Professor Tariq Ramadan on: ‘Living as British Muslims in the 21 st Century’ 15t h November 2007, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London
This presentation is brought to you by The Radical Middle Way , Save the Southwark Partnership, and Southwark Muslim Forum
[Introduction by Abdul- Rehman] Professor Tariq Ramadan really requires no introduction, he holds an MA in Philosophy and French Literature, a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva, and in Cairo, Egypt, and he received one to one training in Classical Islamic Scholarship at Al-Azhar University. He’s a Professor of Islamic Studies, a noted speaker, intellectual Scholar; currently the senior research fellow at St. Anthony’s College in Oxford, has an affiliation with Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan and the Lokahi Foundation. He has also been a visiting Professor in charge of identity and citizenship at Erasmus University in Holland. His writing and lectures have contributed substantially to the debate on the issue of Islam and Muslims in the West and the Muslim revival and Islamic revival in the world. His most recent book is in the footsteps of the Prophet. Tariq Ramadan is one of those remarkable individuals who have really shaped the discourse on Islam and Muslims, not just here in the UK but truly around the world. So without any further ado, I would like to invite and welcome, Professor Tariq Ramadan.
[Professor Tariq Ramadan takes to the floor]
[Opening du’ā] Al-Salām ‘alaykum Sisters and brothers, I am happy to be here this evening, especially after the three first presentations, dealing with the local dimension of the Muslim presence, like what you are trying to do here with the Muslim Forum; it’s part of what I want to deal with here tonight and the whole global picture of dealing with our society in Britain, and of course about the creative dimensions that you’re promoting through your work. Brother Peter Saunders and I think this is also part of the way we have to deal with being Muslim in the 21st Century. As I think it’s important to have time for questions and answers, I will try to keep it as short as possible and to just highlight some of the points I wanted to make this evening.
I have been thinking about being Muslim in the 21st Century and facing challenges not only here in the West but also in the Islāmic majority countries and for years when I was in Egypt and sitting with scholars for hours and hours, going through all the Islamic Sciences,going from the ‘Ulūm AlQur’ān and ‘Ulūm al-Hadīth and Fiqh, which I started to specialise in. The point was always clear – that we have this very important and deep legacy, but we also face current challenges and must find a way. We rely on the past and also great Scholars, but we have challenges, and it’s up to us to try and find a way towards faithfulness. The first thing that became clear for me, having spent hours with Scholars, the Muslim Community and the surrounding society, is that we have a great problem of knowledge, but also terminology; the way in which we translate Arabic referencesand Qur’ānic references. Translation is not just about the translation of words, but also the multi-dimensional reality, when it comes to the religious references, the spiritual dimension, and also the way we are dealing with the surrounding society. Translation isn’t just one language to another; it’s the concepts within the language that help us understand Islam. For an Arabic audience, or even an English audience, a French audience – the way we translate is conveying the way we understand. And it’s clear that becausewe don’t always know how to deal with all the pressures, we produce something that is a very reductive way to translate words and terminology. I think the way we translate the concept of Islām is wrong, as well as the interconnections and the priorities. I really think that if there is a challenge for us in the 21st Century, it’s something that must come not only from Scholars, but every single man and woman; our religion is not a religion of elites; it’s the religion of every single mind and every single heart. It’s to come back to the understanding of the terminologies, the objectives and the priorities – the higher objectives of our religion. Why are we here? What do we want to achieve? What do we want to achieve in this world and in Britain? In fact it’s to come back to our roots, not only to tell people about what Islām is not, but what Islām is about: the multiple dimensions. Of all the problems we face – radicalisation, isolation, integration – are part of a psychological crisis becauseof the lack of knowledge and the lack of deep understanding of our religion. The whole processof this religion is about liberation from all kinds of alienation. And the first enemy is your own ego. The second is that you view the world from your own personal viewpoint – which is a lack of humility. The first sin in Islām is not a mistake, it’s a state of mind; a state of heart. It’s arrogance. We need to come to this spiritual dimension for us to be able to contribute to our society and spread what the Prophet (saw) was spreading ‘ifshū Al-Salam beynakum’ spread peace between you and the people and everywhere. At the end of the day, the highest objective of Islām is peace, and Islām there is salām and istislām. But there are conditions to get that inner peace, social peace, collective peace – starting with the peace within; to be at peace with Him, to be at peace with our own selves, and then to be at peace with the people around us. The first challenge is this one. It’s really this introspection that we need today. To come to deep faith from a very critical understanding of our religion; the concepts we are using, the objectives we are trying to achieve, and what we have to contribute in our societies. Having said that, we are always speaking about the social dimensions and what we have to promote, but we all know that the priority is the spiritual dimension.
