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Furthermore, what stands out as a favorable advantage in Ramadan’s willingness to include the contributions from experts other than the ‘ulamā of Islam is his principle of “respect”, which is the sixth significant quality of his approach. Instead of lingering over the issue of “the conflict of interests”, the scholar tries to channel the energy of the debate into the search for points of similarities, on which the diverse groups of society can supposedly build a cohesive and peaceful means of co-existence (this also appears to be a disadvantage in some other ways, as will be discussed in the next section). In addition to his non-divisive definition of Islam and non-Islam, Ramadan adopts a soft, yet persuasive, rhetoric that adds credibility to his attempt at neutralizing the excesses of exceptionalist Islamism and giving way for conciliatory attitudes to unite the different communities and sectors of society together into creating a new “We”. It is presumable that it is this principle of respect that inspires his acknowledgment of alternative (Muslim and non-Muslim) ways of thinking; while resolute in his personal aversion to some specific modern norms that fall under the banner of explicit Islamic prohibitions, Ramadan presses on the importance of Muslims espousing the notion of “respect” and setting themselves free from the propensity to pass prejudicial judgment on “non-Muslim” ways of life.
stated, however, that the scholar may or may not agree completely with other alternative ideas (e.g., his refusal to give explicit comments on specific feminist positions, as highlighted in Chapter 6.3.2). Nevertheless, in a way that is most pertinent to the reality of life of Muslim minorities in the West, Ramadan’s openness here may allow various aspects of Muslims’ experience to simultaneously evolve in pace with natural sociocultural changes, in comparison to al-Qaradawi’s use of fiqh al-aqalliyyat that focuses specifically on the development of Muslim fiqh.
In addition to Ramadan’s use of shahāda and his transformative model of reform (as discussed in Chapter 4 and 5 respectively), the prudence that he shows in his approaches to the issue of ḥudūd and women (as discussed in Chapter 6.2.3 and 6.3.2), which makes the seventh and the final critical attribute of his approach, parallels alQaradawi’s cautiousness in not tampering with Islamic rulings that have (or may have) sound textual and practical evidence in the Qur’an and Sunna. This is clear in Ramadan’s seemingly evasive position; he demands the “suspension” of ḥudūd to avoid injustice, but does not explicitly state that it should be abolished; he suggests that it is “better” for competent female scholars to focus more on improving other aspects of their lives (e.g., education and career) than fighting for the right to lead a congregational mixed-gender prayer, but does not clearly say that it is impermissible for them to do so;
he argues that wearing the veil should not be legally imposed upon women because it is an act of faith that can only be done in sincerity, but he maintains that it is, nevertheless, an “obligation”; he reminds Muslims in the West that polygamy should be absolutely avoided in countries where it is prohibited by the law, but avoids recommending that it is not applicable in the modern world; he believes that it is important for Muslims to
condoned by Islam. Although this may well testify to the criticism of “doublespeak” leveled at the scholar (this will also be discussed as a disadvantage in the next section), his approach here may play a crucial part in steering clear from making a serious polemic statement to the Muslim world that even the essential aspects of Islam, which already constitute a small segment of the religion, are no exception to reform.
7.2.2 Weaknesses While Ramadan’s “uncontextualized” ethical monotheism, as suggestively reflected in the very basic nature of his definition of “Islam” (which is discussed in Chapter 4.3), should be commended for its theoretical conduciveness to weaving together all existing faiths and ideologies into a cohesive whole to achieve unity of purpose, the scholar’s general and flexible approach compels one to ruminate on the dangers of taking it too far to the point of undermining intangible individual characteristics that may well be critical to the coherency of one’s perception of their self-image, and of looking too far into the future to the point of overemphasizing its objective at the expense of the clarity and consistency of its measures. Accordingly, the most essential element of Ramadan’s approach that lends itself to critical enquiry and skepticism is the double-edged nature of its laxity; it is so conveniently liberal as to allow room for the incorporation of contributions from diverse sources beyond the traditional confines of Muslim theology, yet so inherently unclear as to leave critical questions about its purpose, validity, and viability. This vagueness, as will be shown in this section, manifests itself in all the three theoretical dimensions of his approach discussed in the main chapters (i.e., shahāda in Chapter 4.3, transformation reform in
in Chapter 6.2.3 and 6.3.2), leaving his position, in some ways, arguably fraught with inconsistencies.
Ramadan’s rhetoric, to begin with, can be difficult to follow at times, owing largely to his preference to discuss tangible issues from a conceptual and philosophical standpoint in a highly-tautological manner (given his most foremost background as a philosopher as opposed to a jurist, despite reportedly and perceptibly possessing the skills of the latter) and his tendency to hedge his personal views on contentious problems (considering his belief in the pointlessness in dwelling on cultural and legal differences as opposed to commonalities). For the particular group of his followers who expect to be offered categorical and concrete ideas, such as those provided by alQaradawi (regardless of their viability), Ramadan’s approach may come across as substantially periphrastic. For example, while his plea for a moratorium on ḥudūd shows his sensitivity to both modern sensibilities (by making a reference to the notion of “justice” in a general manner) and Muslim conventional sentiments (by refraining from explicitly calling for its abolishment due to Muslims’ universal belief in its textual and practical evidence in the Qur’an and Sunna), it remains unclear as to what his true position may be on the “eventual” status of the penal code, particularly in the hypothetical case where all its stringent conditions are fulfilled. Similarly, his avoidance of explicitly forbidding a qualified woman from leading a mixed-gender congregational prayer (considering his long-standing efforts to protect and advance women’s rights on the one hand, and his unwavering commitment to the immutability of worship matters on the other) leaves one questioning whether there is a clear-cut formula - aside from the binary “worship” and “social” spheres that appear to leave some issues hanging in
between complying with and deviating from “tradition”.
