The Reformists vs. Al Azhar

The author of the book “The Calls of Prophecy in History�, which Al Azhar recently recommended banning, is bringing a lawsuit against Al Azhar for refusing to publicize a copy of its report on why the book should banned.

Walid Toghan, the book’s author, said that Al Azhar rejected his book because it denied the Sunna of the prophet. The book claims that many superstitions were added to the Sunna that should never have been included and that they have nothing to do with Islam.

In his book Toghan argues that the Sunna of the prophet, or his teachings and sayings, are not binding on Muslims. He argues that the friends of the prophet should be regarded as humans who make mistakes, and not as saints. He also calls for a revision of Islamic history.

Toghan's lawsuit is the first of its kind, as far as I know. Perhaps it will mark the beginning of a new campaign against Al Azhar by intellectuals and reformists. Toghan’s platform is similar to many Islamic reformists. They argue that many of the most problematic tenets of Islam are rooted in the hadith, and not in the Koran. The hadith, or sayings of the prophet, are problematic, they argue, because many of these alleged sayings were fabricated for political aims in the early history of Islam.

Also, the weekly Egyptian newspaper Al Qahara has a full page special on three books by proponents of reform in Islam. The three books profiled deal with the subject of the Islamic Caliphate, and argue that the notion of the Caliphate is not present in the Koran or the Sunna.

The first of the three books dates back 80 years, illustrating that Islamic reform is not a new idea, or the product of US pressure. Ali Abdel Razeq’s 1924 work “Islam and the Principles of Governance� caused a firestorm of controversy when it was first published. In it Abdel Razeq argued that no where does Islam specify a certain type of government, and that the Koran and the Sunna provide only general principles of government, namely that whatever system is chosen is just. After writing the book Razeq was promptly fired from Al Azhar, fired as a judge of the sharia courts, his book was confiscated and he was accused by Al Azhar of denying that which is known by necessity in religion.

The second book discussed is Khalil Abdel Karim’s 1987 book, “In Order to Apply the Sharia... Not to Rule Politically,� (that translation is a bit awkward. In Arabic it’s “L’Tatbiiq Al Sharia... la l’lhokum) in which he stresses that the concept of theocracy is un-Ilsamic. The third book profiled is the 2003 book by Gamal Al Banna, brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna, called “Islam is a religion and a nation... not a religion and a state.� It makes a similar argument, that the separation of church and state is indeed an Islamic concept. Gamal Al Banna had a book banned by Al Azhar in August 2004 called "The Responsibility for the Failure of the Islamic State." Al Banna claims that the first book banned after the 1952 revolution was his book called "A New Democracy."