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
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
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. …