When I read a Los Angeles Times dispatch from Cairo in which the reporter interviewed an aging liberal Islamic scholar about the Arab Spring, I glanced over this man’s name, and then did a double-take. His name is Gamal Banna. Banna? Couldn’t be … . But in fact, Gamal Banna, 91, was the brother of the late Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and in many ways of modern political Islamism. This Banna e was profiled by the New York Times a few years ago as a relatively lonely dissident trying to advance his interpretation of Islam, which among other things holds that religion is “a power of liberation.” His opponent here is Al-Azhar, the most renowned institution of Sunni scholarship—and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Egyptian state.
In his small, dusty Cairo apartment, the Los Angeles Times finds Banna despondent. “The revolution has lost its freedom,” he says. He adds,
The heir of these revolutions is political Islam. The Islamists’ parties are the big winners. The Islamists are established figures in this time of tumult. They have credibility and people are willing to give them a chance. But they must move quickly to fix years of social and economic neglect. If not, they could lose this opportunity and it all might collapse.”
He refers, of course, to his longtime foe, the Muslim Brotherhood. In a 2005 profile in Egypt Today, Banna posits that Islam, properly understood, call for a liberal, democratic state.
It is up for debate just how liberal this Banna is. In his most recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman reports that even though Banna’s heretical interpretation of Islam, which does not accept the divinity of the Sunnah (the collected words and deeds of the Prophet not recorded in the Koran), “is bound to seem congenial to people with liberal and secular views,” Banna is also a man who praised the 9/11 terrorists for their “extremely courageous” deed. “In a modern political world shaped by the rise of the Islamists,” Berman sighs, “even some of the most attractive of thinkers tend, if they have come under an Islamist influence, to have a soft spot for suicide terrorism. And a soft spot for anti-Semitism.”
But back to Banna’s dusty apartment. “What struck me most over the last year was the gathering of the masses,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. “Even the prophets weren’t able to pull together millions of people behind a single aim. It was as if we had become a city of angels.”
Islamic Scholar Casts a Skeptical Eye on the Emerging Egypt [LAT]
Related: A Liberal Brother at Odds with the Muslim Brotherhood [NYT]
In Word and Deed [Egypt Today]