By Inas Younis
23 October 2015
Professor Tariq Ramadan has been described as one of the “most important
innovators for the 21st century” by Time magazine, and is considered as one of
Europe’s most prominent intellectuals. Professor of contemporary Islamic
studies at Oxford University, he is the author of a number of highly
influential books on Islam.
Ramadan holds an MA in philosophy and French Literature and a PhD in
Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, he studied
classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University.
After the recent influx of refugees into
European countries, how do you see the rise of far- right groups?
I do not think that the rise came after the
influx. Over the last 20 years or so, what we have seen in many European
countries, like France of course, but even in Britain, Austria and now in
Norway and Sweden, is a discourse nurturing fear, coming from the far right
parties and populist parties. Sometimes, they are not exactly the same. They
are nurturing a sense that within globalization, the countries and people are
losing their identities.
The populist parties are normalizing the
discourse. So in fact, we are demonizing the far right parties but we are
normalizing their discourse. And this is very dangerous because even though
they are not going to win the election they are winning the narrative and shaping
it in a way that is very problematic.
What do you mean by populism?
There are four main features that define
populism. Populism is emotional politics. It deals with the emotions of the
people and it nurtures a sense that we should not deal with facts and figures
but deal only with anecdotes not rationality.
Second, it nurtures the victim as well as
"us vs. them" mentality. Lastly, it offers simplistic answers to
complex questions. If for example there is an unemployment problem, then the
rhetoric becomes that these people are coming to take our jobs. When you are
not dealing with actual politics you will be dealing with these four features.
The refugee crisis was the revealing factor
and not the reason for the rise of far right groups. Because when you deal with
facts and figures you realize that Europe needs refugees, they need migrants.
And all the figures are showing them they need millions, not a few hundred
thousand. Why? For one thing, the society is becoming old and the world around,
the Africans and Asians are a young population.
What about the integration of those
immigrants into new communities; Do you see calls for their assimilation?
The problem once again is to keep repeating
as a mantra, “it's not working, it's not working. Those Muslims are not
integrating,” and I am saying exactly the opposite. I am saying you are lying.
At the grassroots level, far from the controversies at the national level of
anecdotes, the historical movement is working. In cultural and religious terms,
it’s working. What is not working is something else, which is social justice,
urban policies, educational opportunities, and equality.
So we have to reconcile ourselves with the
socio-economic approach and not to “ethnocise” or “Islamicise” the
socio-economic problems. By doing so, this is where the populists are winning
the game. And it has come down to become a discussion about assimilation. But I
am sorry, cultural and religious integration is working. We need now to get
past the integration discourse.
Don’t tell me if you can integrate, that’s
done. Tell me how you can contribute. As long as we keep repeating as a mantra:
‘integration integration.’ We are nurturing this perception that it doesn’t
work. The success of integration is to stop talking about integration.
I keep repeating this, but this is very
important because the populists are working on emotions, meaning perceptions.
So when for example, Huntington was talking about the Clash of Civilizations at
Versailles, they responded to him by saying oh no, it’s a clash of ignorance.
And I said no, it's neither this nor that, it’s a clash of perceptions. How you
perceive and nurture perception is based on Emotions which are based on
irrational constructions or non-rational constructions, which is not exactly
How do you see the increasing rhetoric
against Islam, especially after the rise of the so-called Islamic state, which
uses Islam to justify terror?
Once again, we have to be very cautious. We
have to keep the historical dimension here. What is happening with ISIL is not
new. It happened also with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It started, in fact, in
1979 with the Iranian revolution and this became the starting point of this
Now my take on this is, we as Muslims can
keep saying ‘oh this has nothing to do with our religion’. But I think we are
not addressing the issue. Yes, we have to come with a very clear religious
discourse, saying that this is not Islamic. But we need to have a political
discourse. And the political discourse should address the causes and reasons,
because it's not as if this just happened out of nowhere.
For example, in the states you have those
who say we have to tackle the issues of extremism, and at the same time, their
governments are talking to Gulf States that are promoting literalism, which is
the starting point of everything. So how do you call your citizens to be
moderate when you are nurturing the literalist’s understanding of Islam? So
there is a contradiction in terms, and in fact your economic interests are going
against your social peace and stability. So you have to take a decision. What
do you want exactly? So we need to politicize all of this a bit. We continue
talking about the youth as if they are disenfranchised and so on and so forth.
