In the ongoing conflict between those Egyptians who strongly oppose a Sharia-based constitution — moderates, secularists, non-Muslim minorities — and those who are strongly pushing for it -- the "Islamists" -- are currently evoking the one argument that has always, from the very beginnings of Islam, empowered Islamists over moderates in the Muslim world: that anyone who disagrees with them disagrees with Islam.
Examples are many. According to a December 1 report from El Fagr, for example, Gamal Sabr, the former campaign coordinator for the anti-freedom Salafi presidential candidate Abu Ismail, made the division clear during an Al Jazeera interview, where he said: "Whoever disagrees with him, disagrees with Islam itself;" and that many Egyptians "are fighting Islam in the picture of President Muhammad Morsi and in the picture of the Islamists." He was clearly implying that they are one with Islam, and to fight them is to fight Islam.
The logic is simple: Sabr, as well as those millions of Egyptians who want Sharia, presumably only want what Allah wants: that Egypt should be governed under Sharia law. According to this position, any and all Muslims who disagree, who do not want to be governed by Sharia law, whatever their arguments, are showing that they are at odds with Islam itself.
Sabr is hardly the only Egyptian Muslim making use of this age-old argument. A Dostor report, which also appeared on December 1, quotes Tarek Zomar making the same point. Zomar, a former leader of the infamous Gam'a Islamiyya, was once imprisoned for his role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Released with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, he is a now a member of the Shura Council of Egypt's Parliament. According to Zomor, whoever votes against the Sharia-based constitution that Morsi is trying to enforce, "is an infidel"— an apostate enemy of Allah to be killed for the cause of Islam.
Even Ahmed Morsi, President Muhammad Morsi's son, accused the many demonstrators in Tahrir Square, who object to his father's attempts to impose Sharia on them, of belonging to the "former regime"—code for secularist-minded people, who are opposed to the totality of Sharia law. Writing on his Facebook account, he asserted that "all the people in Tahrir Square are remnants of the old regime." He added: "My father will eliminate them soon."
Such is the difficulty encountered by moderate Muslims, past and present: How can they justify their rejection of Islamic teachings, as captured in the Quran, hadith [the supposed teachings and actions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, as reported 200 years after his death -- as if we were now just starting to write about George Washington], as well as the words of the Islamic scholars throughout the ages, all of which constitute the "Sharia" of Islam, a word that simply means the "Way" of Islam?
In history, a few decades after the Islamic prophet Muhammad died, during the First Fitna [ordeal, upheaval]—when the Sunni-Shia split emerged—a group of zealous Muslims, known as the Kharajites [based on a word that literally means "those who go out" (of the Islamic fold)], rejected both the Sunni and Shia leadership claims and deemed themselves the "truest" Muslims. Accordingly, they engaged in takfir -- that is, randomly accusing any Muslims who might be not upholding the totality of Islam's teachings of being infidels, and often killing them.
Today's Islamists are similar: in fact, that is the way the genuinely moderate Muslims portray them -- as takfiris, who themselves sin by judging fellow Muslims, when that is the prerogative of Allah alone.
Due to the obsessively high standards the Kharajites set — to sin even once was to be deemed an apostate to be executed — mainstream Islam eventually rejected their approach, to the point that merely saying the Islamic profession of faith, the shehada — "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet" — is usually enough to safeguard someone as a Muslim.
It is no longer that simple today. Whereas the Kharajites of the 7th century were truly extreme—ritually slaying even Muslim women and children for not being Islamic enough — the Islamists of today see themselves as merely insisting that Sharia law be enshrined in the constitution and enforced in Egypt. They do not regard this as an "extreme" position, and believe it only seems so to those "globalized" Muslims who espouse the values of science, pluralism, freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
That is why these secular, moderate or liberal Muslims—so long as they define themselves as Muslims—are destined to lose the debate with their more radical brethren, who will always say, "True Muslims support Sharia: if you reject this, then you are no Muslim, you are an apostate, an infidel, an enemy."
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.