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The Revolution Within My Soul-Lessons from Tahrir



Groups of young activists marched through the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Ismailia. They were waving placards denouncing Hosni Mubarak and calling for the overthrow of the corrupt political system that had held them in virtual enslavement. They had been building to this point for many years now and had planned long and hard for this moment. Some of them had been arrested, some of them had been tortured and some had been killed – yet they continued to organize. Now, they were out on the streets and their goal was clear – Liberation (Tahrir) Square.

I watched them utilize the internet and social media to organize a revolution and wondered how come all I had managed to do was to waste time on the same sites.

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A line of the dreaded secret police stood between the protesters and Tahrir Square. The protesters continued marching towards certain imprisonment and torture. The pace quickened. Within seconds, the protesters were running. They were not just confronting their worst nightmares, they were racing towards it. My mouth was held open in shock. Had they no fear? The crowd broke through the lines of the police like a raging flood breaks through a dam. I did not realize that fear had left them now and it would not be coming back.

I watched them fearless in standing up to the tyrants who prevented them from speaking the truth and wondered what my excuse was when no one was preventing me from standing up for the sake of Allah.

They lined up shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet and turned their face away from those that claim to rule them and towards that of their Lord. The Imam delivers a sermon that is powerful, moving and emotive and no one who was there would forget it. They raised their bloodied and battered bodies towards the only power they answered to. Their Christian brethren formed a human wall to protect them from incoming missiles. Although it had no walls, no minaret and no carpet – that Friday, Tahrir Square was the 4th holiest Mosque in the world of Islam.

I watched them stop and pray to Allah in the midst of a barrage of stones and bullets and wondered why I was pleased with myself for worshiping Allah in only the most limited sense of the word.

It is past midnight. Another molotov cocktail hurtles towards them. As they scramble behind their makeshift tent positions there are huge concrete blocks being hurled at them from the rooftops of neighboring buildings. Shots ring out. They are under assault and no one is doing anything to help them. Their only defense are the rocks and pebbles beneath their feet. Tired, cold, hungry and unarmed – they have given up too much now to just surrender. Many will be injured, some will die, but Tahrir Square will be held tonight – no matter the cost.

I watched them in awe as this battle between the bullets of the oppressors and the courage of the oppressed and wondered how long I could keep ignoring the plight of the Muslims across the world.

Inspired by the dedication of those who seek to live free or die trying, millions of Egyptians decided that they could no longer sit at home. The authorities blocked the internet and mobile phones, but still the people came realizing that no power on Earth could stop an idea. The authorities spread reports of looting, but still the people came realizing that they had nothing left to lose. The authorities talked of chaos and economic misery, but still they came willing to obtain freedom no matter how high the price they had to pay. They shot dead dozens, but still they came believing it was better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a jackal. A people had found their voice… and their dignity.

I watched them unite together from all backgrounds for a single cause and wondered what prevented me from uniting with all my brothers and sisters here and across the world.

After 18 days of struggle, after hundreds of deaths, after thousands of wounded – the tyrant finally fled. As the news was announced, a large portion of the crowd fell to their knees and thanked Allah. They cried, they celebrated and they smiled.

I watched them jubilant in the streets of Egypt and I realized that Allah only changes the situation of a people who change themselves. I understood that I must begin the change within myself, my family, my community and my Ummah. That evening, the revolution had come to my soul – and there is no turning back.

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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - National Council Member, Muslim Council of Britain | - Lead, National Muslim Covid Response Group | - Council Member, British Islamic Medical Association | - Founder, Charity Week for Orphans and children in need | - Co-Founder, Islamic History Channel | - International Director, FIMA Lifesavers



  1. Saad

    April 21, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    Okay, this is a well-written article but let’s be fair.

    I understand that Mubarak and his government oppressed the Egyptian people and the revolution may very well have ended that unjust rule.

    But what has the revolution produced so far and what will it produce. It has so far decreased toruism in Egypt and left millions unemployed and financially stressed. And which ever party will come into power (assuming ofcourse that the army does not take over, which is being very optimistic) will have a socialist agenda at hand, because a socialist system is always the popular option. Think Nasser in the 60’s. His socialist experiment for Egypt completely destroyed Egypt’s economy.

    The World Bank estimated that in order for Egypt to absorb all the people coming into the work place in the next couple of years, Egypt’s GDP would have to grow at 10% a year. Largely due to Mubarak’s son who was a neo-liberal (granted he might have also been corrupt), Egypt was growing some where close to that (although somewhat below ~6-7%). So perhaps, we should seriously think whether this revolution is even good for Egypt.

