Egyptian President El-Sisi seeks “Enlightenment” reform in the Islamic world

Tunisians expressed their desire for the modernization of Islamic doctrine to blend with a twenty-first century philosophy - is there hope that Islam can follow Tunisia?

Beji Caid el Sebsi, Prime Minister of Tunisia - Abdelfattah Elsisi @AlsisiOfficial
Beji Caid el Sebsi, Prime Minister of Tunisia - Abdelfattah Elsisi @AlsisiOfficial

CHARLOTTE, NC, January 5, 2015 – Could it be that at the dawn of 2015 there is a ray of hope in the Islamic world that could lead to an “Age of Enlightenment” for Muslims?

It has long been argued that no matter what the West does to combat 14-century Islamic ideals that those efforts are doomed to fail. The only path to reform must come from within the ranks of the religion itself.

Now there appears to be a small, but significant, internal understanding among some Muslim leaders that reform is necessary. If true, and if successful, the world would change dramatically.

Of vital importance is not only the people who are demanding reform, but the places from which the calls for change are evolving: Egypt and Tunisia.

“I am referring here to the religious clerics.   We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before.  It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.  Impossible!”

Both the newly elected President of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi have recently made their voices heard loudly and clearly for the need to update Islamic doctrine to comply with a contemporary world. Of key importance is that both men specifically define the source of the problem as Islamist ideology.

Equally important President El-Sisi made his comments during the birthday celebrations for the Prophet Muhammad at Al-Azhar University, the world’s most prominent Sunni institution.

As Raymond Ibrahim reports, El-Sisi called for Muslims to have a “religious revolution” to change Islamic “thinking.”

It is vital to the understanding of how the Muslim world responds to rhetoric such as El-Sisi’s because timing, location, dates and other similar factors are key elements in comprehending the symbolism of Islamic thought. For example, consider the date 9/11 and where those attacks took place.

Both have monumental meaning for the Islamic world.

Writing in The Clarion Project, Ryan Mauro says that El-Sisi deftly addressed the obvious counter argument that altering Islamic doctrine would be blasphemous.

“That thinking – I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ – that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized (sic) over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!” El-Sisi argued emphatically.

“Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

El-Sisi continued his forceful message with a powerful statement that “the source of global conflict originates in ideologies from the Muslim world.”

“I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

“All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

“I say – and repeat again – that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before it is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands,” El-Sisi said vehemently.

A lone voice like El-Sisi’s might not be enough to override the strength of the Islamist movement, but as Mauro reports, Tunisian President Essebi followed with an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by making a 180-degree departure from typical Islamic thinking when he credited Western influence, particularly the Enlightenment and its separation of religion and state, as the key element in his country’s secular-democratic transition.

As the West attempts to interpret Islam within the framework of Western ideals, so too do Islamists view concepts such as “democracy” through the prism of Sharia law. Therein lies a critical schism on both sides which explains precisely why an Islamic “Enlightenment” must come from within.

Mauro writes that Professor Yuksel Sezgin says,

“Tunisia has achieved the most impressive democratic transformation in the history of the region.”

Critical to that thinking is that Sezgin claims that Tunisia, rather than Turkey, should be looked upon as the model for reform in the region.

Essebi makes no apologies for his point of view. “What separates us from those (Islamist) people is 14-centuries. They are for a religious state, and we are for a civil state…,” he said.

In voting for the new president, Tunisians expressed their desire for the modernization of Islamic doctrine to blend with a twenty-first century philosophy.

Ryan Mauro adds emphasis to the movement when he writes, “The momentous symbolism of what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt is difficult to exaggerate.

“Tunisia is where the ‘Arab Spring’ was born and where the subsequent ‘Islamist Awakening’ won its first electoral victory. It was a first-hand experience that led to the removal of Islamists from power and their replacement with secular-democrats advocating a progressive reformation in Islamic doctrine.

“Egypt, the largest Arab country and home to the most influential school in Sunni Islam, followed a very similar path.”

Certainly the conflict within Islam will be long and hard. Outdated as the religion may be, its true believers are obsessed with the idea of global power and dominance.

But given the believers within the religion who can counter Islamist ideologies, it is indeed a battle that could gain momentum and, ultimately, end the war on terror.

The 64-thousand dollar question is which side will prevail?

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod


“Abdel Fattah el-Sisi” by Russian Presidential Press and Information Office – [1]. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

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  • winniec

    It will take at least 40% secular voter base to stop the Islamist vote from predominating. At the moment, most Muslim countries have a 60 or 65% Islamist voter base. It’s simple arithmetic.

  • Intellectualist

    The winning argument is that religion benefits just as much if not more by separating religion from governance. This new mentality isn’t coming from secular corners. It’s coming from enlightened and devout Islamic leaders.