It began as a joke. Mohamed Tolba, an IT executive, had time to kill between meetings and told the receptionist in his Cairo office that he would be at the Costa Coffee around the corner if anyone needed him. “You go to Costa?” she asked, startled.
“Yes,” he replied patiently. “Even me. I drink coffee and eat cheesecake.”
His colleague couldn’t quite fathom the idea that someone like Mr. Tolba – who sports a bushy beard and prays fives times a day without fail – might hang out in an outlet of the British coffee chain that is a haunt of secular Egyptian urbanites. For Mr. Tolba, it was just one more incident of the misconceptions that dog Salafism, the stream of Islam he practises.
“I realized,” he recalled later, “we have issues.”
The interaction, though, spurred him finally to take them on. He resolved to try to address the image problem of his ultra-conservative Islam using, what else, Facebook. He started a forum for debate and outreach, and he named it Salafyo Costa – the Salafis at Costa – after his favourite latte joint. Within months, thousands of Egyptians, and Muslims in other countries, were participating in the online debates, and soon the group was meeting in real life. Over, of course, coffee.(...more)