Tariq Ramadan’s Silent Revolution

When I first arrived at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, I must confess that I was somewhat disappointed. Given the customary brouhaha preceding a Muslim academic’s (or scholar’s) arrival, I’d expected at the very least a picket (even if it consisted solely of the distinguished Ameer Ali).

You can imagine my further disappointment when the most controversial things Tariq Ramadan, the source of the controversy, said, would be more likely to offend some Muslim sensibilities than the non-Muslims in attendance. In fact, Ramadan, who is an incredibly engaging and charismatic speaker, presented his very sensible points softly but with clear conviction. There was absolutely nothing that might require monitoring by authorities.

Admittedly, the Brisbane conference on the “challenges and opportunities” of Islam in Australia was my first true introduction to Ramadan and his thesis. I understood the following: he is a “reformist”; he believes Muslims need to try harder to reconcile their beliefs with those surrounding them in their particular Western nation; he is dubbed Islam’s Martin Luther; he lacks mainstream appeal; he is more successful in Europe than Australia and the US.

Most of this was confirmed in his keynote speech. Ramadan covered a lot of material, but not before addressing the news reports circulating prior to his arrival. He was disappointed that the Australian media was adopting such an exaggerated fear-mongering stance: focusing on his grandfather, Hassan al Banna (founder of Egypt’s the Muslim Brotherhood) and the revocation of his US visa a couple of years ago, which prevented him from taking up a post at the University of Notre Dame. He called these reports “unacceptable” and noted that there were several factual mistakes in the articles he read (four in one, eleven in another); apparently journalists had visited his website and attributed things to him that Tariq Ali had said (fair enough: having the same first name could confuse even the most intelligent of our species).

Ramadan’s discussion centred on citizenship and a sense of belonging. He acknowledged the practical challenges facing pluralistic societies, and also for Muslims in terms of their faith. He suggests that we are lacking discourse on spirituality and universal ethics (politics, etc). He wants to see more Muslims taking up academic positions, writing literature, learning and teaching Islam within their Western nations and, overall, participating socially and politically. He advocates commonality — in other words, send your children to state schools and provide strong supplementary guidance at home. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and struggled to remember the last time I was so interested and, at times, moved, by what a Muslim scholar had to impart.

Ramadan does not hold back in his critical assessment of the issues plaguing Muslims today. While I took many notes, rather than write them all up (I was told the audio of Ramadan’s speech would eventually be available online), I’ll set out his closing remarks, which reflect his essential arguments. Ramadan concluded with the following:

– Shed the ‘victim mentality’; psychological isolation is what caused the UK bombers to undertake their crimes.
– Rid yourself of the minority mindset; there is no minority citizenship, the law applies equally to all and Muslims are not second-class citizens.
– Women have to be more involved practically in society.
– Social and economic problems should not be “Islamicised” and “culturalised”. Deal with these problems in their appropriate social and political realms. While there are overlapping realities (ghettos), many of these issues are simply not Islamic or cultural.
– Move from integration to contribution.
– Move from contribution to culture.
– Do not focus on the ones who are destroying, focus on the ones who are building.

All of this, Ramadan argues, will be the “silent revolution” of Muslims in the West.