During a recent visit to Paris, I had a remarkable encounter that affirmed my faith in humanity. At a dinner party hosted by dear friends Annie Cohen-Solal and Marc Mézard, my wife and I met two extraordinary octogenarians whom Le Monde calls “les jumeaux de l’Islam,” the twins of Islam.)
Adel Rifaat and Bahgat Elnadi met as young Marxists in Cairo in 1955 and became inseparable during the five years they spent in various prison camps set up by Nasser between 1959 and 1964. In 1966, they were exiled to France and took up studies in Paris, where they solidified their inviolable intellectual partnership by earning a doctorate with a joint dissertation in political science. By that time, they had already published three books together under their nom de plume, Mahmoud Hussein. They have since gone on to write seven more books, working together nearly every day. So wedded are they that when one of them received an offer to work as chief of staff for former UNESCO secretary-general, Amadou Mahtar M’Bow, the condition of acceptance was that the job be split so that both Rifaat and Elnadi could continue to work together.
It is sad that in today’s world one still needs to make the point, especially in the Jewish community, which has its own penchant for Islamophobia. But Adel and Bahgat refute the canard that there are no moderate Muslims around. Let it be stated clearly; they are not Zionists. Over the course of their career, they have fiercely criticized Israel, regarding it as an outpost of imperialism in the Middle East. At the same time, they have engaged in dialogue with Jews and Israelis, including renowned historian Saul Friedlander, with whom they aired their differences and explored possible paths of reconciliation in a 1974 book “Arabs & Israelis: A Dialogue.”