«A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion School of Philosophy, ...»
definition of “Islam” to the latter meaning, he suggests that the former offers a more sensible correspondence with the message of the Revelation that revolves around the one and eternal “monotheism”, which is built on ‘the recognition of the existence of a Creator and conformance to His messages’ (Ramadan, 2004, p.206). It should be pointed out, however, that there is a contradiction between how Ramadan defines “Islam” here and how he defines it in his formulation of European-Muslim identity through shahāda; in the latter context, he associates Islam specifically with belief in the one God and ‘His last revelation to the Prophet Muhammad’9. Nonetheless, the less strict between the two possible meanings of Islam ties with his minimalistic definition of kufr (denial) in the context of the Revelation, which narrows down to “the deliberate rejection of God” after having received the knowledge of “Truth”. Although Ramadan recognizes that the broad range of semantic connotations of kufr inevitably allows the designation of Jews and Christians as kuffar in the sense that ‘they do not recognize the Qur’an as the last revealed book’ and that ‘they deny [yakfuru] the truth of the message and its Prophet’10, he denounces the use of this nomenclature to emphatically discredit non-Muslims’ faith in God (Ramadan, 2004, p.206).
traditional scope of what can be defined as “Islamic” to include any entity that meets the higher objectives of Sharia (maqāṣid al-sharī’a)11, and that which does not contradict the universal principles of Islam (as Muslims know them), regardless of whether it is of religious or secular nature, and whether or not it is prevalent in Muslim cultures. Having 9 This is mentioned in Chapter 4.3 on page 72.
10 The bracketed clarification in this quotation - yakfuru - is added by Ramadan.
11 In general, Sharia has five main objectives: Protection of life, protection of property, protection of lineage, protection of religion, and protection intellect.
region’s pluralistic socio-cultural fabric and his first-hand experience of belonging to a religious minority perhaps allow him to take a balanced view of its potential benefits and challenges to the development of Muslim faith, ethics, and character, which, unsurprisingly, inform much of his confidence in, and positive attitude towards, the notion of reconciliation. Thus, far from seeing the cultural foundations of Europe as the sole root of the problem, his discussion of issues related to Muslim identity in the West revolves primarily around the themes of minority mentality and reductionist Muslim thinking. Much of his message to European Muslims is built around the idea of breaking free from any internalized self-prejudice (e.g., the tendency to direct deeplyingrained negative attitudes, such as the feeling of alienation, towards oneself), and of asserting their rights and carrying out their responsibilities as citizens of their countries.
In shahāda, Ramadan finds a flexible means to develop a seemingly-consistent image of what it means to be a Muslim beyond the confines of space and time and amidst the challenges of negotiating between multiple identities (e.g., religious, national, and ethnic) within a pluralistic context, as opposed to an unyielding commitment to Islamize the West.
The contrast shown hitherto between al-Qaradawi’s and Ramadan’s motivations for using da’wa and shahāda casts light on how the former portrays the Islamization of the West as an ultimate end of pursuit and how the latter describes the Islamization of Muslims (in the sense of returning to Islam after a long lapse of cultural reductionism) as a means to an end (which is, as best as can be gleaned from his philosophy, “faithfulness to the one God and His Will”). The question that naturally follows is whether Western Muslims must Islamize the societies in which they live in a form of
normative ideals of their societies.
For al-Qaradawi, remedying the “wrongdoings” of the world, and especially of the West, through preaching and Islamization appears to be a matter of fulfilling an obligatory Islamic commandment; the Quran and many Prophetic sayings point to the Muslim responsibility of enjoining “good” and forbidding “evil”, which is the essence of da’wa that - as portrayed by the scholar - lies at the very heart of the Muslim life.
One can relate this to the story of the Children of Israel in the Qur’an, who, according to Muslim scholarly interpretations of the Text, were cursed for not having forbidden “evil”
means, denounce evil, albeit with the concession that the duty hinges on a Muslim’s circumstantial ability to do so.
Although Ramadan does not contest the binding nature of the Islamic commandment to enjoin good and forbid evil, he consistently portrays himself in his writings as a disbeliever in the idea of converting people to Islam (in the sense that there is an element of pressure that prevents them from making a choice based on knowledge, enthusiasm, and their own free will), which, to him, is not “Islamic” (Ramadan, 2004, p.81). For the Swiss thinker, an understanding of da’wa that is undergirded by the idea of one-sided Islamization, much like that which al-Qaradawi propagates, reduces genuine efforts to establish mutual understanding to ‘... a call to our truth, a dawa (call, invitation, preaching), with no meaning beyond that’ (Ramadan, 2004, p.205). He clarifies further that ‘conversion is something that only God can accomplish, through His revelation, with each individual, and no other human being has the right to get involved in it’ (Ramadan, 2004, p.81). It is this notion of “free will”, among other features of the scholar’s thinking, that mainly leads March (2007) to argue for the existence of an overlapping consensus between the scholar’s ideas and political liberalism, as noted in Chapter 1.3. In addition, Ramadan’s position here, albeit unconventional within the Muslim scholarly tradition, falls in line with the manner in which the Qur’an explains the nature of “belief” and the purpose of the Revelation;
scriptural verses abound that describe the role of the prophets as “messengers” and “warners” (as opposed to “converters”), and that they were naturally powerless to change the hearts of the peoples to whom they were sent because “divine inspiration” from deep within the soul can only come by God’s guidance (and His only). In
(mu’āmalāt) in the Qur’an and Sunna in their entirety due to the fact that European countries (or the West in general) abide by their respective national constitutions and international standards of human rights, Ramadan suggests that Muslims ‘apply and respect the rulings of the Religion as much as possible within the framework of the constitution of the country they live in and must at the same time avoid involvement in activities which contradict their Religion’ (Ramadan, 1999, p.139).
