The Future of Islam: Possible Paths

Category: Life & Society Topics: Tariq Ramadan Views: 5207

"As Muslims in the west and in the name of faithfulness to a universal message, we need to find a solution to the multiple crises that we are in," argues Tariq Ramadan during a public debate entitled 'The Future of Islam: Possible Paths,' which featured the prominent Swiss author of Egyptian origin, one of today's most important innovators of the 21st century according to Time magazine, and dubbed by others as the "Muslim Martin Luther." What are these crises? Is it that Muslims are struggling to juggle the responsibility of defending Islam whilst deadly acts of terrorism are carried out in the name of this faith? Is it the complexity of leading an Islamic lifestyle in a secular society? More importantly, how should western Muslims deal with such crises and what are the solutions. Joining Dr Ramadan in discussing the future of Islam at the London School of Economics was writer, broadcaster and critic Ziauddin Sardar, who has authored a number of Islamic and cultural books and often contributes to British newspaper, the Observer.

The discussion explores the notion of Ijtihad, "the reading of the scriptural sources, when the text is not obvious, where there is latitude for interpretation or when the text has not been backed by prophetic tradition." As part of the solution to our "multiple crises," firstly, Ramadan addresses the issue of interpretation of scriptural sources in that what is necessary nowadays is a better interpretation of Islamic terminology. He states, "we now have people accepting that Shariaa, the set of laws, or penal code, is not something that was understood at the beginning of Islamic Sciences," thus part of the problem is that we do not know the roots of our tradition and terminology and this is of major importance for the Muslims' escape from the current dilemma.

Asserting the importance of context, Ramadan begins by saying, "We were told by the prophet of Islam himself that it wasn't going to be the end with him, that every century we would have a group of people helping the Muslim community to understand the new reading of these scriptural sources." Highlighting a key point here, Ramadan argues that a true understanding of environment to establish a renewal in the reading of the text is what is truly important. Sardar further emphasised this idea of re-understanding the scriptures according to the situation as he states, "If we believe that the Quran is an eternal text then I can only have an interpretive relationship with it that changes when a new generation comes along. Most Muslims do not have a relationship with their texts and leave it to a selected ulamaa to have this relationship. I believe that it needs to be re-understood every epoch that we need to re-think this relationship with the texts."

Ramadan develops his argument underlining the need for scholars of the context rather than Muslim communities looking to and relying only on scholars of the text. Like many others within Muslim communities, Ramadan underlines the danger of the issuance of fatawa, that is religious rulings by scholars, (in this case, scholars of the text), who do not in Ramadan's words, "understand the complexity of the context." He adds that scholars will refer to their sources of the Quran, the Sunnah (the Prophetic traditions), conferences and reasoning by analogy however; context is not taken into consideration. By uniting the two variations of scholars, explicitly the scholars of text and the scholars of context, there lies the solution, and this unity somewhat represents the aim of intra-community dialogue and that "is the only way forward."

Sardar contributes to this argument in his claim that it is somewhat insulting to the ability of learning for ordinary Muslims that the "idea of ijtihad can only be done by selected individuals." Sardar explores the idea of Islam following a pattern of reduction. He argues that what was introduced by the Prophet of Islam, namely the concept of collective consensus, thus conventionally democratic, has now been reduced to the consensus of scholars. Furthermore, Sardar criticises what he calls the "mechanical fashion" of learning that is undertaken by many religious scholars and this itself has only come about through the reduction of knowledge. To make this point clearer, Sardar refers to history, arguing, "Conventionally, the idea of knowledge was a broad category that meant all knowledge, but the concept now has been reduced to mean religious knowledge." He adds that "mind does not enter the concept at all", frankly stating that what these scholars have learnt is the result of a "mechanical exercise." Contemporary debates in both Islamic and non-Islamic communities have focused on this strongly criticised form of Islamic education. Sardar demonstrates his viewpoint by relating an experience he had in Cairo when he had inadvertently taken part in a meeting that included a blind scholar and a number of students. The scholar was questioned on a specific matter and answered the query by telling one of the students, "to get up, walk down and go up to the third floor, find the third book shelf, pull out the fifth book, open to page 152, read paragraph three and lo and behold, there was the answer to the question that was asked."

