Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Egypt: Interview With Gamal El-Banna

This is the most recent media coverage in the Egyptian press on the status of the Baha'i Faith in that country. On 21 October 2006 al-Masry al-Youm newspaper published an interview with the Islamic scholar and prominent Egyptian liberal thinker Gamal el-Banna. The article was entitled "You ask and Gamal el-Banna answers on the truth of Baha'iyyah."

Gamal el-Banna is known in the Egyptian society as a progressive, moderate and liberal thinker who is also a scholar who has published several books and manuscripts on various aspects of reform of religion and Islam as it applies to the modern Egyptian society.

On several occasions, el-Banna has publicly defended the civil rights of Egyptian Baha'is, and their entitlement to recognition and equal treatment under the law.

His older brother Hassan el-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt's Suez Canal city of Ismailia in 1928. The movement was subsequently outlawed, its followers were incarcerated over the years, and its founder was assassinated in 1949.

In contrast to the moderate and reformist Gamal el-Banna, his brother Hassan had contributed greatly to the persecution of the Baha'is in Ismailia, and his movement has been the main source of opposition to the Baha'i Faith in Egypt since the movement's inception in Ismailia.

The newspaper journalist asked Gamal el-Banna several penetrating and insightful questions, the responses of el-Banna were guarded, but appropriate. However, some of his answers were not quite accurate, particularly when he mentioned that Baha'is worship the number nineteen. It is apparent that this particular answer was not based on independent investigation of the Baha'i Faith, but rather repetition of misinformation that has been circulated by enemies of the Baha'i Faith, In fact, having heard and seen some of the interviews with Gamal el-Banna, one would have no doubt that in time, and through independent study of the Baha'i Faith, he would be able to determine for himself the truth and facts regarding the principles and noble teachings of the Faith, and it would become clear to him that there is no such a thing as worshiping a mere number.

He said, "...but the freedom of belief forces us to leave them [Baha'is] to the choice they made for themselves, this is their right, and I believe that it is in their right that they are documented as Baha'is in the ID Card and official documents."

He later stated that "even though the idea of recognizing the three religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity [in Egypt] is a sound one, yet in China and India there are as many believers [in other religions] as there are in the mentioned three religions. God [in the Qur'an] has have your religion and I have he ruled that even the unbelievers have their own religion, at least in the eyes of those who believe in these words, and that [the unbelievers] have just the same rights as the believers."

Another interesting fact about this honorable man is that, even though he disagreed with and opposed his brother's teachings and inclinations, he continues to hold respect and love for his late older brother. This became clear when he was asked by the reporter about the plans for a film depicting the life of his brother. Gamal indicated that the fact that he is the brother of Hassan is irrelevant since Hassan was and is considered a public figure rather than just a family member.

For further reading (in Arabic) about this particular news item, please refer to a recently published post at this site.


  1. Bilo,
    This is a fantastic journey we, (you?), your readers, are own. Don't let my comments or questions distract you. I have never felt so involved in the day by day episodes. And to think that each of your postings is so, so meaty (;-) ) . So much to think about, or wish that I could read Arabic.
    I remember a while back asking what would be next. Little did I realize what you had up your long, long, long magician's sleeve. If someone doesn't nominate this blog for some award, They should have their head examined.

    Edo River rising

  2. It is interesting to note that Jamal Al-Bana states in his response to the question in the same article that “In fact, I see nothing special about the Bahá’í Faith, and all what we might considered simplification, and renewal [in the Bahá’í Faith] can exist in Islam if it is freed from the clasp of those who insist on “shoving/stuffing” things in it, and the imitators who see no possibility of creating better than what currently exists [refuse renewal of Islam].”

    In my opinion, according to this statement, Jamal Al-Bana is recognizing that the Bahá’í Faith offers simplification [rid of complications], and renewal to religion. Al-Bana statement implies that there is no need for the Bahá’í Faith, because if not inhibited by factions within Islam, then Islam would be able to achieve what the Bahá’í Faith had achieved in terms of renewal!

    This is a significant realization and acknowledgement by the Al-Bana of what the Bahá’í Faith is contributing/offering.

  3. As simplistic as it sounds ( get rid of all the complications, and go back to the old pure religion, and you won't need any other ...), that's the whole crux of the matter. This has been true in all the major religions. They ended up with much more man-made stuff into the religion than the original Teachings, and are powerless to get rid of it. To think that reform movements will succeed, is to ignore the lessons of history. All religions have their zenith once. Non has had a second climax. This has been God's way in the past and God says in the Qur'an that His ways don't change. Patches will cover one spot, but cause another spot to tear. All religions were PERFECT for the time, place, and the people they came to. To say otherwise is to blaspheme and say that God is not perfect. Yet other religions followed. Let him who wants to, .. ponder.


  4. Edo River,
    You are very kind, thank you for your constant support and thoughtful analysis. As you must have noticed, this blog was started and continues for only one purpose: to unveil the truth, clear the air and refute the superstitious representations being circulated about the Baha'is by the uninformed in Egypt.

    Nesreen & Faisal,
    You brought up a very important aspect of that interview...I am glad you did. The point Gamal el-Banna brings up--without actually saying it--is that the One Source of all religions, God, is really not in competition with Himself, but rather when He determines that humanity has strayed from its righteous path, and His teachings to humankind have been altered, diluted and manipulated by humans, and as He judges that human understanding has matured and evolved, then He decides to bless humanity with further guidance through a major new Manifestation of Him on earth. Only when people of various religious backgrounds understand that, then all the conflicts, wars and violence in the name of religion will dissipate.

  5. Dear Bilo,

    I think Jamal Al-Banna basically sees the positive aspects of what the Bahá’í Faith brings, but I do not believe that he recognizes the Bahá’í Faith as a true religion "yet"!

    I am also not sure that he believes in progressive revelation as you explained it (religions will continue to be revealed by God with successively more information each time). I think he believes that Islam can accommodate the changes in society today if it is allowed to be renewed, which is currently prevented by many within Islam.

    As you mentioned, and Faisal so clearly explained, we believe that the solution and renewal for this time is what the Bahá’í Faith brings as a message in a series of messages from God.

  6. Nesreen,
    You raise interesting points. I think it would be hard to tell what his beliefs and convictions are! His writings show an open mind and reformist ideology. For Gamal el-Banna to be a true seeker he will need to study this quote revealed by Baha'u'llah:

    "O My brother! When a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading unto the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth...that seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords."


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