July 27, 2005

Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan is probably one the most dangerous Muslims in the world.

Or, at least somebody finds an erudite Muslim scholar who actively denounces terrorism to be dangerous enough to revoke, with no reason given, his visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame just two weeks before he and his family were to arrive. Dr. Ramadan is still teaching in Switzerland at the University of Geneva and popped over to London the other day to speak at a conference organized by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Metropolitan Police. They, at least, don't seem to worry that Ramadan is going to raise up an army of terrorists, despite the recent bombings. And while he was there, he sat for a talk with a writer from the Independent that is worth reading.

One of the points he made that I found interesting is the following:

Too much of the internal conversation within the Muslim community at present nurtures a sense of guilt, inadequacy and alienation. "Young people are told: everything you do is wrong - you don't pray, you drink, you aren't modest, you don't behave. They are told that the only way to be a good Muslim is to live in an Islamic society. Since they can't do that, this magnifies their sense of inadequacy and creates an identity crisis. Such young people are easy prey for someone who comes along and says, 'there is a way to purify yourself'. Some of these figures even keep the young people drinking to increase their sense of guilt and make them easier to manipulate."

The alternative is to teach them to develop a critical mind. "On the arts, literature the way we eat, our sense of humour, the second generation feel close to the non-Muslims they went to school with. That's right. That's the Islamic way. The universality of Islam is shown by the way you can integrate into the local culture. Our young people need to be told, you can dress in European clothes - so long as you respect the principle of modesty. Democracy and pluralism aren't against your Islamic principles. Anything in Western culture that does not contradict the message of Islam can be accepted and integrated."

Ramadan also points out that while his Muslim critics (yeah, he gets it from both sides) complain that he is straying from the literal path of traditional Islam, he is being more faithful by keeping to the spirit of Islam, which is about social justice, not cutting off hands and stoning women.

"It is a path between text and context, which insists that in a changing world our interpretation of faith must also evolve, that there is no faithfulness without change. We need a deep faith, but a critical mind. Being British by culture and Muslim by religion is no contradiction. We need to get out of our intellectual and social ghettos, and be freed from our narrow understanding. To do that is not easy. The easy way is to become an extremist."

Frankly, I think there is a bit for us Catholics living in a postmodern world to chew on there.