What I Believe
|Thursday, December 10,2009 10:40|
In recent years I have been presented as a “controversial intellectual.” What this means is not quite clear, but in effect everyone admits that a controversial intellectual is one whose thought does not leave people indifferent: some praise it, others criticize it, but in any case it causes them to react and think. I have never kept to a single ?eld of intervention: I have not dealt only with the “Islamic religion,” although it is important to note that one of the areas I work on is indeed theological and legal re?ection starting from within Islamic references.
I do not represent all Muslims but I belong to the reformist trend. I aim to remain faithful to the principles of Islam, on the basis of scriptural sources, while taking into account the evolution of historical and geographical contexts. Many readers who have not yet looked into religious issues or who have limited knowledge of the subject sometimes ?nd it difficult to understand my approach and methodology. Unlike literalists who merely rely on quoting verses, reformists must take the time to put things in perspective, to contextualize, and to suggest new understandings. To grasp this reasoning, readers or listeners must follow it from beginning to end: if they do not they may misunderstand its conclusions and consider that there are contradictions or that it involves “doublespeak.” Things should be clari?ed: doublespeak consists in saying one thing in front of an audience to ?atter 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 laborers, 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. (…)
Yet, what really matters lies beyond this smokescreen, which must absolutely be cast aside to grasp the essence of my thought and of my approach. In the present book, I deal with the issue of identity crisis and of the doubts that assail each and every one of us. I state ?rmly that we have multiple, moving identities, and that there is no reason—religious, legal, or cultural—a woman or a man cannot be both American or European and Muslim. Millions of individuals prove this daily. Far from the media and political tensions, a constructive, in-depth movement is under way and Islam has become a Western religion. Western Islam is a reality, just like African, Arab, or Asian Islam. Of course there is only one single Islam as far as fundamental religious principles are concerned, but it includes a variety of interpretations and a plurality of cultures. Its universality indeed stems from this capacity to integrate diversity into its fundamental oneness.
It is up to Muslim individuals to be and become committed citizens, aware of their responsibilities and rights. Beyond the minority re?ex or the temptation to see themselves as victims, they have the means to accept a new age of their history. For those who were born in the West or who are citizens, it is no longer a question of “settlement” or “integration” but rather of “participation” and “contribution.” My point is that we have now moved, and we must move, to the age of “post-integration” discourse: we must henceforth determine the profound, accepted meaning of belonging. This is the new “We” that I have been calling for, and that is already a reality in some local experiences.
Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Theology, Oxford University. He is also president of the think tank European Muslim Network in Brussels. This article (an introduction to Ramadan's new book) appeared in his website TariqRamadan.com.