What about the Muslims of the west? What are the responsibilities of this vast and internally diverse group? Ramadan reasons that the diversity itself that consists of so many trends needs to unite, accept the range and take part in respectable debate. Modern Islamic scholars often refer to this necessity of Islamic communities to respect not only the viewpoints and arguments of the other but also of each other within this heterogeneous group. However, this argument more often than not paradoxically takes place within an environment of denouncement and disrepute from those who hold conflicting viewpoints. Ramadan calls for the requisite of criticism towards those actions that are fulfilled in the name of Islam however contradict Islamic principles, most notably discrimination against women with domestic violence and forced marriages as examples. In addition, as European Muslims, "because we live in free society we are able to promote self-criticism," for example addressing the issue of racism within Muslim communities and particularly "what is close to slavery in petromonarchies."

Ramadan concludes his discussion referring to the "silent revolution of the Muslim mind, of remaining faithful to values but moving on and dealing with new challenges." The responsibility of western Muslims is not only to be part of the dialogue process between the west and Islam but also to take part in "an interactive monologue," that is "to be able to speak to your own self, to listen, to be critical and ask questions (about different voices)." Ramadan emphasises a key point that is the responsibility as western Muslims to build bridges between the two civilizations, for example during the Danish cartoon crisis that depicted the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist, there was "the promoting of freedom of speech, "on one side and the "promoting of sacred religious dogma" on the other without respect from either side. There is a an urgency in the tackling of new challenges for the modern Muslim and specifically the western Muslim as the latter upholds a responsibility in maintaining intrinsic values of religion whilst transforming with time and situation. This as Ramadan labels it, is "evolution in the name of faith and not against faith," and this is the key for the future of Islam.

Karima Sbitri writes for the Arab daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat based in UK.

  Category: Life & Society
  Topics: Tariq Ramadan
Views: 5207

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Older Comments:
ME said:
I agree for the most part with what Karima Sbitri has written. What really bothers me is some of the comments that have followed. They have turned Islam into a cultural religion for people from the Middle East and Asia to follow. They believe that anything "Islamic" has to be from their own ethnic culture.

If you really believe that Muhammed was sent to complete the teachings of all of the prophets before him, why do you ignore all of those other prophets and instead focus on people who lived after Muhammed? Why do we hear about Aishah instead of Mary? Why do we hear about Abu Bakr instead of Moses? We hear about them because most Muslims believe that Islam is only about Muhammed and his life.

They have taken pre-Islamic cultural traditions from the Middle East, and put it in place of religion. Instead of striving for peace and knowledge, these people focus on what their wives are wearing, and memorizing the Quran instead of trying to understand it, and live it. All that they know is hate. There is no spirituality in their life, no introspection. They rage about "the West" and talk badly about other religions, but they aren't even smart enough to know that they are hypocrites.

Why do these so called Muslims feel that they have the right to denigrate Christianity? I have met many Christians who live Islam better than a lot of Muslims. Throughout the Quran, we hear the term "believers". It is these "believers" who have been promised paradise, not just followers of Muhammed. Furthermore, many Muslims have fallen into all of the same traps as Christianity by putting Muhammed TOO high. The Quran tells us that we should revere all prophets equally - yet these "Muslims" put Muhammed, his wives, his children and his companions higher than previous prophets. They are willing to accept only the teachings of people with similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds - which is contrary to the Quran. They have strayed from the straight path.

i disagree with what Tariq calls for .. we sudtnt allow thinkers like Tariq to play with sharia inthe name of modernisation .. what moderisation ? islam came to all ages ..and its suttalnle for every ganaration ..

what bother Tariq in islam bcaz its not suitable to this modern age?

i know , he wantts from us to throw away sharia and become secularists , in that way only we can be modern ppl . this is nonsences ..

the time shud change and suitable to islam . not islam have to change .

see to the chiristianss, they changed thier religion to be suitable to every generation, in that way they changed bible, and thay allowed every thing fotbiden is christianty ..

Tariq ramadan is not a Fiqh Scholer ..he is a thinker

we must not allow artists and writers and thinkers and poets to talk about islam .