But look, it’s more than just frustration. They are asking good questions. They
want to know what you are doing with justice in your policies.
Do you think that people’s fears
regarding the rise of Islamic extremism are legitimate? And should Muslims
share the same fears?
The far-right has been using
anti-immigrants rhetoric to win supporters.
We are all scared. Do you know what the
common disease we all share with Muslims, people of other faiths or our fellow
citizens? It is victimhood. We are all victims. So where are the people who are
responsible? You have George W. Bush saying we are victims and you have the
other side saying we are victims of the American policy. So welcome to the
world of no subjects, the world of all victims.
If you watch TV or the people in the media,
of course it’s legitimate to be scared. So we have to acknowledge the fact that
people are scared and to differentiate between the fears of people at the
grassroots level of ordinary citizens from the way this fear is being
‘instrumentalised’ by populist parties.
It’s the instrumentalisation of fear that
we have to struggle against. But we need to respect those who are feeling the
fear. We must understand the difference between the grassroots fears of people
and the way it’s being instrumentalised.
This is why we have to be willing to
explain and be proactive. This is why we need to do, what I called for some 12
years ago, by embracing a “new We.”
How much of the rhetoric now that we are
hearing in Western nations is mimicking the rhetoric that have been hearing in
Muslim majority countries for decades, especially as it pertains to this
growing obsession with identity politics.
Of course, if you have something that we
are all sharing, which is the victim mentality, then you will have the identity
business everywhere. How do we define ourselves? When you have a crisis in
defining yourself, you are going to reduce your identity to only one thing. So
it's only when you are at peace that you are going to understand that you have
multiple identities. So, in a world where we are all scared, we end up reducing
ourselves to one identity and this is the polarization and the ‘us versus them’
But if you understand that you have
multiple identities that are overlapping with others, and that there are things
that we are all sharing then, you will be at peace. But this takes time effort
Tariq Ramadan on Muslim Identity (II)
23 October 2015 00:00
Why do you think becoming an observant
Muslim has become so confusing for young people these days?
Along with other reasons, including
negative perceptions, we have a problem with the way we are educating our young
Muslims, not only here but in Muslim majority countries as well.
When you are scared, when you are feeling
on the defensive or you feel that you are in danger because everything that is
being said about Islam is negative, you end up focusing, as a psychological
natural reaction to norms, like Halal and Haram, which is wrong. In fact, it is
not by law that you are going to be protecting yourself. You protect yourself
through meaning and understanding. So, we need more education on the substance
and not more on the limits. But as we are scared, it's become all about limits,
limits, limits. And this is natural reaction. But it’s not the right reaction.
And sometimes what is natural is not right.
The only way to feel at peace is to feel confident with the essence of the
teachings, and with your spiritual journey. Teaching what it means to be
autonomous, to be free: to free yourself from your ego in spiritual terms and
to educate yourself among human being in social terms. This is so essential, so
we have a crisis in education, which calls for us to go back to teaching the
essence of the message.
Do you think that Muslims need to be
Yes, but you yourself are dealing with
Muslims and you can see how self critical we really are, to the point that it
has become distressful. All the Muslims are not happy with their leadership, we
are not happy with the followers, we are not happy with our mosques, we are not
happy with the imams, we are not happy with the men and women. So we are not
happy. We are self-critical, but we are unhappy in an emotional way, so it's
not structured, it's not sophisticated. We need to be able to confront some of
our interpretations. There is such diversity in Islam so we have to be
constructively self-critical in a rational and structured way and not in an
emotional defeated way, as victims.
