Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tariq Ramadan casts his spell on Vancouver: Says we must re-interpret the Koran and other Islamic texts in terms of a better understanding of their deep roots in a revelatory historical event, and of the modern social context

A CZ friend and I attended last night's public talk in Vancouver by the well-known Muslim public intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, on "The Scope and Limits of Reforming Islam". Our friend went in, after having read what the likes of Caroline Fourest and Jihad Watch have to say about Ramadan, in a bit of a rage. I counseled the usefulness of having a calm listen. Our friend was not outraged by the talk like he thought he would be, but I came out unimpressed by the "intellectual" game being played. I was not immediately inspired to blog about it because I did not feel Ramadan dwelled on any of his points long enough to open up any kind of serious discussion of his ideas and the contradictions they would run into if pursued. And having never read his books, I can only offer some general impressions. The Vancouver Sun's terminally-liberal religion reporter, Douglas Todd, had a pre-talk interview and seems to have been happy to take the easy way out of reporting on this controversial figure: accenting Ramadan's communion in the popular hate-George-Bush cult (the Sun website is presently down and I don't have the link).

For those wanting a little more on Ramadan's game, first have a look at Robert Jago's report (with video) An evening with Tariq Ramadan « A dime a dozen political blog and also his backgrounder. As I commented at Robert's blog:
while charming and ingratiating, I didn’t think [Ramadan] said much with a lot of intellectual honesty that one can readily grapple with in the way of a serious discussion. He jumped around quickly trying to touch on a lot of themes in ways that would be appealing to an audience with Muslim and liberal sympathies but he did not develop his points to the extent of revealing how he would tackle difficult contradictions and roadblocks that any argument will face when seriously pursued; he was not honest about the various practical and political problems and conflicts his ideas will face if ever taken up. It’s fine to say, for example, that Islamic scholars must accept the guidance of all the other sciences and sit on the same level with them in developing ethics. But, in practise, how can all sciences always be given the same respect and sit as equals when it comes to developing the ethics of a free society? What does the Koran have to say about a global corporation’s human resources strategies? How can that be balanced equally with all the other sources of knowledge? I have no idea.

As for the question on apostasy - the “right answer” was like everything else he said a very politically-finessed answer: it is wrong to kill the apostate. But as you note, there is much more he might have said. He said nothing about how you should treat the apostate: is he still a member of the family, can he inherit wealth, can he speak to mother, is he now a non-person in the life of the community, dead in anything but a physical sense?

Ramadan’s game is a tentative one, a bit of a tease. Does that make him the trojan horse for Islamization of the West that some of his more fierce critics fear? I have no idea and suspect we can’t really know how this sort of conversation will play out. Conservative Muslims will likely see him as a possible trojan horse too. The conservative-looking Pakistani man sitting next to me listened and watched with a face of intense puzzlement, surprise, even a little shock.
Reflecting a little more, what Ramadan represents but does not seriously discuss is the assumption that Islam has a large role to play in the development of ethics in a modern society. Implying that we all recognize that Western modernity owes a lot, even in its secular trappings, to the Christian tradition (which of course it does), he asks that Islam be given equal respect as a tradition "as complex as Christianity", as we develop in future the ethics of our modern society.

Now I have no doubt that Islam will evolve to continue playing a key role in disciplining Muslims to live their lives in the modern world. One of the facts of modern civil society is that participation is not necessarily hampered, but quite possibly strengthened, by private investments in group cultures that owe much to traditional, old-world ritualism, sometimes some of it even rather violent in nature: the Hells Angels, for better or worse, are a successful adaption to modernity, as are complex religious-ritual movements like those of the Mormons. But, of course, we don't look to such organizations to take a lead in defining a shared conversation that goes on across civil society as a whole. I don't mean to score low blows here. I am not comparing the lives most Muslims live to those of Hells Angels, or Mormons. But if Ramadan wants to argue that the radical violent Jihadists he deplores for constituting a scared and intellectually impoverished reaction to modernity, for being people who are lost and alienated in the modern world, he might take on the task of seriously arguing that the more violent or ritually strict responses to modernity are not in fact the more likely to lead the way to some kind of successful adaptation to modernity (no less if in eternal opposition to it). Modernity, with all its difficult demands on the individual, does require successful individuals to have demanding disciplines. In this light, what to make of Ramadan's vague promises of a new, reformed, intellectually sophisticated Islam capable of taking a lead in modernity's ethical discourse across disciplines? Liberalism, in the Christian world, has not proved to lead to many successful churches over the long run. Why should a liberal Islam succeed?

