The juristic opinions expressed by Sheikh Gamal Al Banna, the brother of Sheikh Hassan Al Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood caused much controversy last week as the conservatives considered Banna’s views daring and unacceptable. Gamal is an Islamic intellect well known for his conflicting opinion of the tradition of interpretation. Al Azhar had condemned his book entitled, “The Responsibility for the Failure of the Islamic State in the Modern Age.” The book reflects what he had once said in an interview with Al Arabia Net, that if a Muslim woman in European society felt it was safer not to wear the veil in light of recent events then she is permitted religiously to wear western headgear rather than the traditional hijab.
What is positive about this Sheikh is that he insists on declaring that he is a religious scholar despite the fierce attacks waged against him by traditional scholars and religious figures. He persistently defends the image of his late brother Hassan Al Banna that many, he states, seek to “distort.”
In his most recent statements (which are not new, as they have been expressed in his books) Gamal Al Banna regarded free-mixing between the two sexes as not only permissible religiously but in fact necessary. He views the connection of men and women as natural because separation in his words is a “vicious process.”
However, Gamal Al Banna has not been the first Sheikh to express such surprising and bold statements and he will certainly not be the last. Why should such bold opinions be oppressed when they are derived from the same sources as those of traditionalists and not from Western literature. This is especially the case relating to women, which many believe (including myself) is the battleground for social modernity in the Islamic world. The fact remains that the widespread fear of the modernist discourse is caused by the redefinition of the female role in society as a complete citizen in terms of her rights and duties.
There are more prominent jurists other than Gamal Al Banna, some old and some contemporary, whose opinions have been oppressed and sidelined often by those less knowledgeable than themselves. In some cases, jurists have been oppressed by groups of extremist nonprofessionals. For example, there was the Saudi jurist who courageously announced that it was not obligatory for a woman to cover her face but as soon as accusations of treason accumulated against him, he backed away. In such cases, the jurist in the line of fire quickly announces that the people “misunderstood” him or that his opinions were “taken out of context.”
The courageous jurist to whom we aspire should care less for such pressure and condemnation. He should be a professional jurist, free of any political agenda or vested interests. These qualities are hard to find nowadays as most jurists are aligned with an Islamist political movement that has its own agenda and always resorts to public collective sentiments regardless of their values.
The courageous jurist should speak his mind unreservedly in response to Al Zawahiri, Sayyid Qutb, and others who have a poor knowledge of jurisprudence and its internal mechanisms and how Shariaa is formed. The jurist must realize that Shariaa is not a hollow rock complete and all encompassing to be thrown to Muslims, as this is an ignorant perception. Shariaa is an accumulation of juristic opinions and a result of direct interaction between man, textual sources, and reality. The text is well known, the man is the professional jurist who is knowledgeable of all the text’s intricate details, and reality is the perpetual and dynamic movement that affects both the man and the text.
The professional Islamists are generally disinterested in capturing this spirit of understanding and the penetration of these effects on the text. They are stuck in between the absolute and the relative and with them is our future.
The numerous stories of suffering independent jurists deserve to be told. One can refer to the examples of the Mufti of Saudi Arabia who condemned suicide attacks, or Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obeikan who stated that volunteering for war in Iraq was not permitted. Both sheikhs were subjected to fierce condemnation. Nevertheless, the jurist that I really regard as an ideal model is Mohamed Abu Zahrah, the author of a number of books on jurisprudence, law, and the history of Islamic legislation.
During a conference in Libya in 1972, the writer Zuhair Zaza and the religious scholar Sheikh Qaradawi discussed an important incident involving Abu Zahrah. According to Qaradawi, in the conference that focused on Islamic legislation, Sheikh Abu Zahrah had surprised the members of the seminar as he said, “I have held an opinion secret for twenty years and now it is time that I share it before God asks me why I have kept it from people. The issue is related to the stoning of the adulterers. I believe that it should be regarded as a Jewish rather than Muslim law. The Prophet has approved the punishment initially, and then the verse of Surat Al Noor, he abrogated it.” To support his argument the sheikh gave three points referring to parts of the Quran, however, the sheikh had barely finished his speech when members of the conference rose up against him and opposed his opinion. Yet, the sheikh did not modify his position.
Al Qaradawi continued the story, “after the commotion, I approached the Abu Zahrah and told him that held a somewhat similar opinion to his that might be more acceptable but after explaining it to him the sheikh did not welcome my view! He turned to me and said, “Yusuf, was it possible for the merciful Prophet Mohammed to stone someone to death for any crime?” Sheikh Abu Zahrah did not live long enough to write down this new opinion or perhaps he could not do so in the face of the massive campaign against him.”
Many jurists see that there are many weak opinions that dominate in society simply because they match the brutality and the ignorance of some powerful and popular elements. All one needs to do is look at the number of jurists who have been threatened by the public such as Al Tabari who people tried to burn alive in front of his own house. If it would not be considered immoral to reveal that which is discussed in private meetings, I would have written the opinions of some jurists expressed during private meetings that completely contradict their public opinions. However, to whom can we complain? The fact is that we live in poisoned climates that force the learned to remain silent whilst enabling the ignorant to control and lead the educated. All we can do is await the coming of the courageous jurist.