I was born in Europe; I went back to my country of origin, Egypt, just to be far from the world and close to knowledge, which is what I needed. I needed this, and I know how many, many young Muslims need exactly the same. Sometimes they feel lost in this Universe of materialistic dimensions, consumerism and lost identities – I went through all this; not being representative of what was happening at a grass roots level. Why? BecauseI came from a family where knowledge was everywhere. I was born in a family where there were no walls; everything was books – books everywhere, and still, books were nothing if you didn’t have this psychological strength that came from spiritual peace. This is the way I understood it and this is why I went back to get this knowledge and understanding. And now when I’m in Europe I’m dealing with the Communities, travelling around everywhere and the same spiritual crisis, psychological disturbances and questions are there. The same. The younger generations are asking us, ‘how do we deal with this?’ and then we have to face the reality of the first main crisis, ‘How to be a Muslim in the 21st Century.’ We need to think about how to transmit the spiritual messageof our religion, how to spread peace and confidence and trust in our societies. The starting point is confidence. And confidence is what? It’s not just to not be scared of the people first, but it’s also a matter of trusting Him in a spiritual sense: tawwakul ‘alā Allah. It’s to know that if he can do it, you can do it, and at the end of the day, you have to do whatever you can. For the Muslims living in our communities in the UK, it’s about not waiting for someone to come with the answers to our questions; it’s about asking questions but saying we have the knowledge and the skills and the people who are able to respond to our questions. We have to do what we have to do, to face up to the challenges of our time. We need to look at the past – for example what you said about the Muslim contribution in Europe is essential – but there are two ways to deal with the past, one is to rely on the past and tell ourselves how great we were. The other way is to look at the past and use it to reconcile with ourselves today. The past is not an excuse for our current failures. It should be something inspiring what we have to do, and this is confidence. This is something that today, is a challenge everywhere within European and Western societies. So we have to ask ourselves, how can we do that? It’s not only through national discourses– these lectures are very important – but at the end of the day it’s a daily process. To deal with the communities, deal with the people, listen to their questions. You showed us the photographs that were representative of our society in Britain, and I think there are many people working at the grassroots level, who are very anonymous. They’re not here to speak, but there are people who speak too much and don’t do enough. You mentioned Sharifa and how she has been working for years with the Muslim Youth Helpline, and I have been there. I’ve listened to people who say that the problems are deep. The problems aren’t only about fatwa’s, this is halāl, that isn’t halāl – it’s not like this. People don’t want to feel guilty after asking their questions; they want to be heard and the problem is we are building a community on the defensive, obsessedwith ‘norms’ and forgetting meanings. We have to reconcile ourselves with meanings, and through those meanings, we can understand what is meant by ‘norms’. We have norms without meanings, and meanings without the right norms. This is the first challenge for Muslims in the 21st Century, and then we have the pressure of radicalisation and terrorism. We are so under pressure that we become defensive, when the Islāmic discourse should be about responding to questions from people who are already judgemental. This is the liberation that is needed now. We need to say that we are going to answer the legitimate questions of the people around us becausethey are legitimate questions – of course they are. When people look at the Muslim communities and what they see on television in their living rooms every day about violence and discrimination against women, they do ask legitimate questions. But we
have to try and liberate ourselves of this pressure to come forward with a deep, spiritual and psychological message,with which we are able to say what we stand for and what we want. We need to be able to deal with this transmission of the values that are promoted by our religion. We don’t speak enough about love, or learning to love. When you come to the Islāmic Message,you need to attain peace, but to get peace is to learn to love. It’s not enough to love your father or mother; there is one way to love them but you have to learn to love them more. You follow in the footsteps of the Prophet and you hear about him – you say sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – but the words are not enough. You have to come back to yourself and ask ‘is he dear to my heart?’ Am I missing him? Am I following him? Becausein the Qur’an, the connection between love and him and even God, is referred to through a comparison of the way you can love your fathers and mothers, your relatives, becausethis is something which is quite natural. But from natural it has to become spiritual. And the difference between a natural love and a spiritual love is that the spiritual love is a constant exercise – deeper and deeper and deeper. And this is something that is really, really important. When someone had a problem with this father, the Prophet said ‘anta wa māluk li abik - You and all your money belong to your father’. It’s a spiritual journey to love your father and mother – it’s not easy. It’s as difficult as it is to come to your spiritual meaning. And this is why we have to promote all of this – it’s essential in our daily religion. So when we speak about spirituality in our daily life, and when we speak about love, we speak about brotherhood. When Muslims are in their community they are always speaking about brotherhood. But it is one thing to speak