A Breath of Fresh Air
But, unfortunately, you don't get to choose your battles.
So, amid all the confusion that I can see all around the world about Islam, I felt, as a Muslim, that I had to throw in my 2 cents.
It just happened that at the same time I have been following the writings and TV interviews of Egypt's Mofti (religious judge, sort of) Ali Gomaa, and to tell you the truth, he provided hope for me amid all the depression that is all around.
You see, religion will continue to play dominant role for people in this part of the world; this is just the way it is. It has nothing to do with Islam in particular. Mid-eastern Christians, for example, are on average more religious than other Christians. The same goes for Jews. And it goes all the way back to the times of the pharaohs. For better or worse, religion is crucial to the self identity of people around here, and the most we can hope for is that there is strong religious leadership which is aware of what's happening around it and is able to evolve and integrate with the times and the state of the world.
This is where Al-Azhar comes in, and where people like Ali Gomaa come in. Read through this interview he gave Al-Ahram Weekly 5 years ago, before he was appointed as Mufti (really read it, take your time, and stop juggling between windows!), and you'll see signs of somebody who is really in sync with the world, and who sees progress as the natural development of religion, unlike the stuck-in-time mentality of Ossama and Co.
Of course, he is strong on cultural specificity, which I respect, and kind of agree with, as the topic of globalization and how the world should integrate together is still a topic of debate for a lot of "western" thinkers as well. But even though, take notice of how he sees those cultural differences should be ironed out.
People like Ali Gomaa, and similar moderate Muslims are very important smearing targets for fundamentalist groups. Those groups have realized long ago that those enlightened scholars are the main obstacle between them and dominating the public mind. To overcome this, they relentlessly try to debase them through different means. The most common for somebody like Ali Gomaa, or the Grand Sheikh of Azhar, is pointing out that they're government-appointed, and are therefore as credible as their employer. Which I think is stupid, because even an entity intent on taking all the wrong decisions, will, without doubt, take at least one right one if even out of error. In this case I think this would be Ali Gomaa. But don't take my word for it, read the interview. A Must Read!!