Ramadan’s effort to shift the focus of Muslim and Western political discourse from “differences” to “commonalities”, albeit apparently backed by a minor segment of academics, seems to continuously fall off the mainstream political interest radar.
Although one cannot deny the potential of achieving social unity and stability through embracing commonalities shared by diverse groups in society, or at least theoretically, this approach remains, at best, a palliative strategy. As the Western political discourse on Islam’s place in Europe seems to be centered largely on the more conspicuous conflict between Islamic legal rulings and modern norms, as shown in the introduction to Chapter 6, the idea of overlooking “differences” is akin to circumventing the substance of the debate, which may dangerously encourage an overabundance of delusive rhetoric and conceptual perspectives and prolong (or even increase) the intensity of the conflict. The reality of this problem may also spill over into the interfaith context. Rabbi Eric Yoffie makes a compelling argument against the inefficacy and banality of interfaith dialogue that puts too much emphasis on conflictavoiding rhetorical routine, which comprises oft-repeated sentiments of mutuality and tolerance at the expense of making an effort to truly understand the differentness of “the others” (Yoffie, 2011). The renowned Jewish figure defines a meaningful dialogue as one that allows its different groups of participants to focus on religious differences (in order to comprehend the fundamental elements that make them different), share their unique religious passions (which allows them to subsequently identify the exact points within their belief systems that can and cannot be bridged), and acknowledge - in all honesty - the exceptionalism of their own beliefs (so as to enable them to explain the
others) (Yoffie, 2011). Although these three conditions may well come as “unspoken” characteristics of Ramadan’s understanding of “dialogue”, they certainly do not stand out in his portrayal of his “true cultural and religious pluralism” (as discussed in Chapter 4.4), which is observably rooted in the affirmation of mutuality and commonality.
Another concern that can be flagged up is the scholar’s notion of “neutrality”, in relation to the claimed divergence between the Muslim responsibility of enjoining “good” and forbidding “evil” and the cultural prevalence of social norms held by many Muslims as sinful and immoral. It is supposed that being neutral allows Muslims living in a shared secular environment to put themselves in the position of “disagreeing but respecting” others’ differences, which Ramadan sees as the most liberal position a “faithful” Muslim can adopt, in response to their inability to legally enforce Islamic prohibitions in society. One can note that there is considerable vagueness in the idea of “disagreeing but respecting”; its interpretation may range from refraining oneself from expressing disapproval of others’ choices to refraining oneself from preventing others (by any other means but verbal) their rights to govern themselves as they see fit, but either of which is “against” the essence of Ramadan’s shahāda (and al-Qaradawi’s dawa) in a technical sense. Although Muslims are not “legally” obliged to accept that which is against their beliefs, there is a discreet (or rather explicit in the case of France) cultural expectation for them to take an unequivocally positive view on the humanistic values that underpin mainstream secular norms. Therefore, while Muslims are not required by the law to embrace norms such as same-sex marriages, they may be, nevertheless, culturally pressured into espousing the values of “self-empowerment” and
that Ramadan’s approach seems to lack a determinate answer as to how Muslims can negotiate between maintaining their unique inner beliefs and being “culturally” supportive of the values of modern society.
From Ramadan’s notion of “neutrality” discussed above, one can further deduce the problem of “compartmentalizing” Islam through the contextualization of Muslim psyche and attitude to “non-Muslim” norms, which may cause a precarious fragmentation of the symbolic unity of the Muslim umma. It can be noted that there is a discernible cultural tendency in many Muslim-majority countries (though not necessarily implying that this is exclusive to them) to hold strong sentiments about their most common beliefs, so much so that this appears to have almost become a “normative” feature that ties their diversity together. These common sentiments, then, tend be subliminally used by the more traditional Muslim factions as a standard (however subjective) against which one’s “Muslimness” is measured; accordingly, the idea of a Muslim being ‘”tolerant” or “neutral” of evil, notwithstanding their context, may potentially give rise to the idea of an “impaired” loyalty to Islam. Although it is melodramatic to hastily suggest that this may cause a serious intra-Western-Muslim and inter-Muslim point of contention, neglecting its probability may arguably be more costly in the long run than taking it into consideration in advance.
7.3 Discussion The discussions on da’wa and shahāda in Chapter 4, the adaptive and transformative models of reform in Chapter 5, the scholars’ approaches to moral and gender issues in Chapter 6, and the strengths and weaknesses of their positions in the
Qaradawi and Ramadan exhibit an unwavering conviction in the transcendent and universally-pertinent nature of Islam, but diverge in what they believe to be the exact feature of the religion that embodies such nature. On the one hand, al-Qaradawi’s tendency to transpose Islam onto the West suggests that the scholar places great importance on the religion’s traditional, classical form (albeit with modifications to certain classically-established rulings); the implication here is that it is this very form that presents the transcendent aspect of Islam - hence, the belief that it is necessary for Islam to supplant other systems of thought and faith. On the other hand, Ramadan’s emphasis on the universality of Islamic principles that transcends any historical contextual dependencies and allows such principles to be molded into any given context highlights the scholar’s belief that it is, in addition to monotheism, the higher objectives of Islam (which are amenable to interpretation) underpinning the religion’s traditional, classical form that represents its transcendent characteristic. This main difference is what makes the two approaches not wholly compatible with one another.