Here now below are some of my notes paraphrasing Ramadan's talk, which Simon Fraser University President, Michael Stevenson, kicked off with introductory remarks proclaiming that no issue is more important to discuss today than the role of Islam in the West.

Prof. Derryl Maclean then characterized Ramadan as Europe's most influential Islamic reformer, concerned with a foundational Islamic hermeneutics that can participate in the West while remaining faithful to Islam, moving discussion of Islam beyond that of a closed system necessarily in opposition to the West.

Ramadan then began his cagey remarks by mentioning his was not an easy topic, things are very sensitive when talking about Islamic Reform and its Limits.

He called on Muslims for reconciliation with their own tradition, while he called on Westerners to respect Islam as a tradition as complex as Christianity. Whatever that could possibly mean, he did not seriously discuss. This pointing but not seriously discussing was the general nature of the talk.

He said he is representing a Reformist trend but Reform is Islamic so don't be, he addressed Muslims, "doubly alienated" by thinking you have to address your alienation within modernity by then standing outside of Islam in order to reform it.

He represented himself as a scholar of Islamic legal systems and said he is interested in reinterpreting the fundamental sources of the legal system to allow a dialectical process to evolve between texts and (modern) context. He noted that the law is not the primary agent of a creative process, but its end result. So reform must be interested in more than law.

He made some comments on the importance of better translating key Islamic terms. "Islam" he assured us does not mean to the Muslim or Arabic mind quite what the term "submission" evokes in the psychology of the English speaker.

He declared he is not going to change the Islamic texts, only the interpretations. His goal is to reform the minds of Muslims. The Muslim mind that is not evolving is not being faithful to Islam he declared. The problem is not the book but the readers.

However there are limits to "reform". Some Koranic verses are universal and immutable: for example, one can't question the "oneness of God", the ritual for performing the prayers, or for fasting.

But certain verses dealing with social ethics are changeable in light of changing contexts.

However, the Koran has to be read by the knowledgeable. Everyone can read but must be guided by those who truly understand it.

Reform means transforming the world for the better. Jihad, "holy war" really means effort and resistance, a struggle to overcome our violent desires for worldly power and wealth. Jihad is about transforming oneself to love the other. This requires knowledge of the principle of Islam and knowledge of oneself.

Why has reform failed for centuries? We want to transform without knowledge of self and world. And today we have a problem with the human and natural sciences because they have become too huge. No one individual can integrate a knowledge of the sciences with a knowledge of Islam. Nonetheless, we must put Islamic sciences on the same level as all the other science when developing our ethics.

Islamic communities are passive and blame scholars for their inabilities in coming to terms with modernity. But then Muslims are only asking their scholars superficial questions and thus, not surprisingly, getting superficial answers.

There needs to be a shift in the centre of gravity of authority in Islam towards a shared authority of Islamic textual science with all the other sciences. We must recognize that Islamic scholars don't have answers to many questions of modern life.

Ramadan then made the dangerous (to my mind) suggestion that the laws, the Sharia, must be re-read in light of the properly understood ends of Islam (e.g. in bringing peace to the world). Again, the texts must be integrated with the modern context. We have to protect all life. We have to protect peace. At this point, he even made a nod to Michel Serres' call on us to reinterpret our inter-personal struggles by recognizing a third party in our disputes: nature.

We may need a fatwa saying some questions don't need fatwas.

Discrimination against women is not intrinsic to Islam. There has been too much literal reading of the texts with no respect for changing contexts. And there has been a confusion of retrograde cultural contexts where women are brutalized with the religion itself.

Islam can only be protected by confidence. We are scared; creativity is part of our religion.

Halal really calls on us to respect the dignity of animals.

Take wisdom from wherever you find it. If an atheist economist is wise, take wisdom from him.

That's the extent of my not-entirely-complete notes; we then came to the question period which Robert Jago aptly summarized.