As_salaamu Alaikum brothers and sisters in Islam, and peace be with you brothers and sisters in humanity:

Actually, Ramadhan's argument is not original at all! It is exactly what Ibn Alqayyam Aljawziyya said few centries ago. I support the idea with a condition that the rules of Ijtihad are followed. Any modern scholar worthy of the name scholar, will agree to the wealth of knowledge left by the our scholars when Islam was at it highest. Following the principles of Fiqh, like the sources of Shari'ah, like Ijma', Qyas, ans especially in the Maliki school the "Sadd Addhari'ah", and "Maquasid Al-Sharia'h", I am sure, we will bring back the Islamic Ummah to its rightfull position in the world.

Fi Amaani Allah,

Omar B.

Al SALAM alaykum, wa alaykum al SALAM, ma al SALAMI. These three verses are what muslims are suppose to use to greet, response to a greeting or to say good bye. The key point is that the word SALAM wich is in all three verses means PEACE and that is what our holy islamic religion is based on. Our prophet fullfilled his message without a doubt during his prophicy and it is for us to follow what we were taught, not to conclude our own conclusions about the religion. Islam is one of the most simple religions there is and it addresses peace, forgivness, and loyalty among other things, but yet those who call themselves mujahideen these days are so mistaken and are fooling themselves for believing heaven is waiting for those who kill the innocent children, women, and men(wa Allah a'lam). Our prophet never ever used any means of violence agianst people even those who opposed islam because his message is to make people love our religion. If you are a muslim or not i highly suggest that people read the life of Mohammed(S.A) and the stories and adventures he encountered during his message to the people which will enlighten your thoghts and understandings about Islam. If you were to use him as a role model(our prophet)and follow the Qur'an, i guarentee success and happiness is all that you will find down your path.
al SALAM alaykum wa rahmat Allah!

Assalamu alaikum. From time to time I have asked how anyone forbidden to enhance their religion could reasonably argue their religion required of the people what the prophets (pbut) had not. A typical response goes something like this generation of believers is weak and must be compelled whenever necessary to act more piously. According to whom? Or perhaps more to the point compelled by whom?

So then what were the people in the past compelled by? Versus what are they compelled by today? And why might they appear to be weaker? Or what does there seem to be less reliance upon?

While I concur with much of what Dr.Ramadan writes, it is a misnomer to think that there is a need for reformation of Al Islam. Furtheremore, to call Dr. Ramadan a "Muslim Martin Luther" is a ploy to deviate from the truth. Clearly Muslims must distance themself from those who practice extremities such as "Terrorism " or any isms. Al Islam is a well balanced way of life. The future of Al Islam lies with the Pious, those who practice patience, perseverance and adhere to the precepts of Al Islam as dictated in the Qu'ran and the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet. (SAW) Al Islam will survive the test of time, there is no need for reformations. There are those who are desparately trying to put out the light of Al Islam with their mouth or a stroke of the pen. Some Muslims are in a current dilemma because there Iman is weak. Consequently, they fall victim to dogma and schisms. In short, some muslims are so pre-occupied with materialism and global Capitalistic greed, that they are beginning to become influenced by secularism. Muslims must remain cognizant that Al Islam is the only true Democracy on the face of the Earth. Al Islam will survive the masquerading forces of Global Capitalistic Greed under the guise of Freedom and Democracy. Al Islam is total surrender to La Illaha-il-Allah, Muhammad ar rasul Allah. Muslims cannot/will not falter if they truly follow this kalima.

Excellent article.

Dr. Ramadan is right in saying that Western Muslims need to match context with the rulings of Islam, and to help build bridges between the West and the Muslim world.

Salaamu alaikum,

The other questions that we Muslims must ask ourselves is do we practically worship Allah, the eternal God of the worlds or do we worship the 8th-12th Sharia and its scholars, the Salafis or the Suffis?

