Tariq Ramadan is a controversial scholar of Islam. He is often seen as an enemy to many from both a Western standpoint, as well as within many Muslim communities around the world. Although his ideas express a cohesive solidarity between all cultures and religions he is often taken as an imposter and attacked by both of the sides he is trying to unite: Islam and Western ideologies. Who is Tariq Ramadan why aremmany of his ideas are considered to be controversial? Conversely, what are some of the problems facing modern Muslims and solutions to these as put forth by Ramadan in his book, What I Believe. Furthermore I intend to highlight a specific issue he raised in his book that I feel is most significant to Muslims and the reason for my choice.
Ramadan, is a well-known Muslim speaker that presents a more moderate side of Islam. According to his website, www.tariqramadan.com, he is a very learned man, both in the sense of Western secular education as well as in spirituality and religion, more specifically: Islam. Ramadan is concerned with social welfare by way of
fighting against poverty in the South, promoting education (for women in particular), protecting street children, visiting favelas and supporting social projects, fighting against corruption and dictators, and demanding more humane and more equitable trade. (Ramadan, pg. 8, 2010)
Aside from his humanitarian efforts, Ramadan seems to be concerned with building bridges between Muslims and the West through open dialogue and also in creating awareness for the Muslim community as a whole in regards to living life in moderate terms. To clarify, Ramadan looks at the Qur’an and the Sunnah, as well as the context in which certain laws were applied, to understand how we can use these teachings and relate them to our lives today. An example of this is when he says “no civilization or nation, holds a monopoly on universals and on the good, and that our political and social systems are not perfect” (Ramadan, 2010:22). Many people may feel threatened by his words because for many Muslims this kind of statement implies that Islam does not hold all of the answers. However, in the Qur’an it says “Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other,” (Q 49:13) therefore, I do not see a reason for Muslims to feel threatened. I agree with the previously stated quote from Ramadan’s book because no one group holds all of the answers. Muslims have basic practical laws in terms of governance, however, there is much that can be and should be learned from other societies and cultures.
“no civilization or nation, holds a monopoly on universals and on the good, and that our political and social systems are not perfect”
The above mentioned quote from Ramadan’s book is one example of how he may be perceived as controversial. There are, however, various controversies that surround him, four of which that I would like to point out and elaborate upon. Firstly, is that he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is controversial because most Westerners see the Muslim Brotherhood as a radical terrorist anti-government organization. This fact, in turn, is used in many instances as a descriptor against his character. As a result his motives have repeatedly come under fire. Consequently, he has been banned from many countries, for example, France. Also, many dictators, largely from the Arab spring, are resistant to him because of his family ties to Hassan al-Banna. In fact he was forbidden to enter his parent’s home country of Egypt for this reason. On the other hand, some Muslims of a more constrained Islamic viewpoint tend to find his stance on some issues as too liberal. An example of this is whether or not women should be allowed in a mosque and what kind of prayer space they should be given; if at all. The last note that I wanted to touch on was how he is seen politically. I think that some of the ideas he has set forth are seen as “radical” in the Islamic world and terrorist magniloquence among Westerners. I believe that it is for this reason many consider him to be saying one thing and then seemingly saying the opposite to a different group to keep everyone satisfied. This is problematic because no one is sure whether they can trust him. For this reason, Ramadan is often accused of “doublespeak,” he specifically states “[s]ome commentators have found it difficult to situate me…. Because of the variety of topics addressed” (Ramadan, 2010:112). Thus, in turn, unites the two groups in the idea that his ideologies are dangerous.
Until he began his Islamic rhetoric no one questioned Ramadan’s motives regarding his public involvement and lectures. Once he claimed allegiance to Islam he found that everything he said and did was placed under a microscope and analysed. It is a common phenomenon that happens to any individual who becomes famous or well known. I find it disturbing that the microscope tends to come out when a Muslim does something bad and Islam is scrutinized for that individual’s wrong actions, as in the case of the Aqsa Parvez’ “honour killing” in 2007. When this crime was committed the media went into a frenzy and everyone was quick to blame the religion rather than the persons culpable for the crime. There is a danger in one sided media coverage regarding deeper cases such as the conflict between Palestine and Israel or even the conflict between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. The constant misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Islamic ideologies by Muslims, media and much of society as a whole, as well as looking only at the surface of political issues around the world are but a few examples of the various challenges that Modern Muslims face.
