Obituary: Sheikh Mohamed Sharawi

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The Independent Culture
ADEL DARWISH's obituary of Sheikh Mohamed Sharawi [19 June] contained factual errors and tendentious statements as part of a curiously venomous attack on the theologian, writes Tim Winter.

Sharawi's popularity rested not on subventions from "oil sheikhs" (who customarily back the Wahhabi sect which is hostile to Sharawi's mysticism), but on his ability to articulate a Muslim identity for ordinary Arabs unpersuaded of the moral coherence of either Western materialism or of violent religious extremism. He opposed violence against the Copts (who are not "Orthodox", as Darwish states, but Monophysite), and rejected rigid interpretations of religious law, permitting, for instance, use of cosmetic surgery on compassionate grounds.

In his influential and hugely popular books (which Darwish fails to mention), Sharawi shows himself an agile interpreter of Islamic law and an advocate of the sophisticated Ashari school of Islamic metaphysics, and hence a formidable enemy of the Wahhabi extremism now gaining ground in Egypt's ghettoes.

Had Sharawi indeed represented a "message of bigotry and non- tolerance", the Egyptian government, ever mindful of sectarian tension and itself engaged in a bitter conflict against the extremists, would hardly have tolerated his continual presence on the nation's television screens. Neither would he have attracted such vast audiences, for whom he was, quite simply, the most genuinely loved personality in the Middle East.