Tariq Ramadan sheds some clarifications Islam & the West 

Globe and Mail Update 

"I hope that these answers shed some clarifications," says putative "Muslim Martin Luther" Tariq Ramadan at the end of this Q&A with readers at the Globe and Mail. It's an interesting elision of "shed some light" and "provide some clarifications," making the whole statement ambiguous: did he mean to make things clear, or to shed -- i.e., get rid of -- clarity? And certainly his answers often display the artful ambiguity for which he has become renowned.


Can Muslims be true to their faith and loyal citizens in a Western country such as Canada? Tariq Ramadan says yes. This public intellectual's struggle to integrate Muslim thought with modern life has made him one of the most controversial and influential Islamic scholars in Europe.   

"Young Muslims must go beyond the 'minority complex' trap -- to look at themselves as being Canadian citizens and forget about being a minority," Prof. Ramadan wrote last year for The Globe and Mail. 

"This transformation should also apply to the majority of Canadians, who must move beyond the idea of cultural tolerance. Tolerance of minorities is a good first step -- but in the long run, it will take respect and mutual knowledge for people to experience real integration into all levels of society."  

Prof. Ramadan joined us on Tuesday to answer questions about Islam and the West, and the life of the prophet Muhammad. Your questions, and Prof. Ramadan's answers, appear at the bottom of this page. Time Magazine named Prof. Ramadan as one of its 100 future innovators — people the magazine predicts will change the world in the 21st century. 

Born in Switzerland, Prof. Ramadan holds an MA in philosophy and French literature and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt, he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars.  

Prof. Ramadan lectures at academic institutions and civic organizations around the world. He has authored and co-authored over 20 books and over 700 articles. He is active both at the academic and grassroots levels, lecturing extensively throughout the world on ethics of citizenship, social justice, and dialogue between civilizations.

His new book, In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, is a biography that highlights the Muslim prophet's spirital and ethical teachings.  He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford, and at the Lokahi Foundation in London.  Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment.

Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements.

Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym. Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: Welcome, everyone, and thanks for joining us. There are plenty of questions for Prof.

Ramadan, so we'll jump right in and try to get to as many as possible.  Sam Slick from White Rock, B.C. writes: I have to admit that I may be quite ignorant of the Muslim religion but I would like to ask this: Can people of the Muslim faith (educated or not) adjust to today's view of personal freedom for females? Or are they bound to the strict teaching or misinterpreted teaching of the Koran regarding the role of females? Can new immigrants to Canada follow Western doctrine in the treatment of females?  

Tariq Ramadan: It is an important question. We have two main problems: the practices of cultures of origin are often confused with the religious principles, and the literalist reading of the scriptural sources. We need to spread a better understanding and to struggle to give women their legitimate rights within the Islamic majority societies and in the Muslim communities in the West.

It starts by saying things clearly: Muslims must be against domestic violence, forced marriages, female circumcision; and we must support women getting the same salary for the same work and the same competence. Education and daily commitment are the key factors, and women should speak for themselves. Alexander Macdonald from Vancouver writes: With growing acceptance of homosexuality in the West, is it possible for Muslims to remain faithful and accept gays? What about gay Muslims? Tariq Ramadan: The Islamic teaching as a whole, as do all the monotheistic religions, prohibits homosexuality and does not promote it.

It is perceived as against the Divine project for human beings. Now it must be clear that Muslims cannot condemn the people with no understanding: It is important for Muslims to be able to say "I disagree with what you are doing and respect who you are."

This is the way towards mutual tolerance and this is the way Muslims should act in their daily life. To be a gay does not prevent someone from being a Muslim: I know Muslims who are gay. Some are deeply suffering, others are doubting themselves and others are claiming their right to be so. It is important, once again not to condemn the beings while we may disapprove the behaviour or the acts.

This is the way to respect each other, to remain both open and faithful to one's beliefRemain Nameless from Ottawa writes: As a Westerner observing Islamic countries, it seems to me that freedom of expression is not tolerated. People seem to accept that if they are "for" one cause (whether it be a political leader or a particular sect), then anyone that supports any other cause is their enemy and must be put to death.