Ramadan brings up various issues that must be addressed by the Muslim community in order to safeguard the integrity and true meanings of various practices, doctrines and basic beliefs held dear by the Muslim community. One such issue is that many Muslims incorporate cultural habits into the fold of Islam and distort the meanings of certain hadith or verses in Qur’an in order to make others conform to their cultural ideals or to meet personal objectives. Another issue that is brought up by Ramadan is how various cultural groups will break off on their own and form mini countries within small cities. This is problematic because it does not coincide with the unity of humanity that is expressed throughout the Qur’an. The overall solution that I believe is given by Ramadan is to go back to the fundamentals put forth by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Through learning key concepts within Islam as well as through debate and discussion with others we can broaden our scope. In order for us to implement new ideas we are to keep an open mind.
Ramadan brings up “the challenge: to stop blaming “society-that-does-not-like-us”.” Although I agree with this quote, that Muslims should never feel as though they are victims of racism or “islamophobia” the fact of the matter is that islamophobia exists (Ramadan, 2012:58).
In 2010, Quebec proposed Bill 94, which would deny essential government services, public employment, education, and health care to Muslim women who wear niqab…. They argued that by forbidding women from wearing certain clothes, they were in fact protecting a woman’s right to sartorial choice. (Cader & Kassamali, 2012)
Although there are rational reasons to request the removal of the niqab in cases where security would be an issue or for employment purposes in most cases, the government does not have the right to dictate what a woman is “allowed” to wear. The amount of tax dollars that were spent on this case as well as in the passing of this law were misused. Perhaps Canadian tax dollars would be better spent on finding the many missing aboriginal woman in Canada, or on the vast cases of abuse against women rather than concentrating on a small minority of women in Quebec who choose to cover their face. I agree with Ramadan’s point that we should never feel victimized or stigmatized; however, it is a truth that Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions; all groups have at one time or another felt as though they are the “other” or as an outsider to the cultural norm. This assertion, as well as those previously mentioned, are not unique to Muslims. There is a norm within our culture that states what is good and what is bad. There is a fine line that is easy to cross, in turn, making it easy for one to feel out of place if you aren’t living up to the ideal. The “other” is a notion of being different and unwelcome; which is something most have felt at one time or another throughout their life.
In his conclusion, Ramadan asserts a very important issue: the idea of a “mental ghetto.” This idea expresses how individuals often become confined to their own way of thinking. I feel that this point is the most significant because it is a universal problem. Many people believe that their way of thinking is the only way, which can be problematic. As a solution, Ramadan proposes to make sure you are meeting with others who are not in your regular circle and discuss and debate with them about various topics. (T. Ramadan, pg. 115, 2010) This proposal is so simple yet very powerful. I agree that opening ourselves to new and uncomfortable experiences is an excellent way see through our own personal biased opinions and grow as an individual, and in turn become more accepting to other cultures or ideologies.
In conclusion, Tariq Ramadan is a cultured and educated Muslim Scholar. He is controversial on many fronts. His main goal is unity among all and is calling for a reformation for all Muslims. An important lesson to learn from this book is to look at each situation individually and from all angles before making judgements. And, although we should take responsibility for our actions we can still be aware of the pervading islamophobia throughout the non-Muslim world. Also, the problems faced by Modern Muslims are not unique to Muslims; all groups gave felt a sense of “otherness” at one time or another. The main way to break away from our personal biases is through open dialogue. Many of the ideas put forth in Ramadan’s book are universal. This book as an excellent source for solutions to questions that many Muslims may or may not have already posed in terms of how to improve the Muslim community and raise awareness between two societies that are seemingly always at odds.
Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Qur’an: Translation; Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an., 2011. Print.
Barthe, Benjamin. “Hani Ramadan Juge Les Frères Musulmans Prêts Pour La Démocratie. “Le Monde. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <http://library.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx#>.
Cader, Fathima, and Sumayya Kassamali. “Islamophobia in Canada: A Primer.” New Socialist IDEAS FOR RADICAL CHANGE. 01 Feb. 2012. Web. <newsocialist.org>.
Ramadan, Tariq. What I Believe. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.