Tariq Ramadan, formerly a banned scholar, on radically reforming Islam

Tariq Ramadan, a world-renowned Swiss Islamic scholar, is currently making his first appearance in the U.S. since the State Department barred him from entering the U.S. in 2004. On Monday, he spoke at Georgetown University in Gaston Hall along with School of Foreign Service Professor John Esposito about the need for the radical reform in Islam.

Ramadan’s visa was revoked six years ago as he was about to travel to the U.S. to become a professor at the University of Notre Dame. The State Department cited small donations Ramadan made to a pro-Palestinian group in from 1998 to 2002 which was suspected of giving money to Hamas, a group that made the State Department terrorist list in 2003.

In Gaston, Ramadan talked about the theory driving his recent work, that Islam needs “radical reform.” Speaking animatedly and rapidly on the stage from which, three years earlier, he had spoken by satellite because of his travel ban, he said that Muslims should reject the notion that tradition is immovable and that sacred texts cannot be reinterpreted in a contemporary context.

“We need a radical reform in the way we deal with [religious] texts in the context of our time,” he said, adding that while there is an impulse for Muslims to adapt interpretation of sacred texts to the changing world, Muslims also “need to come back with a more approach in light of the text to transform the world.”

“Tradition is moving,” he said. “Show me one tradition that isn’t moving. It doesn’t exist.”

Esposito asked Ramadan to clarify his use of the word “radical.”

“It’ll make a great headline,” Esposito joked. “Tariq Ramadan advocates for radical reform of Islam at Georgetown University. And then we’re in trouble.”

Laughing, Ramadan said he was seeking an “intellectual revolution.”

“This is radical in that I am challenging … the type of authority tradition has in all fields,” he said. “You will see that even sharia is built through human interpretation. We are speaking about immutable principles, but those [only] help you construct the framework, you still construct it.”

In his remarks, Esposito compared Islamic reformers like Ramadan to the Catholic vanguard whose views, which were once viewed negatively, became mainstream belief and practice after Vatican II.

“[The question is] do you realize sacred texts like the Quran are meant to be interpreted over and over again, or do you buy into the idea that interpretations that were made in the past at a classical period are fixed?”

During the question and answer period, Ramadan answered audience questions about the problem of reforming Islam in autocratic countries and about mistreatment of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.

“I really respect what you’re trying to do, but I think that you have an obligation to minorities in Muslim-majority countries who are discriminated against,” one audience member said, adding that he does not “hear enough voices” speaking out against discrimination.

Ramadan responded with a comment that criticized Western media.

“I cannot say that enough is done and said. But you have to listen, because there are Muslim scholars who are speaking out against discrimination all the time. In this country, the story goes, and you say, ‘You don’t say enough.’ Well, I say it every day.”

The Q & A session peaked when a man who identified himself as a reporter asked Ramdan about his theory with open condescension.

“You’ve talked about radical reform. Well, here in the West, we press for examples. So I’m gonna press you for an example,” he said. He asked how Ramadan would apply his theory of transformed religion to the problem of the forced marriage of very young girls in some Muslim-majority countries.

“How would your radical reform work? How do you apply your logic to any problem if it’s not this problem? We in the West like our examples up front,” he continued.

The moderator interrupted to tell the man that reporters could ask questions at a separate press conference after the event, but Ramadan responded anyway.

“What I’m talking about, as you’re suggesting, it should have application. What I’m trying to say here is, think about the context … I would push, first, for a very clear principle. Forced marriage—it’s un-Islamic. Unethical. That’s without question. How do you say that in light of the context? In light of the context, we push for a woman’s right to marry when she has the agency to decide to.”

His answer was met with applause, and it was not the only statement he made that was as well received. When an audience member said he had seen dueling forms of religious destruction—minaret bans in Switzerland, French bans on the hijab, and the destruction of Christian churches in the Middle East, Ramadan gave another response that drew applause.

“I don’t need context here. Just the principles. Anything that has to do with the churches or the symbols of other religions, they should be respected. End of discussion,” he said. To do otherwise, he continued, and to ban other viewpoints, is “acting against the very spirit of the Swiss Constitution, the French Constitution, and the American Constitution, just because we are scared.”

This post originally said that Ramadan spoke via satellite six years ago. It was actually three years ago.

7 Comments on “Tariq Ramadan, formerly a banned scholar, on radically reforming Islam

  1. Pingback: Tariq Ramadan on radically reforming Islam : Iqra.ca

  2. What a great speaker to bring to Georgetown!!! By the way, that reporter was not operating under journalist protocol – clearly, journalists should wait until the press conference to ask questions and leave the Q&A time to members of the Georgetown community. Not to mention his comment “We in the West…” – oh, thanks for speaking on my behalf, dickwad.

    PS Fix typo
    “How would your radical reform work? How do you apple your logic to any problem if it’s not this problem? We in the West like our examples up front,” he continued.

  3. Ramadan is a dishonest but slick and urbane propagandist for Islam. Here is what Islam says about non-Moslems:
    –The unbelievers are your inveterate enemy. (4:101)
    — Mohammed is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. (48:29).
    — Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends. (5:51)
    — Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme. (8:40)
    — Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme. (2:193)
    — “You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, ‘O ‘Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.’ ”
    — “I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah…”
    — “Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, …”
    The most popular manual of sharia law states unequivocally: “Jihad means to make war on non-Muslims”!!!
    Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) — jurist, renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist — summarized the consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:

    “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. … The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. … Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”

    Ayatollah Khomeini, the most important Moslem leader of the 20th Century, said:
    “Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter their armies…. Islam says: whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! the sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other Koranic psalms and Hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”

    Abul Maududi, the most widely read and respected Islamic thinker of the 20th Century, said: “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State.” AND “The goal of Islam is to rule the entire world and submit all of mankind to the faith of Islam. Any nation or power that gets in the way of that goal, Islam will fight and destroy.”

    Seyyid Qutb (Ideologist and theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded by Ramadan’s grandfather. Next to Maududi and Khomeini, Qutb was the most influential Moslem of the 20th Century.)
    “It is the duty of Islam to annihilate all such systems (i.e. other societies) as they are obstacles in the way of universal freedom.” AND “The reason(s) for jihad … is to establish God’s authority in the earth….” AND “Jihad in Islam is simply a name for striving to make this system of life dominant in the world.”

    You won’t hear any of this from Ramadan because he does not want you to know about it.

  4. What a brilliant scholar! This is what we are expecting from Muslim scholars; being practical in the contemporary world. Where scholars would condemn dictatorships in the Muslim majority countries(all those ruthless kings and presidents for life), stand against religious discrimination and encourage extensive debate on the Sharia.

    Keep up the good work Professor Tariq Ramadan.

    Abu A’la Maududi, Sayyid Qutb and Khomeini do not represent Muslims….so get a life! They are scholars and they make their own opinions which does not in any way represent over a billion Muslims.

  5. Pingback: Why Forced Marriage is Un-Islamic « Cjaye57’s Weblog

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