Farag Foda (also Faraj Fawda, Egyptian Arabic: فرج فوده, IPA: [ˈfɑɾɑɡ ˈfoːdæ] or [-ˈfuːdæ]; 1946 – 8 June 1992), was a prominent Egyptian professor, writer, columnist, and human rights activist. He was assassinated in June 1992 by members of Islamist group al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya after being accused of blasphemy by a committee of clerics (ulama) at Al-Azhar University. Foda was one of 202 people killed by "politically motivated assaults" in Egypt between March 1992 and September 1993. In December 1992, his collected works were banned.
Life, advocacy, and murder
Background of Islamic revival
Foda wrote during a time of Islamic revival and growing influence of Islamism, both violent and non-violent. In Iran, Islamists had overthrown the Shah in 1979. In 1983, Hezballah suicide bombers destroyed the barracks of the American and French troops stationed in Beirut, killing hundreds. In Egypt, Marxist intellectuals (such as Muhammad Imara or Tariq al-Bishri) converted to Islamism. Long out of fashion, beards became common, and hijab "became the norm rather than the exception in universities and government" offices. In the early 1980s, Islamic radicals assassinated president Anwar Sadat and attacked Coptic churches and homes, and extorting jizya (Islamic protection tax) from Coptic Christians. (From 1992-1998, the group that assassinated Foda, (Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya) fought an insurgency against the Egyptian government during which at least 796 Egyptian policemen and soldiers, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya fighters, and civilians including dozens of foreign tourists were killed.) Established, mainstream clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, blamed the extremist violence in part on the failure to give Islam "the place it deserves in government, legislation and guidance." 
Among the few who went against this trend and defended secularism and ‘Western’ human rights, was Faraj Fawda. Based in Cairo, Foda was noted for his critical articles and trenchant satires about Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt. In many newspaper articles, he pointed out weak points in Islamist ideology and its demand for Sharia law, asking how it would deal with specific problems such as the housing shortage. He specifically criticized leading Islamist figures -- pointing out that Anwar al-Jundi had praised the secularist, anti-Muslim Brotherhood regime of Abdul-Nasser in a 1965 book, or that Muhammad al-Hayyawan, a Muslim Brother leader who had attributed the 1988 Armenian earthquake to God’s punishment of the ‘atheist’ Soviet Union, had not offered an explanation for the 1990 earthquake in Iran.
Foda felt that he was defending Islam against its distortion by Islamists, stating ‘Islam is a religion and Muslims are human beings; religion is blameless, while humans make mistakes’. After an Islamist periodical condemned as immoral the broadcast of the ballet Swan Lake on television, he argued that the problem lay with "the onlooker (mushahid) rather than the looked upon (mushahad)" and quoted passages from a 1979 book The Jurisprudence of Looking in Islam, which directs men to avoid looking at both women and males and, "in particular, smooth-faced boys". In a column in October magazine, he lamented, "the world around us is busy with the conquest of space, genetic engineering and the wonders of the computer," while Muslim scholars concern themselves with sex in paradise.
On 8 June 1992, Foda, after leaving his office, was shot dead by two Islamic extremists. His son and other bystanders were seriously wounded in the attack. The two gunmen had reportedly been "monitoring Farag Foda’s movements and watching his house in al-Nuzha area in Heliopolis for several weeks". The jihadist group Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility.
Before his death, Farag Foda had been accused of blasphemy by Al-Azhar. The Al-Azhar ulama had thereby adopted a previous fatwā by Sheikh al-Azhar, Jadd al-Haqq, accusing Foda and other secularist writers of being "enemies of Islam". In a statement claimed responsibility for the killing, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya accused Foda of being an apostate from Islam, advocating the separation of religion from the state, and favouring the existing legal system in Egypt rather than the application of Shari’a (Islamic law). The group explicitly referred to the Al-Azhar fatwā when claiming responsibility. An Al-Azhar scholar, Mohammed al-Ghazali, later asserted as a witness before the court that it was not wrong to kill an apostate. Al-Ghazali said: "The killing of Farag Foda was in fact the implementation of the punishment against an apostate which the imam (the Islamic leader in Egypt) has failed to implement." Eight of the thirteen Islamists brought to trial for the murder were subsequently acquitted.
One of those involved in Foda's murder, Abu El'Ela Abdrabu (Abu Al-'Ela Abd Rabbo), was released from prison in 2012 under Mohamed Morsi's government having served his sentence. In an interview which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on June 14, 2013 (as translated by MEMRI), Abdrabu defended Foda's murder, stating that "The punishment for an apostate is death, even if he repents" and that "...[if] the ruler does not implement the shari'a, any of the citizens is entitled to carry out Allah's punishment." Abdrabu also stated that "Farag Foda is dead, and will receive his just desserts in the Hereafter." When asked about the feelings of Foda's children, Abdrabu accused the interviewer of using "venomous methods" against him, and then stated "let me ask you if you were not harmed by someone who cursed the Prophet and his wives? What gives you greater pain and sorrow? If you say that it is Farag Foda, then you should reexamine your faith."
Foda's eldest daughter has rebutted the claims about her father's alleged apostasy, stating: "My father was an Islamic thinker in the full sense of the word and wholeheartedly defended moderate Islam. I challenge his killers if they could spot a single text in his writings against Islam."
Farag Foda wrote 12 books in Arabic:
- The Absent Truth
- Discussion on Sharia
- The Harbinger
- Were is Sectarianism Going?
- Before The Fall – 1st Print 1985. 2nd Print 1995
- Discussion on Secularism – 1st Print 1993. 2nd Print 2005
- The Warning – 1st Print 1989. 2nd Print 2005
- The Played With – 1st Print 1985. 2nd Print 2004
- To Be or Not to Be – 1st Print 1988. 2nd Print 2004
- Pleasure Marriage – 1st Print 1990. 2nd Print 2004
- The Game
- So the Words Will Not Be in the Air
Notes and references
- "DOCUMENT - EGYPT: HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BY ARMED GROUPS". amnesty.org. Amnesty International. September 1998. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
- Miller, Judith. God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East. Simon and Schuster. p. 26.
- de Baets, Antoon. Censorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide, 1945-2000. Greenwood Publishing. p. 196. "In December 1992 Foda's collected works were banned"
- Soage, Ana Belén (2007). "Faraj Fawda, or the Cost of Freedom of Expression". Middle East Review of International Affairs 11 (2): 26–33. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
- Pollard, Ruth (December 27, 2013). "Egypt's military gambles with repression". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya bayna al-Jumud wal-Tatarruf (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2001, 1982), p. 20.
- de Waal, Alex (2004). Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. C. Hurst & Co. p. 60.
- Bar, Shmuel (2008). Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 16, footnote 8.
- Darwish, Nonie (2008). Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Thomas Nelson. p. 144.
- Brown, Nathan J. (1997). The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Gulf. Cambridge University Press. p. 99.
- Egyptian Islamist Justifies His Assassination of Secularist Intellectual Farag Foda in 1992, MEMRITV.org, Clip No. 3926 (transcript), 14 June 2013 (video clip available here)
- Al Sherbini, Ramadan (12 June 2013). "Slain Egyptian anti-Islamist writer Faraj Fouda remembered". Gulf News.