Read a really interesting article in the newspaper a few days ago. Interesting because it signals a pragmatic, practical and thinking side of a religious institution which is rare to see.
Al Azar is the Sunni Muslim world's most influental authority. According to press reports, it sanctioned the controversial urfi marriage. Members of the Islamic Research Council, an influential arm of Al-Azar, after a long discussion, concluded that contentious marriage arrangements, known as Missyar and Urfi (unregistered), are acceptable as a solution to the problem of young people. The average age of marriage in Egypt has risen to 42 for men and 35 for women, according to unofficial estimates, say newspapers.
Missyar marriage is a contract that allows a man and a woman to be married for any period of time from just an hour to 99 years. Some scholars condemn Missyar and Urfi marriages as tantamount to prostitution, but other clerics argue that they are practical ways of addressing basic human urges, as under Islamic law, or Sharia, extramarital sex is prohibited, and, punishable by flogging or stoning to death.
If one moves away from what perspective one looks at this, to me the news is significant because a religious institution is chosing to move with the times, and, recognise that it needs to adopt a stance that is in keeping with the needs and requirements of its current population. Clerics may come and go, and, they may debate the interpretation of religious law and its implications, but the reality is that religion is lived through its practioners, and, if it ceases to address their needs, then it faces the danger of extinction or worse still, creating unrest.
See article: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1998/397/fe1.htm