    It reminds me of Pakistan. They threw out Musharraf, who granted had his own shortcomings but atleast was making the country grow, put in Zardari after their own revolution. I dont think all this hype for people power is healthy.

    • Omar

      April 22, 2011 at 12:22 AM

      Assalamu alaikum,

      The growth in Egypt was in the pockets of a small group of elites, and an upper class that is well off, with some upper middle class. The poor were constantly getting poorer, and unemployment and inflation were at absurd levels. Corruption was rampant everywhere. Practically all of Mubarak’s government is in jail now on separate corruption charges, they were sucking the economy dry.

      Honestly any attempt to say Egypt was doing well economically only shows complete ignorance of the country’s inner workings. About 42% of Egyptians are below the poverty line, and a similar percentage is illiterate. The regime would stifle any grass roots efforts to address these problems if they got too big because they could be used politically by opponents.

      And far more important than the financial corruption is the restoration of our dignity from this tyrant. He was even enforcing an illegal blockade on Gaza and starving them for years.

      The AKP got to power because the Turkish system, though devoutly secular, at least did not consistently rig the elections and hire thugs outside polling stations (and even then they only managed it after the secular army staged multiple coups and even executed former Presidents).
      Mubarak’s NDP got 96% of parliament last November.

      Let me ask you an honest question bro, do you adopt the religious opinion that protests against the ruler are haram? within yourself, do you lean towards such an opinion?

      • Saad

        April 24, 2011 at 4:49 AM


        I understand ur point of view and will concede that indeed the latter half of your argument are probably the pros of the revolution, i.e. uplifting the dignity of the Egyptian people and by extension the Arab people.

        With regards to your first point, when capitalism works to create wealth, it does create HUGE differences in the wealth between rich and poor. Anybody who does not realize this does not understand how economic development has mainly worked. The most recent and most successful economic transformations in East Asia and in Europe have all worked like this.

        In Korea, all the wealth of the country is basically owned by three or four families, i.e. kabatsu. In Japan by 8 huge firms, keiretsu. In China and India, huge gaps exist exacerbated by capitalism, as they do in America and as they did in Europe when it developed. That is almost a part of economic development. First, these huge gaps develop but then eventually the wages of the lower classes also rise so standard of living of the entire society rises. That is the most effective way for countries to develop economically unless you want to pull a Stalin, and force your people to work in factories killing millions of them.

        I am not well informed of the religious arguments of either side and I do not know which one to support (I am not a scholar). I will say that I am against the revolution for purely what I consider pragmatic reasons, i.e. the slowdown of the Egyptian economy. As an economist, I do believe that this argument of mine is soundly grounded.

        Furthermore, one only needs to read the World Bank’s or IMF’s assessment of the economic situation to see that what I am saying is correct. Perhaps, it is because I have been biased because of my training in western institutions, but their assessment is based on research they conduct on the ground, which I would like to think is pretty trustworthy.

        • Zakariya

          April 24, 2011 at 8:09 PM


          I’d like to suggest that there are other factors apart from economic growth that should be considered when coming to a conlusion on whether or not one should support the revolutions. Specifically, I was thinking of the freedom to practise one’s religion without fear of oppression…

          True satisfaction does not come through money, it comes from the remembrance of Allah. I agree that economic growth should be protected, but not at the expense of true success for the people – piety, achieved via the propogation of Islam.

          Imagine you have an economically super strong country (which I agree is a useful thing to have, as the wealth can be used to do a lot of good things) and if the people in that country are not pious then that wealth could still be misused anyway even if it is not misuse in terms of an unconverging rich poor divide….

          It is good to hear your opinion on the economic side of things though.

          Just my 2 pence.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM

      Salam akhi,

      Your concerns are certainly on the minds of many in Egypt. There are real problems that remain and, as you mentioned, some new ones that have sprung up in the aftermath of the revolution. To you and others who may be leaning toward a pessimistic view of events in Egypt, however, I ask that you be patient.

      Nothing worth struggling for is attained overnight. There will be a time of trouble, even pain, covering the next few months and years – but this is the price you pay for change. Let’s also remember that this situation is not due to the actions of protesters, but rather the actions of Mubarak and his clan who brought Egypt to this precipice.

