Shared Synthesis of Euro Islam

When Tariq Ramadan talks of Islam, he makes more sense than any stereotypical mullah. Yet, the 45-year-old Geneva-based Muslim intellectual is distrusted by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. His “call to conscience,” and ideas of sublimating the ego have made secular democrats suspicious of his Muslim roots. Orthodox Muslims denounce him for being a proud European who rejects the medieval interpretation of his religion. Chosen by Time magazine as one of the most innovative people of the 21st century, Ramadan has been refused permission in the past to visit the US under the 'Patriot Act' that bars foreigners who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”Our material world perhaps finds it difficult to comprehend this deeply spiritual person. Ramadan is accused of trying to Islamise Europe. His admirers help him to (re-)invent 'Euro-Islam'. He says this is a way of life that is culturally unique, compared to Islam in the Arab world, Africa and Asia. Euro-Islam is conceived as a combined practice of personally purifying Islamic principles with European values like human rights, democracy and gender equality. Ramadan would like to see Muslims in Europe play an active, central role on the continent instead of being content with their minority status. There is no contradiction in being European and a Muslim at the same time. He is a Muslim but remains involved with non-Muslims without compromising his 'Muslim-ness'. He does not reduce his world into a space divided between him and the other. He feels responsible for and part of the society he lives in. He believes that it is possible for human beings to negotiate most differences with each other gracefully and in a non-violent way. He does not tire of repeating that the message of Islam is justice and the clash really is over reality created by the neo-liberal order that is unjust. That his maternal grandfather was Hassan al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 against western decadence and to create an Islamic State thickens the enigma around his reputation. I found the much-in-demand Swiss-born professor of Egyptian origin browsing all by himself at a bookstand when he visited Vienna for a day recently to talk about Islam and the West at the 25th anniversary of the Institute for the Study of Human Sciences. He graciously left the books to talk to Hardnews about India instead. He is expected to tour the country early next year where audiences will get to share with him his traditionalist but reasoned view of religion.He said that he has often told Europeans that they might look at other countries and experiences, if they want to learn how to deal with diversity. He expressed admiration for the Indian experience that has managed quite well with its diverse population of more than one billion. He does not deny that there are problems from literalist, Right wing and radical factions; what happened in Gujarat was shocking. What he admires most is the spiritual connection between most Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and other spiritual Indians. It is his insistence on spirituality that often makes secular democrats here look upon him as a religious fanatic.He is critical of the arrogance of European democrats who give the impression that the European experience is the greatest and only one worth practising. “Europeans refuse to see. They refuse to learn and acknowledge how a large country like India deals with the difficult task of political and religious diversity and in a much better way than Europe,” he says. He seems fascinated with the practice of so many different religions in a secular democracy like India. It is, therefore, evident that he is no dreamer of any Islamic State with a mono culture. What he celebrates is cultural diversity and a spiritual rapport between human beings practising different religions. He first travelled to India as an 18-year-old. Later, he spent time with the Dalai Lama. He looks upon the Indian experience as an important example for all societies. He would like to study it further, export it to Europe and to share it with Muslims here. Questioned about the role of 'extremist/radical Islam' in India, he suggests that mistrust and tensions between Hindus and Muslims exist and in times of crisis flare up into tragedy. Hence, political will is needed to minimise the tension because literalist, radical activities in the name of religion are a threat to diversity. Just as he inspires self-reflection among Muslims, he would like 'Hindu extremists' to review their ideas of nationalism and the importance of investing in a vibrant multi-religious society. There are real political problems like Kashmir and India's relationship with Pakistan that cannot be confused with religion.This is exactly our experience in the West. Sometimes political and social issues fall into the trap of cultural problems that have nothing to do with religion. To concentrate only upon the legal is also not enough. Instead, Tariq Ramadan talks of cultural appreciation and a spiritual relationship between human bei-ngs if they are to live in harmony with each other.