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In the library with a leading Islamic liberal

Egyptian Gamal Banna backs women's right to lead prayers and thinks clerics should adapt to modern times the LA Times reports.

A slight man in a brown suit, whose smooth face belies his 88 years, can slide one from shelves of thousands, brush its cover and tell you a story, whether it be about jihad, St. Francis of Assisi or the labor movement of the 1930s. He has written 120 books himself, many of them about Islam, which to him has too long listened to the restrictive voices of the past. Tellingly, he adds, "They live as if from five centuries ago."

Gamal Banna is one of Islam's leading liberal thinkers. For years he has accused conservative clerics of running a dictatorship that has kept the Koran from speaking to a world much changed since the 7th century revelations of the prophet Muhammad. Banna, whose long-dead brother led a fundamentalist movement that inspired many of his critics, relishes unnerving opponents with opinions that strike at convention.

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