Coming from a Maliki background, I had to answer this question back in 1987 and found that in my country my friends were astonished that I perform my daily prayers since then at times according to Imaam Jaafar Sadiq instructions and at other times according to what was reported to us by the other three Imaams Shafii, Abu Hanifa and Ahmad bnu Hanbal. I have a strong Suffi tradition but I made sure I am not tied to one Zawia so I have frequented Zawia Shadhiliyya, Tijaniyya, Naqshabandiyya and Qadiriyya & spent some week ends with Jamaat Tabligh and performed Qiyam allayl with Jamaat Al-Adl wal Ihsan & Alikhwan Almuslimoon; prayed many times in masaajid Shia Ithna Ashria because I don't want to fall into the trap of small shirk & sectarian dogma by which I could be tied to the teaching of one school or one leader.
BTW: Could you please tell me where in your site could I correct this mistake: "Al-Azhar university is the oldest university in the Islamic World" ?. Who said? It is totally wrong because Al-Azhar university is built in 971 CE. Actually, the oldest university in the world is in Fez, Morocco not in Cairo, Egypt. It is Al Qarawiyin university built in 859 CE by Fatima Alfihria.


Asalaamu akaykum,
I really love the quote of the Surah from the pop up box from Islamicity when you want to reply, it goes from the translation of the holy Book:
Quran 3:114
They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous.
This article is very timely. Many of us muslims in the west wish for only peace. As a muslimah, I have to endure hard stares and sometimes just outright hostility as I make my way in the world wearing Hijab. We need to have a concensus, it is difficult to tell secular persons that Islam is really peaceful when harm is being done in the name of Islam. Sure, the other guys do the same thing, but there is no profit or gain for using that to excuse what is done and being quoted in the name of Islam, Insha'allah, God knows all and will reward those who do evil with what he deems best. Mainstream Islan needs to set those who seek to do harm aside as Apostate, they twist and turn the name of Islam into something it is not. I am only a woman but have born 6 sons and 2 daughter and do not wish them to be ostracized for the actions of others.
Peace to all.


Why worry ? A religion which is very near to Allah and which was perfected in our beloved prophet Muhammad (S.A.)'s time, will remain firm and solid till the end. It is we, the so-called muslims, are not firm in our faith.If anyone desires a religion other than Islam never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good (Q/3:85) O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided (Q/3:103)Our beloved prophet said that the rope of Allah is the Holy Quran. We should hold the rope tightly and follow it strictly.O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and Do they seek for other than the Religion of Allah.-while all creatures in the heavens and on earth have, willing or unwilling, bowed to His Will (Accepted Islam), and to Him shall they all be brought back.die not except in a state of Islam.(Q/3:102)It is evident that the success of the Western nation is in the division of so-called Muslim countries, who mainly at the beck and call of Western nations. Of course, every individual has ti give his own account before Allah on the Day of Judgement. Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which ye are now, until He separates what is evil from what is good nor will He disclose to you the secrets of the Unseen. But He chooses of His Messenger. (For the purpose) whom He pleases. So believe in Allah. And His apostles: And if ye believe and do right, ye have a reward without measure. (Q/3:179). Pray to Allah every moment for salvation.

I understand Dr. Tariq Ramadan's argument on ijtehad and various other modern muslim viewpoints, however I question the relativity of it all. As we've seen in the U.S. "progressive muslim" orgranizations take advantage of that religious dogma of reinterpretation. Is there not an insight that we all require as the common man that scholars have acquired after years of training and learning. For me, the structure of education is very important, in the west we value that, only people with Ph.D's publish novel, credible science in Scientific journals, because they have gone through those prerequisites. And so I cannot discredit scholarly work at the same time as the common man I cannot say that I have an intuitive understanding of reinterpretating the Qur'an. We all agree that Interpreting the Qur'an is an Islamic science for which any science deems qualified individuals. What we ought not to loose focus on is the very fact that here in the west we dont have the institutions nec. for this science, and it is imperitive that we establish these institutions with insight from contemporary Islamic Education.

I end off by saying that mainly, we have seen evidences of extreme measures in the west that progressive muslims have taken and the measures in the Islamic world by extreme scholars which both have led to problematic events. I think its important for Tariq Ramadan to really define this reinterpretation, what is its intent and who's qualified to do it. Because clearly, we have seen both measures take place. We all seek that common ground and Insha'Allah we will find that middle ground of which Islam relishes itself upon. Let us all invite the critique of these new measures, for it is this constructive criticism which modify our state of Ummah to be an even better Ummah.

Vanderbilt University