Exiled Egyptian cleric Ahmed Subhy Mansour, whose teachings have earned him dozens of death “fatwas” from fellow Muslim clerics, uses the English translation for al Qaeda — meaning “the base” — to describe a plan to defeat Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, who he says have seized control of Islam.
“You could convince a large number — millions of silent Muslims. We can convince them very easily that the real enemy is not the United States. It is not Israel. The real enemy is the dictators in the Muslim world and the culture of the Wahhabis and Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, referring to the dominant arbiters of Islamic orthodoxy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively.
Sheik Mansour is the founder of a small Egyptian sect that is neither Sunni nor Shi”ite. They call themselves Quranists because they believe that the Koran represents the single authentic scripture of Islam. They especially anger Sunni Muslims by rejecting the Hadith and Sunna, purported sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad.
“Killing people just because they are not Muslims, they have a Hadith for this. To kill a Muslim like me after accusing him to be an ‘apostate,” they have a Hadith for this. To persecute the Jews, they have a Hadith for this.
“All this is garbage. It has nothing to do with Islam. It contradicts more than one-fourth of the Koranic verses,” Sheik Mansour said.
A former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he was expelled in 1987 as the Muslim equivalent of a “heretic” and was briefly imprisoned by Egyptian authorities. After subsequent waves of persecution, he finally fled Egypt just months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and received political asylum in the United States the next year.
More recently, in May and June, Egyptian authorities arrested five leaders of the movement, including Sheik Mansour”s brother, on charges of “insulting Islam” and began investigations of 15 others, with the intent, he said, to destroy the entire movement.
From exile in the United States, he continues to attack the Islam of bin Laden and the Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia that gave birth to bin Laden”s beliefs. Sheik Mansour also attacks the Islamist vision of Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood, a group that rejects violence but shares the goal of a theocratic nationhood under Shariah, or Islamic law.
Though illegal in Egypt, the Brotherhood is allowed to operate openly in an uneasy truce with the government. Police round up its members whenever it delves too publicly in politics — for example, by holding anti-government demonstrations. But the Brotherhood”s interpretation of Shariah provides a benchmark for Egyptian law, which is based primarily on Shariah.
“We are not against the people. We are against this culture that will produce more and more generations of fanaticism. We go to the core of this culture and prove that it contradicts the Koran,” Sheik Mansour said.
“Few Americans understand that the battle against terrorism is a war of ideas,” Sheik Mansour said. “It is a war that is very different from the military in its tactics, its strategy and its weapons.
“Suicide bombings are just one aspect of this war. They brainwash young men to blow themselves up, to kill randomly. Our mission is to convince him, to undeceive them, to convince them that what he is doing is against Islam. He will lose his life and lose his afterlife as well.”
Sheik Mansour claims about 10,000 followers in Egypt who accept his teachings, many of whom are part of his extended family.
“We find Islam has the same values as the West: freedom, unlimited freedom of speech, justice, equality, loving, humanity, tolerance, mercy, everything. This is our version of Islam, and we argue that this is the core of Islam according to the Koran.”