Ramadan ended the evening, noting that the audience was about half Muslim, half non-Muslim, with a call on Canadians to recognize the rich potential that Muslims bring and to recognize a new "we", to overcome the old confrontations of "us" and "them". I think this kind of vague appeal to a popular Utopianism typified the evening. First, while most Canadians are willing to recognize that Muslims, as individuals, have a lot to offer, this says nothing about fears many hold that Islam does more to hinder than to advance that contribution. Second, the idea that we can somehow transcend the need to think and politic in terms of "us" and "them" is a dangerous lie. Not only is it a lie in the sense that the Koran is profoundly a book that divides the world into "us" and "them", but there is no book that can ever be written that does not rely on binary oppositions. The fundamental model of all culture is the original scene of human culture, one that must have made an internal opposition between a sacred centre of attention and an alienated periphery. And as soon as the first human scene gave way to another, there developed a necessary opposition between one sacred centre of attention and another.

Binary oppositions are part and parcel of the human condition and no amount of postmodern deconstruction and Utopianism can do away with them. Responsible people will thus recognize this political fact and not call on us to share in a dangerous desire to overcome othering, but to engage in a responsible conversation of how we find the least violent ways to mediate our inevitable and necessary human conflicts. Ramadan offered no serious explanation of how Islam is compatible with modernity. He made clear he does not think Islam should become a private religion occupying one plot of land in civil society. He implied it should be a central part of a conversation going on across a modern civil society. But he did not really explain how what has traditionally been a closed ritual circle, a "total way of life" can become open-ended in the modern liberal spirit. He merely insisted that it must happen. Now maybe my criticism is too much to ask: the future is inherently unpredictable and unknowable. Ramadan's talk was full of wishful thinking, that Islam and the West must come together in an open-minded and respectful spirit. What we will really do with the inevitable conflicts that we now face and will develop in future, ones that force real choices on us having to do with, say, competing calls for individual rights and group claims, no one yet knows. Is Ramadan encouraging us in something that can only end badly? Or is he a positive force, an alternative to the more dogmatic pronouncements on what Islam is and must be? Time will tell, but my very first impression is that Ramadan has yet to show that his ideas will be of more than passing interest. I look for further articulation to better judge their plausibility.


Eowyn said...

In none of Ramadan's words did I find a repudiation of acts against basic human rights, viz: forcing women to wear tents, killing them if they so much as look at some man, etc.

Instead, I see a two-pronged reaction: "I will pay lip service to your Western ideas of rights, while striving to ensure that acting on our Sharia laws takes place anyway."

This is rock-and-a-hard-place. Clash of the Titans. Reason versus inhumanity. Same horse, different jockey.

*sigh* One did hope. (And one continues to hope :)

truepeers said...

No, he did not spend any time actively denouncing any aspects of contemporary Islam, though he alleged Islam is not inherently discriminatory towards women; he vaguely critiqued outmoded cultural norms. He wants Sharia to play some role in the modern world, but what that will be after he and his experts get through re-interpreting it is anyone's guess.

Eowyn said...

"actively denouncing"

Here is the pivotal stand. Reason demands "active" action. Either for, or against.

Not to select reason over obfuscation is to doom the argument to tiresome repetiveness, over and over (not to be redundant). Fish or cut bait. Piss or get off the pot. Choose your pithy metaphor, but all mean the same. Take a stand, and then allow it to evolve.

Dag said...

I'll let others do the talking for now.

Fjordman, "On Tariq Ramadan and Eurabia," Gates of Vienna February 04, 2007.

Tariq Ramadan is perhaps our most dangerous enemy right now. I consider a person such as Mullah Krekar to be an ally. He wants to crush and subdue the West, supports Osama bin Laden and says so openly. It’s the Tariq Ramadans we have to watch out for.


Ramadan was barred from that country in 1995. The ban was eventually lifted.

“We are in favor of integration,” Ramadan says in a recorded speech, “but it is up to us to decide what that means. … I will abide by the laws, but only insofar as the laws don’t force me to do anything against my religion.” A Muslim must be able to practice and teach and “act in the name of his faith.” If any given society should take this right away, he continues, “I will resist and fight that society.”

Robert Spencer addresses Ramadan's taqiyyah:

Ramadan writes in response ot a concerned Canadian: "[I]t is as if the Muslims are always overreacting. Nevertheless, I think that the images from abroad should not mislead us. In Canada, as well as in the US or in Europe, Muslims were reacting very often in a reasonable way and this is a good sign. Millions of Muslims are already showing you that they accept life in secular societies, that they respect the laws and are loyal to their Western countries: Do not be misled by the few who are making noise and shouting.

