February 05, 2007

NYTimes on Ramadan: Islam in a Secular World III

So I can't make up my mind about New York Times. Of course, I can't expect a creature from the jungle that is American media to settle in completely with my Weltanschauung. But I have to say that, for the most part, I enjoyed Ian Buruma's piece on Tariq Ramadan. Although, it did seem at times, Buruma was looking for the fanatic in Ramadan and is surprised he doesn't find one.

Of Egyptian parentage, and Swiss upbringing, and a sound training in Western and Islamic philosophy, Ramadan feels he is in a position to help Western Muslims and non-Muslims negotiate with each other. Of course, this thoughts are valuable for people in any part of the world where secular modernity and Muslims are trying to figure each other out.

Ramadan is calling on Muslims to integrate into Western society. But this is a disciplined integration he foresees. He is calling on Muslims to respect the state that gives them citizenship and the secular law that protects them. But while being good Western citizens, Ramadan is also asking Muslims to adhere to traditionalist principles. He wishes more people critiqued (critique means to de-limit, not oppose) the sacred cows that are free speech, secularism and such. Explaining his criticism of a Voltaire play in Geneva called “Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet," he has to say, "The play would be another brick in the edifice of hatred and rejection.”

Jajabor wishes more people approached "free speech" with the necessary nuance that Ramadan seems to. To hate on an already beleaguered community, where the end is nothing but to provoke, is a cannibalization of freespeech ideals. The Jyllands-Posten bakwas is a case not very different.

Buruma's piece offers rare moments of insight into the personality of an otherwise very mysterious man. Despite his religiosity, he wrote his PhD thesis on Nietzsche the God-killer. Asked if he ever experienced doubts himself, Ramadan says, "Doubts about God, no...But questions, yes."

I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Ramadan when he came to my college to give a talk. While I spoke with him at dinner, I was struck by his battle-weariness. It was clear he had lived a life of negotiating through crests of misunderstandings. He is wont to a life of surfing with aliens. Westerners rejected him for his familial links to Hassan Al-Banna's Muslim Brotherhood (most recently the State Dept denied him a visa for donating money to groups linked to groups linked to groups the Dept finds unsavory). Also, more conservative Muslims disapprove of Ramadan's disciplined integration. Middle-paths were never meant to be easy.


Malina said...


Jajabor said...

It's a Bengali word

Malina said...

That's right. It sounds like it:-p I think in bangla it's "chintadhara".

Faraz Khan said...

Yes what about NY Times? They recently did a story 2/4/07 on shia'/sunni relationship in the US, I just couldn't believe the "below the belt" approach in labeling Muslims freaks...

I will try to stop by for chai :)

Sajid said...

Yes, please do. You are welcome anytime Chaplain bhai.