Tariq Ramadan’s “What I Believe”

In this year’s Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, Tariq Ramadan came in at number 49 for “dedicating his life to proving that Europe and Islam are not incompatible”–no small task in the world today. Ramadan is considered by many to be a very controversial intellectual. For some, he is too liberal and westernized while for others he is too radical and aims to Islamicize Europe. In his latest book What I Believe, Ramadan lays out his worldview and why it is often misunderstood.

From early on, Ramadan has had to contend with what some see as a problematic family lineage. He is the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Ramadan notes that this connection only began to be emphasized when he started to engage the question of Islam’s role in the West.

Ramadan was not always involved with this issue. He started out as a high school teacher and dean in Geneva, Switzerland.  In these positions, Ramadan says he never highlighted his religious affiliations but that the principles of his faith prompted him to launch solidarity awareness projects. Also in these positions, he contends, his grandfather was irrelevant. It was only when he became involved in the topic of Islam in the West that his lineage was attacked and he was assumed to be dangerous, even though what he calls for is far from violent.

For Ramadan, Muslim Westerners face increasing negative perceptions since 9/11 and as a result of various crises that include other terrorist attacks as well as events such as the Danish cartoons and the French headscarf ban. In order to cope with these issues, Ramadan argues that it is incumbent upon Muslims to avoid minimizing their identity to one dimension–namely the religious realm–and emphasize that just like everyone else they are made up of multiple identities that constantly change.

Ramadan illustrates this with his own understanding of his identity: “I am Swiss by nationality, Egyptian by memory, Muslim by religion, European by culture, universalistic by principle, Moroccan and Mauritian by adoption.”  In other words, when Muslims are asked whether they are first Muslim or their nationality, the question itself is problematic because it is asking them to choose between two realms. More importantly, Ramadan argues that in the case of Muslims, the question is more about loyalty then identity.

In addition, Ramadan calls on Muslim Westerners to avoid being isolated, living with a “minority reflex,” and to become fully engaged members of their societies. That is, they should be “comfortable and at home” in any society. This, however, does not mean aiming for integration, a term he finds problematic because it entails highlighting difference and the need for one group to always adapt. Rather his is a call for a truly pluralistic society. For Ramadan, Europe is in the midst of an identity crisis as Muslim Europeans become more visible. The challenge will be to resist homogenizing European identity to exclude Muslims. Thus, in Ramadan’s assessment, the impetus for action falls on both sides.

Ramadan is important as a Muslim intellectual voice in the West who understands the experiences of Muslim Westerners and the need for pluralistic societies that recognize and accept the differences of its members. A writer like Christopher Caldwell would be deeply troubled by Ramadan’s approach to the issue of Muslim Europeans because while Ramadan does tell Muslims to be committed members of their nations, he argues that it is their right to practice their faith freely and to be seen as equal participants.

Ramadan is not afraid of controversy or criticism as he thinks it is the responsibility of every citizen to critique anything that goes against universal ideals.  Because of his call, he is banned from Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Libya for being highly critical of the governments for how they treat their citizens. He has also been denied visas many times from France and Belgium for his asserting that Muslim Europeans, like fellow citizens should be allowed to practice their faith in line with the universalistic ideals of European nations. For example, he has been critical of the French ban of the headscarf in schools and asserts that Muslim French have the right to use legal means to contest the law. He also voiced concern over the recent minaret ban in Switzerland.These bans extend beyond the Middle East and Europe to include the United States. In 2004, after being offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, his visa was revoked.

Despite the controversy, Ramadan continues to demand that Western nations live by their universalist principles and for Muslim Westerners to embody the core values of their faith in order to live with their fellow citizens.

What do you know about Ramadan? Have you read any of his writing? What do you think of his ideas?  Please share your comments below.

7 thoughts on “Tariq Ramadan’s “What I Believe”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to extract information and ideas from Ramadan’s book, rather than relying solely on media caricatures. Engaging with his work- rather than media mischaracterizations, character attacks, and misinformation campaigns – really exeplifies a willingness to reach a better understanding of where he stands. And I heartily commend you for that.