      Economically, Egypt will struggle in the near term, but the longer term outlook may be a lot brighter. When Eastern Europe threw off the chains of communism, they endured a number of hard years, but subsequently enjoyed a long period of sustained growth. That’s not to say that Egypt is in line for the same – much will depend on these next few months. But, in general, there’s much to be optimistic about, if cautiously so.

      • Saad

        April 22, 2011 at 12:45 PM

        Salam brother Yousouf,
        I think I am just taking the scenario on the ground and playing it out in my mind. If we are to account for the wisdom of anything, we have to do this. I am sorry to say this but the outlook for Egypt economically in the future is pretty bleak.
        That is not to say that I am supporting Mubarak’s regime. I would never do this. But it’s a question of who the people have groomed to take his place. It is very easy to remove a dictator and everyone seems very united when they do so. But unless, the revolution has groomed its own leaders, what follows is a vacuum that creates unstability in a country.
        Take a look at Pakistan: Is Musharraf good? No. We all agree. But would I rather have Zardari or any other current member in the parliament? Absolutely not and Musharraf starts looking good.

  2. Saad

    April 21, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    And what I also find annoying is that both parties (both the public and the rulers) use religion to justify their actions. I dont think that is healthy. Mubarak may very well have been unjust, but as long as he was allowing people to practice their religion, he would argue that the religion does not allow the people to overthrow the government. Of course, the author presents the religious argument from the public’s side who overthrew Mubarak.

    Look at the AKP in Turkey. They have accomplished everything they could have dreamed of in Turkey and in a very civil and effective way by starting a grassroots movement. It took them 40-50 years but they did it while not overthrowing the government or shedding any blood. An example for all muslim countries to learn from.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 22, 2011 at 10:11 AM

      I’m not entirely familiar with Turkish politics/history, but as a general student of history & politics I’d caution against easy direct comparisons. A quick look at Turkey’s list of presidents ( shows that no one reigned more than 15yrs – and that was Kamal Ataturk. Most had 4-8yr terms. Comparing that situation to 30yrs of emergency rule seems, on it’s face, an apples-oranges scenario.

      • Saad

        April 22, 2011 at 12:57 PM

        You are right, Attaturk ruled only for fifteen years and his secular agenda became apparent later on. But his successor was a die-hard secular Ismet Inonu. Beginning secular rule for 27 years. Then 10 yrs Menderes, gets deposed because he was Muslim, another 13 years secular military rule. Then Kohruturk, then secular military rule.
        And every time some Muslim guy took over, they were killed or overthrown in a military coup. Menderes, Turgut Uzal, Erbakan, etc. But look at how the Muslims in Turkey played it. Instead of taking it to the streets although they would consistently win the elections, they played it cool, grew economically. Was their oppression of religion? Yes. But in time they have managed to take back Turkey. And now in another few years they will be in a position to do something nontrivial in the Middle East.

        • WAJiD

          April 23, 2011 at 6:36 AM

          As has been mentioned before, each country has had its own particular situation. However, it is too soon to say whether the path taken by the AKP has worked out or not… there is a battle raging between the secular and Islamic hearts of Turkey and it is not yet over.

          In addition, the events in Egypt are the culmination of exactly the slow and steady type of work that you are talking about. Hundreds of clinics, schools, outreach programmes, circles and an Islamic movement that has been building foundations for a decade has led to the point where the masses no longer accept the status quo. Every change, even Turkey, will eventually lead to this point.

          I think I know what you are trying to say – slow and steady wins the race and it also causes less friction and more stable foundations. In principle, I agree with you. However, it is worth remembering that sometimes a hundred years goes by and nothing much happens… and sometimes, in the space of a few days, a hundred years of action takes place. These are those days.

          • Abu Hamzah

            April 24, 2011 at 6:42 AM

            Actually the revolution was the result of The National Endowment for Democracy.

  3. n

    April 22, 2011 at 12:24 AM

    Saad, keep in mind most of the shuyookh in cairo were in favour of this. This is not classified as khurooj because ppl did not take up arms against te regime. The governemnt themsevles allows dissent. There is nothing wrong with speaking out against an unjust ruler.

    I live in cairo and I can now FEEL freedom of religion. Alot of speakers/duaat were not supposed to speak out publicly and anyone and everyone could be locked up before. The ikhwan were not out in the open, not the salafis here.

    Everyone is not out in the open. I couldnt believe my eyes…i saw a flier by the ikhwan the other day.