Putting Ramadan’s thinking into perspective, it is possible to establish a link between his understanding of religious equality and his universally-oriented shahāda.
Rather than encouraging Muslims to present Islam in its classical religio-cultural form, his conception of the core function of Muslims in the West (as expressed by shahāda) as reminders for the general mankind of the absolute existence of God and seekers of morality, ethics, and justice transpires as a rather generic religious mindset understandably shared by many believers of other religions. This is reflected in his emphasis that all monotheistic revelations, including Islam as the last of them, converge in their ultimate purpose to ‘remind human beings of the presence of the Creator and the finiteness of life on earth’ (Ramadan, 2004, p.202). The scholar thus calls for pragmatic discussions on issues of primary concern for all the diverse groups living in the West with no partiality, encouraging both Muslims and non-Muslims to collaborate in enjoining what is positive and resisting what is negative in their shared society, and in promoting ‘a true religious and cultural pluralism on an international scale’ (Ramadan, 2004, 76). This can be realized, he adds, by establishing ‘partnerships with other organizations that work more widely in the same areas so that a plural front can be established against injustice, discrimination, and xenophobia in the name of all citizens
therefore, seems to confirm the idea that Islamizing non-Muslim Europeans does not fall within the utmost priorities of Muslims in the West in his thinking. It is, nevertheless, difficult to envisage how the scholar’s intention to ‘remind human beings of the presence of the Creator and the finiteness of life on earth’ might fare in equilibrium with secular ideologies that, while mutually committed to the betterment of society, seem to believe in the necessity of a “godless” society (Ramadan, 2004, p.202).
To develop the preceding arguments further, the problems presented by al-Qaradawi’s mission of Islamization and Ramadan’s vision of “religionization” must be analyzed.
Al-Qaradawi’s Islamist vision, first, calls into question the role of Islam (while already facing the challenge to overturn its negative image in the media) as a moral compass for Muslims and non-Muslims in a space where secularism appears to have emerged as a dominant force in society. It cannot be disputed that many Muslim interpretations of the Islamic vision of human life do not march in unison with the modern sensibilities of human rights advocates in the West. This cultural conflict is evident from several cases across many European countries in recent years. For example, when the French parliament issued a controversial ban on the wearing of face veils (albeit this also being subject to Muslim sectarian disputes) in 2010, justifying it with the necessity to protect the principles of human dignity and gender equality, public safety concerns, and the French model of assimilation, the measure reportedly enjoyed ‘the support of 82% of the French population’ despite the argument that ‘it will do more to stigmatize Muslims than address real integration problems’ (in Archick et. al., 2011, p.13; PEW, 2010). In the UK in 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, found himself in the eye of a religious and political storm following his
Sharia for social cohesion due to the difficulty of Muslims, in general, to relate to the British legal system. A spokesman for the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, responded by stating that Sharia cannot be used as a justification for breaching British laws and values, to which all British citizens must submit (Butt and Radnofsky, 2008).
Nonetheless, a finding made by the Institute for the Study of Civil Society (CIVITAS) claims that there exist (at the time of the report) as many as 85 sharia courts in Britain, many of which have allegedly acted in ways that are legally discriminatory to Muslim women dealing with marriage issues12, and to be ‘seriously out of step with trends in Western legislation’ (MacEoin, 2009, p.130). This sentiment also seems to be largely true across Western European countries at the political level; many public figures argue for the incompatibility of Islam with European standards of democracy due to ‘its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts’ (ECHR, 2004, p.22).
current reality of European demographics and its trends. Despite the diminishing global significance of Christianity in the region (Jacobsen, 2011), symbolic identification with the religion as a social marker reportedly remains high (PEW, 2011); the estimated 76% population of Christians in Europe in 2011, which includes its various denominations, effectively makes Christianity the predominant faith in the region, followed by other Abrahamic, Dharmic, and Neo-pagan religions as well as secular ideologies by a big margin (PEW, 2011). The region’s estimated population of 15 million Muslims, in
Muslim-majority Europe is also deemed questionable by the PEW itself; Greene quotes Brian Grim, a senior researcher at the think tank, as arguing that the Muslim population, despite the predicted rapid demographic growth13, is ‘trending with the general global population’14 rather than leading to the realization of ‘Eurabia’15 (Greene, 2011, para.
39). Greene further states that Christianity seems set to remain the biggest religion in the world for the next 20 years, with the current 2 billion Christians (30 to 35 percent of the global population) ‘making it very unlikely that there will be fewer than 2.2 billion Christians in 2030’ (Greene, 2011, para. 27). Moreover, he cites Alan Cooperman, an associate director of the PEW as saying that there is no indicative evidence in the report that ‘there would be more Muslims that Christians’ in 2030 and suggesting conversely that ‘Christianity and Islam could both be growing at the expense of other religions’ (Greene, 2011, para. 30). Given that Europe’s demography is likely to remain diverse in the future, the idea of Islamizing the West - in addition to seeming like a tall order may risk facing strong resistance from other major religious and secular groups and the danger of it backfiring on efforts to rectify the increasingly-negative image of Islam in the Western media.
that do not essentially support the preservation of cultural differences. Although many Muslim communities in Western Europe have long established a parallel existence with varying levels of interaction with the wider society and have been relatively successful