There is no such thing (as there is in Canada) as "a loyal opposition," only enemies to be eradicated in bloodshed. Am I misinterpreting? What is it about Islam that requires a one-party state that has no tolerance for reasoned dissent? Tariq Ramadan: You are right but please do not confuse Islam with the Arab countries. Many majority Islamic countries such as Senegal, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey are experiencing a kind of democracy, even though it is not perfect.

This has nothing to do with Islam and very often the religion is used as an instrument to forbid people the right to dissent. We should struggle for more democracy, but this should be the choice of the populations and not an imposed democracy as was tried in Iraq … and we see the result…. Alexander Baillie from Munster, Canada writes: Citizens in the West generally take a live-and-let-live approach to other religions and cultures, including Islam.

Westerners also discriminate between ordinary Muslims and their extremist co-religionists. But too many Muslim acts -- such as fatwas against authors, riots and murders in response to cartoons and other intimidating behaviors that threaten freedom of expression -- reinforce the impression that Islam cannot and will not accept criticism.

Is Islam compatible with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Does Islam accept a division between mosque and state? (Or is Turkey fighting a losing battle?) Does Islam attach negative attributes to "infidels" or require any negative response to them -- as opposed to tolerating others' religious freedom? 

Tariq Ramadan: Many questions in one. You are right on your first assessment -- it is as if the Muslims are always overreacting. Nevertheless, I think that the images from abroad should not mislead us.

In Canada, as well as in the US or in Europe, Muslims were reacting very often in a reasonable way and this is a good sign. Millions of Muslims are already showing you that they accept life in secular societies, that they respect the laws and are loyal to their Western countries: Do not be misled by the few who are making noise and shouting. 

The first thing Muslism should do is to translate the Arabic words in the right way: kafir does not mean "infidel" or "disbeliever" but "someone who does not recognise the last message as the truth." It is a statement, not an insult. Lots of work to do in the field of education…. 

Ed Martin from Montreal writes: Do you think that in the nearby future, Muslims will be able to pick a world leader that will lead Islam in one direction (like the Catholic Pope) so that everyone may say, finally, we know where this religion is going? 

Tariq Ramadan: No, it is not going to happen that way. Muslims should not wait for one leader to take over, but should manage the accepted and creative diversity Islam has and always had. Badly managed diversity becomes division but to solve the problem does not mean to look for uniformity. It should start at the local level with Muslims setting platforms and gathering Muslim leaders from different tendencies, and starting an imperative intra-community dialogue.  

Benoit Evans from Quebec writes: In the media, bad news always drives out good news. What can ordinary Muslims do to get the good news about Islam on the front page and show the public that they are good, peace-loving people who pose no threat to their non-Muslim neighbours?

Tariq Ramadan: You may have to ask this question to journalists. To The Globe and Mail?

... Hmm, are you there? More seriously, we have to acknowledge that journalists are naturally interested by stories and scoops. However, journalists are also citizens and they have a civic duty to talk and cover positive stories and activities that help the citizens to have a better understanding of other cultures and religions.

It is essential for the Muslims not to remain isolated, to invite journalists to make their activities more visible, more public. They have nothing to hide and it is not enough to say it … nothing is more effective for their fellow citizens than personal experience, knowledge and feelings. I

t is a shared responsibility: Muslims must show, journalists must cover and citizens must be a bit curious and open. Difficult but necessary chemistry! 

Bernadette Preyde from Canada writes: Professor Ramadan, how do Muslims reconcile with the West when there is such a schism within Islam, between Sunnis and Shias? 

Tariq Ramadan: I do not think that these two phenomenon are connected. You are right as to the deep problems Muslims are facing between different trends and traditions. But through their history they have managed to find common ground and mutual understanding.

The situation in Iraq is specific and the Western interference has something to do with this new fracture. We need to find ways to reconcile the Muslims but that is much more a political issue than a religious one. As to Muslims reconciling with the West, I do not think that this is the main purpose … it is more modest than that: We need to learn with humility and to live together with confidence and trust.  

R. Carriere from Canada writes: Good day. One simple (and complex) question: Can you please explain the term "Jihad?"   

Tariq Ramadan: It is a complex question indeed for it is at the heart of the Islamic teaching. First, jihad is neither "holy war" nor "crusade." Jihad means effort and resistance. Our first natural inner state, as human beings, is not peace but tension.