You wrote in one of your articles that
it is imperative that we reject the “Islamisation” of education and
socio-economic issues that require political, not religious solutions. Can you
define “Islamisation” then elaborate on what you mean by political versus
When you deal with radicalization in the
jails, or in the suburbs in France, or in the cities in the states you might
come to think these people have a problem. Islam is creating this radical mindset
and so Islam must be the reason. We tend to find cultural or religious reasons
for things which have nothing to do with religion. For example, during the
riots in France, some ten years ago, the minister of Interior at that time,
Sarkozy, asked the Muslim organizations to issue a fatwa against violence. I
said, what’s that? These are French people telling their government we need
more justice, we need education, we need social institutions. This has nothing
to do with Islam. So because you don’t know how to deal with them and to give
them jobs and education, you ask the Muslims, where are the Imams. That’s
And we are doing the same thing everywhere.
By reducing the discussion on violent extremism to just one religious side, you
forget to deal with the other side, by asking what are your policies. What are
you doing in this country? You will have voices which are going to be vocal.
They are not going to keep quiet because they feel that they are American. We
are Islamizing all the issues. As if the problem is Islam. No the problem is
socio economic justice, education, equality. So don’t talk to me about the
democratization process if you are not willing to talk about stability. You are
making it all politics and structural. It’s not going to work if there is no
economic stability. This shift of always turning against culture, or with
Huntington’s feeling that the future is not going to be about political
interest but about civilizations issues, is shifting the true questions about
politics and justice away from reality towards China versus the U.S or Islam
versus the west. That’s not the reality. But by shaping the mindset to think in
those terms we are falling into the trap.
What is your core identity or is this
concept a fallacy?
I have multiple identities some of them
will be more at the forefront depending on the context. As a Muslim its quiet
clear, I may be a Swiss or American by culture or memory, but at the moment I
am dealing with my death or the death of the people I love, I am a Muslim, because
this is the meaning of my life.
But when I am in involved in politics, I am
a Swiss because I have to vote somewhere. At the moment I am dealing with
international issues, I am a Universalist because I want for others what I want
for myself. I do not want justice for the Swiss people and injustice elsewhere.
So it depends on the context. Of course there is a part of our identity that is
there no matter what the context or historical situation. And for me, at the
end of the day I belong to my principles.
I will be against my government if it’s
against my principles.
I will be against other Muslims if they are
acting against my principles. This is what I got from my religion. My
brotherhood has limits and conditions. If you are unjust, my brotherhood or sisterhood
should react and resist this injustice.
What can you tell me about your personal
faith and how it informs your day to day life?
It's an ongoing process. The way you are
with Allah (swt) is the way He is going to be with you. There is something that
we got from the mystical tradition, the traditional tradition and the legal
tradition; renew your intention.
At the end of the day, ask why you are
doing what you are doing. Are you doing it to serve God, which means serve
humanity, because the best among you is the best to humanity? Or are you doing
it for money, power and fame? What are your goals?
So my relationship with Allah is always to
come back to myself. It's between you and yourself that you will find the very
meaning of God’s presence in your life. I myself do not nurture the sense of
guilt. I nurture the sense of responsibility and forgiveness. And this is very
important to me.
Terrorists have used the following words from Quran to support
their act in having sex with slaves:
23.1. Successful indeed are the believers.
23.5. And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts, from
illegal sexual acts)
23.6. Except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that
their right hands possess, for then, they are free from blame;
However, Quran forbids Muslims to have sex with female non-Muslims
and considers them as adultery. The
following is the extract:
(سورة النور, An-Noor, Chapter #24, Verse #3)-Mohshin Khan translation:
marries not but an adulteress-fornicatress
or a Mushrikah, and the adulteress-fornicatress
none marries her except an adulterer-fornicator
or a Muskrik [and that means that the man who agrees to marry (have a sexual
relation with) a Mushrikah (female polytheist, pagan or idolatress) or a
prostitute, then surely he is either an adulterer-fornicator,
or a Mushrik (polytheist, pagan or idolater). And the woman who agrees to marry
(have a sexual relation with) a Mushrik (polytheist, pagan or idolater) or an adulterer-fornicator, then she
is either a prostitute or a Mushrikah (female polytheist, pagan, or
idolatress)]. Such a thing is forbidden to the believers (of Islamic
As Quran acknowledges it to be a sin to have sex with
non-Muslim slaves, how could Jihadists use Quran 23:5, 6 to justify their act
The same is mentioned in the Quranic verse below:
Al-Baqara, Chapter #2,
not marry Al-Mushrikat (idolatresses, etc.) till they believe (worship Allah
Alone). And indeed A SLAVE WOMAN WHO BELIEVES IS BETTER THAN a (free) Mushrikah
(idolatress), even though she pleases you. And give not (your daughters) in
marriage to Al-Mushrikun till they believe (in Allah Alone) and verily, a
believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater), even though he
pleases you. Those (Al-Mushrikun) invite you to the Fire, but Allah invites
(you) to Paradise and Forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayat (proofs,
evidence, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they
phrase, a slave woman who believes, as mentioned above refers undoubtedly
female Muslim slaves instead of non-Muslim slaves. Thus, Quran has high preference to Muslim slaves
than non-Muslim slaves.
