By Abu Muhammad
In ‘What I Believe’, Dr Tariq Ramadan’s latest book, he endeavours to clarify some of the misunderstood positions he holds. It is aimed at ordinary people, journalists, politicians, social workers, teachers and others, who do not have the time or perhaps sometimes the capacity to grasp the academic and philosophical language he employs in his writings. This book sets out to clarify the basic ideas which he has been advocating for more than twenty years.
This is long overdue. I have personally come across many people who attack and call Dr Ramadan and others of having deviant opinions and hence label him and the others like him of being deviant. When asked if they have read his works, the response almost always is in the negative.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Dr Ramadan, we should not let others decide our opinion of him without trying to analyse for ourselves his words from his writings. From an intellectual perspective this attitude is dishonest and lacks integrity. If one feels at ease with himself at calling other Muslims deviants, one should do so once they have read his writings (if one feels that is the right thing to do).
This is the reason why he explains he has authored this particular book, “Rather than entering my name in a web search engine (and coming up with the million links that mainly report what others have written about me) or being content with the so-called free virtual encyclopedias that are in fact so biased (like Wikipedia, where the factual errors and partisan readings are astounding), I give readers this opportunity to read me in the original and simply get direct access to my thought.”
He also tackles the accusation against him of practicing doublespeak. He explains, “doublespeak consists in saying one thing in front of an audience to ﬂatter or mislead them, and something else, different in content, elsewhere, to a different audience or in a different language. Adapting one’s level of speech to one’s audience, or adapting the nature of one’s references, is not doublespeak. When addressing my students I use elevated language with philosophical references that they can understand; when speaking before social protagonists or manual labourers, I also use appropriate speech and illustrations; and if I speak to Muslims, my language and references also take into account their level of discourse and their universe of understanding. This is a necessary pedagogy. To avoid doublespeak, what matters is that the substance of the discourse does not change.”
This is in fact the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. He also deals with plethora of other issues such as identity, culture, religion, participation, etc. Therefore, those who are quick to label him as a deviant and with other nefarious labels should hold their tongue and read what he has to say.
He is not trying to change Islam when he talks about reform in his previous book, Radical Reform. He wishes to clarify that it is our understanding that needs to change. He says, many of our scholars have a cultural projection of Islam – meaning that they read the text with a preconceived understanding of a given verse and hadith and which is why we have in the canon of law many rulings that seem to be biased against a particular group in the community, i.e. women.
This is very important for us to comprehend. It is true that we should not approach the Qur’an with preconceived ideas and theories in order to prove and support them. However, despite every effort we exert to be objective, our understanding of the Qur’an is bound to be influenced by our own experiences. This cannot be avoided. This is what, according to Dr Ramadan has been happening over the centuries. That is why we need to reform our understanding of the texts that caters for the need and requirements of our time and context.
This is not an easy task but one that is complex and will raise much opposition since people are always comfortable with what they have been accustomed to, and change makes them scared and uncomfortable. To do this, he explains, we need experts from all fields, psychologists, scientists, politicians, teachers, to advise and work with Islamic jurists (fuqaha) to apply the texts in the current context and world – which have different needs and expectations from earlier generations.
Thus he is not changing Islam or reforming it, it is reforming our understanding, our interpretations of the principles and texts.