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Islamic liberalism

Egypt's religious spring?

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FAITH NO BAR: Islamists argue they have more common ground with secularists than differences

Egypt, a fecund breeding ground for Arab and Islamic ideologies, is witnessing the birth of yet another: Islamic liberalism.
Nageh Ibrahim, the ideologue of the Islamic Group, an umbrella organisation for Egyptian militant student groups that in the 1980s and 1990s took up arms against President Hosni Mubarak, was one of the first to use the term, in an apparent bid to woo secularists into a rapprochement.

"Liberalism has so many good sides that do not run afoul of the universal principles of the Islamic shariah, " he told an audience drawn from the Wafd Party in July. "We have to search for a form of Islamic liberalism compatible with the norms of Egyptian society while not alienating other forces. "

Ibrahim, whose books advocated violence as a means for changing the Mubarak regime, now argues that Islamists and secularists have more common ground than differences.

In several public speaking events and articles, he has avoided blaming secularists or liberals for the polarisation between secular and religious groups that followed Mubarak's fall. Instead he has blamed a sabotage campaign by partisans of the former regime.
Other Islamists have adopted his conciliatory line. The cleric Mohammed al-Zoghbi, a hero of the Salafi movement and one of the fiercest critics of secularism, recently called the country's secularist activists "brothers with kind, good and patriotic hearts that just need to know the Islamists better. " A few weeks earlier, he described secular Tahrir Square protesters as "a homeless bunch, forced into Tahrir Square, after they were beaten up by their wives back home. "

Less conservative Islamic players have entered the fray as well.

Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar, the bastion of Sunni Islam scholarship that prides itself on a moderate form of Egyptian Islam, issued a document that seeks to marry secular attitudes with conservative theories.

The Azhar Charter, drafted in August, declares that a civil state governed by law will not contradict Islam and that individual liberties should be guaranteed in the future constitution and laws.

Among prominent Islamists, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a lawyer, Islamic activist and candidate for the Egyptian presidency, has refused to endorse the Azhar Charter. "I reject that call from all of its sides, " he said.

The Labour Party, which is pro-Islamist, has spoken out against "diluting the Egyptian Arab and Islamic character. "

For a pragmatic Islamic trend to truly take root "will take some more creativity, " said Hossam Maklad, a researcher into Islamic movements.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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