about brotherhood, and it’s another to experience brotherhood. Sometimes when people listen to me, they think it’s a modern way to speak about brotherhood. In Nawawi, the Ahādīth speak about the Prophet (saw) having said ‘you will not complete your faith as long as you don’t love for your brother what you love for yourself- La yu’minu ahadukum hata yuhib li akhihi ma yuhibu li nafsihi . He also mentioned that the meaning was for your brother in humanity , Al-Akhuwa Al-Insāniya means not only your brothers and sisters in Islām. You have to spread this beyond the community. It’s a personal messageof love, not a community messageof love merely saying ‘we love each other’ inside and not outside. You may dislike what your brother or sister in humanity is doing but you have to love who she is and who he is. Becausebeyond everything he or she is doing, he or she are signs of God, in front of you. You may not like what Einstein was saying when he denied God, but in his mind you can see a powerful messageof God, becausehe was so bright and contributing to our humanity. These are challenges today. And it’s not far from our daily life – it’s how to be a British Muslim. It’s the way to be a British Muslim – the way we deal with spirituality, the way we deal with love, and with brotherhood. And to be able to liberate ourselves from this defensive attitude and come to a more peaceful, open attitude out of our messageof Islām. The last point of this positive messageof Islām is to contribute. I’m sorry, but I’m no longer speaking about integration. I speak about integration to deny integration becauseintegration is a successwhen we stop talking about it. You stop talking about integration; it means that we are beyond something. The most important thing of the picture that we saw is that every man and woman is giving something to his or her community. The central word is contribution. Li tukūnū shuhadā’ ‘alā Al-Nās in order for you to bear witness to your messagein front of people, this
is what you have to do; a witness gives something. It could be a question, it could be a gift, and he or she gives something to the society.
At the end of the day, the future of Britain, the future of our Western Societies, are all one society of the same hopes the same dreams. What we want is peace, justice, human dignity, we want to be treated with dignity, and this is what we all want. And the point is to ask ourselves what we are doing to contribute to the future of our society. So I should not accept someone pushing me to be a potential suspect every time, no. It’s to be free, it’s to be a citizen, it’s to struggle for our rights, and to be able to say that what we want is to be treated with respect, and we will be treating others with respect becausethis is all part of the Islāmic Message. This is the starting point of this challenge is a state of mind; it’s building an attitude, confidence, spirituality, giving to people. ‘I may disagree with what you are doing but I will respect who you are and I will give to this society.’ We need to be able to read our tradition and add to this tradition things that were possible to be thought of in previous times becausepeople weren’t dealing with the same challenges. This is our contribution, not only to our societies, but to all the Islāmic traditions. We have to come with new ideas and be creative, we have to come with new understandings when it comes to new challenges. We cannot sit here and say we’re not imitators, but at the end of the day, we imitate. And we don’t come with something that’s a new dimension. Let me give you an example, for the last few months, I’ve been working on Islāmic ethics. And just before this I wrote a book on the Prophet’s (saw) life and I changed my mind on something. For years I was saying that the main concept of Islām and today I know that justice is just a condition of peace. The highest level is inner peace, which we are all struggling to reach. From studying Islāmic ethics and looking at what the scholars have been trying to say for years, we can say that from looking at the world today, don’t we have to reassessthe whole apparatus when it comes to the Islāmic ethical challenges of today? Why is it so important? Becausescholars in the 12th Century – and you mentioned Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali – was one of the greatest scholars that we had. His teacher was Al-Juwaini and after him Al-Shattabi. Al-Shattabi was a European Scholar. And they were trying to deal with the principles of Islām. They way they used to try and extract the principles of Islam was through the texts and to understand only from the texts. If you look at the punishments in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, there are some very strong ones in different areas. By induction, they tried to extract the highest objective of Islam by reading where the Islamic punishments were. For example, they said that if you are dealing with someone who is leaving his or her religion (which at the time was the majority’s understanding of the consequencesof changing religion) the first principle to be protected, is the dīn, your religion. And then you can’t drink alcohol. You can’t go against something that is part of your personal integrity, which is the second principle. The principles they set were in response to the punishments we are given when we betray them. This was done from the 12th century to before the 14th century. It’s clear that today, the principles are still the same. But look at our reality today, and look at all the discussions about global warming. Look at our nature and God’s creations, asking for more respect. We know the Qur’an says this, and that the Prophet (saw) was so, so strong on this; respecting the cats, respecting dogs, fruit trees, respecting nature. One other is respecting water: when making ablution Islam asks that we respect the water and not waste it. This was the main principle of Islām. We live in a time when nature is asking us ‘how are you treating me?’ and this is the Book of God, the Revelation. The World and the Universe is a book, it is in fact the first Revelation.
