A Salafi preacher in Egypt is promoting the idea of an anti-vice religious police force like in Saudi Arabia and says even Christian women should be veiled when they are outdoors, unless they “want to get raped on the streets.”
Reuters profiled the Muslim cleric, Hisham el-Ashry, who -- while obscure -- is finding sympathy for his opinions under Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-led regime. Reuters reports:
"I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can," Ashry told Nahar TV last week.
Introducing a Saudi-style anti-vice police force to enforce Islamic law was "not a bad thing", he said, and added: "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered."
Reuters explains that Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s top authority, and Dar al Ifta, the central authority on religious rulings, say religious practices should not be policed.
Even Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa rejects Hisham el-Ashry’s position. In a statement, he said: "This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilize what is already a tense situation…Egypt's religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing."
While the Muslim Brotherhood rejects individuals getting involved in imposing sharia rules, it won’t rule out the government taking on that task. Muslim Brotherhood Spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told Reuters: "The case of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is within the jurisdiction of the authorities and not individuals or groups…It is not anyone's right to intervene."
Like Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the radical preacher warning Christian women to veil themselves lived for years in the United States, an experience that clearly did not moderate his views. El-Ashry moved to New York in the 1990s where he dedicated his spare time to converting Christians to Islam. Reuters explains:
"I went there with a dream to get a blonde girl and a big car," he said in one of his televised interviews. "(But) I was advised on the plane to cherish my religion and not get taken by the USA or risk being spoiled and losing my faith."
His religious convictions grew stronger over the next 15 years in the United States, he said.
"I had, thanks to God, guided many Christians to Islam. I can't tell how many as I stopped counting when their number exceeded 100," he said.
It was when he was working at a men's clothing factory in New York that he became convinced that Egypt needed a Saudi-style anti-vice force.
"(My goal was) to make all Egyptians love it," he said.
Now, el-Ashry is back in Egypt and continues his quest to convert new Muslims. In the fall, writer Graeme Wood described a series of meetings he held with el-Ashry over the course of a year in which the cleric instructed Wood on Salafism.
I NEVER ASKED MUCH of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both. All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.
“I hate you,” Wood quoted el-Ashry as saying. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”
Wood was introduced to el-Ashry by the son of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993. Wood writes that el-Ashry considers Abdel-Rahman to be his religious guide. Earlier this week, President Morsi told CNN he would like President Barack Obama to free Abdel-Rahman from U.S. custody.
El-Ashry moved back to Egypt and joined the Blind Sheikh’s movement. As a result, Egyptian authorities under deposed President Hosni Mubarak jailed and tortured him in 2000 and – according to Wood - told him he had to choose between exile or the death penalty.
Back in Brooklyn, el-Ashry worked as a tailor and continued searching for converts. In 2009, U.S. authorities expelled him for immigration violations. While waiting for his deportation back to Egypt, he claims he converted six detainees and one guard in a New York holding center.