The Void in a Man's Mind (novel)

Date: 1981

Region: Africa

Subject: Religion

Medium: Literature

Artist: Alaa Hamid

Confronting Bodies: Islamic Research Center

Dates of Action: Islamic Research Center

Location: Egypt

Description of Artwork: Alaa Hamid's novel The Void in a Man's Mind outraged Egyptian Muslim fundamentalists, primarily through the activities of the central character in the novel who "meets with various prophets in compromising positions."

The Incident: "...The decision to ban the novel was taken by the Islamic Research centre, a department of Al-Azhar, Egypt's Islamic university. Once the religious authorities had declared the book "offensive to religion", the state authorities were free to take any action they saw fit.." Furthermore Karim Alrawi reports, "...Alaa Hamid's case is yet another example of the growing alliance between religious authority and the conservative elements within the ruling establishment to suppress freedom of expression. The aim is to thwart moves toward greater democracy, which has been spurred on by the collapse of the authoritarian regimes of eastern Europe. These conservative politicians argue for "responsible restraint", and call for the application of Shariah, so-called Islamic law, and, in some cases, for Islamic government. A few years ago, they succeeded in extending to Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council the legal right to ban books... ..The term Shariah in the Koran means "the way", in the same sense that Jesus used the word when he said "I am the way..." ...The various, and sometimes conflicting, schools of Shariah came into existence at least 200 years after the Prophet's death. These schools of jurisprudence developed legal systems based largely on the traditional tribal law of pre-Islamic Arabia..."

Results of Incident: On December 25, 1981, Alaa Hamid was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of blasphemy spurred by his novel. "....Also awarded eight year's each were the book's publisher and distributor, Mohammad Madbouli, and the owner of the press on which it was printed, Fathi Fadel. Such a judgment is unprecedented in modern Egyptian history. For Alaa Hami, who is in very poor health it is tantamount to a death sentence...."

Source: Karim Alrawi, New Statesman and Society, 'Egypt's Rushdie', 1/31,1992 v. 5, no. 187, Pg. 27