We are even wrong in the way we translate ayah in Arabic; we say in English that this is a verse, but the word ‘verse’ comes from versification – the Bible has been versified. This is not the Arabic. In the Arabic ayah means signs. And signs is exactly the word we are using for the world. There are signs in the world and there are signs in the book, and there are two books and two revelations if we understand the holistic meaning of Islām. The world is talking to us and telling us we need something that is applied ethics. Where are the Muslims? Where are the western Muslims who should be here answering these questions? It’s not going to come from Africa, it’s not going to come from poor countries – it’s going to come from people living in the more industrialised societies. But we are lacking confidence, so we don’t have the answers to deep questions. And we expect someone to come and to give us this. We have lack of confidence, lack of knowledge, and we’re therefore not dealing with the current, deep questions – which are universal questions. So we have to decide with all these dimensions: the spiritual which is concerned with contribution, and the highest principles of Islām. The conclusion here will be that in Britain, we are part of global messagethat is part of our daily lives. This other discussion is over – are we law abiding? Yes. Are you accepting the British culture? Yes. Are you integrating? Yes. Are you selective with the British culture? Yes – just as every other British citizen is. What is good for me, I will take, what isn’t good for me, I won’t take. Every single British person is doing that. All of these types of discussions are over. Now we have to go with a dynamic, offensive message– offensive in the positive, constructive sense– exacting what we want and what we stand for. One other thing that I keep repeating to every other European citizen, but on one occasion I was saying to people in the United States a few years ago, is that our loyalty to our countries should not be disputed or disrespected; we are loyal to our countries becausewe are loyal to our principles. But we know something that is everywhere within the Islāmic community, as well as what is outside the community: the only true loyalty is critical loyalty. It’s not my community that is right or wrong – this is the beginning of nationalism and fascism, its yes, I am with my community when my community is right. I will be against people of my community if they are wrong. I am for my country and my society, if they are doing right. But I will stand up in the name of my principles if my country is doing something wrong. And the dignity of my society is the ability to say ‘no’ when my society are doing wrong. This is critical loyalty. This is the future. The true meaning of being an active, dynamic citizen – is that I belong to my principles and I am with my country every single time it promotes justice. But I have to stand up for the sake of my country and say, ‘what you are doing is wrong’. It’s not that I want to be against my country, it’s that I want the best for my country. And some Muslims should stand up against other Muslims who stand up and say things which are completely wrong in the name of Islām. To kill innocent people – NO, to say to people when they disagree with you that they are outside the realm of Islām – NO, to show disrespect when trying to show people ‘there is only one way to be, and that is to be like me’ – that is not our message,so we have to stand up and say it. A critical mind and critical loyalty is something which is something that is part of the true integration discourse, which contributes to the better of our society. It’s based on confidence, and this is something we have to promote. It’s based on consistencywhich is really the basis of what I call the critical loyalty. Consistency means that we abide by these principles in ourselves and with others.
And this is something that we are missing. The problems some Muslims have in British Society, and other European Societies, have nothing to do with laws or legislations, but very often with a lack of consistency. We have very nice values, but we’re not implementing them at a local level or social level. And what we have to promote is consistency. Justice means justice for all, equality means equality for all and we have to work for that. But it also means being consistent with our discourse towards what is happening in Islāmic majority countries. Where could we do this? The answer is in what you said at the beginning of this evening: local dimensions, working at the local level, grassroots, being involved with the people, building spaces of trust. Look at our room here – it’s filled with people coming from different backgrounds, religious backgrounds, all in the same area. But we all need to know each other, to build a future together. So it doesn’t mean forgetting who you are to be able to with others. We’re saying, be who you are in order to build trust with the people who are not like you. And this will help us get this confidence and spiritual knowledge, and trust among the people. So the local level is essential – based on confidence and knowledge becausewe need that. But we also need creativity. Not only intellectually speaking, but also religiously speaking. Religion is not only about faith and prayers. It’s about culture, poetry and creativity - in all these dimensions. Here what we need is British Muslims being able to write poetry in English – part of the English literature for today and for tomorrow. To have all these kinds of photographs and things like this – I know some Muslims disagree with this, but the only thing I’m asking these Muslims to say is that there are many views in Islām, and that I’m not less of a Muslim than them. It’s a question of respecting each other. You may think that photographs and movies and music are all harām – that’s fine. I respect you, you respect me. You’re not more Muslim, and I’m not less Muslim. These are views and you should respect that. But on the field, when we’ve accepted that this all has something to do with culture, and creativity and art, let us come together and promote something which is a new senseof belonging through a very dynamic senseof creativity through our communities. Spirituality, love, confidence, brotherhood, critical loyalty, creativity, and still being able to reach out to people at the local level to be able to create these spacesof trust and a new ‘we’ for British citizens for today and for tomorrow. Thank you. [Audience applaud]