    We are finally having a halaqa for sisters without having to worry about really ‘hiding it’. There’s all sorts of shuyookh who are giving talks and conferences, where they couldnt speak before.

    Anyway what im trying to say is that if u live overseas and don’t live in egypt , from a religous point of view you don’t have a real idea of what we are experiencing here in terms of freedom of religion.

    PPl seem nicer to eachother. Some stories ive heard lately arre amzing..true things.

    • Abu Hamzah

      April 24, 2011 at 6:40 AM

      I know Eygptians who hated Mubarak. They also live in Cairo. They said that it is more dangerous than before. They said there is no security. They said that before there were no jobs, but there are no jobs and no security. They told me that Mubarak was very bad, but they want him back because if the security situation now. So tell me, are these Egytptians lying to me?

  4. WAJiD

    April 22, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    Salaam Saad,

    Make no mistake – there is no room for moral relativism in such situations. On one side was a person who imprisoned, tortured and killed Muslims who dared follow their religion in any way beyond the outward symbols… a person who supported the Israelis against the Muslims in Palestine…. a person who used the language of religion only to paint his opponents as too religious and therefore dangerous. On the other side was the people.

    Our duty is to act with as much foresight and long-term planning as possible, the results are – and always will be – in the hands of Allah.

    • Amad

      April 22, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      Agreed. Shocking that some ppl can still have anything good to say for Mubarak

      • Abu Hamzah

        April 24, 2011 at 3:47 AM

        What is shocking is that most people still dont see that what happened wasn’t a good thing. Even if it was permissable to remove Mubarak you still have to consider if it was the best action. Just because we can do it, doesnt make it a good idea.

  5. Abu Hamzah

    April 24, 2011 at 3:49 AM

    “Tahrir Square was the 4th holiest Mosque in the world of Islam”

    Subhanallaah! What kind of a statement is this?

    • WAJiD

      April 24, 2011 at 7:18 PM

      According to an authentic hadith – the blood of a Muslim is more precious than the walls of the kaaba… & Tahrir Square was covered in the blood of the people struggling against a tyrant whose removal you seem to be against.

      The words used were not meant literally, but the sentiment is.

      Brother, Allah gives you security not Hosni Mubarak.
      So next time, before you or the few friends you have flippantly say that the revolution was bad –
      think about all the good Muslims who were executed by the previous regime for nothing more than wanting to live by Islam
      think about the Muslims in Gaza and Palestine who suffered because the previous regime chose friendship with their oppressors as more precious than the lives of their fellow Muslims
      think about the thousands of Imams and scholars who were intimidated and prevented from speaking out about how they truly thought for fear of reprisals
      think of the millions of Egyptians living in grinding poverty whilst the ruling elite hid Billions in foreign bank accounts
      think of the men who spent their entire youth in the jails and dungeons of Cairo and Alexandria because they were considered a threat
      think of the children who were orphaned because their parents wished that the tyrant stand down

      Just think… and inshaAllah you will see that whilst we are not claiming that one side is Pharoah and the other is Musa (A) – justice lies disproportionately on one side.

  6. Carlos

    April 24, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    I just had Easter brunch with some of my Coptic Christian Egyptian friends. A couple of them are very concerned that the new government will not treat well their friends and family still living in Egypt. They are afraid extremist Islamic elements will gain influence, and will push for reforms that make Coptics’ lives more difficult. Is there anything I can tell my friends to reassure them?

    • WAJiD

      April 25, 2011 at 4:30 AM

      Hi Carlos,

      Tell your friends that the security afforded by the previous Government was an illusion. One section of society cannot prosper through the suppression of another. The secular dictatorship of Mubarak and co. suppressed the voice and actions of the mainstream allowing those on the fringes a disproportionate effect.

      Tell your friends that the more religious the Muslim – the better they will be towards the copts. The best of us, the companions of the Prophet (SAW), treated the copts with dignity and respect when they conquered Egypt and drove out the Roman/ Greeks. Our history is full of examples of pious Muslims actively saving the Christian communities from persecution – whether it be Salahuddin in Jerusalem, Suleiman the Magnificent in Budapest or Emir Abdel Kader in Damascus.

      A pious Muslim government would know that there is no compulsion in Religion, that the good treatment of a minority is incumbent upon them and that one of the wives of the Prophet (SAW) was a copt herself.

      I hope that in the new Egypt, the Copts and Muslims will exemplify the brotherhood they have shown during the protests and stamp out the inter-faith conflicts that came just before and after.

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