Tariq Ramadan & the Islamization of Europe
By Jacob Thomas in collaboration with June Engdahl
It is well known that political correctness is pervasive on both sides of the Atlantic in all aspects of society. The liberal intelligentsia in government, academia and the professions has determined what kind of discourse is reasonable and appropriate and what is not. They are becoming ever more self-consciously cautious in all they say about Islam and what they will tolerate others saying about it. The same self-censorious attitude prevails in much of the Western mainline media. Fear of being charged with Islamophobia by the reigning principalities and powers is stronger than the love of truth.
But there are still many who do not abide by the strictures of political correctness. Thanks to the Internet, many in the closed world of the Islamic Ummah can read online, in their native Arabic, the works of secular reformist thinkers. Topics of great interest are discussed with utter frankness, unrestrained from the usual governmental controls that suffocate the freedom of the conventional print press.
An article I recently found in Al-Awan1 which was actually written just over three years ago (26 August 2009) is a good example of positive trends from secular Arab intellectuals. The writer is a member of “The Secular Center for the Study of Islamics,” and his topic was the role of Tariq Ramadan, in “The Islamization of Europe.” He has very perceptive things to say about this very influential shaper of the West’s understanding of Islam. They are still pertinent today.
Before I present his remarks, and make some reflections on them, a little background on Tariq Ramadan is in order for those not yet familiar with his Islamic pedigree.
He is a direct descendent of Hassan al-Banna, whose legacy is unparalleled in the modern history of Islam.2 Al-Banna may be regarded as the father of Political Islam. Some of his followers over the years engaged in assassinations of prominent Egyptian leaders.
Two years after Colonel Gamal abdul-Nasser toppled the monarchy in July, 1952; the Muslim Brotherhood attempted his assassination as he was delivering a speech in Alexandria, in October, 1954. It was foiled and the organization was banned, and many of its members were given long prison sentences. Others managed to flee to Europe and America, where they continued their subversive activities in the promotion of their radical agenda.
One of those young members of the banned organization, Said Ramadan (pronouncedSa’eed) who found refuge in West Germany, was a son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna. Eventually, Said settled in Switzerland, where his son Tariq was born! The role of Said in the “importation” of radical Islam to Europe after the Second World War is detailed in a fascinating book, “A Mosque in Munich,” by the investigative journalist and author, Ian Johnson. You may want to read a review of the book, “Will Islamic infiltration of Europe Succeed in Transforming it into the House of Islam?” (*)
After settling in Switzerland, Said Ramadan continued his activities as a shrewd propagandist for Islam. With an evident seriousness of purpose, he named his son Tariqafter the North African Muslim leader Tariq ibn Ziyad, who led his armies in the crossing of the narrow strait between Africa and Europe, and began the conquest of Spain in 710 A.D. The strait was named Gibraltar, the westernized term for Jabal Tariq, i.e. Tariq’s Mountain. Thus Islam gained a foothold in southwestern Europe which lasted until 1492!
Tariq Ramadan is certainly unique. Living in the liberal, secular West and dealing with both it and the harsh, exclusive, often irrational dictates of his Islamic faith is a huge challenge. Will he succeed in bringing his forebears’ goals to fruition? He has shown up in cartoons with a forked tongue. What he says in lectures depends on whether his audience is Western or Muslim. Many Western academic institutions, often recipients of largesse from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern money, promote him on their campuses and on the lecture circuit.
Following are the remarks, translated from Arabic3, of the Al-Awan writer, who had this to say about Tariq Ramadan’s quandary trying to make Islam fit into the European milieu he inhabits and which he hopes will eventually become part of the Islamic Empire.
Tariq Ramadan finds himself in a bind. On the one hand, he is a descendent of a prominent Muslim family; his maternal grandfather Hassan al-Banna, was the founder of “The Muslim Brotherhood” known in Arabic as “Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon.” Mr. Ramadan is convinced that the application of Islam, no matter how deformed it may be, is better than any other belief system, since Islam is the final religion and he claims that the prophets that had preceded Muhammad were Muslims as well!
On the other hand, Tariq Ramadan lives in the very heart of Europe. He was born and brought up in Switzerland, a milieu that is rational, secular, modern, and surrounded by a multi-lingual civilization. Some of his own people in the Islamic world have severely criticized him for his attempts to modernize Islam, and “Westernize” it, in an attempt to facilitate its spread and implementation throughout Europe! And then from the other side of the ideological spectrum, secular and non-religious Muslims keep reminding him that the paralysis that has afflicted the Islamic world is due to its commitment to religious texts that cannot be changed, altered, or rejected, even when they prove ill-suited, or in conflict with modernity. As mentioned above, this Swiss-born Muslim intellectual finds himself in an unenviable position.
