In what, so far, appears to be a pre-meditated attempt by the counter-revolution at creating sectarian strife between the Salafis and the Sufis, the destruction of a large number of shrines across four governorates succeeded last week in placing the two groups at a highly flammable stand-off.
Following the unidentified systematic attacks on shrines belonging to holy men, the Salafis had vociferously claimed in the various media that the erection, and the visit, of shrines -- including those belonging to Prophet Mohamed's progeny and companions -- is banned in Islam, in their opinion. When, outraged, the Sufis, who revere the prophet's progeny and place holy men and women in the highest esteem, paying regular visits to shrines erected in their honour -- organised massive marches and protests, vowing to protect the shrines with their lives, and when Egypt's highest religious authorities firmly denounced the attacks, the Salafis asserted they were not the hands that demolished, although they approved of the demolition in theory. Police investigations have yet to reveal who was behind the attacks on the shrines.
Three details are worthy of mention: first, the Salafis, considered the ultra-conservative wing of Islam, following years of relative silence and consistent underground activity, sprung into the limelight with the fierce religious campaign they launched during the 19 March referendum, in which they equated the 'Yes' vote to no less than a ticket to Paradise, and have since become increasingly high- profile.
Second, is the fact that despite being quiet and low-key, the Sufis account for approximately 20 million of Egypt's Muslim population, according to unofficial estimates.
Third, is a history of consistent and radical disagreement between the Salafis and the Sufis, who are diametrically opposed in their religious perspectives. The first upholds the most rigid measures possible in the practice of religion and the second advocates an outlook on faith built on divine love and spiritual unity.
On Tuesday, in the Beheira governorate where a number of shrines had been demolished, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Awqaf (religious endowments) initiated a reconciliation attempt between the Salafis and the Sufis. Gamal Heshmat, representing the Brotherhood, explained that drafting a reconciliation chart was aimed at both reassuring the Sufis' concern about the sanctity of the shrines they hold in such esteem, as well as clearing the Salafis of the accusations levelled against them. Heshmat added that the drafted reconciliation document was obstructed from completion due to the Salafis' objection to the Sufis' demand of adding a clause stipulating the criminalisation of the demolition of shrines erected inside mosques, based on an official fatwa (religious edict) to that effect.