Hisham el-Ashry is one of those rare creatures. An honest Muslim religious leader. There’s many things that you can say about him, but like most Salafis, he is one of the few who will actually tell you exactly what he believes. And in a genuinely horrifying way, that’s refreshing because with El-Ashry you’re getting a look down the throat of the beast with none of the sugarcoating.
He always greeted me cheerily, with a “Salaam” and a handshake. Eventually, we achieved a sort of unconventional friendship. “I hate you,” he told me in August, with a smile. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”
Hisham el-Ashry is quite honest about what the Islamic takeover of Egypt means for Christian women (not to mention liberal Muslim women)
“I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can,” Ashry told Nahar TV last week.
Introducing a Saudi-style anti-vice police force to enforce Islamic law was “not a bad thing”, he said, and added: “In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered.”
And even when they’re covered, they don’t stop being afraid of the charming fellow.
Hesham eventually excused himself to make us tea. As soon as he disappeared into the kitchen, the woman signaled me discreetly. “Do you have a phone number?” she whispered to me in English. “For emergency.” I could now see that her veil clung to her head a little lopsidedly, as if she had just started wearing it. I deduced two things: that she was Japanese, and that she was absolutely terrified of the man pouring us tea in the next room.
Don’t get the idea that Hisham el-Ashry is some backward nut with no exposure to the modern world. He immigrated to the United States in the 80s and lived in New York City for 25 years. And was only kicked out in 2009 for immigration violations.
In the United States, Hisham El-Ashry had the freedom to do what he couldn’t in Egypt. “He chose Brooklyn. And he liked it: No one minded when he casted aggressively for converts, and he could pray when and how he wished.” And Hisham El-Ashry, like all Islamists, uses whatever freedom he gains to deny it to others.
Hesham was a connoisseur of divine sadism and frightened me often with previews of hellfire. But he also cajoled me sweetly now and then, prodding me to say the shahada—“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s messenger”—as soon as possible or, at the very latest, when I met the Blind Sheikh. (Prison authorities have denied my interview requests.)
“Just say it,” he said. “Repeat after me.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“Because I don’t believe it’s true.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Allah likes it when his slaves say this.”
So does Hisham.
And the former New Yorker has plans for America. They’re probably not too different than Morsi’s plans, but at least he’s honest about them.
Ashry, who often attends the sit-in but met Egypt Independent in his downtown tailor shop, only sees two scenarios in which Abdel Rahman is released. The first is that the US decides to admit its mistake in imprisoning the sheikh and finds a “nice-looking way” to let him out.
“The other way is, kidnap some Americans, slaughter some of them, if it’s important, and have American people in danger. Then America will say, ‘Sorry, here is the imam.’ Unfortunately, this is the way America listens.”