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When a thinker is tried in the public court - The Tariq Ramadan case

Over the last three decades, the internationally renowned Islamic thinker Professor Tariq Ramadan has become well known in his own right and a challenging interlocutor for the Western press. He has led intellectual discussions in the Western media, especially in France and confronted extremists. A brilliant scholar in Western and Islamic philosophy, he has an extraordinary ability to deconstruct Western thought.

Recognizing his message was not easy to convey in Western dynamic society, he equipped himself intellectually in Egypt to learn the Arabic language, jurisprudence, as well as Sharia law and its higher objectives, under guidance of Egyptian theologian Dr. Ali Gomaa, specialist in basic principles of jurisprudence and Sharia law.

Endowed with an impressive memory, wonderful style of dialogue with the West, and a persuasive force, he is an essential figure in international intellectual circles. He has taught in Switzerland, Great Britain and the United States, and was appointed by the UK government as a consultant on issues related to the 'Islamic phenomenon', developing his own philosophy on European Islam. Questions raised in his books include: Do Muslims need their own Islam? Do they need their own jurisprudence?

Tariq Ramadan distinguishes himself from other Western thinkers by:

First, having a good understanding of Western reality in terms of philosophy and thought: he does not approach the West by using emotional language, but presents his research using complex Western language without departing from Islamic sources. Secondly, having a distinguished presence in the Western media, reflected in debates with philosophers, thinkers and politicians, he places himself at the center of intellectual circles with his own thought and philosophical language. Third, he has an extraordinary reading of the religious sources and exercises his criticism on solid ground. This thinker, whose philosophy, ideas and arguments are sophisticated, is a simple human being, who requires a comprehensive analysis of his path. He may be wrong, he may be right, he may stumble, get up and go on his way, but he is not an ordinary person, nor a towering figure that collapsed. To think so would be succumbing to emotional language, far from reason. He is currently being tried before the French courts, which we respect.

We expect the judiciary to do its job independently, as should be the case in a modern state. But his detention is not solely legally motivated, it is motivated by a political vision, because this man challenged the political order and was never defeated.

To know this scholar, one must have the tools of knowledge and human complexity. He is at the same time sophisticated and simple; he is a thinker, a human being, a European Muslim from Egyptian origins. He has a complex relationship with his entourage, he is an unaffiliated islamologist, he shows a certain sensitivity towards political Islam, and has differences with a good number of people. He works alone in the field, leads a number of institutions, believes in collective action, but does not belong to any group. He is an Islamic-Western thinker, an Arab-Westerner and apolitical, which does not prevent him from addressing politics in his speeches, but not delve as deeply as his field of expertise. He excels as a scholar, but not as a politician. This is a strange phenomenon. It is not easy to apprehend this character in an article or two.

We are not defending Professor Tariq Ramadan, we are defending the values we believe in, as well as the norms that must be present when dealing with the scholar’s personality. It is therefore necessary to consider the following factors when addressing influential and important human phenomena:

1 – Fairness is required in the reading ideas, peoples, groups and nations. It would be unfair to reduce a person’s intellectual path to a specific phase of his life. One must not underestimate or overestimate this person, but instead weigh things accurately. Formerly, Ibn Taymiyah (peace to his soul) advocated justice and reason together to deal with people.

2 - Distinguishing between thought and behaviour is essential, especially when we know that the thinker, as important as he could be, is a human being, and that it is unfair to disregard his knowledge and his deep thought because of an error committed or even a sin. How many of the Prophet’s Companions (peace and blessings of God be upon him) drank alcohol and were condemned; how many of his companions wrongfully and unjustly killed people during fighting, without being punished. Such was the case of Khalid (peace to his soul). On the one hand there are human errors, and on the other, a theologian and a Muslim thinker exercising his natural right of ijtihad (religious interpretation). Therefore, to link these two sides arbitrarily is to commit a methodological error. It is necessary to deal with them separately.

3 - We do not treat intellectuals as infallible religious referents, we treat them as human beings, and humans have their balance of actions according to which they will be judged in the hereafter. There is no perfect or superhuman thinker.

4 - We should not restrict ourselves to reading the thinker at a given moment of his life. We have an intellectual path in which the past, present and future are integrated. One can disagree with a thinker in the present time, and agree with him in the future, especially when he is a prolific thinker such as Pr. Tariq Ramadan.

5 - The Western Judiciary does not consider "consensual sexual relations" a crime, but people claim that [Pr. Ramadan] had non-consensual sexual relations with them by coercion. There is nothing to prove this in the judicial proceedings, as Pr. Ramadan's lawyer asserts. Did he have sex with some women? We do not confirm nor deny that, we are waiting for the final verdict. And yet, he [Pr. Ramadan] is neither an angel nor infallible, and may have committed -or not- what he is accused of. A person is innocent until proven guilty. But we also stress that Professor Ramadan will remain a prodigy, an exceptional thinker, a great writer and a prominent scholar. It would be unfair for some to be merciless with him, at a time when mercy and humanity are rare.

I am a supporter of the great political thinker, Dr. Muhammad al-Shanqiti, professor of political studies in Qatar. Recently I read the article by Dr. Al-Shanqiti in the papers of the Arab Spring on Professor Ramadan ("Ramadan, was an imaged towering figure that collapsed"), a loaded text and far from the methodology of Dr. Mohammed al-Shankiti, which is why I felt it was my duty to defend values and ethics.

I am even an admirer of his reasoning and tolerance, but he lacked insight in what he wrote recently about Pr. Ramadan, his former director with whom he had worked and collaborated. A collaboration followed by discord. Such is life. But time must be given to clear things up, for it would be unfair to describe Pr. Ramadan as a 'stature of an imaginary world'.

This is not the case of the great intellectual figure that is Pr. Ramadan. He is certainly not an infallible scholar, but he is a thinker and a militant. What happened to him? Has he been excluded from the world of thought? Did he fall from grace?

Abdourahman Bachir Translated from Arabic

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