Peace. This word, this idea this goal is the defining theme of my life.
First, and perhaps most obvious, I refer to the ongoing struggle for peace in the Middle East: a just, comprehensive settlement between Arabs and Israelis, one that will help to eliminate at least one source of hatred, extremism, and misery in the world; one that will allow the inhabitants of these most holy places to live side by side, amicably, securely, productively. This is the cause for which my husband, Anwar Sadat, gave his life. On October 6, 1981, he was assassinated by Islamic fanatics who believed that the peace he forged with Israel would perish along with him. They were wrong. The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli treaty, signed as a direct result of the Camp David Accords of 1978, has endured some thirty years, a reminder of the fact that seemingly insuperable rifts can be bridged and a foundation for a just resolution can be constructed. In one of his last interviews, my husband was asked what three wishes he would like to see fulfilled in his lifetime. He answered, "One, peace in the Middle East. Two, peace in the Middle East. Three, peace in the Middle East." For him, this dream is finished. His dream is now mine.
Since 1985, I have been lecturing, teaching, and fund-raising to further that dream. Living in both my native Cairo and in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and being a professor, a peace activist, a former first lady, and a private citizen, I have had a front-row seat to the agonizing cycle of progress and setback in the Middle East and noted how my husband's ideas, once unilaterally rejected by the Arab world, have come to be widelyaccepted. Now, with the thirtieth anniversary of his historic trip to Jerusalem just behind us and the urgent need for a new paradigm all too plainly before us, it's high time we reexamine his legacy.
In addition to the end of conflict between Arabs and Israelis, My Hope for Peace refers to the peace inherent in Islam. I am not the first to point out that in Arabic, the word for peace, Salam, and Islam share the same etymological root, the same essence. Most Muslims understand and figuratively speaking strive to live this relationship. Sadly, for most non-Muslims, the link is lost in translation. Instead, in the post-9/11 world, Islam is generally regarded with suspicion or outright hostility as a faith of violent fanatics. In some ways, I can understand this, for I have felt the effects of such fanaticism firsthand. And yet because I have come face-to-face with extremism, I can say categorically that it is not Islam. As a lifelong Muslim, someone who has found in her faith a source of sustenance and right counsel, this is a distinction that is perhaps easier for me to make. I see and hear these supposedly missing "moderate Muslims" every day. Similarly, by virtue of my lecturing, teaching, and residing in the United States, it is clear that while there is much media coverage devoted to Muslim misdeeds, there is a dearth of actual knowledge about my faith. When countered with images of angry men waving Qur'ans and burning American flags, women draped head to toe in burkas, and dark rumblings about "Islamofascism," the oft-mouthed words "Islam is a religion of peace" lose their efficacy. Moreover, there is a general belief that in addition to the actual conflicts that plague the planet, we are engaged in something of a meta-war, the so-called clash of civilizations, which pits Islam against the West in a battle for world dominion. Accurate? Absolutely not. Self-fulfilling? Quite possibly.
Although I am not a religious scholar, I hope to set the record straight and correct what I see as the most persistent and prevalent misconceptions about Islam among them, that it is a monolithic movement, bent on overturning the rule of law, subjugating women, and forcibly converting infidels; that Islam is inherently violent, a religion of fanatics that sanctions any atrocity in the name of jihad; and that Muslims hate "freedom" and are incapable, by nature and belief, of democracy. I also call on my own experience as a believer to illustrate my points, for Islam, like all other faiths, cannot be understood only as a collection of beliefs, but as it transforms and inspires the lives of the individuals who follow it.
The third and final way in which the theme of peace manifests in my life has been wholly personal a search, if you will, for inner peace. As a consequence of 9/11 a day that, for reasons I set out in the next chapter, unleashed a torrent of memory I have found myself trying to evaluate my own life. There is, of course, no shortage of outside opinions on which I can draw; I have been both praised and excoriated for being a "feminist," hailed as a pioneer for women's rights in the Arab world and deplored as a destroyer of families, accused of being a mere mouthpiece for my husband and also an undue influence on him. For better and for worse, I have been a polarizing figure, primarily for my ideas about and work on behalf of women and the family. In the wake of my husband's death, however, all my "progressive" ideals were put to the test. Time and time again, I had urged Egyptian women to establish a sense of an independent self; thus, I could not retreat into Anwar's shadow. I had to stand on my own two feet. Although I might have remained in Egypt, living the rest of my life in the bosom of my family, I felt I had to establish an identity for myself. I moved to the United States, finished my doctorate, and began teaching and lecturing. Bolstering me was the proud legacy of Egyptian feminism, to which I have long turned for inspiration, my family, and my faith, which has ever exhorted women to education and equality. Indeed, I see myself as part of a tradition of strong Muslim, Arab, and Egyptian women, not an anomaly or a sellout to the West. Drawing on my varied professional experiences as a political wife, a first lady, an advocate for peace and women's rights, and an academic as well as my experience as a wife and mother in a society that is both traditional and devout, I feel that I am well qualified to dispel a few of the old myths about Oriental women that have found new life. We are not all benighted and oppressed, subservient or terrorized. And while there are enormous obstacles for women in the Muslim world, the roadblock is not Islam. While I cannot answer for all Muslims, I can say that Islam does not hate women, but rather enjoins us to claim our God-given equality.
Just as the theme of peace that permeates this book is threefold, it seems to me that waging peace happens on three fronts. The first is through the good offices of governments and international organizations as they negotiate treaties, hammer out compromises, and craft carefully worded statements. This work is as difficult as it is essential, and from past diplomatic efforts, including my husband's initiatives, we can draw crucial lessons for the future. The second takes place on an interpersonal level, in our behaviors and actions toward our presumptive enemies. In such a context, we all Israelis and Arabs, Muslims and Westerners are called to be wise, skillful, and visionary. And with these in short supply, we cannot afford to sit back and hope that presidents and policy experts can solve our problems for us. Treaties alone cannot overcome generations of animosity but grassroots action can.
And the third space in which we must wage peace? It is, of course, within ourselves in our intention. Muslims call this niyya. In Islam, it is not just our deeds that are important, but also the contents of our hearts when we undertake them. Indeed, there is a famous saying of the Prophet that "all actions are judged by motives, and each person will be rewarded according to his intention." Peace is always treated as such an impossible goal, a utopian dream, but if regular people can cultivate the intention of peace toward ourselves, toward the planet on which we live and the people with whom we share it then insha'allah, God willing, we can achieve it.
Copyright © 2009 by Jehan Sadat