Tensions between our bad temptations and our positive aspirations. We need to get inner peace by controlling our self: This resistance is an inner jihad. While facing oppression, our resistance is in the same way a jihad. In fact the very meaning of jihad is to go from natural or potential tensions, conflicts or war towards inner serenity and collective peace. Jihad is the way toward peace … exactly the opposite of what is sometime understood by non Muslims … as well as some Muslims. 

Dave Srigley from Toronto writes: Do you foresee a future in which Canadian Muslims are a significant political force in Parliament, somewhere on the level of the Bloc Quebecois?  

Tariq Ramadan: I hope there will never be such a thing. I will never promote something like a Canadian Muslim political force. As I explained in Western Muslims and The Future of Islam, Muslim citizens should stick to principles and promote an ethic of citizenship.

This means to vote for the more competent, the more upright and to ask for accountability, whether the politicians are Muslim or not. Anything else could lead us toward a battle of communities, while we must hope to build a national community of ideals and common values.

Muslims, as I said, should stop acting as a minority only concerned with its interests … their universal values must lead them to serve the entire society. 

Jeff Kelly from Kitchener writes: I have read that the tenets of Islam call for the creation of an Islamic state; that a "secular government" as seperate from Islam is a Western idea that is incompatible with true Islam. Is this true? Does true Islam require its followers to work towards a state following the ideals/beliefs of Islam? 

Tariq Ramadan: This is the problem we have with some Islamic trends and groups. They are confusing the historical models with the eternal principals. For them to remain faithful to the Islamic principles you have to duplicate what the Prophet (PBUH) and the Companions did in a specific time. They want to imitate the model and think that there is something like an "Islamic model" to be distinguished from the "Western model." This is a clear reduction based on a deep misunderstanding.

The Islamic principles (such as rule of law, equality, accountability, majority decision process, etc.) are universal, and the Muslims should find new models according to their new environment and the new era.

I tried to show that in my last book by trying to draw spiritual and contemporary lessons for our time from the prophetic experience in the 7th Century. It is important to repeat that principles are universal, and models historical -- they must evolve and change. 

Aziza Ibrahim from Nanaimo, BC writes: I converted to Islam 33 years ago. I have always tried to promote the loving, tolerant aspects of Islam to Westerners who have some very distorted ideas about the religion. I appreciate your comments on tolerance. However, recently in the UK, there was an instance of a woman lawyer refusing to remove her full facial veil and the judge refusing to hear the case because he couldn't hear her properly.

It seems to me that the radical Muslims in UK and in Europe are pushing the envelope for political reasons which have nothing to do with religion. The nabi Muhammed, salalah aleihi wasalam, did not require women to cover themselves completely, but to dress modestly. I felt indignant that this woman was pushing her culture on a system that, although imperfect, is as fair as we can get. I feel she was wrong. What do you think? 

Tariq Ramadan: The woman you refer to was not a radical, but a conservative literalist believing that the veil covering the face is the right Islamic answer.

I do think that this was specific to the Prophet's wife and not for all the women. I said that 15 years ago, and we need to open the debate within the Muslim community not only in the West but throughout the world. Is the niqab the right Islamic prescription? I don't think so and we need to talk about it.  

Now, the problem which occurred in UK is more complicated than that. Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw's statement [calling face veils a "visible statement of separation and difference" and saying he asked Muslim women to remove face-covering veils during one-on-one meetings in his office] was made by a politician in a specific time and not out of naivety.

The Muslims overreact, that's for sure, but his statement was counterproductive because if you were to say that what he said was right you would have been perceived as supporting him — against the community — in these difficult times. Very delicate. Sometimes a good question put by a wrong person become a wrong question … we have to be careful to open a debate in the right way.  Nevertheless it is our responsibility, as Muslims, to speak clearly, to argue and to promote a better understanding of our religion. That is also to say that we understand that there is an accepted diversity and that literalists must also be respected when they decide to live the life they want without imposing it on others.

They also have the right to be respected as long as they respect their fellow Muslims and citizens. Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: That's all the time we have for today.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions, and I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of them. Thanks to Prof. Ramadan, who joined us this afternoon (evening, his time) from London. Prof. Ramadan, any closing thoughts? Tariq Ramadan: Thank you for your questions, and I hope that these answers shed some clarifications.

Thanks to The Globe and Mail for inviting me to this chat. Warm regards, Tariq Ramadan 

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