Tariq Ramadan Fighting Muslim Malaise

Professor Yameen Zubairi, Ph.D. Maryland USA

(Tariq Ramadan is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University. He is the son of Said Ramadn the grandson of Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. In 2004, Ramadan accepted the tenured position of Professor of Religion, at the University of Notre Dame in theUS. Since then he has struggled to get a visa to come to the US which was repeatedly denied by the State Department using Patriot act provisions. Several courts on representation by ACLU denied the appeal “. On July 17, 2009, the US federal appeals court reversed the ruling of the lower district court. On January 20, 2010, after more than five years of waiting, the State Department has decided, in a document signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to lift the ban from entering the United States. Ramadan is now in the US addressing various organizations.He is a creative contributor to the identity issues if Muslims in the West)

Tariq Ramadan is a better spokesman on behalf of Western Muslims than the herd of clergy and marginal scholars with which our culture is inundated. In the West, Islamic scholarship has become the study of the obvious The story is similar among the experts of Pakistan, Middle East and Afghanistan. Wawro calls one influential party of these experts as “sorcerer’s apprentice” and narrates how CIA director was hoodwinked, thanks to these experts, by a fake Mujaheddin camp in Islamabad (Quicksand-Penguin 2010). Having met his father in Karachi in the fifties I was curiously interested in listening to Ramadan in Georgetown University (4/12/10) which has become a bastion of the axiom enunciated by Gunnar Myrdal “we study the people we rule”. Unlike our many pseudo-experts, Ramadan is well-read, articulate in expression and vigilant of questioner’s traps. He is one of our “Wandering Derveshes” whose sincere desire to help our despondent nation does not embrace a viable solution. A problem may be what Keynes pointed out, “the difficulty lays not in the new ideas but in escaping from the old ones.” He constantly delves into Arabic terminology seeking to get a rabbit out of his hat. Absorbed in his eloquence and rhetoric the audience waits anxiously, mostly in vain. For me a pleasant surprise was that unlike many, Ramadan following the footsteps of his father still hangs on to his soul. I think he is sincere, otherwise a rare commodity.

Challenging the West:

Although he does not extract the panacea from the edifice of Islam, he does rather cleverly put the West on the spot challenging them to live up to their standards of democracy and free speech, example being the issue of Minarets in Switzerland or the ban on his entrance to the US- “ you cannot change your constitution to prevent a professor from coming to the US.”. Dealing with the West on their own turf is the strongest aspect of Ramadan’s scholarship . He provides a great service to the crying Muslims as well as to those Westerners who have the audacity to understand Muslims. He however does not fully meet the challenges offered by Western scholars driven mostly by their own interests.. These were somewhat raised by his host and stage colleague Dr. Esposito. Esposito wants the classic Islamic traditions to deal with modern challenges of ritualism, dogma and religious extremism particularly in politics. It was ironic to note in Esposito’s wish-list that he places the burden of dealing with oppressive regimes in the Muslim world on the victims of oppression themselves. It is to note that practically not a single oppressive regime exists without Western support. Mother of all oppressions is the group of money-laundering financial institutions in Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Cayman Island thoroughly protected by the West. Ramadan himself, espousing the Western value of “free speech”, complained that he has been banned from Egypt which to note, is a strongly affiliated ally of the US.

Ramadan is obviously influenced by Islam’s alkalam scholars and is quite suitable to present Islam’s fables to the world. He is as a whole quite well-versed in the knowledge of Islam’s non-scientific heritage and its tall human values. Like other scholars of Islam however, he suffers from a model deficit. In the last 200 years the only model that has the evidence of some success for Muslim reform is that of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of British India. The only one. Ramadan does emphasize the importance of education, as did Khan, in his writings but presents eloquently in the form of sermons not measures. His urgings have the potential of panning out in a few hundred years. Like many in liberal arts, Ramadan needs to study Scientific Method a bit more carefully, a strong point of Sir Syed.. No one will give a hoot to Western philosophy and pretensions of values if there was not dramatic uplift of its society owing to scientific and technological development.

Muslims also have responsibility. Similar to other well-wishers of Islam Tariq does not land on the basic epistemic problems of Muslim communities. Why are they so immune to Islamic teachings? Why are their regimes so corrupt, so underdeveloped? Why are they so alienated from knowledge, scientific research and scholarship? Why do they by and large, hesitate to participate in Western academic institutions including those of science and knowledge?