The first thing Muslism should do is to translate the Arabic words in the right way: kafir does not mean "infidel" or "disbeliever" but "someone who does not recognise the last message as the truth." It is a statement, not an insult. Lots of work to do in the field of education….
On jihad: Ramadan: It is a complex question indeed for it is at the heart of the Islamic teaching. First, jihad is neither "holy war" nor "crusade." Jihad means effort and resistance. Our first natural inner state, as human beings, is not peace but tension. Tensions between our bad temptations and our positive aspirations. We need to get inner peace by controlling our self: This resistance is an inner jihad. While facing oppression, our resistance is in the same way a jihad. In fact the very meaning of jihad is to go from natural or potential tensions, conflicts or war towards inner serenity and collective peace. Jihad is the way toward peace … exactly the opposite of what is sometime understood by non Muslims … as well as some Muslims.

Sophistry? Casuistry? Mendacity? Taqiyya? Where I come from it's called lying. Many people seem taken-in by Ramadan's spin. That's what makes him more dangerous than a shouting lout like Krekar. It makes Ramadan simply dangerous.

truepeers said...


how do you know Ramadan doesn't believe in his "lies"? The value of his argument, such as it is, should be open to discussion as to its plausibility without need for personal attacks, whether he is a nice guy or not. How can you or anyone take seriously the idea that it is possible to have the last word on Islam?

truepeers said...

What I mean to suggest is that by declaring some second-rate thinker "too dangerous" to discuss seriously, we only reveal our own loss of civilizational confidence (which is a problem in a globalized world with only one civilization). We need to be open also about what to say to the kind of audience Ramadan attracts: a lot of Muslims tired with the old Islam but not necessarily willing and/or able to live without God and their family's faith community. Someone is going to feed the desire for a "reformed" Islam; there is no point in pretending that conversation can be avoided. Nor do I think we should want to avoid it. We should have the courage to engage it when it pertains to questions about how Islam can and cannot reasonably claim ground within liberal modernity. The idea that Islam can be beaten back to some place within firm walls, that we can return from our single global civilization to an early world with clearly demarcated civilizations, is just not realistic, it seems to me. We have to engage the conversation on reform, in as frank and honest as manner as possible. That means questioning our own dogmatic assumptions about what Islam necessarily is. That doesn't mean we have to become naive or unrealistic but simply alive to the truth that the future is open.

Dag said...

Kafir means whatever Ramadan wants it to mean? Then why does he bother speaking to others at all? If he means kafir in some personal sense the rest of the world doesn't share, and he knows that to be the case, i.e. true, then why does he speak?

Lexicorient, not a fair source, in my opinion gives this account:

Arabic: kāfir (sing.) kuffār or kāfirūn or kafara (pl.)

In Islam, a derogatory designation of the infidel, the unbeliever or misbeliever. The word "kafir" has changed its actual meaning several times, from "obliterating, covering" to "ungrateful [to God]".
Depending on definition, a kafir can by any non-Muslim, or anyone not belonging to the Ahl al-Kitab (Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sabaeans or, possibly, Zoroastrian). In the latter case, anyone from the Buddhists, Hindus to Atheists are kafir.
A kafir is by definition not a person with another opinion than Islam, he or she is simply one who refuses the self-evident truth. His or her opinion is therefore only recognized for its lack of truthfulness, not worthy the attention of a Muslim.
In actual Muslim theology, there appears distinctions, ranging from very strict and condemnatory to very tolerant. Throughout Muslim history, there are more stories about acceptance from Muslim leaders and theologians than actual condemnation. In modern times, however, Muslim ideas have moved much in direction of strict and condemning.
It is not clear how Muslims shall deal with the kafirs; the Koran sura 60:8 seems to indicate that Muslims can tolerate non-Muslims as long as these do not fight against the religion of Islam.
A few passages of the Koran bring confusion into the understanding of the concept. In Koran 33:47 it is distinguished between "unbelievers" and "hypocrites" (Arabic: munāfiq (sing.), munfiqūn (pl.)). A common Islamic categorization, understands the hypocrite to be one claiming to be a Muslim, but who is lying.
Koran sura 109, called The Misbelievers, calls the faith of the misbelievers a "religion", calling both Islam and the faith of the misbelievers "dīn".
There is in modern times a debate whether a kafir and a non-Muslim is the same. By this it is alleged that a kafir were only those who had the message of Islam in the time of Muhammad presented to them, but who rejected this. With this, the category of non-Muslims is not mentioned in the Koran, and the hard criticism then does not apply to them.

Koran sura 3: Imran's house
126 fear the fire which is prepared for the unbelievers...

