Question for U.S. News: If you put Ali Gomaa on a pedestal as a moderate Muslim, are you sure you’re saying something positive about “moderate” Islam? Or did you do any critical examination of his personal history of rulings? Surely you didn’t take Dinesh D’Souza’s word for it. A few questions about Gomaa’s stance on wife-beating, and the permissibility of statuary would be a start.
“Egypt’s Grand Mufti Counters the Tide of Islamic Extremism,” by Jay Tolson for U.S. News:
CAIRO”””Maybe we just need to buy CNN,” says Sheik Ali Gomaa, more than a hint of exasperation creeping into his voice. After taking more than an hour to explain to yet
another western journalist why a traditional conception of sharia law””along with knowledge
of Islamic jurisprudence””is the best antidote to Islamic extremism, the grand mufti of Egypt is not able to disguise his frustration. Why, he wonders, does the West still not recognize who the moderate Muslims are, much less heed what they are trying to say? Shrugging his shoulders, he answers his own question: “The western media has paid no attention.”
But it’s even worse than that, Gomaa suggests. The West is aiding the most
reactionary elements, the Salafis and Wahhabis, “out of political necessity,” he says, alluding to America’s elaborate codependent relationship with the oil-rich Saudis, who finance the vast outreach apparatus of the puritanical Wahhabi establishment. “And that,” the mufti adds, “leaves behind our kind of Islam.”
Rising from the conference table after a long discussion of his views about Islam and the contemporary world, the 55-year-old Gomaa cuts a stately figure in his Al-Azhar University scholar’s garb, a dark caftan covering his white, ankle-length djellaba and a white and red cap atop his roundish head. As the grand mufti, Gomaa heads the Dar al Ifta (literally, the house of fatwas), a government agency charged with issuing nonbinding
religious legal opinions on any question, large or small, that might come up in the life of a faithful Muslim. Part scholar and theologian, part jurist and administrator, he is a completely busy man””not least because his office issues some 5,000 fatwas a week, including both the official ones that he himself crafts on important issues and the more routine ones handled via phone and Internet by a dozen or so subordinate muftis. When not overseeing this operation, the sheik also appears on radio and television, participates in conferences, sometimes preaches and teaches (including at nearby Al-Ahzar University, Sunni Islam’s foremost seat of learning, where he was once a student and professor), and gives speeches abroad, mostly in the cause of promoting his broad-minded, pragmatic, and, he insists, traditionalist understanding of Islam and sharia law.
Ever since Osama bin Laden’s minions committed their murderous acts, western
politicians and commentators have asked the same questions repeatedly: “Where are the voices of moderate Islam?” Yet the West””including, more specifically, the U.S. government””
has done little to locate or assist such moderates. In some notable cases, such as its denial of a visa to the prominent European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in 2004, Washington has even gone out of its way to insult them.
Western official ineptitude aside, a more urgent question remains unanswered:
What influence do moderates such as Gomaa””and particularly those coming from the
traditional learned class, or ulema””have within the vast community of Muslim believers?
While Gomaa himself voices concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism in the West, he
marshals a raft of statistics to support his view that respect for traditionalism is large and growing in the core of the Muslim world. These include a massive growth in the demand
for fatwas issued by his office, a mushrooming of secondary feeder schools for the traditionalist Al-Azhar University, and the growth of Al-Azhar itself from three colleges in 1950 to 72 today. “Can we say that the traditional ulema has lost its popularity?” he asks. (His broad confidence might be further corroborated by a new Gallup study, which found that 93 percent of Muslims from 35 different nations call themselves moderates.)
But other observers, including prominent Egyptian journalists and intellectuals, are far more skeptical about the impact of the mufti and other ulema, even within Egypt itself. They suggest that their association with corrupt authoritarian regimes lowers their standing among the people and taints their teaching. In light of such sharply differing views, the question of who will triumph in the struggle to define Islam is far from resolved.
Adapting. One thing is absolutely clear, though: Gomaa’s unshakable confidence””repeated as often by his protÃ©gÃ©s as by him””that the inherent moderation and
pragmatism of traditionalist Islam make it far superior to anything proposed by puritanical Salafists or Wahhabis or utopia-minded Islamists. Through the centuries and across
cultures and continents, Islam spread and flourished, they all say, precisely because the
principles of sharia were applied and interpreted in light of changing reality. Apart from supporting bedrock principles of the faith as set forth in the Koran and the hadith (the authoritative accounts of the words and deeds of the Prophet), Islamic jurists sought to make the lives of Muslims easier, not more difficult, through their realistic application of religious law. As Gomaa sees it, what the best Muslim jurists have always done is to focus on the intent of sharia to foster faithfulness, dignity, intellectual growth, and other core values. Called al makased, this method of seeking to apply the law through an understanding of its purposes is at the core of Gomaa’s scholarship and jurisprudence and is being spread by his scores of students and followers. […]
There’s that article of faith of the politically correct mainstream media: that Islam is inherently “moderate” and “pragmatic” in a good way (not in any kind of way that could involve something like taqiyya). First, what is moderation without a basis for comparison? The only comparison offered here is with Al-Qaeda and the Wahhabists. The article insists he’s not like them, but doesn’t bother to place him more definitively on the spectrum of opinions concerning women’s rights, the rights of non-Muslims, when and whether jihadist violence (not just “terrorism”) is acceptable, and many other issues. It likely never occurred to the author, eager as he and/or his bosses must have been to find a “moderate” Muslim to uphold to Western readers, to ask. But, given Gomaa’s history (and the links above only scratch the surface), that only leaves us with a uselessly sloppy definition of a “moderate” as someone who is purportedly not as bad as the other guy.
Tossing out centuries of reasoned reflection upon the meaning of sharia and
discounting the importance of most schools of jurisprudence, these puritans reduce the law
to selected passages from the Koran and the hadith and, as the traditionalists see it, distort the intent of sharia by taking the chaff for the wheat. “Their fast-food jurisprudence has led to great intolerance,” says Suhaib Webb, a 36-year-old American convert to Islam who came to Al-Azhar University from California precisely to learn the classical traditions of jurisprudence. “The classical discourse dealt with reality,” Webb says. “The modern discourse is utopian. Ali Gomaa is respected because he deals with reality.”
There’s “chaff” among the “wheat” of Sharia? Tolson, you Islamophobe. Seriously, though, would the clerics ever admit that, and deal with it in a constructive way? Should’ve asked Ali Gomaa that, too.
Read it all.