One of the most memorable images of the Egyptian Revolution is that of hundreds of people lined up for Islamic prayer in Tahrir Square in Cairo, in Alexandria, and in all of the other cities around the country. Hundreds organized into neat rows, standing, bowing, and prostrating in tandem to perform Islamic ritual prayer as they endured assaults of hot gushing water and tear gas by riot police. For a number of political analysts and commentators, such images of public religiosity and religious performance throughout the course of the Egyptian Revolution proved to be challenging, if not confusing. For some, it appeared paradoxical, if not incongruous, that despite the decidedly prominent role of expressions of Islamicity, whether through forms of expression of Islamic identity, such as collective prayer, or the invocation of Islamic symbolism, or the usage of Islamic phrases, the Egyptian Revolution was not a call for a theocratic government or an Islamic government. However, what is beyond dispute is that although the Muslim Brotherhood did play a limited role in the revolts, the Egyptian Revolution was not led or engineered by Islamists to bring about an Islamic state modeled after Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Nonetheless, the display of religious symbolism was not simply an expression of cultural proclivities devoid of normative ideological commitments. To the contrary, Islam, and more particularly Shari’a, which embodies a set of values and normative commitments, played an important role in fueling and engineering the Revolution, and all indications are that it will continue doing so in the future. To the extent that this dynamic seems to be fundamentally paradoxical to many in the West, the Egyptian Revolution serves as an important indicator that we need a complete paradigm shift in the way we view religion and society, and religion and politics, especially as to the role of Shari’a in the age of revolutions in the Arab world.
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