Koran sura 48: Victory
13 Whoso believes not in God and His apostle, we have prepared for the unbelievers a blaze!

Koran sura 25: Discrimination
54 So obey not the unbelievers and fight strenuously with them in many a strenuous fight.

Koran sura 60: The Tried
8 God forbids you not respecting those who have not fought against you for religion’s sake...

Worse, Answering Islam:


pl. kafirun. A person who commits kufr. Lit. "the coverer", one who hides or covers the truth. denier of the truth, ingrate, rebel against God, infidel, Generally used by Muslims to refer to those who do not believe in the ministry of Muhammad and the Qur'an.

But they who disbelieve (wa'llazina kafaru), and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein (al-Baqarah 2:39).

It was also used of Christians who believe in the divinity of Jesus:

They surely disbelieve (la-gad kafar 'llazina) who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers (al-Ma'idah 5:72).

According to Hughes,

The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away! (al-Ma'idah 5:75).

"the Kamalan say it refers to the Nestorians and to the Malaka'iyah who believe that God is one of three, the other two being the mother and son" (Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. 260). [It is factually impossible for the Nestorians to accord Mary divinity since they even deny Mary of the title of "God-bearer" (Gk: theotokos)].

According to the Raddu 'l-Muhtar (vol. iii, p. 442), there are five classes of kafirs or infidels:

1. Those who do not believe in the Great First Cause,
2. Those who do not believe in the Unity of God, as the Sanawiyah who believe in the two eternal principles of light and darkness,
3. Those who believe in the unity of God, but do not believe in a revelation,
4. Those who are idolaters,
5. Those who believe in God and in a revelation, but do not believe in the general mission of Muhammad to the whole of mankind, as the Christians, a sect of the Jews (sic).

(Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. 260)[Truncated by A.I.]

Sayid Sharif Jurjani says: "Mankind are divided into two parties, namely those who acknowledge the mission of Muhammad, or those who do not believe in it. Those who do not believe in his mission are either those who reject it and yet believe in the inspiration and divine mission of other prophets, as the Jews and the Christians, and also the Majusi (Fire Worshippers); or those who do believe in any revelation of God's will. Those who do not believe in any revelation from God are either those who acknowledge the existence of God, as the Brahma (Buddhists?), or those who deny the existence of a Supreme Ruler, as the Dahri or atheists.

Those who do not acknowledge Muhammad as an inspired prophet are either those who do it wilfully and from mere enmity, or those who do not acknowledge it from reflection and due study of the subject. For the former is eternal punishment, and for the latter that punishment is not eternal. There are also those who, whiles they are Muslims, are not orthodox in the belief; these are heretics, but they are not kafirs. Those who are orthodox are an-Naji or the salvationists. (Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. [259b.]260[a.][1885; rpt. 1996])

* Accusing a Muslim of kufr is like killing him

Narrated Thabit bin Ad-Dahhak:

(who was one of the companions who gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet underneath the tree (Al-Hudaibiya)) Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever swears by a religion other than Islam (i.e. if somebody swears by saying that he is a non-Muslim e.g., a Jew or a Christian, etc.) in case he is telling a lie, he is really so if his oath is false, and a person is not bound to fulfill a vow about a thing which he does not possess. And if somebody commits suicide with anything in this world, he will be tortured with that very thing on the Day of Resurrection; And if somebody curses a believer, then his sin will be as if he murdered him; And whoever accuses a believer of Kufr (disbelief), then it is as if he killed him." (Sahih Bukhari 8.73. also Sahih Bukhari 8.126)

* killing a kafir after accepting Islam allowed

Narrated Uthman ibn Affan:

AbuUmamah ibn Sahl said: We were with Uthman when he was besieged in the house. There was an entrance to the house. He who entered it heard the speech of those who were in the Bilat. Uthman then entered it. He came out to us, looking pale.

He said: They are threatening to kill me now. We said: Allah will be sufficient for you against them, Commander of the Faithful! He asked: Why kill me? I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: It is not lawful to kill a man who is a Muslim except for one of the three reasons: Kufr (disbelief) after accepting Islam, fornication after marriage, or wrongfully killing someone, for which he may be killed.

