THE CRAFT IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES
- An Analytical Review
delivered in the Victorian Lodge of Research on 24 November 2000
“There is a profound irony to the relationship between Freemasonry and the Middle East. No world organization owes more to the region in the way of its motifs, its symbols, and its rituals. But no organization in the course of its presence in the Middle East has encountered more criticism, more disapproval, and more outright government persecution”. - Dr. Paul Rich [i]
Most Masons are aware, although perhaps only vaguely, that the Islamic Countries in general, and the religion of Islam in particular, have a problem with Freemasonry. However few, one suspects, are aware of the reasons for this, or of the historical and current situation. The purpose of this paper is to examine the causes of Islamic antipathy towards the Craft, locate them within an historical perspective, and discuss the surrounding issues. The focus will be on Arabic countries, but reference will be made to other Islamic countries.
AN OVERVIEW – NORTH AFRICA & THE MIDDLE EAST
Scotland established the first lodge erected in the Middle East, at Aden in 1850. It was followed by a lodge in Palestine in 1873. However, most Masonic development was spawned in this century, beginning with English lodges located in Iraq shortly after the First World War. Unfortunately, the lot of the Craft in the Middle East has not generally been a happy one. Only in Israel, which possesses a mainstream Grand Lodge, and to a lesser extent in Lebanon, has Masonry flourished in recent times.
Outside of Israel and Lebanon, only one mainstream and two Prince Hall lodges remain – a Scottish lodge in Jordan, Lodge Jordan #1339, dating from 1925; and James R. Jones Military Lodge #172 and Pernell Cooper Military Lodge #177, under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, which meet on US military bases in the Persian Gulf. British-warranted lodges that formerly existed in Iraq, South Yemen (Aden), and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula have all been extinguished as the result of political/religious pressure. A few German lodges are warranted for Saudi Arabia, but these effectively do not meet, and their longer-term future must be uncertain. In Iran, which has lately had a regular Grand Lodge, Freemasonry has been destroyed, almost literally, and this occurrence must rate as one of the greatest tragedies in Masonic history.
Northern Africa has seen an analogous Masonry history. Freemasonry arrived in Morocco in the 1860s. A Scottish lodge was formed in the country in 1902, and an English lodge in 1927. Both subsequently moved to Gibraltar. A self-constituted Grand Lodge was erected in Morocco in 1967, but within a few years it seemingly disappeared. Somewhat surprisingly, the Grande Loge Nationale Francais (GLNF) chartered three lodges in Morocco on 30 June 1997 – at Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakech. The GLNF obtained permission of the Moroccan Government to erect lodges because this French Masonic Grand Body, the only one generally recognized by mainstream Grand Lodges, strictly prohibits political and religious discussion in its lodges. The three lodges were constituted by the GLNF into The Grand Lodge of the Kingdom of Morocco (Grande Loge du Royaume du Maroc) on 15 June 2000, in Marrakech.
Algeria, Libya and Tunisia all had lodges during their French or Italian colonial periods, and Egypt once possessed an active Grand Lodge, together with many lodges under the home Grand Lodges. Popular opinion has it that no lodges operate in these countries, but that is not entirely the case.
The Masonic history of Egypt, in terms of influence on prevailing Arab/Moslem opinion towards freemasonry, is pivotal. A brief resume will be offered here, although certain aspects will be revisited shortly. Lodges began appearing in Egypt in the early 19th century, with the first warrants coming from France and Germany. In the 1860s, England, Scotland, and the Grand Orient of Italy all chartered a number of lodges in the country. In the period immediately following the Second World War, Scotland had three lodges under charter, and England had fourteen lodges—the oldest of which, Bulwer Lodge of Cairo #1068 EC, was chartered in 1865 - under a District Grand Lodge formed in 1899.
