In an Islamic state, the president should be responsible for ensuring that Islamic rituals are observed, including the wearing of the veil and weekly congregational prayers, said potential Islamist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail in a televised interview on Saturday.
“From a religious viewpoint, the ruler is assigned to make sure that Islamic commandments are respected,” said Abu Ismail on the privately-owned Al-Tahrir satellite channel. “The ruler’s role is to ensure that when one walks in the street, he does not see any practices that contradict Islam.”
One of the practices that would need to be eliminated in Abu Ismail’s state is scenes of "head-naked" women. “The veil is an obligation. This is a matter of consensus among all Muslim scholars… The ruler’s role is to activate these obligations,” said Abu Ismail, a Muslim Brotherhood member known for representing the Salafi trend within the organization.
Earlier this summer, Abu Ismail announced that he would run for president, defying the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision not to field any presidential candidates. His announcement has resonated with thousands of Facebook users who launched several groups on the social networking site swearing allegiance to the prominent preacher and listing his virtues.
In a recent Facebook poll conducted by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to probe the popularity of presidential hopefuls, Abu Ismail surprisingly garnered eight percent of the votes, coming sixth and beating more prominent names such as Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab league (five percent), reformist Islamist Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh (two percent) and widely-respected judge Hesham al-Bastawisi (one percent).
Abu Ismail’s interview comes at a juncture marked by a deep divide between secularists and Islamists over the role of religion in politics in post-Mubarak Egypt. On Friday 29 July, tens of thousands of Salafis and members for formerly violent Islamist groups, took to Tahrir Square to call for the implementation of Islamic Sharia commandments. For secularists, such commandments, if applied, would violate personal rights and liberties and pave the way for a religious state along Saudi or Iranian lines.
The status of non-Muslim minorities in Abu Ismail’s Islamic state came in as an urgent question during the interview on Al-Tahrir.
“The beauty of Islam is that it says that a non-Muslim should have absolute freedom… He is free to eat pork, to drink liquor…” he said.
But in Abu Ismail’s view, this absolute freedom would not exempt a non-Muslim woman from the Islamic dress code. A non-Muslim woman should abide by Islamic norms, implying that she should put on the headscarf in order not to “arouse” men’s “desires”, he said.
“[Muslim society] asks both the Muslim and the non-Muslim woman equally not to be immodestly dressed. When you go indoors, do whatever you want,” he said.
Besides the dress code for women, under Islamic rule, people should not be allowed to perform any activity other than praying at the time of Friday’s congregational prayers, he added.
In an Islamic state, the ruler cannot let a man “smoke shisha at a coffee shop while everyone is praying”, said Abu Ismail.
“As a ruler, would [you] force him to perform [the Friday prayers]?” asked the host.
“Absolutely, no doubt. No one can disagree about that,” replied Abu Ismail. “In this case, the ruler would be enforcing the law that the whole society is following. This law implies that no one should be wandering around in the street during Friday prayer time,” added Abou-Ismail.
The presidential hopeful says that the enforcement of Islamic commandments should happen gradually. “We are talking about a state where Islamic [rituals] have not been enforced for decades… Hence, the return to Islam should be done softly,” he said.
“Only God knows whether we can implement that in a year or ten years,” he added.