I swear by Allah, I have not committed fornication before or after the coming of Islam, nor did I ever want another religion for me instead of my religion since Allah gave guidance to me, nor have I killed anyone. So for what reason do you want to kill me? (Sunan Abu Da'ud 39.4487)

* killing a Muslim is kafur

Narrated 'Abdullah:
Allah's Apostle said, "Abusing a Muslim is Fusuq (i.e., an evil-doing), and killing him is Kufr (disbelief)." (Sahih Bukhari 8.70, Sahih Bukhari 9.197)

* one becomes a kafir by accusing another of being a kafir when he/she is not.

Narrated Abu Dhar:

That he heard the Prophet saying, "If somebody accuses another of Fusuq (by calling him 'Fasiq' i.e. a wicked person) or accuses him of Kufr, such an accusation will revert to him (i.e. the accuser) if his companion (the accused) is innocent." (Sahih Bukhari 8.71)

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "If a man says to his brother, O Kafir (disbeliever)!' Then surely one of them is such (i.e., a Kifir). " (Sahih Bukhari 8.71. also Sahih Bukhari 8.125d, Malik's Muwatta 56.1.1)

* width between shoulders of a kafir is three days of fast riding, Sahih Bukhari 8.559.

* Muslim does not inherit from a disbeliever, Malik's Muwatta see also Abu Talib.

* al-Baqarah 2:108; Âl 'Imran 3:52,80,167,177; al-Ma'idah 5:41,61; at-Taubah 9:12,17,23,37,74; an-Nahl 16:106; al-Hujurat 49:7

The truth is that to Muslims within the four standard schools of fiqh, Kufar can be murdered with impunity. That's how it is. Anything else is lies. Argue with those who kill according to standard, not ... fantasy as- we- wish- it- were-- Islam.

Muslims have a right to be taken seriously on their own terms. For outsiders to say that Islam is not Islamic because it offends and threatens us is not on the up-an-up.

And to suggest that to gut the religion of its basic tenets is to reform Islam is too strange. If one does gut the Qur'an, (and who has such a right?) what is there left but "not-Islam."? It would be something other than Islam.

truepeers said...

OR, to put it another way: to engage the conversation on reform is to do what you can to reveal the limits and possibilities (or lack thereof) of Islam and thus encourage the process by which people will make their choices whether or not to stick with the faith. To refuse discussion is to continue the stand off.

Dag said...

Don't ask what the word means, ask how the word is used."

If general agreement, not total but nearly everyone using the word in an Islamic context, says kafir is a word meaning non-Muslim; and that the legitimate texts according to orthodox Muslims, as defined and acted upon in Islamic communities around the world for 1,400 years continuously; an if the canon of recognized Islamic jurisprudence, i.e. the Sunna; if all that tells us, aas well as Hughes" Dictionary and the average Muslim on the treet, that kafir is a dirty non-beliveir that the Qur'an says has the right to convert, die, or pay jizya, then I'll accept all of those over wishful thinking and Tariq Ramadan.

truepeers said...

Kafir means whatever Ramadan wants it to mean? Then why does he bother speaking to others at all? If he means kafir in some personal sense the rest of the world doesn't share, and he knows that to be the case, i.e. true, then why does he speak?

-his effort may well be a failure. But he speaks because there clearly is a market in the academic world for his kind of game. You can't shut down a market by declaring it phony; you can only shut it down by revealing and thus helping everyone discount the assumptions on which it is based: how do you know the meanings of words are fixed in stone and that they cannot evolve new relationships with contexts?

The truth is that to Muslims within the four standard schools of fiqh, Kufar can be murdered with impunity. That's how it is. Anything else is lies. Argue with those who kill according to standard, not ... fantasy as- we- wish- it- were-- Islam.

-it's not as simple as that and you know it. The law is always about defining what is and is not legitimate killing. In any case, the debate is about whether Islamic law can evolve and simply saying it can't really isn't an argument.

And to suggest that to gut the religion of its basic tenets is to reform Islam is too strange. If one does gut the Qur'an, (and who has such a right?) what is there left but "not-Islam."? It would be something other than Islam.

-no doubt this is true, but what is the test of what can and cannot be gutted? Ramadan is playing a game where he claims he is holding on to some core Islam and at the same time changing how we see it. If this game is b.s., it will be made clear in time; why not help speed that process along, which only an engagement in good faith can do?

truepeers said...

if all that tells us, aas well as Hughes" Dictionary and the average Muslim on the treet, that kafir is a dirty non-beliveir that the Qur'an says has the right to convert, die, or pay jizya, then I'll accept all of those over wishful thinking and Tariq Ramadan

-of course one has to know with whom and with what one is dealing. Our self-defense requires it, as do things like an intelligent immigration policy. But why assume that in listening to Ramadan we become ignorant of what most Muslims think a kafir is? I did not have that experience last night.

