Hazem Al Amin

Nabil Rahim

An activist wrote the following expression on a Facebook page: “Omar Sharif Jr., grandson of actor Omar Sharif, announces in an article he wrote that he is gay and his mom is Jewish. The man wondered whether there is a place left for those like him in the new Egypt.”

The comment enlisted a torrent of answers, but the most astonishing of all was written by Lebanese Salafist Sheikh Nabil Rahim who literally said: “There should be a place left for him, or else Egypt is doomed!” For those who do not know him, Rahim is a Salafist activist from Tripoli who had been accused of forming an armed group and arrested following chases led by Lebanese security forces. After spending more than three years in jail, he was released by Judge Alice Chabtini.

By saying on Facebook that there should be a place in Egypt for a gay man whose mother is Jewish, Rahim said what many laymen would not dare say. This holds true as well for non-Salafist sheikhs from the Azhar University, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Dar al-Fatwa in various countries. This deserves our attention and should be to his credit to the exclusion of Salafists in general, as both we and Rahim know that this saying goes against the usual Salafist environment.

Yet Nabil Rahim’s precedent enlists a debate on the new clash between our and the “Salafists’ values” that are proliferating these days in parliaments and on TV and websites, as Sheikh Nabil sought through his many participations in chat rooms to offer a different model of Salafism.

Salafist would thus be highly adaptable to what is different and able to get involved in matters pertaining to the employment of women and defending their representative rights. His version of Salafism complains of prejudices against Salafism, its sheikhs and its implications in a non-Salafist environment.

However, Salafism as viewed by Rahim also has to respond to questions by non-Salafists, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who have acquired an entrenched image of Salafists through the bitter experiences recorded across the world over the past two decades. Naim says it is unfair to judge a Salafist based on his appearance and that there is more to people than appearances. This seems somewhat reasonable.

However, it is also true that people have not acquired an entrenched image of Salafists out of their own accord, as Salafists have modeled their own image over the past two decades, packing it with a high dose of violence and turmoil. Saying that some – and not all – of them did so is not enough, because the remaining part did not make efforts to dispel the image emanating from violence.

Sheikh Nabil is entitled to ask about the prejudices linked to the Salafist appearance. Nevertheless, appearance is of central importance to the Salafist performance, even to the point of haram. For instance, it is haram to wear pants that touch the floor and it is haram for one’s beard not to reach the palm of his hand. In this sense, the conflict over appearance is one that takes place both in form and in substance.

Nabil Rahim, our friend on Facebook, and Sheikh Nabil Rahim, our Tripoli friend, has shocked us with what he said regarding Omar Sharif’s grandson. He shocked us by going way beyond dozens of us who cover up their acceptance of homosexuality and believe that defending the right of a Jewish Arab citizen is an untimely battle right now.

This is undoubtedly not enough, as Sheikh Nabil is in an insuperable position now that Salafists have made it to Arab parliaments. Indeed, there is nothing to guarantee that – while he seeks to convince us of another image of Salafism – a colleague of his will not call for taking women as captives or replacing polygamy with the right to own a slave.

A tough mission lays ahead, Sheikh Nabil.

This article is a translation from the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on Monday March 26, 2012.