The story of the non-British lodges is one of schism and confusion, with several Grand Orients rising and falling, combined with heavy influences from Supreme Councils and other “higher” degrees and rites. A National Grand Lodge of Egypt was the predominant body, and it had an uneasy relationship with the British Grand Lodges. Its lodges worked variously in Arabic, Greek, French, Italian, Hebrew, and German. As will become clear shortly, it is not unlikely that general Arab opposition to Masonry stems from perceptions of this period.
The rise of the Nationalist Movement in Egypt and the assumption of power by President Nasser led to Freemasonry being suppressed in the mid-1950s. All British lodges were subsequently closed, with most English lodges being formally erased from the United Grand Lodge of England’s Roll of Lodges in 1965. Similarly, Nasser closed Egyptian-chartered lodges. [ii]
Islam and Freemasonry
Clearly, the lot of the Craft in Islamic countries in general, and Arab countries in particular, has not been a happy one. The question is why?
Most Masons will be aware of various Papal Bulls issued, historically, by the Roman Catholic Church against Freemasonry, as it understood (or more correctly, misunderstood) it. In reviewing Islamic attitudes towards Masonry, it must be first observed that this religion has no personage analogous to the Pope. However, most Islamic countries do have an official legal/religious consultant. A number of articles have been written on the subject, dating back as far as the mid-Nineteenth Century.
Possibly the most influential body in promulgating and interpreting Islamic Law is the Islamic Jurisdictional College (IJC). At its meeting on 15 July 1978, it issued an opinion concerning the “The Freemasons Organization”. [iii]
The SAJS declared: “After complete research concerning this organization, based on written accounts from many sources, we have determined: (Ed. This is an edited summary due to space.)
1. Freemasonry is a clandestine organization, which conceals or reveals its system, depending on the circumstances. Its actual principles are hidden from members, except for chosen members of its higher degrees.
2. The members of the organisation, worldwide, are drawn from men without preference for their religion, faith or sect.
3. The organization attracts members on the basis of providing personal benefits. It traps men into being politically active, and its aims are unjust.
4. New members participate in ceremonies of different names and symbols, and who are frightened from disobeying its regulations and orders.
5. Preferred members are free to practice their religion, but only members who are atheist are promoted to its higher degrees, based on how much they are willing to serve its dangerous principles and plans.
6. It is a political organization. It has served all revolutions, military and politically transformations, and in all dangerous changes a relation to this organization appears either exposed or veiled.
7. It is a Jewish Organization in its roots. Its secret higher international administrative board are Jews and it promotes Zionist activities.
8. Its primary objectives are the distraction of all religions and it distracts Muslims from Islam.
9. It tries to recruit influential financial, political, social, or scientific people to utilize them. It does not consider applicants it cannot utilize. It recruits kings, prime ministers, high government officials and similar individuals.
10. It has branches under different names as a camouflage so people cannot trace its activities, especially if the name of “Freemasonry” has opposition. These hidden branches are known are Lions, Rotary and others. They have wicked principles that completely contradict the rules of Islam. There is a clear relationship between Freemasonry, Judaism, and International Zionism. It has controlled the activities of high Arab Officials in the Palestinian Problem. It has limited their duties, obligations and activities for the benefit of the Judaism and International Zionism.
Given that Freemasonry involves itself in dangerous activities, it is a great hazard, with wicked objectives, the Jurisdictional Synod determines that Freemasonry is a dangerous, destructive organization. Any Muslim who affiliates with it, knowing the truth of its objectives, is an infidel to Islam”.
Undoubtedly, we would see many of the assertions in this ten-point pronouncement as absurd, or at best inaccurate. But it does give us several clues as to the reasons behind Arab/Islamic antipathy toward the Craft. This would be seemed to be based largely on political considerations, with religion used as its justification.
CURRENT ARAB ATTITUDES TO FREEMASONRY
In terms of the Arab world, an interesting article recently appeared in Cairo’s “Egyptian Gazette”, under the title: FREEMASONRY IN EGYPT. Is it still around? [iv] Authored by Samir Raafat, it is quoted here in full:
“In Egypt, arguments levelled against Freemasonry were selectively derived from the writings of George Zaidan and Shah