Relatives of victims of the explosion at Al-Rawda mosque, sit outside Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, 25 November.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH)
As the death toll continued to rise over the weekend from the worst terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history, Egyptians voiced shock and anger that Muslims had perpetrated a wholesale slaughter of people at mosque prayers.
Among the images emanating from Islamic State’s Sinai massacre and posted on social media was a picture of a row of corpses, wrapped in white sheets, lying on the floor of the al-Rawdah Mosque in Bir al-Abed west of El Arish. “You are targeting a mosque and you claim to be Muslim,” someone who identified himself as Harfoush Hakim Dar commented on Facebook. “You are worse than the non-believers. Even the non-believers never did this. I feel sorrow for all the martyrs.”
“May God curse the terrorists,” wrote Rafat Abdul-Kader.
“This attack doesn’t relate to any religion,” said one post. “It belongs to hatred, dehumanization, evil and disgrace. Those attackers are the dirtiest people on Earth.”
Witnesses cited by Reuters said gunmen set off a bomb at the end of Friday prayers and opened fire on worshippers who were trying to flee. They also reportedly shot at ambulances and set fire to cars in order to block roads.
The mosque was frequented by Sufis, or Islamic mystics, whose spiritual pathway includes reverence for tombs of saints and a cultivation of love of God through practices such as the zikr, or repetition of God’s names. Those with a harsh, literalist-fundamentalist form of Islam, such as Islamic State and Wahabis – the clerics of the Saudi state – consider the Sufis heretics.
Despite Islamic State’s beheading of a leading Sufi, Sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, in Sinai last year and its known hatred of Sufism, the mosque’s imam, Muhammad Raziq, who was wounded in Friday’s attack, said the carnage was unexpected. In a phone interview from the hospital with Egypt’s Dream TV, he said the attack occurred as he was about to give his sermon. “After I climbed the steps of the pulpit I heard shootings, there was commotion in the mosque.
Some people jumped from the windows of the mosque.
People were moving in all directions and some came to [hide] behind the pulpit. Raziq sobbed during the interview.
He said he had heard a “big explosion.”
“May God have mercy over the dead people,” he said. Asked about his own condition, he said: “May God help me.”
Moomen Sallam, director of Civic Egypt, a secular, liberal web portal, told The Jerusalem Post
in a phone interview from Alexandria, “People never expected a mosque to be attacked inside Egypt, especially since we don’t have a sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi’a here. It’s not like Iraq where Sunnis attack a Shi’a mosque and vice versa. So people are shocked and don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know why they attacked a mosque.”
“One of my friends is a Sufi, and she is afraid and tells me this might happen at all Sufi mosques inside Egypt,” Sallam said.
“It’s ideological terrorism,” Sallam said of the attack. “It’s not that they just go and kill people and that’s it. It’s ideology and you have to fight the ideology.”
Sallam speculated that those who carried out the mosque attack might find justification for it in a story from the Koran, which tells of a masjid al-dirar, or harmful mosque, whose builders were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad to be hypocrites. According to mainstream Islamic teaching, the prophet ordered the mosque to be burned down.
Ahmad al-Tayeb, the head of al-Azhar, the Cairo-based institution considered the leading center of Sunni Islamic learning, denounced the attack. “People attacking a house of God and carrying out terrorism against worshippers is corruption on Earth and should be punished decisively, in a way that puts an end to these terrorist gangs and their sources of support. After targeting churches, they came to the mosque, as if terrorism wants to unite Egypt in death and ruin. But the will of the Egyptians will defeat terrorism.”
On Facebook, Muhammad Abu Abdul Kardawi termed the perpetrators “satans who create harm and sabotage on Earth, killing innocents while they pray.” A user identifying as Abu Esraa added: “This is an unjust attack no one accepts.
May God receive them as martyrs and take revenge.” Haj Fikri al-Jalil wrote that the assailants are “barbaric Mongols, collaborators against the homeland and religion.”
Safi Mustafa wrote: “Are the Sufis now non-Muslims? It’s too much. We cannot bear this.”
One Facebook user simply posted a verse from the Koran: “The most unjust are those who prevent worshippers mentioning the name of God in mosques. They try to destroy [the mosque].... They are humiliated on Earth and will face great torture in the hereafter.”