On June 7th, 2017, Maher Gabra delivered a guest lecture at the Institute of World Politics on the teaching of political Islam and how it needs to change. Mr. Gabra began by discussing the surge in terrorism throughout the world and raised the question as to why people commit themselves to these acts. He posited that growing up in a radicalized culture changes the way one thinks, regardless of whether one faces political or economic marginalization. To illustrate his argument, he gave concrete examples of recent violent extremists. The core of his argument is that Islamist ideology pervades societies like Egypt and causes otherwise well-off Muslims to form and join terrorist groups.
Mr. Gabra explained how listening to Islamist imams persuades many people to drop their current way of life and fight for radical Islamist groups like the Islamic State. Furthermore, Mr. Gabra argued that young Muslims disproportionately tend to conceive of Islam in exclusionary terms in which no offer of equal footing is made to other faiths. In his lecture, Mr. Gabra illustrated a contradiction in the Muslim community. When Muslim leaders speak in English to non-Muslim communities, they claim that a core tenet of Islam is to respect others who disregard the faith. However, some of these same figures claim to Muslim communities that the Muslim faith demands repenting for sins or being put to death. This tactic, in addition to proving an effective recruitment strategy, is also a fast-path to extremism: Once English-speaking peoples commit to the faith and become aware of the conversation on the other side of the language barrier, they discover a flagrant increase in extremist rhetoric.
Mr. Gabra was born and raised in Cairo, where he worked as a mental health counselor for almost ten years before moving to the United States. While in Egypt he completed his undergraduate studies at the High Institute of Public Health at Alexandria University. He then gained a Fulbright scholarship and earned his Master’s Degree at Boston College. Mr. Gabra was actively involved in both series of Tahrir Square protests – the first of which brought Mohammad Morsi to power, and the second of which drove him out. As a researcher, he focuses on changing the intellectual landscape within the Muslim world and reinterpreting pervasive Islamist historical perspectives.