Furthermore, the problem that faces Tariq Ramadan, as well as Muslim intellectuals residing in the West, is that all the serious historical and anthropological research about Islam has been the work of European scholarship. This is the fact that informs the European understanding of Islam, and not the claims of the Du’at (Muslim missionaries and propagandists).4 Is Mr. Ramadan, living as he does in Europe and benefiting from its blessings, willing to admit that such privileges do not spring from Arab or Islamic sources?
Islam carries within it, a culture that is antithetical to every other culture. Specifically, a capitalistic, secular, and democratic culture is incompatible with an Islamic culture. Take for example the subject of Muslim prayers, their timings, and the adhan5 in a loud voice from the top of minarets, the month-long fasting of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca. All these Islamic customs are not in harmony with a capitalistic system that emphasizes the value of time in economic life. Another aspect of Islam’s impact on social life is requiring women to wear the hijab (veil), a cover that restricts a Muslim woman’s attempt to work outside the home and progress like men. The strict requirements of the Sharia and its penal code, such as amputating the hand of the thief, or flogging a person whose behavior is judged contrary to Islamic morality; place Islam in an antagonistic position to human progress.
Both the Islamic mind and the Arab mind are narrow and restricted in their sources of knowledge. The former is bound by its sacred texts, and the latter has no authoritative source except that of the Jahiliyya6 a period defined by its tribal traditions. Both face a serious crisis when they interact with different habits and traditions. Added to that, are those internal struggles taking place within the Arab world placing it in an extremely difficult proposition when it comes to planting Islam in Europe, or elsewhere. Nor should we forget the fact that most of those Muslim missionaries involved in the spread of Islam belong to the Salafist7 brand of Islam, which stems from violent Wahhabi roots.
In fact, many of the traditions that define the modern world have been created by Europeans and have no root or place in Islamic civilization. So when Tariq Ramadan engages in dialogues with Western intellectuals, he avoids dealing with such hot topics as the sources of wealth and profit rooted almost exclusively in European philosophy. He also excludes those matters that spring from Islamic roots such as the Jizya8 tax. Those who pay taxes have no rights. Rather, it is those who collect taxes who possess all the power to extract them from the subjects of the state. Ultimately, the project for the Islamization of Europe may be likened to two trains using the same track, and traveling towards each other. Collision is inevitable. Especially is this applicable to Islamic Sharia when it confronts the laws promulgated by agencies of the secular democracies.
In the light of these serious contradictions, we observe a certain type of duplicity at work in Tariq Ramadan, known in Arabic as the practice of kithman and taqiyya. This is evident when Ramadan paints Islam as compatible with other cultures, when in fact, it is not so. This lack of clarity and transparency helps explain why America revoked his visa to work as a lecturer at Notre Dame University in Indiana in July 2004.Two universities in the Netherlands also terminated their contracts with him.9
When dialogue takes place within a European atmosphere, there are no pre-conditions, or limitations set for the conduct of free discourse. A Muslim “bird” finds such an atmosphere quite conducive for “soaring,” forgetting for a time, that he is chained by sacred texts that would not permit him to transcend the limits of his faith. As Ramadan dialogues with Europeans discussing issues such as freedom, the role of reason, the Islamic traditions of Jihad, violence, and the place of the arts in society, he presents himself as an open-minded and tolerant Muslim. However, he cannot speak with the same tone when he lectures in the Middle East and in other Islamic countries. Thus, when he attempts to fashion and sell a “European” Islam where a religious identity may co-exist with a secular one, he is actually contradicting himself. This happened recently in France, where he appeared evasive and equivocating, when the subject of Hijab and the application of the Islamic penal code were being discussed. He didn’t want to lose the financial support of those European Muslim communities that cling to the literal wordings of the sacred texts. On the other hand, when seeking the acceptance of the Europeans, he refrained from any comments on the tragic events that had taken place in Gaza, when the radical Islamist Hamas clashed with the more moderate group in Gaza, resulting in the death of several Palestinian men. He shouldn’t have hesitated to declare that Hamas had acted in an un-Islamic way by murdering fellow-Muslims! In fact, the entire Islamic world remained silent about this event, claiming that it was the will of Allah.10
In the final analysis, Islam is neither more, nor less than the history of Islam. Coups, spilling of innocent blood, wars, and fights have been going on in Daru’l Islam since its earliest days. This explains the significance of the Muslim Brotherhood’s emblem: the Qur’an surrounded by two swords! The only new thing that has been achieved by contemporary political Islam is that it has exchanged the sword for a machine gun! This is evident in the slogans adopted by the “newly-packaged” Islam that Tariq Ramadan seeks to “sell” in Europe.
