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Islamic Reform? Top Muslim University Says 'No'

Islamic Reform? Top Muslim University Says 'No'

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Largely unknown to and unreported in the West, a large, two-day conference was recently hosted (Jan. 27–28) by Al Azhar University in Egypt and attended by the leading clerics and politicians from 46 nations. Titled "Renewal in Islamic Thought," it is currently the most significant response to Egyptian president Sisi's calls for reform, which he forcibly made on .

The conference focused on the most pressing topics affecting the Islamic — and in some cases non-Islamic — world, including women's rights, government and society, and the question of "radicalization" and the emergence of jihadi terror groups such as the Islamic State.

I've watched many of the panels with great interest, and in the coming weeks, I hope to remark on some of these, but for now I wish to discuss what can be learned from the  of the grand imam of Al Azhar (and ), Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.

First, he — in agreement with the other clerics present — closed the door on the possibility for reform on a great number of issues: "Renewal," he announced, "is in no way possible concerning those texts which are irrefutable in their certainty and stability; as for those texts that are not entirely credible, they are subject to ijtihad ."

In plain language, the teachings of those Islamic texts that are deemed entirely reliable — chief among them, the Koran as well as certain hadith, including, according to mainstream Sunnism, all nine volumes of Sahih Bukhari — are not subject to any change; only those secondary Islamic texts, including many other volumes of hadith, the sira (biography of Muhammad), and other works of history, are open to debate.