    I’d like to note that Ramadan is now a Professor at Oxford. He has also been listed on the TIME 100. He was consulted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the London terrorist attacks. His contributions to society overwhelmingly outweigh the largely ad hominem and contemptible attacks thrown against him.

    The same can’t be said of the work you cited by Christopher Caldwell – a AMERICAN columnist and editor of the Weekly Standard. He’s contended that people from Islamic lands have “primitive” cultures – as condescending as any ancient Orientalist. Caldwell’s arguments are Islamophobic and his argument has been noted for promoting “A culture of fear” in The Guardian.

    To be honest, how can anyone who believes in America’s guarantee for religious freedom find it troubling that Muslims have the right to “practice their faith freely and to be seen as equal participants” (i.e. one of the reasons Piligrims migrated to America in the first place?).

    Most Americans would be outraged if you forced a nun to take off her habit (think: hijab) by government decree. Similarly, church groups would not be happy if you prevented the construction of bell towers (think: minaret). So, Europe’s reaction is probably out of line with mainstream America. But, what’s up with Europe then?

    Tariq Ramadan explains what happened in the following article:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/nov/29/swiss-vote-ban-minarets-fear

    Writing such a long response, once again, makes me realize how much you must’ve devoted to writing that peice. So thank you.

    I’d also like to say while I care about the issues you discuss immensely, I don’t think I’ll have the time again to respond in any significant length. But, please do note that I deeply appreciate your work.

  2. Thank you for posting such an interseting article about Tariq Ramadan.

    I deeply think Mr. Tariq for majority of people is a very sincere intelectual, he is a person who chose for himself a mission, a mission of spreading love, knowledge & respect between the nations.

    For everything he said, he try to be fair and express a universal ideals. He is against spreading the atmosphere of fear among people in Europe and everywhere else.

    We all humans have senses and we can feel things sometimes and my opinion is the following:

    I don’t beleive TV,, so whenever I see a debate with Ramadan I feel everbody against him and a battery of tricky questions are ready to attack him with , and he like most of us is just a human being ,after all we all can make mistakes . But what I like about him is the fact he never gives up and still he goes on and on.

    The hard task is not to persuade the west which he is laready part of to revoke the riskof integration of Islam in Geneva or in Europe, the real challenge for Tariq and people like him is how to convince a vast portion of Muslims of Europe to take part in the change and contribute to act actively to a better future for Europe and the world in General.

    My Best Regards

  3. The real challenge before Tariq Ramadan is to educate Europe about the true spirit of Islam as well as to convince the Muslim populace of Europe to take part in the change and inspire them to act actively for a better Europe. Tariq Ramadan has the calibre, the sincerity and the attitude for that.

  4. I just love that Dr. Ramadan is willing to speak truth to power, whether they be Muslim, non-Muslim, European, or Middle Eastern. I pray for that kind of courage and the ability to always be consistent in the face of heavy criticism. I’ve seen too many leaders who think ‘tribally’ or bow or gravitate to power. Truly admirable.

  5. This is a wonderful review on Professor Ramadan’s “what I believe”. Thanks to Reem for this write-up.

    Dr Tariq Ramadan has got some amazing thoughts that fascinated me. Especially the ideas of pluralism is very essential in all the communities. I would emphasize that even in this Muslim community, this perspective is missing at a large scale which should had to be there. People of different ideas, religions, caste, creed are there in this earth, it is the diversity we must acknowledge. and keeping it in mind, we should move together for making this world a good place.

    At the same time, Professor Ramadan always emphasizes in spiritual intelligence and intelligent spirituality. This is really essential for any believer, from any belief. What I realized from his other write-ups, we really need hold strong voice against all odds of our communities. No matter who is that or how is that. When we will practice to speak against the wrong-doing of the community and national leaders, we will be serving better by them.

    In the end, we all need a better place for living on earth, providing a better earth to our next generation.