al-Hussein Mosque the previous Tuesday, expressing outrage at the destruction of the shrines belonging to holy men and women held in the highest esteem by the Sufi community, and their resolve to confront the Salafis allegedly waging the destruction campaign. The Salafis, considered the ultra- conservative form of Islam, have long denied the legitimacy of shrines according to their specific interpretation of the Quran and Sunna.
Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa dedicated his Friday sermon at Al-Azhar Mosque last week to denounce what he called the "malicious" transgressors "who wish to spark blind strife in order to destroy both the country and its people." He added in reference to previous debates he had held with the Salafis around the legitimacy of shrines erected inside mosques, that when he mentioned the fact that the shrines of Prophet Mohamed as well as his most trusted companions, Abu Bakr Al-Seddiq and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, are constructed inside Prophet Mohamed's Mosque in Medina, they replied with the intention of destroying these shrines, too, along with Al-Hussein's, the prophet's grandson. It was a reply which infuriated Gomaa, who added that the destruction of shrines is condemned and criminalised by Islamic Sharia according to all Islamic scholars, past and present.
The Islamic Research Centre, led by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb, has also sharply renounced the attacks on the shrines, asserting that both Al-Azhar and the centre are capable of facing these "conspiracies" as well as the protection of the shrines through the Muslim community.
Gaber Qassem, deputy of the Sufi Orders, stated that "around 14 shrines have been violated since the 25 January Revolution," adding that "the enforcement of popular committees has begun, in cooperation with the revolution coalition in Alexandria, to protect the holy shrines." Similar calls for unity have been voiced across the Sufi community at large, inviting all Sufi disciples to consolidate their efforts in a unified front ensuring the protection of the hundreds of shrines found across Egypt against what they described as "Salafi thuggery".
Sheikh of the Rifai Sufi Order, Tarek El-Rifai, stated in Al-Shorouk newspaper that a number of Salafis have also allegedly prevented a Sufi dhikr (invocation in remembrance of God) last week in Al-Haram, claiming that it is a bedaa (invention not connected with the Sunna) and adding that the order's lawyer has filed a report at the Al-Haram police station to that effect. El-Rifai elaborated that his order is planning festivities honouring Sidi Shibl in Menoufiya governorate in order to counter the Salafis' call for the destruction of shrines, affirming that any resort to violence will breed grave consequences. Sheikh Alaaeddin Madi Abul-Azaem, sheikh of the Azamiya Sufi Order, warned against a civil war "beyond imagination, should the destruction of shrines persist".
In an exclusive statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, Sheikh Mahmoud Abul-Feid of the Supreme Council of the Sufi Orders said he held a meeting on Monday grouping the various Sufi orders to discuss the matter before taking the issue to the Higher Council of the Armed Forces. "All the Sufi orders stand as one united hand condemning the destruction of the shrines," he stated. When asked if he entertained the possibility of the shrine affair being a pre-meditated attempt by the counter-revolution at dividing the Muslims' ranks and creating another form of sectarian strife -- as is the case between Sunnis and Shia in some Islamic countries -- similar to the earlier attempts at dividing the ranks of Christians and Muslims, the sheikh stated that the Sufis believe this may very well be the case.
The facets of the counter-revolution have been numerous over the past few weeks, including an unprecedented attack on a Tunisian club team during an African football Champions League match held in Cairo Stadium only days ago. Investigations of the incident are currently underway.
As for the investigations surrounding the shrine affair, the results so far add to the opacity of the situation rather than shed any light. The Qalyoub attorney's office has requested the input of the investigative police, while releasing two of the alleged culprits arrested during attacks on four shrines.
More recent police investigations revealed on Tuesday that the attackers were thugs without any political or religious inclinations. Witness accounts have also confirmed that the identity of the violators was not defined, nor had any of the civilians who filed the reports documenting the incident actually seen the perpetrators but rather heard that the Salafis were responsible, according to Al-Shorouk.
Furthermore, a Salafi preacher also described the destruction of the shrines as an attempt at creating strife, while posters attributed to the Salafis were seen carrying slogans such as 'No to frightening civilians' and 'No to the assault on the freedom of others.' Nevertheless, Salafis have been repeatedly quoted in the press during the week as insisting on their stance against the presence of shrines.
The orchestrated attacks and destruction of shrines across a number of governorates simultaneously, including Alexandria, Beheira, Menoufiya and Qalyoub, were executed in much the same fashion as the earlier attacks on police stations, prison facilities, state security buildings and the sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians. Although still underway, police investigations have so far resounded with the names of prominent National Democratic Party leaders being allegedly connected to the attacks. Thus, the possibility of the shrine affair being just another manifestation of the counter-revolution appears likely to both the Sufis and the Salafis, despite the escalating tension between the two groups.

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