Following is an interview with Mufti of Egypt Ali Gum'a, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on September 13, 2007.
Interviewer: The Western world always claims that the Islamic world is unfitted to these modern times, because some of its clauses that pertain to women are considered by the Western world to be prejudiced against women. With regard to Egypt, they keep returning to the slogan of "female circumcision," and I know your views about this issue. But take, for example, the issue of polygamy or the stoning of adulteress. People who do not belong to this society view such things as a kind of... I don't want to use the word "backwardness," but such things are viewed as regression of modern social [Islamic] laws. Honorable Mufti, what do you think about polygamy? Is this Egypt's method of family planning?
Ali Gum'a: This is a storm in a teacup. Our statistics show that cases of polygamy do not exceed two percent. That's one thing. Mistresses and adultery have become widespread throughout the world, beginning with the heads of state here and there – and I don't want to mention specific Western countries – and culminating with illegitimate children, who are recognized, due to the constraints of reality. I'd like to know if this is preferable to having a rate of two percent [polygamy] among marriages, according to the reliable official statistics? What is this? Are we supposed to allow adultery and ban marriages? In my opinion, this is preposterous.
Interviewer: What about the way women are punished?
Ali Gum'a: Polygamy is one thing, and the punishment is another. Islam never punishes just the woman, but always both the woman and the man.
Interviewer: Are you in favor of killing them?
Ali Gum'a: Killing whom?
Interviewer: The adulteress.
Ali Gum'a: And what about the man?
Interviewer: The adulterer too. So you are in favor of killing them?
Ali Gum'a: The kind of distinction you made creates the impression that there is a bias against women. There is no bias against women. Adultery is a sin for both men and women.
Interviewer: My question was whether you are in favor of killing them.
Ali Gum'a: I support killing them, but killing them if certain conditions are met. These conditions should not be neglected. These conditions show us what this killing means, and how it takes place. For a thousand years and more, we have not carried out the killing of an adulterer. In Egypt, we have not carried out the killing of an adulterer, and therefore...
Interviewer: What are the conditions?
Ali Gum'a: There must be four witnesses to testify against the adulterer. They must testify that they saw them having sex.
Interviewer: In other words, that is impossible.
Ali Gum'a: Exactly. This cannot happen unless someone is weary of living and decides to confess.
Interviewer: Is a man permitted to have four wives?
Ali Gum'a: This is permitted in all religions.
Interviewer: No, not in all religions...
Ali Gum'a: This is permitted in all religions except Christianity.
Interviewer: In Judaism, a man is permitted to have four wives?
Ali Gum'a: Of course! Moses has four wives, and so did Abraham…
Interviewer: But today, it is not permitted.
Ali Gum'a: Today, yesterday…what's the difference? To this day, Judaism permits polygamy. The Hindus permit polygamy. The Buddhists permit polygamy. There is not a single religion on the face of the earth that bans polygamy, but all religions agree that women are not allowed to have more than one husband. Christianity is the only religion that does not permit more than one wife. The rest - six billion people on Earth – permit polygamy.
Interviewer: Do you have daughters?
Ali Gum'a: I have three.
Interviewer: Would you allow them to marry a man with other wives?
Ali Gum'a: They are free to do what they want. A Muslim girl can decide to agree, or else, she can decide to file for a divorce from her husband. If she does not like the new situation, and he too is free to choose. But in Islam, Allah permits us – just like in all religions – to marry several wives, and have things done out in the open. For whose benefit is all this? For the benefit of the woman, because a woman who is taken as a mistress remains in the shadows, and loses all her rights. The man does not owe her anything. But since [Allah] permits marrying another wife, she gains respect, status, and rights. Therefore, becoming a second wife reinforces the status of a woman, because she does not become a mistress or a girlfriend who remains in the darkness, and the man does not do things of which he is ashamed.
Interviewer: How come the reaction in our society is always one of violence?
Ali Gum'a: This culture has emerged from injustice. The Arab people has suffered from imperialism since the mid-19th century.
Interviewer: But it was not violent in the days of imperialism. It has become violent now, when it became independent.
Ali Gum'a: I seem to recall the fidayeen movement in the Suez Canal. I seem to recall the fidayeen movement in Syria...
Interviewer: I am talking about violence within society.
Ali Gum'a: Social violence is the result of the secularists' attempt to impose their principles upon society, instead of explaining them. They tried to impose their principles on society, and the result was social violence. The people refuse to deny Allah, and to allow our God to be cursed. The people were brought up on the holy, while the secularists want the profane.
Interviewer: But excuse me, in the West... I don't want to defend the West too much, but they also accept young Arabs and Muslims into their universities and schools, and they have many immigrants, and when they return home, they carry out violent or terrorist acts. There is something in the very structure... I would like you to explain this structure to me. You talk about injustice and oppression, but injustice and oppression also exist in Africa and South America, yet they do not respond to it [with violence].
Ali Gum'a: All the bloodshed in Rwanda and Uganda is not considered violence?
Interviewer: But I've never heard that they carried out an act of terror in a subway or a theater...
Ali Gum'a: It would take a team of sociologists and psychologists to analyze this phenomenon – how come anyone who becomes religious out of the religious establishment turns out violent. In Al-Azhar University, there are 400,000 people, and 20 million people worldwide are affiliated with it – and not a single one of them ever committed a terrorist act. But we've seen a doctor and an engineer who were brough up in the West...
Interviewer: What about Muhammad Atta and Al-Zawahiri...
Ali Gum'a: Those operations were all carried out by people brought up in the West. How come people from the religious establishment do not resort to violence, while people from secular institutions do employ violence? Are there discrepancies in their way of thinking? Is there a specific psychological structure that leads to [violence]? This requires psychological and sociological studies.
Interviewer: But Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri were not brought up in the West.
Ali Gum'a: But the one was an engineer, and the other was a doctor. They were brought up on Western methodology, and not on religious methodology. How come not a single Al-Azhar scholar came up with this idea? We are talking about 20 million... Even Omar Abd Al-Rahman is the exception that proves the rule. He himself never partipated in terrorist acts. Even when his ideology became deviant he did not participate in acts of terrorism.
Interviewer: What would you call the operations that are carried out in Iraq?
Ali Gum'a: Shocking. Some things are shocking. Iraq is a complex case, and the one responsible for this is Mr. Bush.