It is encouraging that Arab intellectuals have broken through the barriers to free thought that Islam imposes on those who live in countries where its hegemony is a constrictive given. This particular secular reformist believes Tariq Ramadan lives a contradictory existence. As a professor at Oxford and a lecturer and debater in many venues he claims to hold secular, western ideals. He charms most of his Western, academic audiences but is often bested in debates when he is actually put to the test. The reader can check Internet resources for verification of this. Ramadan also holds to the tenets of Islam which do not jibe with Western ideals. Yet he believes his religion is compatible with European civilization. Even when he has spoken against the brutal punishments (Hudud) of stoning or flogging in some Muslim nations, which he did in 2005, he has been opposed by Muslim scholars.11 As for the ongoing acts of barbarity being committed by Muslims around the world, against their own people and especially against Christians, it is not under discussion. Do those fundamentalist Muslim scholars who occasionally oppose Tariq Ramadan when he does want to correct some of the grosser Islamic Qur’anic principles actually do anything about it? Of course not. He’s more effective as a Trojan Horse.
Even though the article on the “Islamization of Europe,” was written three years ago, its insights are still valid. Tariq Ramadan does seem to be living out his goals in two contradictory worlds, impressing the academic intelligentsia in the West with a malleable Islam, while attempting to abide by its actual, unchangeable principles when amongst the true believers. Can he keep it up?
The mixed effects of the “Arab Spring” are now on display, particularly in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Like the writer said three years ago in his article on the “Islamization of Europe”: “coups, spilling of innocent blood, wars” were, and are, a part of this “Arab Spring.” Tariq Ramadan must be very gratified that the Muslim Brotherhood has prevailed in Egypt and the dreams of Ramadan’s grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, have been fulfilled 84 years after the founding of Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon!
More recently, another writer in Elaph, on 28 August 2012, wondered how a believing Muslim leader and member of ‘Ikhwan’, and now President of Egypt, could justify a visit to a country, whose leaders are atheists, and whose representative at the United Nations Security Council, has joined his Russian counterpart, in blocking any sanctions against the Syrian regime which is butchering its own people!? He ended his reflections with these words:
“The crisis that faces the ‘Ikhwan al-Muslimoon,’ now that they have assumed power in Egypt, isn’t simply that they lack political savvy, but they persist with their seventh-century mentality, dreaming about the re-establishment of the Caliphate in this twenty-first century, forgetting that it had come to an end with the rise of the modern national state four centuries ago, and not in 1924. And what I fear mostly is that Morsi’s visit to China and to Iran may yet be interpreted as a fulfillment of Osama Ben Laden’s dream to organize a global front to fight the Crusaders and the Jews!” (*)
How does Tariq Ramadan view all this on-going turmoil, Islamic theological intransigence, centuries old dreams of the reinstitution of the Caliphate, bloody Syrian Army atrocities against its fellow citizens, the future of Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood control, not to forget all the various terrorist groups working the territory? Will his students at Oxford or moderators on his lecture circuits, or his fans in academia ask pertinent questions?
1 Al-Awan, an Arabic term that signifies time for change, similar to the Greek word Kairos.
2 Hassan al-Banna was born in 1906, in a town in the Delta of Egypt. He was the son of an imam in a local mosque. At the age of 13, he became politically involved during the 1919 general uprising against the British dominance of the country. He was a school teacher, before he founded in 1928, “The Muslim Brotherhood” and was its first Murshid(Guide). Al-Banna was very critical of King Farouq, and his government. He was assassinated in Cairo, in 1949, at the age of 42!
4 Du’at, plural of Da’iya, is the official propagator and defender of Islam. A Saudi authority, in a BBC-Arabic Interview, declared on 22 August, 2012, that Saudi Arabia sends its Du’at to non-Islamic countries.
5 Athan is the ritual call to prayer from the top of the Minaret of the mosque; it’s done five times daily.
6 Jahiliyya is, according to the Islamic worldview, the historical era that preceded the rise of Islam, thus it is designated as the “Days of Ignorance.”
7 Salafist is a term derived from Salaf, i.e. the early fathers of Islam who set forth the normative rules of the faith or of Islamic orthodoxy.
8 Jizya tax was imposed on Jews and Christians who refused to convert to Islam.
10 Reference here is to the action of Hamas (acronym for Harakat al-Mukawamat al-Islamiyyat: Islamic resistance movement) that was involved in a fight with moderate Palestinian groups that resulted in casualties among the groups opposing Hamas.
11 The Challenge of Islam to the Church and Its Mission, by Patrick Sookhdeo, Isaac Publishing, 2008, p. 160