Sunday, November 07, 2010

Tariq Ramadan - The Quest for Meaning

Tariq Ramadan is a very unpopular man in some circles, while others believe he offers hope for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and largely secular Europeans. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2004 - here is what they said about him then:
Tariq Ramadan
Modernist or Extremist?


Few observers deny the seductive brilliance of Swiss philosopher and Islamic theoretician Tariq Ramadan, but disagreement over his true agenda is ferocious. Within the past half-decade, Ramadan has become enormously influential among Muslims throughout Europe. He calls for believers to embrace and practice Islam in a thoroughly modern manner. And he advises Muslims on how they can fully integrate into European societies without betraying the universal laws and values of Islam. A successful author, he sells around 50,000 audiocassettes of his speeches each year in France alone.

Detractors claim that Ramadan's messages are filled with a double language. His followers, they say, can decipher his words as a call to furtively spread fundamentalist Islam in society under the cover of modernism and integration. Critics have denounced as anti-Semitic Ramadan's recent critique of "Jewish French intellectual" reaction to the intifadeh. They were appalled when he suggested last year a "moratorium" on the stoning of adulterers in order to consider the legitimacy of the act. (In 2003, his Islamist brother Hani was dismissed as a schoolteacher after defending the stoning of women in Le Monde.)

Ramadan's fans insist that his modernist message is genuine. Some Americans will soon get a chance to judge for themselves. In September he is scheduled to teach a course at the University of Notre Dame's Institute for International Peace Studies called Religion & Conflict.
Vanity Fair very recently posted a video of Ramadan debating Islam with Christopher Hitchens, who does not agree with Ramadan (obviously, since Hitchens dislikes all religions).

Politics Daily ran an excellent feature, by Sarah Wildman, on Ramadan in April of this year. Here is a bit of that article:
Since the early 1990s, Ramadan has been known for espousing a "third way" for European Muslims. Rather than pushing them to believe they can only be Muslim or French (or German or Belgian or British . . .), he offers a way to be both. To Americans, dual identity hardly raises an eyebrow, but Europeans rarely don two at once. In addition, a deep secularity is often the norm across the Pond, in contrast to an American penchant for religiosity. These are not countries that promoted immigration in the same way that the New World did, and the loosening of the Catholic Church's influence on civic life (in France in particular) came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with strong barriers to representation of religion in public life.
On the bright side, he is allowed in the country now after been denied a visa during the Bush administration on the grounds of terrorism risks (he was accused of donating money to a Swiss charity that then donated the money to Hamas). There are still many - mostly conservatives - who believe that he is sending coded messages to Muslims to perpetuate fundamentalist ideals. Watch the video below - from the RSA - and judge for yourself.
Renowned philosopher and scholar Tariq Ramadan asks: how can different religious traditions move beyond tolerant co-existence to mutual respect and enrichment?

Download video (mp4)

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