Rhodri Evans reviews To be a European Muslim, by Tariq Ramadan. (The Islamic Foundation, Leicester.)
If you read this book by Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim professor top-billed at the European Social Forum, from a certain angle, it is easy to convince yourself that he is a progressive thinker.
He rejects the idea of the ultra-Islamist Hizb ut Tahrir that Europe is an “abode of war” for Muslims, somewhere they can live only at war with the society around them. On the contrary, he emphasises that Muslims in Europe have more freedom of religious practice than in many avowedly Muslim countries. “If the rate of daily [religious] practice is so low (between 10 and 15% among the whole Muslim population of Europe), it is not because of some kind of prohibition or pressure, but rather for reasons internal to the Muslim communities themselves”.
He dislikes the idea of Muslims voting as Muslims for Muslims, which would “run the risk of developing rifts between communities and encouraging the already too widespread system of lobbying and pressure groups”.
Writing the book during a sojourn in Leicester, he seems dismayed by the effects of British “multiculturalism” in encouraging Muslims to live in “a social microcosm within which they live among themselves with few contacts with... society as a whole... Young girls... are treated as if they are in India or Pakistan and... are frequently denied the opportunity to accomplish and perfect their studies”.
Elsewhere he has condemned attacks by Islamists on Israeli civilians, and said that if French Muslim girls can’t find a way to wear the hijab to school, then they should go to school anyway, without it. Unlike the Muslim Association of Britain, for example, he recognises the right for people brought up Muslim to change religion.
All this would still leave us wondering a little about why Tariq Ramadan was top-billed at the ESF, since there is nothing particularly left-wing about anything Tariq Ramadan writes.
But the angle from which his book appears progressive and enlightened is a warped one, one might even say an “Islamophobic” one. It comes from measuring Tariq Ramadan against the yardstick of Hizb ut Tahrir, or strident Islamist demagogues, as if they should be the standard for Muslims.
While Tariq Ramadan argues against those strident Islamists, the big problem, for him, is that low rate of religious practice, only 10 to 15% of Muslims saying their daily prayers. “Less than 40% attend the Friday gathering at the mosque” though “about 70% fast during Ramadan”.
In this book Tariq Ramadan aims to construct a "European Islam" more flexible than the old people's adherence to "the Asian way of living Islam" or the shrillness of Hizb ut Tahrir. Only such a European Islam, he believes, can combat "the process of accultuation which looks to be irreversible, within second or third generations". Only it can defeat "liberal (or rationalist) reformism" within Islam.
“Switching off television sets and radios, throwing away newspapers and magazines, and avoiding cinemas, theatres, and exhibitions” is an “illusory”, “crazy” project. So Ramadan, with much pondering over sacred texts, concludes that it is all right for Muslims to partake of some music, cinema etc. as long as “the content... remains in agreement with Islamic ethics”.
He assures his readers that Islamic scholars are working on problems of banks, insurance, marriage, and so on, and can give instruction, through “numerous fatawa [which] have been stipulated”.
Thus he hopes to draw Muslim youth towards what he calls the “reformist Salafi” doctrine. He distinguishes this tendency from more rigid Islamic tendencies (both political and non-political), the generally non-political and mystic Sufi tendency, and the dreaded “liberal (or rationalist) reformist tendency”; and links it with the chief ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood, al Banna, al Mawdudi, and Qutb.
Tariq Ramadan is progressive in about the same sense that the bishops who for so long stifled Irish social life were "progressive" compared to the Tridentines.