Rochester Hills–March 18–One of the leading intellectuals of the Muslim world, Professor Tariq Ramadan, spoke on Monday evening at IAGD to a packed house of about 600 rapt listeners.
Professor Ramadan was introduced by his former student, Imam Aly Lela. Lela mentioned the prominent universities where Professor Ramadan has taught and studied, including Oxford and Al-Azhar, and rattled off a list of â€œtop 100â€ and other top groups of intellectuals of which Professor Ramadan is a member.
Professor Ramadan has a more relevant point of view than one might expect of an academic intellectual–his advice of Monday night was focused on bringing Muslims in the United States and other Western countries into alignment with an underlying fact which he emphasizes, namely that Islam has been for centuries a part of the fabric of America, and will be into the foreseeable future. Professor Ramadanâ€™s thesis is that â€œIslam is an American religion,â€ and this main thesis he approached from several different angles.
One angle he looked at was the problem in the Muslim, especially the immigrant Muslim community, of maintaining an â€œus vs. themâ€ mentality which is counterproductive, if somewhat natural for immigrants to embrace when coming into a foreign and unfamiliar culture.
Another angle was the focus on being positive, to look at our glass as being half full rather than half empty–making the most of our current situation.
Professor Ramadan spent a lot of time discussing positive and negative perceptions of identity, arguing that a negative identity is made by looking at an external group of others and defining them as different and thereby defining ourselves by our dissimilarity to that. He pointed out that much of Western culture is built on this negative identity, being an identity formed on the basis of its being non-Muslim, defined in relation to the Muslim civilizations that were the neighbors of the West.
The professor pointed out that this concept of us vs. them, and his implicit argument that in fact Muslims are already a part of the American culture, led to a corollary, that being intrinsically part of America, Muslims must contribute in all fields to America. The professor emphasized this at length, and pointed out that these contributions must be in many different fields, including the arts and humanities. He named sport, music, intellect, science, culture, philosophy, politics, spirituality, and art. He emphasized the importance of spirituality. As a caution the professor argued that if Muslims do choose to go into politics they must do so with the aim of serving and contributing, not mere self-aggrandizement.
Also in support of his thesis of Islam being an American religion, Professor Ramadan described and countered the arguments of religiously extreme beliefs of Salafis that Muslims must embrace the â€œus vs. themâ€ model to the point of self-isolation. Professor Ramadan explained that the majority opinion among jurists is that Muslims must engage in Western societies rather than isolate themselves, that they should honestly commit themselves to loyalty to their nations–although this loyalty might manifest in legal resistance against injustice and oppression such as the abuses committed by far-right Americans against Muslims in the wake of 9/11, such as torture, rendition, and illegal imprisonment.
An underlying message of his speech was that it is not necessary for Muslims to be obsessively self-conscious about whether they are being loyal to their belief when they are loyal to their nation. Stand up and be true to yourself and your religion and you will naturally be loyal also to your religion and your nation.
Another hole in the â€œus vs. themâ€ mentality is the idea that Muslims are for the first time a minority in the US or in other Western countries. Dr. Ramadan pointed out that so many times in the past and in the present around the world Muslims have been the minority. For example in Africa, China, Asia, and Europe, for centuries Muslims have lived as minorities. Granted that being from a minority population is still a new experience for some of those who have recently immigrated to the United States from Muslim majority countries.
In support of this idea of our implicit inclusion in the past, present, and future of this nation is Professor Ramadanâ€™s argument that the three essential components of engagement are the â€œthree Lâ€™s,â€ namely Law, Language, and Loyalty. Muslims must obey the law, must learn the language, and must be loyal. As a side note at this point Professor Ramadan pointed out that at this point some anti-Muslim intellectuals who are knowledgeable about Islam but deliberately and methodically working against Islam now try to twist the idea of loyalty against Muslims, by trying to peddle the belief that loyal Muslims who are actively embedded in and engaged with the society are in fact only engaged with the West in order to subvert it. This Professor Ramadan argued is a very dangerous tactic by those anti-Muslim bigots.
Stop talking about the process of integration, argued Professor Ramadan–begin talking about how to contribute.