RECOMMENDED READING: "Dawa and the Islamist Revival in the West" (Part 2)


A previous post discussed an article titled “Dawa and the Islamist Revival in the West” by scholar Nina Wiedl in which she explores the views of global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. In the same article, the author explores the work of global Brotherhood leader Tariq Ramadan. Of particular interest is her focus on Ramadan’s attempt to make common cause with the European Left. The author notes that Ramadan frequently cites ” the principle of ‘social justice’ as one of these shared values between Europeans and Muslims”:

In his apologetic writings for a non-Muslim audience, Ramadan attempts to demonstrate this reconciliation between Islamic and European values by developing a Europeanized version of Islamic concepts. This appears to be a modern interpretation of Surat al-Imran, verse 64, extending the meaning of “common between us and you” from the religious sphere to the realm of general values. He frequently cites, for example, the principle of “social justice” as one of these shared values between Europeans and Muslims, and argues for greater cooperation among them in pursuit of these goals.[93] This constitutes an important element of his theory of dawa, which aims to mitigate western fears of Islam, attract new converts to the faith, and improve the image of Islam in Europe.

She writes later about Ramadan’s attempts to “reach out to leftists and self-described anti-imperialists, anti-globalists and Third-Worldist groups. “

Ramadan has been among the first Islamic thinkers to intentionally reach out to leftists and self-described anti-imperialists, anti-globalists and Third-Worldist groups. He presents Islam as a spiritual complement to these leftist ideologies and emphasizes similarities between them, claiming that his concept of “Islamic Socialism” combines “religious principles with anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist politics that go back to the time of the Russian Revolution.”[104] So far, these ideologies have been mostly regarded as incompatible; a main component of the Bolshevist Revolution in 1918 was the division of state and Church, which was accompanied by the abolishment of religious education in schools. Yet, as in his writings about an Islamic state and sharia, Ramadan avoids discussing contradictions between the classical and the Islamic comprehensions of socialism. For example, the concept of Islamic socialism (al-ishtirakiyya al-islamiyya), which was exemplified in the programs of the Syrian Brotherhood during the late 1940s and 1950s, rejects non-Islamic socialism as a concept that places man over Allah.

The author then describes how Ramadan tries to reinterpret the meaning of “Jihad” as “a liberation struggle against oppression.”:

While Ramadan tries to find common values between Islam and European political movements, at the same time he attempts to reinterpret the term jihad. In an apologetic attempt to improve the image of Islam against accusations that it is a religion of violence, he seeks to argue understanding of jihad as a liberation struggle against oppression. Yet even classical Islam defines military jihad as a struggle for liberation from non-Islamic rulers; a necessary means of ending oppression and preserving freedom of religion, albeit under Islamic rule.[105] This idea is similarly expressed in the writings of militant proponents of jihad like Said Qutb, who claims that fighting is necessary for the liberation of mankind from rulers who hinder them from embracing Islam. Qutb declares that real justice and freedom of all religions can only exist in the social, economic and political system of an Islamic state under sharia law.[106] But while militant salafists reduce jihad to warfare with the goal of establishing Islamist rule, Ramadan claims to adhere to a more genuine and comprehensive understanding of jihad, which holds that Islam’s expansion can also be achieved under certain circumstances through non-violent means such as dawa. Furthermore, Ramadan never explicitly claims that liberation from oppression has to ultimately end with creation of an Islamist order. The language he chooses deliberately allows for two readings, both Islamist and humanistic/universal. As he writes, “This jihad is a jihad for life in order to preserve for every human being the rights granted for him/her by the Creator,” which, according to classical understandings of Islam, includes only the Islamic version of human rights. He quotes Surat al-Hajj, verse 40, as proof that jihad struggles to defend the rights of every religion. He fails to mention, however, that this Sura is interpreted from a classical Islamic perspective to mean that the preservation of human rights, and the principle of coexistence, can only be achieved through properly Islamic rule.[107]

Earlier, the author noted that Ramadan’ supports a model for governance consistent with that of the Muslim Brotherhood and which does not include a separation of Church and State:

Another example is his disapproval of the idea of an Islamic state. The problematic term “Islamic state” is not meant to be paraphrased. Instead, Ramadan declares publicly that “there is no Islamic state. To imitate what was done in Medina in the 7th Century is not only a dream, it’s a lie. You can not do it now.”[94]This declaration and others like it are celebrated by some of Ramadan’s Muslim and non-Muslim followers as a radical reform, similar to the division between church and state that emerged during the European enlightenment. But Ramadan’s rejection of an Islamic state does not mean that he supports a division between state and religion, or for that matter, the liberal conception of freedom of religion. He opposes the liberal-reformist stream of Islam, which calls for a strict separation between religion and state, as primarily a product of Western colonialist thinking.[95] These statements may be understood as opposing a theocracy with all decision-making power in the hands of a religious elite, in favor of the shura concept of an “Islamic democracy.” This system grants the whole population a role in the decision-making process, restricted by the framework of sharia. This model also is favored by today’s Muslim Brotherhood. But many critics claim that with the sharia as a basis, there is no place for popular sovereignty and therefore the model does not properly deserve the title of “democracy.”

Tariq Ramadan is perhaps best described as an independent power center within the global Brotherhood with sufficient stature as the son of Said Ramadan, and the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood to challenge positions taken by important Brotherhood leaders. His statements and writings have been extensively analyzed and he has been accused by critics of promoting anti-Semitism and fundamentalism, albeit by subtle means. On the other hand, his supporters promote him as as example of an Islamic reformer who is in the forefront of developing a “Euro Islam.” Ramadan is currently professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Theology and senior research fellow at St. Antony’s College (Oxford), Dohisha University (Kyoto, Japan) and at the Lokahi Foundation (London).

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