Of caffeine and Salafis: Challenging stereotypes

Monday, February 27th, 2012


Salafyo Costa

This Salafi posse is hoping to challenge stereotypes (Courtesy: Salafyo Costa)

"Wow, do Salafis go to Costa?"

It was only a comment made by a staff worker to her Salafi colleague after suggesting meeting for coffee, but it soon led to an innovative idea.

Mohamed Tolba, co-founder of Salafyo Costa (Costa's Salafis) who works in Smart Village, was not offended by the comment, but rather decided that it was time something was done to end the stereotyping of Salafis.

Salafyo Costa, a group whose mission is to spread a culture of dialogue and co-existence in the Egyptian street, keeps devising innovative ways to bring Egyptians of various religious and political backgrounds closer.

"I started gathering people from various backgrounds and then, the idea exploded," Tolba told The Caravan. Their group's fan page on Facebook, which appropriates the company's famous logo with a bearded man instead of a coffee bean, has now reached about 98,000 fans.

"People now profile us as a bridge between the different sects of Egyptian society," Tolba said.

The group was created after the differences between Egyptians began to emerge as a result of the March 11, 2011 constitutional referendum.

Salafyo Costa strived to approach liberals, Salafis, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and even Christians to find common grounds and bring back the "spirit of Tahrir."

The public first noticed Salafyo Costa after the group created a short comedy film on YouTube titled Ayna Wedni? (Where's my Ear?) featuring Tolba and others, in an attempt to show that Salafis and liberals have a lot of misunderstandings about each other.

"After we talked to people, they found that we were normal. All we want is to build Egypt," Tolba explained.

The group not only promotes dialogue, but has also been active in various activities on the ground. From medical caravans to charity work to small projects, Salafyo Costa are not just conversing about coexistence; they are implementing it.

"We try to take the extra mile," Tolba said, counting Salafyo Costa's ongoing activities. "We do not want to seek the traditional methods."

Not seeking traditional methods is perhaps why prominent Salafi preachers, like Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Maksuod, refuse to endorse Salafyo Costa.

In a TV interview on Al Nas satellite channel, Abdel Maksoud has described Tolba as "daring and ignorant."

In response to the accusation, Tolba expressed his regret that the media is not portraying the real picture.

"Sheikh Abdel Maksoud is one of the preachers I respect the most. Too bad he doesn't know our reality," Tolba said, adding that Salafyo Costa's problem is that the group "cannot reach the sheikhs and Islamist scholars."

On the other hand, Al Noor Salafist party expressed that it doesn't hold reservations against the group "as long as they adhere to the Quran and Sunnah," according to Nader Bakkar, spokesman of Al Noor party.

"Our goal is the well-being of Egypt as a nation," Bakkar told The Caravan. "It doesn't matter who does it, as long as they care about the country and respect Islam."

But it is true that Al Noor party and Salafyo Costa have different approaches to social problems in the Egyptian society.

Following sectarian violence in Qena in March of last year, the group organized a football match between Salafis and Copts, which ended in a 6-6 draw.

Tolba wants people to get to know about them through their activities, not through the media.

"The media today is full of lies and twisted truths," he said. "We, Salafyo Costa, collect information from the street, not through the media. We create our own version of the truth, which is probably more accurate than the media's."

The latest of Salafyo Costa's social interventions followed the eviction of eight Coptic families from their homes in Al Amerya district in Alexandria, a crisis that erupted in the end of January this year.

"We went there and worked on assembling field reports ourselves," Tolba explains.

The group also arranged meetings between the Salafis and the Coptic families in order to resolve the conflict.

"We did that ourselves, can you imagine?" Tolba reflected on the group's achievement.

It seems that Salafyo Costa will not stop doing what they do anytime soon. While they refuse to endorse any of the potential presidential candidates, Islamist or otherwise, the group will focus on grassroots projects.

"When you wait in a queue for 15 minutes to receive a loaf of bread, it is abnormal. When you find that tap water is brown in color, it is abnormal. When you go to a hospital and the doctors tell you to wait outside, it is abnormal," Tolba said as he explained why Salafyo Costa are calling their latest initiative "It is Abnormal."

"We all have the same problems. Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Liberals and Copts." Tolba said. "Our goal as Salafyo Costa is to improve and to educate."