Saturday, May 06, 2006

Muslim Reformation?

I was heartened by the recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary by Tariq Ramadan, erstwhile grandson of one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood. In it, he visited several European Muslim communities as well as other parts of the Muslim world such as Pakistan, in search of corroboration of his idea that there can, will and should be a Muslim Reformation. The basis of this would lie in the Islamic concept of ijtihad, a constant process of intellectual inquiry and challenge of precepts.

However, the elders of the community in Europe, and pretty much everyone in majority-Muslim countries, refuted the idea that ijtihad should extend beyond tinkering with the fringes - an uncanny echo of my own complaints on TWAJ and their inability to challenge the fundamentals.

Ramadan thinks that a Reformation would have to be born in the European Muslim Diaspora, as the next generations find ways to accommodate both their Western surroundings and Islamic culture. He believes that this process of using ijtihad to find mutual ground and salve the anger and tension between the rather monolithic and increasingly extreme Islam he sees, and the ever more liberal, godless and individualist West.

This is all nice in theory, but at the same time, a visit to his website finds plenty of essays in which he fails to apply objective thought to challenge the headline causes of political Islam - America's War On Terror, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His views, whilst beautifully articulated, are ultimately not far removed from the standards of Fisk, Galloway, Abu Hamza, Qaradawi et al.

Until the genuine religious liberals such as Tariq Ramadan can apply the same logic to reach new conclusions on political issues, and use the same eloquence to bring extremists to new accommodations of previously unacceptable views, there continues in my view to be no hope of a true Reformation, and therefore little chance of Islam sitting in genuine comfort alongside and within the European host culture.


Ismaeel said...

I wrote about this programme over on

The main problem with Professor Ramadan's approach is half of the issues he was dealing with and the conclusions he was dealing with were not matters of ijtihad, but simply going back to classical understandings of issues. Islam does not require reformation, it needs a renewal of it's classical works which are infinitly more nuanced and able to build better understandings between Muslims and non-Muslims

freedmanslife said...

Thanks for pointing out this subtlety, Ismaeel. I think that this has its parallels in Judaism, where we are quick to go down a path of total reinterpretation with the Reform and Liberal (and to some extent Masorti) movements, when actually there are plenty of reformist texts that can be found that allow a lot more leeway for modernity. Maimonides would be a great example - also a respected figure among his contemporaries in Islamic academia (ie Calamus).