Sermons of the Revolution: Religious Emotions at the Tahrir Square Mosque
“The Egyptian Revolution Does Not Request, It Demands.” That was one of the public statements of the imam at the Omar Makram mosque in Cairo. That mosque did not use to be so well known — there are many older, larger, even more beautifully designed mosques all over Cairo and Egypt. But now, Omar Makram is known all over the Arab world — because his is the mosque on the edge of Tahrir Square.
In other words, it’s the unofficial sermon provider for the revolution. Every Friday during the uprising, in its aftermath, and right up until now, the mosque of Tahrir delivers a sermon that invariably is one to listen to. On this past Friday, the imam brought those in attendance to tears — people in the square, men and women alike, were sobbing out of emotion for what he was referring to. Indeed, while there is much reason to be optimistic in the new Egypt, there is much to mourn. And on this past Friday, it was not simply mourning for Egyptians. It was mourning for the Arab world — for those who had perished in Libya, in Syria, in Yemen, in Bahrain. On this Friday in particular, the imam and the protestors especially recalled the struggle of the Palestinians with the Palestinian flag waving across the crowd. The imam accused former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak of selling out the Palestinian cause, in order to keep himself and his sons in power — a suspicion that is widespread in Egypt.
After the prayer, there was a mass funeral prayer for those who had departed. Muslims around the world often pray the ritual funeral prayer in the absence of the bodies of the deceased if they could not be there when the appointed time had come. Muslims are often reminded in their religious teachings to remember death for death is a good reminder of the world to come, and what is most important in the Islamic world-view is not this world, but the world everlasting.
But the sermon was not all “other-worldly” — there were statements on politics, to be sure, and in particular the unity of Egyptians was a theme that this imam, like many others around Egypt, was keen to emphasise. He bemoaned that Egyptian Christians and Egyptian Muslims might be brought together by Tahrir Square, or a commitment to the Palestinian cause, and then separated over insignificant sectarian issues. Perhaps to prove his point, he quoted both the Quran and the Bible in his Friday sermon. One witness commented that this reminded her of old Egyptian nationalists who were from religious communities. Religion has always been a part of Egypt’s public sphere, but that does not translate into support for sectarianism, necessarily.
The sermon reminded many in Egypt that while religion can be used for division, it can also be used for unity — and in this case, for activism. As the imam said: “our revolution does not request, it demands.” Because Egyptians no longer request, they demand. Because Egypt, as far as they are concerned, demands no less.
HA Hellyer is a Fellow of the University of Warwick, director of the Visionary Consultants Group and the Europe Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
This article was published by The Huffington Post on May 17, 2011. Click here to read.