By Nushka Nafeel
September 28, 2015
One should not be rooted to his own traditions but should be to open to others too, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies of the Oxford University, Tariq Ramadan said.
He was delivering a public lecture on 'Pluralism and its Contemporary Challenges' at the National Archives Auditorium recently. The lecture was organised by the Bakeer Markar Centre for National Unity.
"Pluralism is within you. It should be celebrated and lived with learning to look through all dimensions," Prof. Ramadan said.
He said a human being can have multiple identities but it must not be viewed in a narrow negative sense. Prof. Ramadan also stressed the significance of being comfortable with one’s own identity when living in a multi-cultural society like Sri Lanka.
"Today, many discussions are held even in Sri Lanka to talk about the integrity on multiculturalism and potential of living together in a mixture of religions," he said. Speaking about integration and Sri Lanka, Prof. Ramadan said: “ I would never use the word integration with a country like Sri Lanka. I do not know who is integrated to what. Is the minority living here integrated? Even they belong to this country, they are not migrants. The difference between indigenous people and migrants is, the indigenous people are older migrants. It is a question of history and a question of time”.
Emphasising the fact that integration should be avoided in Sri Lanka, Prof. Ramadan said people from all spiritualties, religions, background, traditions and cultural memories shape the Sri Lankan citizen.
“We live in a pluralistic society. People with different religions, traditions, cultures and memories live together to achieve the same goal and to share the same future. One should not be rooted to his own traditions but he should be to open to others too." Professor Ramadan said multiple identities are a tool to stand up against injustice.
"Whether you are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Hindu we should be loyal to our principles. All spiritualities and religions in the world speak about dignity, justice and freedom. If you are a Sri Lankan and you witness the government doing something wrong, you must stand against it using your identity as a Sri Lankan citizen. If you are a Muslim and you witness a Muslim doing something wrong, then you have to speak up as a Muslim. All of us, though we practice different religions, share common values.”
Professor Ramadan highlighted that there might be many technical terms to define pluralism but one has to look at that in a practical way. "We should learn ways to drive away the fear of pluralism. Try to tackle the issues and see what we have to do to make this place a better place, to face the challenges culturally and socially."
He added that we need to go out and look at the world. "You need thoughts, not miracles or beliefs. You can find meaning in almost anything but that depends on the meaning you are seeking. It is the conflict of perceptions. We have a rather restricted view of reality, but there are countless other windows, other ways of understanding and perceiving the world. To get a wider perspective it is necessary to extend the limitations of reason and rationality. We need to see not just through our minds but also through our hearts," Professor Ramadan said.
"Learn to reconcile with the different dimensions of your identity, different interpretations and accept the diversity in those interpretations. Pluralism exists both inside and outside every religion. You deal with both," he said.
“I am a Muslim but that does not mean that I represent all Muslims,” Professor Ramadan added. He said the freedom that many enjoy today is just a superficial attraction.
"It is a problem with the so called modern culture. It lets a person do whatever he wants and makes them think that they enjoy the freedom, but in reality they follow the instincts of the outer world. We need to have limits and principles. Even Buddhist traditions, Christian traditions, Hindu traditions or Muslim traditions would emphasise the same. All spiritual or religious traditions have some notion of universal values," Professor Ramadan said.
He said our own perception of truth is only a single view point over the horizon.
"Our own religion or way of life is a partial reflection of the truth. The true meaning can come only when appreciating the truth. You belong to the truth but truth does not belong to you. The meaning can emerge only by experiencing plurality. To be fully human you should share the truth of others and other religions. Meet the human being accepting the truth in their religion, tradition and philosophies," he said.
"All sorts of religious exploration lead to the same destination. Notions of equality, freedom and humanity belong to all religious traditions and all philosophies," Professor Ramadan said. Faith is the essential aspect of human life. Faith is essential and all faiths are similar, so society should respect all religious and cultural traditions." He said one should not confuse spirituality with emotion and the spirituality should not be set against rationality.
"Politics are driven by emotions in countries where ethnicity and religion play the vital role. Spirituality is what you get deep down in your heart and emotion is what influences you. The world did never fail to react to it. When Princess Diana died the emotion that flowed was unbelievable. Recently when one picture of a drowned little boy went viral in the internet, the whole world reacted to it, when for the last five years people were being killed and were dying in the Mediterranean sea. Who is playing this? And how do we react to such a situation? Intelligence should deal with the act of freedom; emotion driven by politics is dangerous. One should not confuse himself with deep spirituality which is giving us freedom and emotion and gives us superficial freedom," he said.
World renowned academic and philosopher Tariq Ramadan, talking about the difficult times the country underwent for the past years, said Sri Lanka is a country unlike any other and its history, cultural and religious diversity makes it a rich compelling and surprising land. "The only way to solve the problem is to find justice respecting the wounds of the people and it has to be through forgiveness. We need to find collective ways to celebrate the union between emotion and reasonable reason, because ultimately that is what it is all about," he said.