By Paul Schemm Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Egypt's highest religious authorities recommended banning several books and magazines, including a work by a moderate Islamic author calling for a more open interpretation of Islam.
In the now blacklisted book, "The Responsibility for the Failure of the Islamic State," author Gamal al-Banna suggests ways for Muslim minorities in Europe and elsewhere to integrate into non- Islamic societies. He argues that it would be permissible for women to cover their hair with a hat, rather than a head scarf, and recommends men use an early Islamic tradition of temporary marriages, legal in the Shiite sect, to avoid intercourse outside of wedlock.
Such ideas, deemed to "differ from the consensus of religious scholars," prompted the Al Azhar Islamic Research Council to call for the book's banning last month. The council reviews books sent to it by security services and recommends about 10 to 15 books be banned every year on the grounds that they are unIslamic or insulting to the religion.
The incident illustrates the ongoing tension between conservative Islamic authorities and those advocating for a more moderate approach to the religion. The attempt to stifle moderates like Mr. Banna is a setback for a chorus of critics inside and outside the Muslim world who want leaders to confront the intellectual underpinnings of Islamic militancy.
"[Banna] is becoming increasingly important," says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and professor at the American University in Cairo. "He argues very forcefully that Islam needs reform. For centuries there has been no revision of the rules of sharia [Islamic law]."
This is not the first time Banna has raised the ire of Al Azhar. Only a few years ago, he published a three volume work entitled "Towards a New Jurisprudence" that called for total reevaluation of Islamic law. He is also the brother of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from which most present day militant Islamic movements take their inspiration. Gamal al-Banna, however, has much more moderate views of the religion than his sibling.
"We must open the doors for the freedom of thought without any restrictions at all," Banna says. "Even if one wants to deny the existence of God."
Banna, who considers himself a believer, talks of the need for more outside influences in Islam and Islamic culture.
"We can read and learn more from European culture and history - from all human culture," he says. "Islam is the last of the religions, but it must not be a closed box, it must be a kind of open road. …