The Battle of the Gods

Zainab al-Ghazali, Return of the Pharaoh: Memoir in Nasir’s Prison
Translated by  Mokrane Guezzou

Our goal is reformation and not sabotage, edification not destruction. 
Zainab al-Ghazali

Nawal el-Saadawi may have met her match in Zainab al-Ghazali when it comes to vigorous struggle and determination.  I wonder what they thought of each other.

This memoir is  a harrowing read, a riveting and disturbing account of how she was arrested and tortured under the reign of Nasir.  It’s easy to compare the plight of the Muslim Brotherhood then with that of the liberation theology church of El Salvador:  The Leader is the Pharaoh and the National Security State is an idol, too.

Al-Ghazali is a faithful Muslim, committed to Da’wah and her work with Muslim Ladies Group  and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is why she is a threat to the secular-oriented nationalism of Nasir. Here’s her vision:  “Strive for the establishment of a state ruled by divine law” [Xxv]; “The supremacy of Shariah to be established” [1]  “…Islam is a complete way of life …” [41]; “‘My son, we are calling people to Allah and want Islam’s rule for this country. Don’t misunderstand, for we don’t want power for ourselves.’” [96]  “‘Islam is justice, light and mercy. In Islam there are no whips, no killings, no torture, prisons, expulsions, burying of people alive, nor tearing bodies apart. There is no displacement of children, widowing of women, pharaohs or idol-worship. In Islam, there is nothing but truth and justice, a word is confronted with a word and an argument with an argument.’” [134]

While in jail, she undergoes horrific tortures, the floggings, the water technique, the dogs.  What her captors want her to do is submit to them, be selfish, save her own skin, and forget everybody else (they plan to have men rape her, but she bites one of them). They try to instill the greatest fear in her but she has deep faith in Allah.  They ask her ridiculous questions like: ‘Why do you do all this harm to yourself?’ [72]  One captor, Shams, has as his aim: to get Muslims to abandon their religion. [87] They try to bribe her by offering her a post of high status, funds for the work and magazine. She resolutely refuses.  She’s sassy, given to mockery, fierce in her faith, as when she asks: “What about these whips, prosecuting attorney, are they from the law school curriculum?” [63]

Part of her work, which is intriguing to me, is that of Study Circles: “Ten to fifteen youth would gather to read ten verses of the Qur’an, then revise their injunctions and commands of behavior as well as their goals and intentions for a Muslim life.” [40]

A major theme of this book is the battle of the Gods, or the battle between who will receive one’s ultimate allegiance.  Al-Ghazali grants everything to Allah (“Allah is Sufficient unto us and he is the best Disposer of affairs!”), while her jailers scoff at this God and assert that Nasir is the true God who has control over Paradise and Hell, as in the following passages:

‘If you stand that’s ten more. If you stretch you legs or your arms it’s five. So call on Hudaibi or Qutb to help you now, you are here in Nasir’s hell. If you say “O God!” nobody will help you, but if you say: “O Nasir!”, then the gates of Paradise will open to you. Nasir’s Paradise. Do you understand?’ [93]

‘Do you really think that your God has a Hell? Hell is here with Nasir! Nasir’s Paradise is a real and existing Paradise. Not an imaginative, unreal paradise like the one that your God promises you!’, thundered  Riyad. 101

‘Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: he is our Lord and in Allah let the believers put their trust.’ 104

‘O Allah! O Allah!’, I screamed.  ‘Where is Allah? Where is this Allah that you call? Had you asked for help from Nasir, he would have given it you immediately!’, he said scornfully.  108

‘We hang you in the air like a chicken, we throw you in water like a fish, into fire like a dried stick and we even loose our dogs on you. If your god really exists, you defeated B….!, why did He not stop us from doing all this to you?’ ‘It’s an illusion that you’ve defeated us with all this flogging and torture. The truth of the matter is that you’re scared of us!’  120

‘We have defeated you for as long as we are rich by Allah, strong by Him, relying on Him, struggling and fighting for His sake. Only one thing will prove that we are defeated, and that is if we abandon our belief in the necessity of jihad to establish Tawhid and elevate the world of Islam. Islam in its essence is a religion and state, a policy for internal and foreign affairs, a system for the Ummah and society. Islam is a peace which will fill the world with justice and liberate people from idol worship and replace it with worship of Allah, the Mighty.’  121

—Monday 3 July 2006


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