On New Year's Day, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi -- the hero of Egypt's 2013 anti-Muslim Brotherhood revolution -- made some remarkable comments concerning the need for a "religious revolution."
Sisi made his remarks during a speech celebrating the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad -- which was ironically held on January 1, 2015 (a day not acknowledged or celebrated in the Muslim world as it is based on a Christian calendar) -- and he was addressing the nation's top Islamic authorities from among the Awqaf Ministry (religious endowments) and Al Azhar University.
Although Sisi's words were directed to Islam's guardians and articulators, they indirectly lead to several important lessons for Western observers.
First, in just a few words, Sisi delivered a dose of truth and hard-hitting reality concerning the Islamic world's relationship to the rest of the world -- a dose of reality very few Western leaders dare think let alone proclaim.
"It's inconceivable," he said, "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!"
What a refreshingly honest statement to come from not only a political leader but a Muslim political leader who has much to lose, not least his life. Contrast his very true words with the habitual reassurances of the Western establishment that Islamic world violence is a product of anything and everything but Islam.
Even after the appearance of the Islamic State, politicians like US President Obama and U.K. Prime Minister Cameron insist that the "caliphate" is not Islamic, despite all the evidence otherwise. Yet here is Sisi, the pious Muslim, saying that the majority of the terrorism plaguing the world today is related to the holy texts of Islam themselves:
That thinking [that is responsible for producing "anxiety, danger, killing and destruction" around the world] -- I am not saying "religion" but "thinking" -- that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It's antagonizing the entire world.
As a Muslim, Sisi will not say that Islam, the "religion," is responsible for "antagonizing the entire world," but he certainly gets much closer to saying that than his Western counterparts when he says that this "thinking" is rooted in an Islamic "corpus of texts and ideas" which have become so "sacralized."
Here in the West, Islamic terrorists are seen as mere "criminals" and their terrorism as "crimes" without any mention of any Islamic text or ideology influencing them.
The Egyptian president further invoked the classical Islamic teaching -- the "thinking" -- that divides the world into two warring halves: the Muslim world (or in Islamic/Arabic parlance, Dar al-Islam) which must forever be in a struggle with the rest of the world (or Dar al-Harb, the "abode of war") till, in the Koran's words, "all religion belongs to Allah" (Koran 8:39).
"Is it possible," asked Sisi, "that 1.6 billion people should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants -- that is 7 billion -- so that they themselves may live?"
Sisi made another important point that Western leaders and media habitually lie about: after affirming that Islamic "thinking" is "antagonizing the entire world," he said that "this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost -- and it is being lost by our own hands."
In other words, Islamic terrorism and chaos is not a product of grievance, territorial disputes, colonialism, Israel, offensive cartoons, or anything else the West comes up. It's a product of their "own hands."
Again, one must appreciate how refreshing it is for a top political leader in the heart of the Islamic world to make such candid admissions that his Western counterparts dare not even think let alone speak. And bear in mind, Sisi has much to lose as opposed to Western politicians. Calls by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists that he is an apostate are sure to grow more aggressive now.
The critic may ask, "All well and good, but words aside, what has Sisi actually done to help bring about this "religious revolution"? In fact, one popular journalist, Ibrahim Eissa, recently said just this on live television in Egypt:
Five months have passed since he [Sisi] became president, after his amazing showing at elections. Okay: the president has, more than once, indicated the need for a renewal of religious discourse.... But he has not done a single thing, President Sisi, to renew religious discourse. Nothing at all.
Yet it seems that Sisi has an answer for this, too: it is not his job as president of Egypt to reform the thinking of the Islamic world; rather, that role belongs to the ulema -- which is precisely why he addressed them with such candid words. Indeed, he repeatedly stressed that it is the ulema's job to lead this "religious revolution."
Thus, he continued:
"I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move.... 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."
Meanwhile, as Sisi was making these groundbreaking if not historic statements, the Western mainstream media, true to form, ignored them and instead offered puerile and redundant headlines like:
▪ "Egypt President Sisi urged to free al-Jazeera reporter" (BBC, Jan 1; to which I respond, "So Al Jazeera can continue lying and misleading the West about Sisi and Egypt's anti-Muslim Brotherhood revolution?")
▪ "Egyptian gays living in fear under Sisi regime" (USA Today, Jan. 2; to which I respond, "Homosexuals live in fear in all Islamic nations, regardless of Sisi.")
▪ "George Clooney's wife Amal risks arrest in Egypt" (Fox News, to which I respond, "Who cares? Only her innocence or guilt matter, not her husband's fame" -- which is the only reason Fox News chose this story.)
Whether concerning the true nature of Islam or the true nature of Sisi, this is the latest example of how unfathomably ignorant all those millions of people who exclusively follow the so-called "mainstream media" must surely be.
Raymond Ibrahim is a widely published author, public speaker, and Middle East and Islam specialist. His books include Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007). His writings, translations, and observations have appeared in a variety of publications.