The question Ramadan raises for me is in what way is it possible for Westernized Muslims in a city like Vancouver to live with the Koranic text? Ramadan talks (whether he believes it or not) as if he really wants to treat Jews and Christians and atheists as equals. The problem is that he expects that means Islam is not simply given its place as a private religion in civil society, but can play a role in shaping the conversation across our civil society (a claim I question in the post: I didn't go into it but no religion can claim a leading role in the conversation across civil society unless it has universal insights that are truly meaningful - revelatory - to those without the faith; in other words it must have anthropological truths to offer).

Only when the question of what it is possible for Muslim in a city like Vancouver to be is well explored, and similarly questions of how much Muslim majority societies can adapt to the global economy and civilization, will we know more about where our conflict can and will go. There aren't yet many people willing to write off Islam to the dustbin of history until the conversation into the possibilities of reform has been had. So let's have it. Can it last long or is going to reveal itself as empty pretty quickly. I don't know. I have my doubts, but I postpone final judgment for now. Time will tell. Patience is not weakness: it is remaining strong and confident in one's faith that the future is open to those who act with true liberal instincts restrained by conservative good sense.

Dag said...

I don't argue that Islam cannot evolve. It has, as we see in the course of its history. It evolves from violence against kafirs, as it were, and goes from more to less and back again. It never evolves from violence to peace with non-Muslims. There is a reason for that: the Qur'an commands that all people be either Muslims or dhimmis or dead. The Qur'an is immutable according to the Qur'an. Dismiss 1,400 years of Islamic jurisprudence, and what is there left? Tamiyya and Kalhun and al-Ghazali and rest, far better scholars of Islam than I, all understand jihad and the struggle again kufar. My opinion doesn't count.

In practical terms, anyone who professes Islam as a personal creed is declaring himself an enemy of the world outside dar al-Islam. He might or might not be violent; the point is he is a self-declared enemy of the people outside the ummah. We can talk to "moderates" when the issue of jihad is settled.

truepeers said...

If we settle the issue of Jihad without first talking, it means we have to have a war that will, for all practical purposes, end the discussion forever. But who is ready to fight that kind of war? How can you have any war, let alone that war, without first talking about and framing the conflict so that people can choose sides and/or choose war?

From first impressions, fwiw, I'm not convinced that even Ramadan doesn't want to be on the side of liberal modernity, whatever it means for Islam. He has never yet been forced to make the choice, so he can pick both sides and be declared two-faced by his critics. Only furthering the conversation and framing the conflict will let us know whether his game has any genuine creative potential or whether he is simply fooling himself and others.

truepeers said...

I might add that the four questions asked Ramadan last night were respectful of the man but less than sure he isn't a b.s. artist. Two were from "secular Muslims", one from a rather Westernized and educated Bosnian woman who wanted to be able to pray in a language she understood, and one by a man who wanted Ramadan to engage further with the implications of 9/11. These were all educated people with doubts that need to be discussed and channeled. Of course if Ramadan were the only person people listened to for info on Islam it would be a problem, but that's not likely and in any case is all the more reason to engage him.

When I write: "How can you have any war, let alone that war, without first talking about and framing the conflict so that people can choose sides and/or choose war?" I mean to imply that only by having that conversation can you narrow the focus of physical war sufficiently to allow people to accept war as a necessary evil for eliminating those truly and violently opposed to liberal modernity, when people are really forced to choose or reject liberal values and economics, sciences, technology, consumer culture, etc. (a pressure Islam has never previously had to face in its "evolution"). At the same time that means holding confidently our liberal values, maintaining open Western societies as such, never shying away from the need to win conversations and hold the line in the face of nihilists, cowards, dhimmis, bad immigration policies, Utopians, Gnostics, liberal suiciders, etc., and in the face of whatever demographic pressures are coming down the road. If we don't fight the intellectual and cultural fight, then our civilization might well collapse. And since there is no serious constituency for, nor should we want one, for some total violent war against Islam, let's not dwell on that thought. The only war we can expect is a well focused one, picking off one gang of Taleban, or one tyrannical state at a time, however quickly or slowly that is going to happen. That means there is first a fight to frame the conflict and to present compelling narratives.