As I explained in my book Islam Unveiled, Muslim reformers will always face an uphill (and well-nigh impossible) battle because they will always face challenges from hardliners on Islamic grounds: the plain words of the Qur’an and Sunnah support violent jihad in so many passages that reformers have no way to win a debate within Islam while holding to any literal interpretation of such texts.
From “Unveiling Islam: Author Challenges Orthodox Precepts” in the Washington Post (thanks to JMP) comes another example of this phenomenon: Gamal Banna makes some reformist noises, and Al-Azhar is immediately on his case.
Note also that the ongoing and increasingly desperate Diogenes search for genuine moderate Muslims leads the Post to burble that Qaradawi, who has praised suicide attacks against civilians, has “contested the notion that Islam and Judaism are inherently at odds.” It seems that the Post has overlooked that Qaradawi has also said that “there is no dialogue between” Muslims and Jews “except by the sword and the rifle”¦”
CAIRO — The Islamic state? A contradiction in terms.
Jihad? Far too much emphasis these days on military action.
A requirement that women wear a veil? A quaint leftover from pre-Muslim times that is not mandated by Islam.
These and other observations by Gamal Banna, an 84-year-old Egyptian author, have created a stir in Egypt recently. They are indicative of the ferment within Islam at large, and of the increasingly passionate discussion of political and religious issues in Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country.
Controversy surrounds Banna’s books because they challenge some Islamic orthodoxy and the roots of Muslim teaching. His work is also a curiosity because of his family connections. He is the younger brother of Hassan Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the prototype of radical Islamic groups throughout the Middle East. The Brotherhood is associated with rigorously pious practices, with an intense role for Islam in politics and with violence.
Criticism of Gamal Banna reached a peak last fall when Egypt’s main guardian of Islamic orthodoxy, the Islamic Research Council of Al-Azhar University, recommended a ban on one of his books. The council’s critique centered in part on the accusation that Banna was an unqualified amateur who exploited his brother’s notoriety.
“Let them say what they will, but reply to what I am saying or writing,” Banna said in an interview. “Islam allows for freedom of thought and evolution. Reform requires an open mind.”
In the West — where general attention to Islam among non-Muslims seldom extends beyond the threat of terrorism and the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden and his followers — it is common to hear that Islam has no new ideas and has been unable to adapt to the modern world. Yet for decades, Islamic scholars have challenged the notion that Islam is opposed to everything Western and that only radical and violent solutions can bring change to Egypt, the Middle East and Islam itself. Today, Banna says, the perception of a cultural war between the West and Muslims has brought life to the promoters of new Islamic thinking.
“We are living in a world where the gun is battling ideas. Change is the greatest priority,” he said.
Various articles on new ideas in Islam have been published recently in the Egyptian press. In one, Yusuf Qaradawi, regarded as one of Islam’s most influential scholars, contested the notion that Islam and Judaism are inherently at odds. Another advised Islamic activists in Egypt to tolerate criticism. Al-Ahram, the government-run newspaper, used quotations from a book written by another prominent Islamic scholar, Mohammed Ghazaly, to urge young Muslims to study science, thereby keeping up with modern life.