Tariq Ramadan is a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. He tells anchor Lisa Mullins what it’s like to be Muslim in American today, and how Muslims are prepared to work in partnership with others to diminish mistrust. Download MP3
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LISA MULLINS: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Many Muslim scholars who reside in the West say it’s increasingly difficult to feel at home in this part of the world. Tariq Ramadan, who’s a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, is one of those scholars. Ramadan is the Swiss-born academic who was barred from visiting the US during the George W. Bush administration. But last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an order that paved the way for Ramadan to come here. Now, he’s in the US to promote his new book, called What I Believe. In the book, Ramadan explains why the voices of moderate Muslims are often drowned out by those who advocate violence.
TARIQ RAMADAN: I would say that very often when someone is advocating violence, he or she is heard by the West and by the media because this is the reality of the intrinsic logic of media, bad news is news in itself and the voices that are calling for condemning violence, they are not heard. But for the Muslims at the grass roots level, it’s really important at the [INDISCERNIBLE] level to be quite clear on the fact that this violence is not only non-Islamic, it’s anti-Islamic, it’s not us. And the great majority of the Muslims abide by the law of the country, speak the language of the country and they are loyal to the country. They want the best for America. They want the best for Canada. They want the best for Europe. So I would say that the mainstream Muslim should be much more radically vocal in condemning what is wrong and advocating citizenship and what is right.
MULLINS: But most Muslim people, as you say, do not support violence as a means to an end. But why is it then, and this is one of the, I think, common questions that Americans have, and this is a time for you to be able to respond to it, why is it that when something even symbolic happens, no matter how provocative, such as the threatened burning of the Koran, or the mocking of Muhammad through a cartoon, that there is an expectation that there will somewhere in the world be a violent response by Muslims?
RAMADAN: At first that’s true because we saw it in the past, but we have to explain and get a sense of the whole picture. Look at the reactions of Western Muslims in all the Western countries. The reaction of Western Muslims were quite wise and they took a critical distance saying, I’m not going to react to this. Where did all this controversy happen? In Muslim majority countries. And this is why we have to understand that some are reacting out of frustration and also political instrumentalization. The so-called priest in Florida is not representing Christianity. He’s not representing America. But it’s very easy in Kabul to say this is America [OVERLAPPING]
MULLINS: Which is exactly the contrast of what’s happening here…
RAMADAN: Exactly. This is exactly, this is why what we have to do is to get the better sense of the complexity. How these issues could be politically instrumentalized and to go towards emotional politics in Muslim majority countries by targeting the West. But we also have to acknowledge in the West that the Muslims when they have more freedom, when they are in democratic processes, when they are not dealing with political frustration, they are more likely to respond in a wise and rational and reasonable way. And when I was in Pakistan, for example, after the [INDISCERNIBLE] crisis and I saw the people, the demonstrators, I was myself scared, say what is happening in this country? And they were burning flags and just shouting and being able to kill. And I say no, no, this cannot be the answer. But I saw behind this, political parties and movements using this as a way to win elections.
MULLINS: Right. It’s being [INDISCERNIBLE], but that happens in every culture, in every faith, including here in the United States, that there are some people who are going to exploit those basic tensions. What did you say in Pakistan and was your voice heard if you raised it?
RAMADAN: Nothing. To tell you the truth, not enough. Not enough heard. But…
MULLINS: What did you say?
RAMADAN: No. I said that this is not the way to respond to this and the only way is through dialogue and by understanding. I’m saying the same things on both sides. I’m against emotional politics here. I’m against emotional politics there. But what we should do is really talk to the mainstream with people who are ready to resist this temptation to go towards blind rejection of the other. So I’m doing in the West, but when I’m visiting Pakistan and other countries, I’m doing exactly the same. And the good news in the whole process is that yes, we have populists on both sides, so to speak, that are using this and polarizing the whole debate. But we also have reasonable voices and they understand now that in our time all this clash of perceptions can be used, that we need now from within people who can bridge the divide and try to do something.
MULLINS: Okay, many people look to you to bridge the divide. Not only people in the West, but people in other parts of the world as well, particularly the Muslim world, and you are held in high esteem by many. But there are many people who feel disappointed in you because they feel as though you are in this privileged position, yet you also are doing some equivocating. And, as you know, it keeps coming back very often to certain issues including stoning. Let’s just take that, stoning of women who are accused, for instance, of committing adultery. Why have you not insisted on, to the extent that is within your power, a complete ban? Why equivocate and say well, we should have a moratorium?
RAMADAN: What am I saying? I’m saying to the Muslims, look, I have three questions to the scholar. There are texts, no one can deny the fact that there are texts talking about…
MULLINS: In the Koran?
RAMADAN: Yes, in the Koran and in the [INDISCERNIBLE] traditions, talking about stoning, corporal punishment and death penalty. What I’m saying to the scholars, three questions. What do the texts say? What are the conditions to implement these texts? And in which social or political environment? As long as you don’t come with answers and a consensus on this, it’s not implementable. Why? Because what we are doing now, is that we are playing with the texts and implementing these texts on poor people and women, not at all with any kind of understanding the objectives.
MULLINS: Well, that seems to make it pretty cut and dry.
RAMADAN: No, but the point is for me, is that when you speak as a believer to Muslims, you cannot just [SOUNDS LIKE] condemn from the West, you have to come from within the process, within the tradition and to be able to speak in the name of Islam to Muslims and to say, it’s not because I want to please the West that I’m saying it’s wrong, it’s in the name of Islam that what we are doing today is wrong. So, it’s a moratorium to open up an internal debate. This is the only way. You can’t condemn this from here, it’s not going to change. So let me just end with this, which for me is very important, is after I said that the Mufti of Egypt, for example, supported my point. I went to Morocco and in Morocco I met with 35 scholars. They supported my point. In Pakistan, they now are thinking about a moratorium on death penalty. So, that’s good. Now we are understanding that from within the Islamic universe of reference, condemnation is not going to change anything. We need a pedagogical process from within to let the people understand, as Muslims, that if we stop it’s not to please the West, it’s in the name of Islam.
MULLINS: Thank you. Tariq Ramadan, who’s new book is called What I Believe. Nice to have you here. Thank you.
RAMADAN: Thank you so much.
MULLINS: You can see and hear more of our interview with Tariq Ramadan at TheWorld.org and we have a video of him in our studio discussing how moderate Muslims and other Americans can work together at the grassroots level.
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