In Islam Unveiled I discuss why Islamic reformers will always face an uphill battle: whenever they attempt to depart from Qur’anic literalism, they become vulnerable to charges from radicals of infidelity to Islam. This poses what is probably an insurmountable problem for those who would reform Islam. Why, then, have I called for such reform myself? Principally in order to raise awareness of the Islamic texts and teachings that give rise to fanaticism and violence; the very existence of these elements of Islam, and thus of any need for reform at all, is still denied by virtually every American Muslim spokesman. And also because, if there are Muslims working for a secularized Islam shorn of literalism, they deserve support and encouragement.
But Saad Eddin Ibrahim, with whom I have taken some issue here in the past, and the other reformers at this Cairo conference got no encouragement from Sheikh Tantawi at Al-Azhar, who is the closest thing the Islamic world has to a Pope. Tantawi made it clear that their reform efforts were out of Islamic bounds. Ibrahim, like Irshad Manji, wants to “reopen the gates of ijtihad” — that is, reopen discussion of Islamic teachings, thus allowing for the possibility of reform. But Tantawi is having none of it. From MEMRI, with thanks to Rebecca:
A seminar on “Islam and Reform” was held on October 5-6 at the Pyramisa Hotel in Cairo, with the participation of more than twenty intellectuals and researchers from the Arab and Muslim world, Europe, and America. At the seminar’s conclusion, the participants published a final statement in which they called for the implementation of both religious and political reforms. The seminar and its final statement raised the ire of high-ranking clerics in the Egyptian religious establishment….
In the opening speech Dr. Sa’ad Al-Din Ibrahim, Chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center For Development Studies in Cairo, said that the plans for reform “aspire to emphasize that the gates of ijtihad  are wide open and that an [intellectual] Jihad must be waged to keep them open until Judgment Day, as the meaning of this [keeping the gates of ijtihad open] is the protection of freedom of thought and expression, not only in religious matters but in all matters…
Dr. Ibrahim further stated, “We are all [waging intellectual] Jihad to prevent the marginalization of the Muslim mujtahidun, whether marginalization by their own governments, by official religious institutions, which have become church-like institutions, or by extremists, radicals, and zealots who have hijacked Islam and turned it into a means of intimidation and terror all over the world.” …
The final statement contained ten key recommendations, published (in English) on the Internet site http://www.mengos.net/events/04newsevents/egypt/october/ibnkhaldun-English.htm:
“1- Reframing a new intellectual Islamic context, characterized by clarity and unity of perception, that seeks to take into account all the changes and transformations that took place in the social life of the various countries of the Muslim world during the last 11 centuries.
“2- Implementing a radical revision of the Islamic heritage that involves all Islamic scholarship relating to Islamic Jurisprudence and the Sunna, the Traditions of the Prophet – all of which were founded during the first three centuries of Islam. The participants called for reliance on the Koranic text as the sole authentic source to be utilized for reviewing the entire Islamic heritage.
“3-Confronting all institutions – whether composed of clerics or lay persons – that claim a monopoly over religion and the proper interpretation of its holy text. Instead, a new spirit should seek to establish the right of ijtihad for all, under the banner of an Islamic reformation relevant to in the current century.
“4- Confronting and refuting the visions and statements of radical religious movements so as to retard their penetration into the Arab society specifically among youngsters many of whom are living in a state of depression under the stress of economic hardship.
“5- Intensifying dialogue with moderate and enlightened elements in the Western world, particularly in the United States. In this the language of dialogue and partnership is the instrument for dealing with the other “non-Muslims” on the basis of the principles of co-operation, respect of national independence, and peaceful co-existence among civilizations and nations. In that context, Muslim communities abroad could function as channels of contact.”…
The seminar and its recommendations raised the ire of high-ranking members of the religious establishment in Egypt. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, harshly attacked the seminar and its participants, and claimed that their call “to confront all institutions that claim a monopoly over religion” was directed against Al-Azhar.
In an interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, Tantawi claimed that voices in the seminar “called explicitly for the disavowal of the Prophet’s sunna ; Al-Azhar and [Egyptian] society reject this.” According to Tantawi, these research centers whose representatives participated in the seminar “have a destructive influence on Egyptian society and they must be stopped and brought to trial…This is an explicit call to discard a major source of Islamic religious law – the Prophet’s sunna. This is a danger in which some of [our] external enemies are interested [in promoting].”
He further said, “The participation of Western [research] centers in a discussion of Islam and its legal sources is a mark of shame and a disaster which society and its leaders need to prevent… It is an obligation to forcefully intercede so as to prevent [these] affronts. This is a group of [religious] deviants, one of whom has already been indicted on charges of treason; thus it is forbidden to deal with them and it is an obligation to consider them insignificant in society.” 
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Fayoumi, Secretary-General of “The Academy for Islamic Research,” the supreme body of Al-Azhar, said: “I called for the holding of an emergency session to respond to this impudence… What causes foreign [research] centers to express their opinion on Islam? Would they agree to us intervening in matters of their religion and faith…? [This is] a religious war led by Zionist organizations to harm Islam and its law… We will demand to put an end to the holding of these conferences which attack faith.” 
Dr. Abd Al-Azim Al-Mut’ani, Al-Azhar University lecturer, said: “Conferences such as these aspire only to cater to the American overlord, and they have no intention of [pursuing] reforms in the Arab and Muslim worlds. These are agencies operated by the U.S. to justify its intervention in and pressures on Islamic governments.”