Al-Baqara, Chapter #2,
Quran also forbids Muslims to put female Muslims into trial
as mentioned below:
Al-Burooj, Chapter #85,
‘Verily, THOSE WHO PUT INTO TRIAL the believing men and BELIEVING WOMEN
(by torturing them and burning them), and then do not turn in repentance (to
Allah), then they WILL HAVE THE TORMENT OF HELL, and they will have the
punishment of the burning Fire.’
As the phrase, those who put into trial, is mentioned above
with the phrase, believing women, it is obvious that Quran forbids Muslims to
put women into trial. As Muslims must not put women into trial, it is
irrational to use Quran 23:5 & 6 to justify the act of forcing female
Muslim slaves to have sex with them.
Thus, the only justifiable act is for male Muslims to marry
female Muslim slaves. However, Quran
does not allow Muslims to force female Muslims to marry what they do not
like. The following is the extract:
An-Nisaa, Chapter #4,
‘And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly
with the orphan-girls then MARRY (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four; but
if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only
one or (THE SLAVES) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent
you from doing injustice.’
As the phrase, the slaves, is mentioned above with the word,
marry, it implies that Quran could only permit muslims to have sex with slaves
if they have married them. Or in other
words, Quran only permits Muslims to have sex with Muslim slaves who are also
their wives. As the phrase, deal justly
(with them), is mentioned above with the word, slaves, it implies that Quran
demands Muslims to deal with slaves justly.
How could Jihadists claim to deal with Muslim slaves justly if they
force them to marry them to whom they dislike?
How could Jihadists claim to deal with Muslim slaves justly if they
would force them to have sex with them to whom they dislike? In order to deal with Muslim slaves justly,
they have to have sex with them if they are willing and are married. Besides, Quran forbids Muslims to put female
Muslim slaves into trial by forcing them to have sex with them. Thus, the act of Jihadists to have sex with
Muslim slaves through violence is against the words of Quran.
passage 23:1-11 which incorporates the noted verses spell out some
of the attributes of true believers. If this included extramarital sex with
captive or slave women, the Qur'an would have accommodated the latter or their
offspring in its inheritance laws, which cover all forms of relationships (4:33).
There is no mention of ma malakat ae-man,
or of their offspring as inheritors of property.
the Prophet, or the Qur'an were to give any extra institutional sexual license
to men, the pagan Arabs would have unquestionably charged him for this. They
called him an impostor (30:58), insane
(44:1, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36). They charged him with forging
lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making
up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious
witchcraft that was bewildering (10:2, 37:15, 46:7) and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn
(17:47, 23:70, 34:8).They also found
the revelation strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), and condemned it
as the legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). But
not one single word did they utter that pointed, even remotely, to his
sanctioning of any form of sexual license.
traditional interpretation of ma malakat
ae’man invoking an institution of slavery in the biblical or historical
sense is totally misleading as expounded in the main body of this article.
Qur'an sanctions similar ‘rights and duties’ to men and women in many areas and
just and balanced ‘rights and duties’ on conjugal matters with monogamy as a
social norm .
It will be
therefore be a gross mistake to interpret the verses 23:5/6, in a
gendered manner to sanction unlimited sexual freedom to men-folk with female
captives, slaves and their like. Moreover, the Qur’an fully clarifies itself
with the progress of the revelation. Thus, as Muhammad Asad observes, quoting
al-Razi and al-Tabari, the Qur’an prohibits sexual relation with any woman
other than one’ lawful wife