Muslim scholar speaks out against Islamist abuses

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Tariq Ramadan is a Muslim scholar who appeals to Western Muslim audiences because he believes that modernity and Islam in an increasingly secular Western society are compatible.

Born in Switzerland, Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. His speeches in three Canadian cities last month, sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, were sold out, but he answered questions before speaking at St. James United Church. 

What message do you have concerning the atrocities committed in the name of Islam?

The majority of the victims are Muslims in Muslim-majority countries. These people are using some verses of the Quran, distorting the meaning of the message, misusing and abusing the religion. In Islam, we have reformers, traditionalists, literalists, mystics, but this is unacceptable and we have to condemn it.

We should avoid saying that everything has to do with religion. There are historical and political factors, economic and geo-strategic goals that add to the complexity. It has to do with power, money, and dirty politics.

To what degree is Wahhabism (Saudi Islam) responsible for radicalizing young men and what can be done to combat radicalization?

Historically, the Salafi advocates were always idealists, not involved in violence. We cannot reduce Salafi or Wahhabi traditions to be responsible for violence or violent extremists.

The problem with the Salafi trend and the Wahhabi ideology is the mindset that is being nurtured in people who are not violent, yet thinking in a binary way. It’s “us vs. them,” and “you are a better person if you detach yourself from the other.” They are using verses and prophetic traditions and nurturing something that exposes the magic mind as to “the truth.” … If you know how to play this, you can push this to
violence. This is the backdrop in psychological terms, and it is pushed on the Internet, in a very simplistic way as “let us come together as Muslims against the Other, against Them, against The West,” using the mindset to go from dogmatism to extremism.

The great majority of the young and not-so-young people in Boko Haram, in Daesh, in ISIL, in Paris, are not really trained in Islam. The common factor among these people is that their commitment to religion was not more than three months old before they did what they did. …

One of your biggest allies in the
region is Saudi Arabia, which is where this mindset is nurtured, promoted, financed, and spread. You asked your citizens to be open, to abide by the law, to be democratic, and your allies are nurturing a message of Islam, which is exactly the opposite of what you are asking of your own citizens.

What can we do?

We need to promote education, a better understanding of the principles of Islam, because there is a great deal of ignorance. … Ignorance is very dangerous, but the most
dangerous is an ignorant person
ignoring his or her ignorance.

When there is frustration, no social justice, no employment, no housing, no future, no home, and you add
ignorance, these communicative
factors promote radicalization. … We need more justice, dignity, and hope, especially for young people. …

When you are trying to master anger and to be wise and generous, we call this in Islam: Jihad. It means reform yourself and reform the world, and to do this you have to resist bad things in the world. In our tradition it means to try to be a better person.

What challenges do Muslims face?

I wrote a book called Islam and the Arab Awakening where I highlighted some of the challenges. Most Muslim-majority countries are
putting lots of money into weapons, and not enough into education. The second challenge is social justice and social opportunity.

Equality: the most important thing is to stop talking about do women wear a headscarf, yes or no, when it comes to equality between men and women. Do women have access to education, and to the job market? … We need new voices in Muslim-majority countries, to separate authority (from religion) and more ethics in politics.

We have rich countries that are putting their money in the West and not helping other sovereign Muslim-majority countries. There is no point in talking about democracy if you don’t address economic stability.

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