Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 July 2017
How do states produce religion and how can the study of state censorship cast light on this phenomenon? This article examines the logic by which two Egyptian government bodies, the Ministry of Culture and the Islamic Research Academy, censored the sermons of a premier Islamist preacher, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hamid Kishk (d. 1999), between 1987 and 1993. To do so, it draws on two distinct sets of sources: a sixteen-volume printed edition of Kishk's sermons published in Egypt and MP3s of original performances recorded initially by audiocassette. While previous studies on religion and state power in the Middle East emphasize the strategies by which states use religion to assert their interests, this article uses the censorship of a leading antiregime preacher to probe the undertheorized distinction between claiming and producing religion. A focus on the strategies, in turn, casts light on both the internal diversity of religious visions within the Egyptian state and on the subtle, yet significant, ways in which state actors not only censor but also are shaped by their Islamist challengers.
1 Kishk, ʿAbd al-Hamid, al-Khutub al-Minbariyya li-l-Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hamid Kishk (Cairo: Maktabat al-Sihafa, 1987–93), 1–16 Google Scholar. The sixteenth volume's call number indicates that the original date of publication was 1993. Such a number is assigned to all print media deposited in the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub) according to Law 38 of 1992. Yet, Kishk's introduction is dated September 1994, which suggests that it was added in a later edition prior to 1996, when Kishk passed away.
2 The political affiliations of this publisher are unclear. Its owner, Mursi Jumʿa, does not appear to be affiliated with either the Muslim Brotherhood or any Salafi organization and his main claim to distinction is the publication of Kiskh's sermons. See “Maktabat al-Sihafa bi-l-ʿAbbasiyya,” Multaqa Ahl al-ʿIlm, accessed 8 August 2016, https://www.ahlalalm.org/vb/showthread.php?p=317512.
3 Kishk's leftist opponent, the writer and former editor in chief of Akhir Saʿa magazine, Anis Mansur (d. 2011), is said to have used this term with reference to his adversary's striking ability to amplify his voice through the use of a microphone. See Alaʾ ʿUthman, “Fi al-Dhikra al-Ula li-Anis Mansur,” al-Sabah, 22 October 2012.
4 Salwa Ismail chronicles the challenges that she faced in obtaining censorship reports directly from the Islamic Research Academy. While Ismail was stymied by internal al-Azhar politics—as well as the broader sensitivities of government institutions—she successfully obtained seven censor reports in the late 1990s through an unnamed Egyptian human rights organization. See Ismail, , Rethinking Islamist Politics: Culture, the State and Islamism (New York: I.B.Taurus, 2006), 72, 194–95Google Scholar.
5 As Badr Muhammad Badr, a former editor of al-Daʿwa magazine, explains: “Since the coup, many Islamic publishers have closed because of harassment from state security.” Badr, email to the author, 3 June 2016. At the time of writing, Badr himself has been imprisoned indefinitely.
6 For example, see Mostyn, Trevor, Censorship in Islamic Societies (London: Saqi, 2002)Google Scholar; Vogt, Achim, “Regulation and Self-Regulation: The Role of Media Commissions and Professional Bodies in the Muslim World,” Political Communication 19 (2002): 211–23Google Scholar; and Khazen, Jihad, “Censorship and State Control of the Press in the Arab World,” Harvard International Journal of Press Politics 4 (1999): 87–92 Google Scholar.
7 For a recent study that adopts this approach, see Meir Walters, “Censorship as a Populist Project: The Politics of Managing Culture in Egypt” (PhD diss., Georgetown University, 2016). See also Rahimi, Babak, “Censorship and the Islamic Republic: Two Modes of Regulatory Measures for Media in Iran,” Middle East Journal 69 (2015): 358–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
8 The audio files, entitled “384 Muhadara Sawtiyya li-l-Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hamid Kishk,” are available on archive.org. See https://archive.org/details/Abdel-Hamid_Kichk_Mawsoaa_Mp3_uP_bY_mUSLEm. All audio files were accessed on 3 February 2016. They are unmistakably MP3 reproductions of audiocassette sermons and each includes a sermon number and a title. Although it is certainly possible that the audio files, too, were edited, the contrast between audio and written versions of the sermons in question suggests that these recordings were not sold commercially and thus did not pass through the hands of a censorship body. For a description of the censorship process as it pertains to audiocassette sermons, see Hirschkind, Charles, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 59–60 Google Scholar.
9 For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the Censorship Board (MOC) and the Administration of Research, Composition, and Translation (IRA) by their broader institutional affiliations.
10 Although existing scholarship claims that the transfer of power from the Ministry of Culture to the Islamic Research Academy occurred in 1994, the rupture in censorship logic is apparent by 1989. For contrasting views which do not address specific cases of censorship during this period, see Mehrez, Samia, Egypt's Culture Wars: Politics and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2008), 212, 305Google Scholar; and Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 75.
11 Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 72. The Administration of Research, Composition, and Translation plays a distinct role within the IRA, working alongside al-Azhar's Fatwa Council and its archive (Dar al-Kutub al-Azhari), as well as bodies which specialize in overseeing Azhari students who study abroad and foreign students who study at al-Azhar. See Ghanim, Ghanim Ghalib, al-Majamiʿ al-Fiqhiyya wa-Atharuha fi al-Ijtihad al-Muʿasir (Ramallah, Palestine: n.p., 2008), 3–6 Google Scholar.
12 Niloofar Haeri makes a similar point with reference to the role of the “corrector” (muṣaḥḥiḥ) in Egyptian publishing houses, highlighting a key layer of textual production by which an author's words are transformed into classical Arabic without his or her oversight. Haeri, , Sacred Languages, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 52–72 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 60–66. I thank Ziad Fahmy for making me aware of this source.
13 I applied this selection criterion to twenty-one sermons from the al-Sadat period for which I was able to locate both a printed copy and an audio track. Of this group, I chose eight sermons, split equally between the two periods under consideration. The chosen sermons illustrate both similarities and differences in the efforts of these institutions to co-opt Islamist challenges to the religious legitimacy of the Egyptian state, with particular attention to questions of public morality. This thematic choice reflects the centrality of this question to Islamist debates in both the 1970s and the 1980s. For an example from the al-Sadat period that concerned the specific relationship between politics and public morality, see al-Jindi, Anwar, al-Marʾa al-Muslima fi Wajh al-Tahaddiyat (Cairo: Dar al-Iʿtisam, 1979)Google Scholar. For an example from the early years of the Mubarak period, see ʿUthman, ʿUthman Muhammad, Ikhtilat al-Jinsayn fi Madarasina (Cairo: Dar al-Iʿtisam, 1984)Google Scholar.
16 Skovgaard-Petersen, Jakob, Defining Islam for the Egyptian State: Muftis and Fatwas of the Dār al-Iftāʾ (New York: Brill, 1997)Google Scholar; Agrama, Hussein Ali, Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012)Google Scholar.
17 Ismail examines the IRA's censorship role in the late 1990s through analysis of several decisions to either permit or ban specific books. See Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 58–81, esp. 63–68 and 71–77.
18 While Starrett engages with the logic of state claims to Islam through the related concepts of “objectification” and “functionalization,” he does not explore disagreements among state institutions or the internal tensions that underlay state-sponsored religious claims. Starrett, Putting Islam to Work, esp. 77–86. Similarly, Ismail notes, based on censor reports to which she had access, that “banning recommendations are issued against publications which contravene the Shariʿa, or ‘Islamic principles.’” Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 72. Yet, in both cases, such “yardstick” statements do not reveal how the censor tackled sensitive questions.
19 Talal Asad argues that “because the modern nation-state seeks to regulate all aspects of individual life— even the most intimate, such as birth and death—no one, whether religious or otherwise, can avoid encountering its ambitious powers.” Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam and Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003), 199. Yet, it does not necessarily follow that all states similarly engage in the production of religious ideas; in this regard, postcolonial states of the Middle East and South Asia are particularly noteworthy. In other words, the act of regulating religion (such as by defining who counts as a Muslim, or what counts as a “religious” institution for legal purposes) differs, albeit not in absolute terms, from efforts to offer a particular religious vision for consumption by the population.
20 Hassan, Mona, “Women Preaching for the Secular State: Official Female Preachers (Bayan Vaizler) in Contemporary Turkey,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 451–73Google Scholar; Samuel Helfont, “Compulsion in Religion: The Authoritarian Roots of Saddam Hussein's Islam” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2015); Mouline, Nabil, The Clerics of Islam: Religious Authority and Political Power in Saudi Arabia, trans. Rundell, Ethan S. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2014)Google Scholar; Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza, Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)Google Scholar; Porter, Donald Managing Politics and Islam in Indonesia (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002)Google Scholar.
21 Helfont, “Compulsion in Religion,” 13–14; Mouline, The Clerics of Islam, 135–39, 146–70; Nasr, Islamic Leviathan, 6–11; Porter, Managing Politics and Islam in Indonesia, 75–103.
22 Nasr, Islamic Leviathan, 3–4; Porter, Managing Politics and Islam in Indonesia, 3.
23 Hasan, “Women Preaching for the Secular State,” 452–55; Helfont, “Compulsion in Religion,” 13–14; Mouline, The Clerics of Islam, 125–36.
24 While Ismail notes that “the line dividing state Islam and oppositional Islam are not clear cut,” she is concerned with the state's own efforts to produce religious media rather than its active attempts to transform Islamist ideas directly through censorship. Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 74.
25 Faris al-Manabir, 16:50.
28 Kishk differed from radical Islamists more broadly in his approach to jihad as a form of armed conflict: while the latter saw it as a means of overthrowing the existing Arab political order, Kishk limited jihad to the traditional conception of a fight to free land from the rule of non-Muslims and to spread the call of Islam. Kishk, Qissat Ayami . . . Mudhakirat al-Shaykh Kishk (Cairo: al-Mukhtar al-Islami, n.d.), 197–98. By contrast, Muhammad ʿAbd al-Salam Faraj's al-Jihad: al-Farida al-Ghaʾiba sought to render this distinction irrelevant by arguing, pace Qutb, that the rulers themselves were not Muslim. For a critical edition of this text, see al-Banna, Jamal and al-Salam Faraj, Muhammad ʿAbd, al-Farida al-Ghaʾiba: Jihad al-Sayf . . . Am Jihad al-ʿAql?! (Cairo: Dar al-Thabit, 1994)Google Scholar.
29 Faris al-Manabir, 26:10.
30 Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 58.
32 “Al-Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hamid Kishk . . . Faris al-Manabir,” Ikhwanwiki, accessed 7 Aug. 2016, http://www.ikhwanwiki.com/index.php?title=عبدالحميد_كشك
33 Kishk even contributed to the July 1976 issue of the Brotherhood's official magazine, al-Daʿwa. See ʿAbd al-Hamid Kishk, “Muhammad al-Rasul al-Qudwa,” al-Daʿwa, July 1976/Rajab 1396, 10.
34 Kepel, Gilles, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharaoh, trans. Rothschild, Jon (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2003), 175 Google Scholar.
36 While the commercial production process proceeded under the watch of censors, media forms such as audiocassettes that did not require extensive infrastructure to record and duplicate could more easily escape censorship. See Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 60.
37 Springborg, Robert, “Professional Syndicates in Egyptian Politics, 1952–1970,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (1978): 279 Google Scholar. See also al-Majid, Layla ʿAbd, Tatawwur al-Sihafa al-Misriyya min 1951 ila 1981 (Cairo: al-ʿArabi li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ, n.d.), 76–77 Google Scholar.
38 For statistics based on successive censuses, see Ibrahim, Saad Eddin, Egypt, Islam and Democracy: Twelve Critical Essays (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1996), 99 Google Scholar.
39 Although al-Iʿtisam was published by leading figures within the Jamʿiyya Sharʿiyya—most notably Ahmed ʿIsa ʿAshur (d. 1990) and the organization's imam ʿAbd al-Latif Mushtahiri (d. 1995)—it ceased to be the organization's official publication in the early 1960s. See al-ʿAziz Daʾud, Muhammad ʿAbd, al-Jamʿiyyat al-Islamiyya fi Misr wa-Dawruha fi Nashr al-Daʿwa al-Islamiyya (Cairo: al-Zahraʾ li-l-Iʿlam al-ʿArabi, 1992), 139–46Google Scholar.
40 Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Freedom of Opinion and Belief: Restrictions and Dilemmas: Proceedings of the Workshop on the Azhar's Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Production (Cairo: Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, 1994), 27–28.
41 Winegar, Jessica, Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006), 144–48, 156Google Scholar.
43 Starrett, Putting Islam to Work, 62.
44 ʿAbd al-Nasir outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. A 1965 book published by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, a body within the Ministry of Endowments, claimed that the Brothers were a source of fanaticism, terrorism, and violence. See Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Raʾi al-Din fi Ikhwan al-Shaytan (Cairo: Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, 1965), 24 Google Scholar. Al-Sadat, rather than engaging with the substance of their critiques of the status quo, enlisted leading scholars of al-Azhar to unequivocally condemn the religious claims of radical Islamist challengers. See Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt, 99–102.
45 Kishk, al-Khutub, 3:24 and Surat al-Mulk (Cairo: n.p., 6 June 1977), MP3 #261, 19:50.
46 Kishk, al-Khutub, 3:24–5 and Surat al-Mulk. (19:50–20:30).
47 Fadil, Mahmoud Abdel, The Political Economy of Nasserism: A Study of Employment and Income Distribution Policies in Urban Egypt, 1952–72 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 95 Google Scholar.
49 ʿImara Najib, “Nazra Islamiyya fi Mushkilat al-Taʿlim,” al-Daʿwa, January 1978/Safar 1397, 28.
50 Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 174–79.
51 For example, see Salih ʿAshmawi, “Ayna al-Salaa fi Dawlat al-ʿIlm wa-l-Iman,” al-Daʿwa, March 1977/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1397, 41.
52 Kishk, al-Duʿaʾ wa-Daʿwat al-Mazlum. Cairo: N.P, 6 May 1977, MP3 (#306, 13:40).
53 Kishk, al-Khutub, 3:41 and al-Duʿaʾ wa-Daʿwat al-Mazlum (20:15).
54 Kishk, al-Khutub, 3:48 and al-Duʿaʾ wa-Daʿwat al-Mazlum (52:45–53:50).
55 Kishk, al-Khutub, 3:48 and al-Duʿaʾ wa-Daʿwat al-Mazlum (54:40).
56 Kishk, al-Duʿaʾ wa-Daʿwat al-Mazlum (103:00–108:00).
59 For example, a 1976 religious education textbook for tenth-grade students warns students to avert their gaze (ghaḍḍ al-baṣr) and girls to avoid flaunting themselves (al-tabarruj). Ministry of Education, al-Tarbiya al-Diniyya al-Islamiyya li-l-Saff al-Awwal min al-Marhala al-Thanawiyya (Cairo: al-Jihaz al-Markazi li-l-Kutub al-Jamʿiyya al-Madrassiyya wa-l-Wasaʾil al-Taʿlimiyya, 1976), 32–34, 166–67.
60 This is reference to Ibn Hanbal's clash with the Abbasid Caliph al-Maʾmun (r. 813–33), who pressured scholars to accept the Muʾtazila view that the Quʾran was created and imprisoned those, such as Ibn Hanbal, who refused to accept this view.
61 Kishk, al-Khutub 3:128–31 and Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Cairo: n.p., 25 March, MP3 (#301, 05:00-19:10).
62 Kishk, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, 24:50.
63 Kishk, al-Khutub 3:132–3 and Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, 36:30.
64 Kishk, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, 52:40–50.
65 Ahmed, Ziauddin, “Some aspects of the Political Theology of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal,” Islamic Studies XII (1973): 54–55 Google Scholar.
66 Kishk, al-Khutub, 5:45–46 and Muhakamat Iblis Laʿanahu Allah Imam al-Mahkama al-Illahiyya. Cairo: N.P, 27 February 1981, MP3 (#148, 41:10).
67 Kishk, al-Khutub, 5:47 and Muhakamat Iblis 44:00.
68 Kishk, al-Khutub, 5:51 and Muhakamat Iblis 56:30–57:00.
69 Kishk, al-Khutub, 5:54 and Muhakamat Iblis 109:00.
70 See Rutherford, Bruce K., Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam and Democracy in the Arab World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013), 78–130 Google Scholar.
71 Kishk, al-Khutub, 6:54–55 and Suliman ʿAlayhi al-Salam. Cairo: N.P, 14 September 1979, MP3 (#380, 44:30–53:50).
72 Skovgaard-Petersen, Defining Islam, 100–45.
73 For example, see Abu Dhar, “Nahnu Naʿtazzu bi-l-Azhar ki-Qima,” al-Iʿtisam, May 1976/Jumada al-Ula 1396, 8.
74 Skovgaard-Petersen, Defining Islam, 186.
76 Moustafa, Tamir, “Conflict and Cooperation between the State and Religious Institutions in Contemporary Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 32 (2000): 11 Google Scholar.
77 Jansen, Johannes J. G., The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat's Assassins and the Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York: Macmillan, 1986)Google Scholar.
78 Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt,” 389.
79 Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars, 305; Moustafa, “Conflict and Cooperation,” 14–15.
80 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:118 and Arkan al-Kufr 105:00–105:30.
81 Kishk, al-Khutub 8:60–1 and Hujjat al-Wadaʿ fi al-ʿAmm al-ʿAshir min al-Hijra Cairo: N.P, 28 March 1981, MP3 (#235, 37:10-40:35).
82 Kishk, al-Khutub 8:61–2 and Hujjat al-Wadaʿ 43:30.
83 Here, Kishk references a long-standing legal discussion regarding the conditions under which one is considered a bandit and the punishment for banditry. For an example of the premodern debate on which this discussion pivots, see ʿIllyash, Muhammad b. Ihmad, al-Salam, ʿAbd al-Jalil ʿAbd, and al-Jundi, Khalil Ibn Ishaq, Manh al-Jali Sharh ʿala Mukhtassar al-ʿAllama Khalil (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1989), 1:336–46Google Scholar.
84 For example, see “ʿAbd al-Qadir ʿAwda: al-Qadi Alladhi Taqarrar Iʿdam qablan . . . an Yuhhakam?!,” al-Daʿwa, August 1976/Shaʿban 1396, 4–5.
85 For example, see Muhammad ʿAbd al-Munʿim wa-Tarikh Dawat al-Ikhwan b-il-Iskandariya al-Juzʾa al-Awwal. Perf. Muhammad ʿAbd al-Munʿim (2010); and Hadith Dhikrayat maʿa Khalid ʿAbd Al-Qadir ʿAwda. Perf. Khalid ʿAbd Al-Qadir ʿAwda. Ikhwantube (2010). Accessed 7 March 2017, http://www.ikhwantube.com/video/12068/حديث-الذكريات-مع-د.-خالد-عبد-القادر-عودة..-2"
86 Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt,” 386–96.
87 Kishk, al-Khutub 8:138 and Surat al-Nahal. Cairo: N.P, 22 February 1980, MP3 (#197, 28:30).
88 Kishk, al-Khutub 8:139 and Surat al-Nahal 32:30.
89 Ismail, Salwa, “State–Society Relations in Egypt: Restructuring the Political,” Arab Studies Quarterly 17 (1995): 39–54 Google Scholar.
90 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:110 and Arkan al-Kufr. Cairo: N.P, 24 May 1980, MP3 (#36, 28:20).
91 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:111 and Arkan al-Kufr 32:00.
92 Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt,” 374–75.
93 Kishk, al-Khutub, 9:137 and Mawaqif min al-Janna. Cairo: N.P., 13 October 1978 MP3 (#161, 35:00–38:30).
94 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:137–44 and Mawaqif min al-Janna 40:20–115:05.
95 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:138 and Mawaqif min al-Janna 40:20. While it is unclear which scholar Kishk sought to target, Islamic thinkers during this period saw the presence of women in film as a significant issue in the production and preservation of a suitably pious society. For example, see Jadaʿ, Muhammad Walid, al-Mawqif min Sinima Islamiyya (Cairo: Dar al-Wafaʾ li-l-Tawziʿ wa-l-Nashr, 1989)Google Scholar.
96 Kishk, al-Khutub 9:138 and Mawaqif min al-Janna 42:30.
97 For examples of the dialogue during the al-Sadat period between the muftis and young male readers of Islamist magazines who struggled to restrain their sexual urges, see “al-Ifta,” al-Daʿwa, December 1979/Muharram 1400, 24 and “Raʾi al-Din,” al-Iʿtisam, November 1979/Dhu al-Hijja 1399, 29.
98 Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Freedom of Opinion and Belief, 23.
99 Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics, 75.
100 Human Rights Watch, Reading between the “Red Lines”: The Repression of Academic Freedom in Egyptian Universities 17 (2005): 42.
101 Badr Muhammad Badr, Facebook correspondence with the author, 9 February 2016.
102 See Starrett, Putting Islam to Work, 209. Along similar lines, with specific reference to media, Eickelman, Dale and Piscatori, James note that an increase of the number of participants in religious debate can lead to the “intensification of dispute and context . . . [in which] the ‘price’ of Islamism may be pushed upwards.” Eickelman and Pisactori, Muslim Politics (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2004), 131 Google Scholar.
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