"I am a Feminist"

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Tariq Ramadan, 50, is the pop star of European Islam - he has lots of fans and enemies. The professor of "Contemporary Islamic Studies" teaches at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford. Since January 2012, he leads a "Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics" in Qatar, which was made possible by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, wife of the reform-minded Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani. Ramadan lives with his family in Geneva, where he grew up. As the grandson of the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, the devout Muslim belongs to the religious aristocracy of Islam.

This is not an easy heritage. Within Muslim circles the reformer is vilified as a traitor, criticized in the West European non-Islamic public as an apologist of a radical ideology. Especially sharp discussion occurred around Ramadan during the Iraq war of 2003/04, when George W. Bush imposed an entry ban after Ramadan had been critical of the Iraq invasion. Ramadan officially was refused a visa to teach at a US university because he had supported Palestinian charities, which in turn had connections to the Islamist Hamas movement. Hillary Clinton lifted the Ramadan ban in 2010. In some Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia the Islamic scholar is also "persona non grata", as he calls them "undemocratic regimes". Ramadan also critized French Jewish intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Levy, accusing them of giving up the "universality of human rights" in their defense of Israel. This won him the charge of being anti-Semitic. In an interview with “profil” the professor responds to the charges.

profil: Your grandfather Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Now his political heirs are ruling the country. Do you feel a certain family pride?

Ramadan: It is good, that the Muslim Brotherhood say they are for democracy. But it is not just a matter of what the Muslim Brotherhood say. And not even what they are doing. Much depends indeed on the development of other forces in the country. We have the army, whose position is not clear. If the Muslim Brotherhood now says that they are pursuing a civil state with Islamic references, then I wonder: Do they merely avaid the term "Sharia"? Within the Muslim Brotherhood there are different currents. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh Abdel Hady resigned in 2011 from the Muslim Brotherhood, he now represents an agenda that is more open than anything we've seen within the Islamist camp. Conversely, the Muslim Brothers are under pressure by the radical Salafists. Egypt was a dictatorship for decades. It takes longer to develop a democracy. Sadly, we are very far away.

profil: Even in Europe, after sixty years of democracy, we hear very little of the Islamic reformist camp. You yourself are an exception. Why is that?

Ramadan: The moderate voices are often drowned out by the fanatics. Moreover, people are happy to devide us in "Western Muslims" and Muslims in Muslim-majority countries. I try to connect the two. Either in Europe or in the Middle East Muslims should live in democratic cirmcumstances. We must strive for democracy everywhere. We must be self-critical. Tough with the governments in Muslim-majority countries, but also to our Western governments. We need to ask them why they support the regents in the oil states, although they rule so absolutely undemocratic. The Saudis then finance directly Salafists, which in turn are planning attacks against the West. Western states have democracy, but often lack consistency.

profil: You have a point there, but why do modern Muslims in Europe speak out so little for reform within Islam?

Ramadan: If you read my articles, you will see that I call for just that: "Do not let the media and political activists draw a picture of you, which it's not true" That is very important.

profil: Why is there no Muslim reform movement similar to Reform Judaism or the Protestants?

Ramadan: (laughs) I'm afraid it doesn’t work like this. The majority of Muslims are moderate. Very integrated. Islam is a Western religion. We now need just more western Muslims relate to the position. We need those votes, especially in these times of transition, in times of social tension.

profil: You laugh because I'm asking for a reform-mosque, but seriously: Why should there be no established reform movement?

Ramadan: We Muslims feel under attack by the West and are on the defensive. If one feels threatened, then one tries to close ranks. Criticism is perceived as a betrayal. We also have in Islam today is a lack of internal debate. The differences between Shiites and Sunnis could have long must discuss openly, now they break with violence. And the third problem: We need an educationally sound strategy, how do we educate our communities to discuss and to accommodate differences. Since there is no point right now to call for something that no one can understand what.

profil: Do you think that the next generation of European Muslims will be moderate or radical than your generation?

Ramadan: We have already reached the stage of "post-integration". And you know what that means? That politicians in the West should consider the new citizens as citizens. Beyond the fact that they are Muslims. The young generation today is aware of its identity, their rights and obligations. France has changed. These young people want to eat halal? Why not? They just eat halal in France.

profil: Do Christian democrats understand modern Muslims better because they, unlike the Social Democrats, can relate to religion and rites?

Ramadan: I think not. The decisive factors are the social experiences. There are agnostics who understand Islam in Europe, because they have learned about modern Muslims. Then there are religious people who understand Islam by tradition. And then there are religious people who simply fear Islam.

profil: On the left there is a lot of animosity towards Islam because feminists fear that women are forced under headscarfs.

Ramadan: I'm a Feminist - within the Islamic tradition. I am dedicated to women's rights.

profil: Would you work to ensure that women can lead Friday prayers?

Ramadan: (pause) I do not think we liberate women if we make them imam. Women can certainly be Imams with women. In fact, for me it is also ok if women speak in front of men - as long as the community agrees. You must understand, however, that the imam has not the same authority as the priest in the church. Islam does not have the same hierarchy as Christianity. More important are the lawyers who are critical of Islam, because they determine the law. There we need to have more women!

profil: Because of your attitude towards Israel many Jews in Europe consider you to be an anti-Semite. Does this accusation hurt?

Ramadan: Anti-Semitism is alien to me, it is far from my mind. The future belongs to those who find common principles beyond the confines of their own community. I have a problem with the politics of Israel, it's true. But every reasonable person has. I am also against the Saudi policy. That's doesn’t make me islamophob. Or anti-Semitic.

 

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz