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Amid rising tensions spurred by the outspoken aspirations of Salafis, questions loom over the tenability of religious agendas in shaping the country's political future.
Gamal al-Banna, a scholar who has dedicated his life to his vision of Islamic renaissance, has opined that no civil state can be founded on Islam. Banna explained that the civilian and religious outlooks differ.
Banna, whose views are widely criticized in religious circles in Egypt, said that promoting the idea of a civil state on the condition that it should be based on religion, is “a fallacy.” His words represented a not-so-hidden attack on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which calls for a civil state with an "Islamic reference".
During an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Banna said that most Muslims today are Salafis, a fact that he attributes to the closure of the door to ijtihad (the process of making a jurisprudential decision by interpretation of the sources of the Islamic law), and people’s blind following of Salafi interpretations of Islam.
Banna, the 91-year-old younger brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, said that if the MB wishes to rule Egypt it must forsake the application of Islamic law.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: What are the reasons behind the Salafi movement’s recent emergence, and how can moderate Muslims confront them?
Gamal al-Banna: This happened for several reasons. Despite the fact that Salafis were against the 25 January revolution from the beginning, they are now, after its success, trying to reap any gains from it that will help them achieve their ambitions. I would not be surprised if they began playing a role in politics in the coming period. However, I think they will lose in the end, since religion is not adept at using politics, and it always loses.
During the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian authorities began to accept them, especially since their ideology included not opposing authority. Mubarak’s regime also sometimes used them to combat the MB, in order to reduce the number of people supporting it.
In general, the spread of Salafi ideology in Egyptian society, which appeared in 1926 with the support of Saudi Arabia, the main supporter of the Salafi doctrine, was the result of the absence of an alternative [jurisprudential] renewal.
Ever since the death of Imam Mohamed Abdu, who had innovative ideas and an ability to understand and analyze Islam in a simplified manner during the mid-19th century, no one with [the same] ability has appeared. And therefore, society is weak and incapable of combating Salafi ideology, and many factions have been influenced by it.
In my point of view, the best solution for [jurisprudential] renewal is to refer to the Quran and its interpretation and then understand its logic in a way that keeps up with the times, as well as steering away from all old interpretations and weak Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet]. This is the Islamic nation’s only solution for renewing its religious ideology.
Al-Masry: What is Al-Azhar’s role in this?
Banna: Al-Azhar is a state institution, and it is exploited by the state for its private affairs. For a long time now, Al-Azhar has shunned renewed thought, and it has become dependent on sources from ancient religious heritage. This has greatly contributed to the poor level of religious discourse in Egypt, which has become very traditional, impressionistic and lacking in innovation. Of course, this was in the best interests of the Salafi discourse.
This is the problem of Muslims in general; most of them have now become Salafis, since the door to ijtihad was closed a thousand years ago, and people have become caught up in backward Salafi views while failing to use either logic or reason.
Al-Masry: What is your opinion with regards to establishing a civil state with an Islamic reference in Egypt?
Banna: This is a fallacy. There cannot be a civil state with an Islamic reference, and if this happens it will become a religious state, even if it is not like the Iranian model of a religious state, in which the clergy rule the country. If nothing else, the civilian and religious outlooks will differ and will therefore surrender to the religious outlook.
If you allow Islam to become the source of legislation, you will have placed yourself in a whirlpool due to the large number of interpretations and religious views on various matters. The purpose of a civil state is justice, which is the same purpose of Islam and the basis of its original call. Egypt should thus become a civil state, without involving the detailed legislation of Islam.
Al-Masry: Do you believe the MB may rule Egypt in the near future?
Banna: The MB cannot win the majority in elections, and I expect them to win between 30-40 percent of seats in the next parliament. I do not expect them to succeed since all cases of Islamist rule in Arab countries such as Algeria and Sudan have failed, as they have trouble balancing religion and politics.
In the case of the MB, the idea of pragmatic rule exists, but it contradicts their original ideologies. For example, the MB previously announced their intention to legalize tourism and alcohol consumption in tourist areas on the grounds that tourism is one of Egypt’s key sources of national income. However, this contradicts their religious texts. I believe that if the MB wishes to rule, then they must forsake the application of Islamic law.
Translated from the Arabic Edition