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March 24, 2010

Tariq Ramadan: a message of understanding

Dr. Mohamed Bakr

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Tariq Ramadan. His name brings conflicting reactions among non Muslims and Muslims alike.

Many non Muslims express great admirations about his liberal views of Islam and his call for more active role of Western Muslims in their societies. 

Other non Muslims accuse him of being an undercover Islamist!  Someone who says one thing but he is hiding something else. 

In the Muslim community there are many who hail him as a someone who is reviving the true spirit of Islam away from fundamentalism.  Others accuse him of going too far in his attempt to please the West.

Recently Dr. Ramadan gave a lecture at McMaster University with the title “Faith and Public Life” attended by both the President and the Provost of the university.

Dr. Ramadan addressed the position of faith in general in public life.  He mentioned that in the West, there are two well defined spheres of influence, the private sphere and the public sphere. 

The private sphere includes all the private beliefs of a citizen including his religious beliefs.  The public sphere includes everything this is negotiated through dialogue among citizens of the society.  Governments are elected to govern issues of the public life.  They, however, have no right to interfere with the religious authorities of any religious group because these groups gain their legitimacy from within.

Unfortunately, he said, Muslims in the West are facing a huge challenge especially after 9/11. 

They are not only judged as good citizens if they abide by the law but they are also being asked to clarify what they believe in to be accepted! 

He cited the example from the citizenship exams in the Netherland where Muslims applying for citizenship are shown the picture of a topless woman.  They are asked if they find this acceptable or not.  If they show any disagreement with this sort of behavior, they are then ruled out as good citizens!  Dr. Ramadan said that some Western countries are asking Muslims to contradict their beliefs in order to be accepted as citizens.  This, in his opinion, is a direct violation of the separation of authorities.  Some Western principles and life styles are being converted into ideologies and imposed on the Muslim minorities. 

As a Swiss citizen, Dr. Ramadan also touched on the issue of the Minaret ban recently imposed in Switzerland. 

He said that in some Western countries, populist parties with their shallow approach are claiming that Muslims want to change the laws and the society. 

Dr. Ramadan said that this is a blunt lie!  In all Western countries, the Muslim population is more than happy to abide by existing laws if they apply equally on all citizens. 

This meant that the same law controlling religious courts for Christians and Jews in Ontario should also apply to Muslims! 

It meant also that the same places of worship law applied to Churches and synagogues should also apply to mosques. 

The populist are trying, however, to impose new laws that target Muslims in specific and limit their freedoms.  He cited the examples of Hijab ban in France and the Minaret ban in Switzerland.  Dr. Ramadan also said that the message is that the good Muslim in many Western countries is either the invisible Muslim or the Muslim who abandon his faith!

Dr. Ramadan called for Western governments to show more understanding for their Muslim communities and stop treating them as not native. 

His message was clear.  Islam is a Western religion as much as it is an Eastern religion.  We should all as citizens respect each other and abide by the same law that applies to all of us.

Dr. Ramadan also addressed Western Muslims by asking them to get rid of the “them vs. us” mentality. 

He called on them to show the highest level of belonging and commitment to their societies.  He said that in the name of Islamic principles that Muslims should be on the front lines against evil practices like torture. 

He said that in the name of these same principles that Muslims should lead in protecting the environment and wild life.  Muslims should be active and get engaged in all fields to change their societies to the better.  This is the only way, he said, of gaining acceptance as fully committed and engaged citizens.

After the lecture, there was a question and answer period.  Many questions were asked about the rights of Muslim women, the concept of secularism in Islam, and the integration of Muslims in the West. 

The question that drew applauds from the audience came from a Jewish lady.  She said that she drove from Toronto to listen to his lecture after she heard him speaking on CBC the day before.  She said that many of the problems faced by Muslims in the West now remind her of what many Canadian Jews faced when they migrated to Canada.  She said that the two communities could learn from each other if they talk more!

Dr. Ramadan is currently a Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University.  He is the author of a number of books that advocates interpretation of Islamic texts and more active role of Muslims in the West.

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