What is not the basic problem of Muslims

Instead of addressing the problems of Muslim communities we press on selling Islam and the Prophet and often commit an over-kill. Ramadan himself, in his book on the Prophet, promises to modernize the tradition but fails to offer the methodology. It is to be realized that credibility of Islam as a viable source of a productive civilization is already established, not only by us but by others. It does not need our scholars’ help; thank you very much. Carlyle boldly recognized this in his Hero as a Prophet. He declared his admiration of our Prophet with a passionate championship of Muhammad as a Hegelian agent of reform, extolling his sincerity and commenting “how one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades.” No one did a better job than Harvard’s George Sarton in early 20th century, in establishing the glory of Muslim science. UNESCO published a whole treatise on Islamic Technology ( al-Hassan & Hill, 86). Anne Marie Schimmel has done excellent scholarly work in recent times presenting the achievements of Muslim civilization.. There are hundreds of others that are too many to mention here. The point is that establishing the glory of Islam or the nobility of Prophet is now a non-issue and spending time on it to explain the current malaise of Muslims is admission of scholarly ineptitude and lack of creative expression. It would not impress the people who have been brain-washed by the current failure of Muslim communities to develop themselves and to achieve a dignified living. Not one of more than 50 countries, some richer than many in the world is considered a developed country by modern standards. This failure is not because Muslims are not impressed with Islam and the Prophet. Ramadan is also unnecessarily defensive. It is encouraging that Ramadan wants to interact with the West in a meaningful way and more than anyone the US provides ample opportunity to do so. Americans are unique in being advanced, educated, professional and more than any other factor, by and large fair and generous. They want to improve the standards of others including Muslims. They want to teach and help us for whom they have the patience and resources. Muslims have not taken full advantage of this opportunity that has revolutionized Europe and lately China and India. Our scholars, particularly those who have refused to educate themselves or who have avoided hard subjects to specialize in the US, can make a difference by being changing their habits.

In The Box

Ramadan is knowledgeable and has acquired the skills of logic necessary to present a case or scenario in favor of the Muslims. He just needs to get out of the box in which all of our scholars are currently trapped. While we need to participate and do so fully in Western institutions we need to present our case in our own framework of interests. With more economic resources than any other community on their hand, why do Muslim nations not have a sophisticated system of research grants and endowment for Muslim causes, for scholars? Presently, sporadic Muslim philanthropy serves the interests of others including those of intelligence agencies often through Muslim hands lacking scholarship or sincerity or both.. May I suggest we study the like of system of NIH, not only to learn genuine grantsmanship but to know the subject at hand?


There are genuine and multifarious reasons for the lack of Muslim integration into indigenous cultures that need to be scientifically not emotionally analyzed and understood. Some need to be alleviated. There is a reason although not justification that American Indians and Blacks could not integrate and Jews partially could in the American culture. Muslims are not the first to struggle against barriers of integration. But we need to understand the society we live in, participate in the debates and discussions actively and not allow our incompetents to represent us.

In a discussion in Washington Post recently led by David Waters on the subject of Rev. Graham’s crusade against Islam where he called Islam an “evil and wicked religion”, I wrote the following piece published in the Post.(5/5/10). I present this as an example of the activity and argument our entire nation needs to present to indicate the obstacles in our efforts to integrate with the American society

“In all major religions there have been wicked people exploiting their religion for their own interests. Surely Mr. Graham knows about Martin Luther’s movement against them. Hitler wrote “I am doing God’s work”; so was the work of Milosevic in the massacre of Bosnian Muslims and others in the massacre of Sabra and Shattila. Does it take less than a wicked man to abuse choir boys? We can all pick our bones of hatred from the morass of humanity. I suggest Graham read Carlyle and Sarton. Not a single oppressive Muslim country exists on its own without the sponsorship of the Western Christians and not a single Western bank including those of Switzerland and Cayman Island exists without Muslim money. The chaos in Muslim lands is mostly because of the economic strife the West creates everyday. “

In all fairness, Ramadan advocates integration but again offers no model. There certainly are shortcomings in Muslim attitude that discourages integration. The role of religious leaders is an important factor. Most of these leaders are not educated in the US, have little local experience or background to assess the needs of the community and are mostly addressing the issues that facilitate the matters of their bread and butter. They do not personally participate in American institutions; most are not capable. It is in their material interests to discourage integration. The problems with the Muslim scholars have already been discussed above. The Muslim community would also be better off if it gives up on receiving any genuine help from Muslim countries. Their inferiority complex persuades them to appease the noise makers and opportunists.

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